Being Able to Laugh at Yourself Is Vital When Living With MS

Humor serves as an important coping mechanism for columnist Ben Hofmeister

Benjamin Hofmeister avatar

by Benjamin Hofmeister |

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I had a glass of wine thrown in my face on the evening of my wedding anniversary.

I was taken completely by surprise — well, maybe not completely. After all, the person who threw it has a reputation for that sort of thing. I was pretty irritated, though, because a mature adult should have more self-control than that. Also, I don’t really feel like I deserved it from him.

It was me. I’m the one who threw the wine.

My hands and arms are almost completely unaffected by my intrathecal baclofen, since the catheter only extends to the bottom of my ribcage. Because of this, they are still prone to all the delights of multiple sclerosis (MS) spasticity, which include the random spasm.

I was sitting in bed with my wife, holding the glass in my more affected right hand, when I suddenly sneezed. This triggered a spasm where my hand tightened around the glass (plastic, actually — this isn’t my first rodeo) and my arm flexed suddenly at the elbow. My glass came toward my mouth, like I was going to take a sip, only about 10 times faster. In retrospect, I suppose I should be grateful that I didn’t throw the glass along with its contents and that my hand stopped short of my face.

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Despite being a “silver linings” type of guy, I wasn’t grateful at the moment. Instead, I sat there stunned, eyes wide and mouth slightly open in surprise, as a nice pinot noir dripped off my eyebrows, the end of my nose, my beard, and the wall behind me. My wife was stunned, too, but recovered before I did, tossing me a box of tissues and grabbing a towel to sponge up the mess before it completely soaked into the bedclothes.

At first, not a word passed between us. My wife broke the silence with a shoulder-shaking snort that I almost mistook for a sob. That started an avalanche of laughter from both of us, salvaging what could have been a moment of depressing, resentful despair. She even brought me another glass of wine.

Embracing the power of humor

It wasn’t always like this. In the early years of dealing with this disease, we didn’t laugh much. I was going through the stages of grief and didn’t take into account that the people who cared about me were, too. I like to say I take MS as seriously as it takes me. I think my wife and I take it very seriously, but it’s impossible to be rigidly serious about something so unpredictable. MS isn’t funny, but life can be, and being able to laugh at ourselves — at myself — has made us a stronger MS couple.

If you read any of John Connor’s columns for Multiple Sclerosis News Today, you know I’m not the only one who thinks this way. There’s a lot of inspiration to be found in his musings about his and his wife’s life with MS.

In my past occupation in the U.S. Army, we’d avoid people who couldn’t be criticized, couldn’t laugh at themselves, and lost control of their temper over words or some perceived slight. These were the people most likely to crack under pressure. Multiple sclerosis is an immense pressure, and without being able to laugh at myself, or be laughed at, I would break under it.

Being able to laugh at yourself is sometimes called self-deprecating humor. While it can show an underlying humbleness and a strong sense of calm confidence, it can also have a dark side. Sometimes, self-deprecating humor can be a self-critical defense mechanism, and I don’t know that it’s always either-or. I’m pretty sure I’ve done both and probably will again. Like any number of things, knowing the difference seems to make the difference.

As I close this week’s column, I wanted to share a little humor with you. While researching self-deprecating humor, I started to Google self-deprecating vs. being able to laugh at yourself. I got as far as the “vs” and saw the following results. Maybe one day I’ll opine on the third one, but not today.

A screenshot of a Google search shows results for the phrase "self deprecating vs ..." The third suggestion, which the columnist decides not to expand on, is "self deprecating vs self defecating." Other search suggestions include "self deprecating vs humble," "self deprecating vs self depreciating," "self-deprecating and depression," and "self deprecating vs self disparaging."

A recent Google search. (Screenshot via Ben Hofmeister)


Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.

Comments

Patrick Cahalan avatar

Patrick Cahalan

Hi Benjamin,
I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article about "throwing a glass of wine in my face". You are a talented writer! Our paths with MS are very similar, I too have Progressive MS and was officially confirmed in 2015 although I definitely had it for "at least" a decade before. I can recall in 2009 after running/jogging my left leg shook for 10 secs. At the time,I thought it was funny not considering it to be as serious as MS. Thanks again! Patrick .

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Benjamin Hofmeister avatar

Benjamin Hofmeister

Thanks for reading Patrick! And thanks for the compliment too.

