Of all the things that helped me cope with hepatitis C, humor tops the list. Laughter doesn’t just feel good—it is also good for our health. Laughter improves the immune system, helps lower blood pressure, improves the cardiovascular system, and has pain-lowering properties. In Anatomy of an Illness, Norman Cousins credits humor with saving his life — twice. Cousins called laughter “inner jogging.” You don’t even need special shoes for this kind of work-out.
I am serious about humor; I can’t imagine how I would have survived hepatitis C without some mirth. I pursue laughter on a daily basis, starting with the daily comics. Years ago I cut out a B.C. comic strip by cartoonist Johnny Hart. Dr. Peter, a psychiatrist has his back to his patient who is reclining on a rock. The patient says, “I feel lousy, Doc.” Dr. Peter’s advice is, “You need to laugh more. Laughter is the best medicine.” The patient replies, “I must be in the placebo group.”
I agree with Dr. Peter — laughter is the best medicine. It is easy to take, there are no side effects, and the benefits are fabulous. Although research supports its benefits, I hope you don’t need scientific proof in order to incorporate more laughter into your life. If you do, or if you are feeling like you are in the placebo group, then perhaps you are depressed. If nothing in your life brings pleasure or makes you laugh, discuss this with your medical provider. Chronic hepatitis C doubles the risk for depression, a medical condition for which there is treatment.
Yes, there is a time for seriousness, but I have seen people laugh while facing death, liver biopsies, and yes, even during hepatitis C treatment. We don’t usually laugh at hepatitis C when we are first diagnosed, but with time and support, we find ways to lighten the burden of this disease.
Some of my most ridiculous moments were when I was taking hepatitis C medications. The only time I ever ran out of gas was during treatment. I had placed a post-it on my car dashboard, reminding me to do an errand. Unfortunately, the note covered my gas gauge and I did not see the low fuel-warning indicator. I was headed to a massage appointment because I was overly stressed, and although I wasn’t thrilled to be stranded, it did seem funny. What can one do but laugh, followed by calling the auto club for some gas?
Perhaps a laugh a day does not keep the doctor away, but it sure makes life more bearable. It is a lot easier to do regularly than exercise. If science proved that laughter was harmful, I would not give it up. As Mark Twain said, “Humor is mankind's greatest blessing.”