Today, I’m answering the second prompt in WEGO’s Health Activist Writers Month Challenge:
Key to Happiness: What do you think is the key to happiness? Is it being able to overcome a hard time? Laughter? Maintaining a positive attitude? Tell us what you think and why. #HAWMC
Having five illnesses (bipolar disorder, polycystic ovarian syndrome, Myasthenia Gravis (MG), asthma, and psoriasis) can be a roller coaster, especially since I’m constantly battling pain and fatigue. 2008 was a harrowing year for my family. My maternal aunt, Tita Baby, was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer. At the same time, I was diagnosed and hospitalized with MG, a chronic neuromuscular, autoimmune disease. Both of us were fighting for our lives. The stress almost gave my mom a heart attack. I was 24-years old, and in a few months, I went from doing yoga five days a week to being bedridden for over a year. I had various medical procedures like a thymectomy (having my neck cut open and my thymus removed) and my aunt endured chemo. After a year of chemotherapy, she was declared cancer-free. We finally had a real wedding for my Ate Chelo (her oldest child) and a party to celebrate Tita Baby’s remission. Then, two weeks after she was declared cancer free, Tita Baby was diagnosed with breast cancer! I remember the lump in my uncle’s voice when he called asking for a family meeting. Twenty of my relatives gathered at our favorite Thai restaurant that night. Together, we cried, prayed, and laughed together. That last part stuns a lot of people. They ask, “How can you laugh a time like this?” We were laughing at the absurdity of our situation. What are the odds of MG (a very rare illness), colon cancer, and breast cancer visiting one family in less than two years? Laughter was our way of turning the pain on its head and surviving it. After another year of chemo, my aunt beat the breast cancer.
What I Did When I Was Bedridden
When I was bedridden at the ages of 24 and 25, on my worst days, I slept 90% of the time, drank Ensure, and watched the same story on CNN five times in one day. My back, neck, shoulders, and fingers and toes hurt so much. (They still do but six years later, it’s better.) On my better days, I read philosophy, the Bible, and watched lots of Chris Rock and Katt Williams. While I did listen to books on tape, I also read books. The physical act of reading was very difficult for me because I couldn’t sit up straight. Somehow, I managed to read the whole Bible. What enables me to survive the daily struggle is my belief that suffering is not entirely meaningless–I believe God made creation perfect and that suffering (such as illness) entered the world when mankind first sinned (Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden). I also believe that I will not suffer forever. Christ’s life, death, and resurrection were the beginning of God redeeming creation. Some day, when I am in Heaven, my body will be restored and I won’t be in pain.
A Funny Pair
Now, what does any of that have to do with comedy? (Someone may point out that Rock and Williams’ humor has a lot of profanity. That’s true. When I was lying there, I would often fast forward over the parts I found offensive as I had watched those Chris Rock DVDs thousands of times and knew them by heart.) Knowing that suffering won’t last forever enables me to laugh at my suffering (not others–I don’t laugh at other peoples’ pain). If not for my faith, I would have lost my sense of humor in 2008. The physical act of laughter is good for dealing with stress. Scientists say that laughing, much like exercise, releases endorphins, which are known as “the feel good hormones.” My top five comedians are (in no particular order): Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Chris Rock, Katt Williams, and Richard Pryor. When I’m feeling down, I force myself to watch something funny like Last Comic Standing or reruns of a favorite childhood show. After a half hour, I start to feel better.
I leave you with a verse that has helped me tremendously and a montage of hilarious I Love Lucy moments:
James 1:12, “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”
See you tomorrow when I answer the third #HAWMC question!
–Your Stylist, Jessica Gimeno