Looking back, there are so many things I should have noticed or given more credence to. Not that it would have mattered, but we'll never know, will we?

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MADELINE l NEWTON avatar

MADELINE l NEWTON

i agree about laughing at ones self for it helps the others remain calm for they really don't know what to do sometimes...i think it is needed living with MS ...so glad you had a fun Anniversary for sometimes it does need to be laughed at ...have a great time and many more wonderful Anniversaries that you can still laugh together for what you have gone through living with MS and for your spouse that is still with you and helping you all of these years....love and happiness and of course the laughter that helps you through all of it ....

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Benjamin Hofmeister avatar

Benjamin Hofmeister

Thank you Madeline!

We have had more anniversaries with (dagnosed) MS than we did without. It wasn't always like this, but had we not learned to laugh about it sometimes, I don't know if we would have made it this far. (and I plan on much further)

Ben

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JEFF GULLANG avatar

JEFF GULLANG

Benjamin,

Great reminder that we need to "own" every problem/positives that we encounter with MS. By accepting/shrugging off/laughing when these happen will make it easier on you and others.

Because when "it" happens again, which something will, you can shrug it off and avoid the "poor you... You have MS, I fell sorry for you" comments.

Sorry for the mess you had to clean up. Thanks for reminding us to laugh and accept it.

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Benjamin Hofmeister avatar

Benjamin Hofmeister

Great comment Jeff! It really does make it easier for both sides if I let others and myself know that it's ok to laugh sometimes; to treat me like --- me. I was fun loving before MS and I'm glad that's something it hasn't taken from me. There was a point when I could have.

Ben

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Karen Key avatar

Karen Key

Hi Benjamin, what a good laugh you gave me. I was diagnosed with RRMS at the age of 32, back in 1991. I have now progressed to Secondary Progressive and have brought along my ability to fall over, usually in public. The problem is that once I'm on the ground, laughing uncontrollably, and taking a while to try and get back up (I prefer to do it myself rather than have someone assist me), you can see people looking at me trying to figure out whether I've just had one too many or perhaps I've been released from somewhere just a little too early. I seem to have been stuck with some rather odd symptoms such as dysesthesia which has me scratching everywhere and assuring everyone that no, I don't have bedbugs!! I also sometimes tend to slur my words (could be a problem when I was a radio broadcaster - now retired) but I usually blame it on a really good Pinot Grigio :) I live in Cape Town, South Africa and MS has been in my life for 31 years now.

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Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

Hi Karen -

I have to jump in and comment because of our similarities. I was also DXed with MS when I was 32, but that was way back in 1980. About 20 years later I moved to SPMS. Like you, when I fall in public and someone asks "are you ok?" I usually answer "just embarrassed." Unlike you, however, I'm usually not laughing. I'm also a retired broadcaster. I worked in local radio in Washington, DC for about 8 years (reporter/newscaster/news director) and then moved to the broadcast division of the Associated Press, where I worked until I retired about 10 years ago. I'm slow, but I usually still get where I'm going. BTW, I prefer a really good red blend called The Prisoner.

Ed (The MS Wire column)

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Benjamin Hofmeister avatar

Benjamin Hofmeister

Thanks for the comment Karen and thanks for jumping in Ed because I've valued your input since before I ever had a column and was leaving comments on yours.

I had a nice young lady help me across the street to my car once and then ask, "How much have you had to drink? Should you be driving like this?".

When I replied that I wasn't drunk just had MS, her steadying hand recoiled and she took a step back. I had to explain that MS wasn't contagious and then, because I have a juvenile sense of humor, asked if we could go back to pretending I was drunk?

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Kim avatar

Kim

Thank you, bro for this article. I’m sorry to tell you I laughed too. Diagnosed in 2003 with RRMS & being a victim of unstoppable hysterical laughter at the most inappropriate times long before that, the snort from your wife was really what got me!
I recall a funeral I attended many years ago with my sainted mother (God rest her) at a church which did not use musical instruments, only voice. Choir sang,sat down, silence. Mom’s stomach growled loudly and here came the hysterics. All I could do was hide my lower face with a Kleenex & pray everyone thought I was crying. We treasured that moment always!

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Benjamin Hofmeister avatar

Benjamin Hofmeister

Thanks Kim! You absolutely should laugh because it was hilarious. I laughed at inappropriate things way before MS so I can’t really hold it responsible for that. Your funeral story made me laugh too, but in that case, I don’t think it was inappropriate at all.

Ben

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