By Ann Pietrangelo
I don’t know if laughter is the best medicine, but it is certainly good medicine.
There is a lot of talk these days about positive attitude and how essential it is to coping with chronic illness. That is true, but I would add that a sense of humor may be just as important. The ability to laugh at our own foibles and missteps is sometimes just the tonic we need.
I can come up with dozens of examples of multiple sclerosis imposing on my life in a frustrating way, and quite a few instances where strangers have had a laugh at my expense. That’s no fun but, hey, that’s life.
The good-natured ribbing of friends is another matter. That kind of humor lets you know that you are still one of the gang, and not so pathetic that you can’t take a joke.
Then there’s the time when having MS became the excuse that got me out of an absurdly awkward situation worthy of a sitcom.
My husband and I were visiting London on business, but we had several lovely social functions on our agenda. This particular evening, we were scheduled to attend a cocktail party at a small art museum. I was beside myself with excitement as I slipped my little black dress over my head and shoulders. It felt a little tight as called out for my husband to zip me up. That excitement quickly turned to panic as he let loose with a soft whistle and I realized that the dress, when zipped, barely made it over my backside! Oh, why hadn’t I tried it on before packing? Just a few months ago it looked so darling on me. Amazing what two or three pounds can do. All right, maybe five.
So there I stood in my awkwardly high heels (another foolish error on my part), leaning on my cane, and wearing a dress that was straining at the seams. We weren’t about to let that stop us, so we optimistically headed out into the winter chill to hail a cab. As if having MS and walking with a cane and high heels weren’t challenging enough, the tight dress exaggerated my odd gait to the point of ridiculousness.
Arriving at the museum, I carefully situated myself with my back to the wall, doing everything in my power to avoid mingling. There were very few seats around, so when a chair became available, I sat down… warily… hoping I wouldn’t split my dress open and expose my backside in the process. I could almost feel the groaning of the tiny threads holding it all together. While hubby mingled, I sat.
Eventually it was announced that the unveiling of a particular piece of art — the reason for the whole affair — would take place on the second floor, and would all attendees please follow the guide upstairs. Stairs? We inquire as to the location of an elevator. No elevator? This is a definite turn for the worse.
With my MS acting up, there was no way I could possibly make it up that long, wooden staircase in this ill-fitting dress and high heels without attracting curious eyes straight to my behind. I could almost hear the sound of fabric tearing and everybody turning to laugh and stare. As it was, I was beginning to giggle at my own situation. And when I laugh, I tend to also shed tears. I was beginning to feel quite conspicuous.
I informed my hubby in no uncertain terms that I would remain glued to the chair regardless of what he or anybody else does or says. Up to this point he had been good-naturedly playing along with me, and now was barely containing his own laughter.
The moment the last of the party-goers made it to the top of the stairs, we both burst into laughter at my predicament. Courteous museum staff, spotting the cane, inquire about my difficulty with the stairs. “Multiple sclerosis” we tell them in serious voices. Tears are falling from my eyes now, due to suppressed laughter, but no doubt mistaken for despair. Drinks and hors d’oeuvres were delivered with sympathetic smiles directly to our lonely corner. Now I really felt bad… and guilty… and silly. Embarrassed and unable to control my laughing/crying, we took advantage of a moment alone and skulked out the door first chance we got.
It was a fabulous week in London, but that misadventure remains one of my fondest memories. If laughter truly is the best medicine, I’m going to be just fine.
Writer Ann Pietrangelo embraces the concept of personal responsibility for health and wellness. As a person living with multiple sclerosis, she combines a healthy lifestyle and education with modern medicine, and seeks to provide information and support to others. She is a regular contributor to Care2 Causes. Follow on Twitter @AnnPietrangelo
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