Laughter as Therapy

Last week, my friend Shameka sent me a text inviting me to join her for a night out. The comedian Josh Blue was coming to town – did I want to go?

Of course, I said yes. I love Josh. His comedy is super funny and smart. He uses his disability (he has cerebral palsy) in his stand up routines, but not in an inspiration porn way. If you’ve never seen him perform, here’s a clip from his special “Sticky Fingers.”

After the week I had, I was looking forward to a night out with good friends. Kelley, Shameka, Katie and I arrived at the comedy club early because we wanted to be able to get a table which would accommodate 3 wheelchairs and still give us a good view. I expected to see more disabled peers in the audience because so many people I know like Josh, but we were the only three visibly disabled people in the room as far as I could tell.

Josh didn’t disappoint. He was hysterical! We laughed, and laughed, and laughed. At one point, I made the mistake of taking a drink when I thought he was pausing. I was not ready for the joke and almost spat my mouthful at Kellie. I don’t think she noticed.

It was very interesting to watch the mainly nondisabled audience respond to his jokes about disability. As a person who often jokes about the stupid crap nondisabled people say to me, Josh’s jokes were spot on. I don’t claim to have the same timing or talents, but whenever I make comments like he did I never notice the tension in my nondisabled listeners as was present early in the show last night.

Here’s the thing – laughter is an important tool in helping us find common ground with those who are not exactly like us! Josh said it himself in his show last night when he quipped, “Doesn’t it feel good to laugh?”

Yes! It felt great to laugh last night. As I’ve written about in several posts, the past eighteen months have been some of the most challenging months of my life. I have not had much laughter. I miss it. I dislike being angry, bitter and depressed. I have tried to embrace gratitude, and strive to keep public complaints to a minimum. But, sometimes things just suck.

Last night, surrounded by friends who “get it,” watching a comedian who “gets it,” I felt more like me than I’ve felt in months. This morning I woke up still laughing.

Thank you Shameka, Kelley and Katie for a wonderful night of friendship and fun. And thank you Josh for the work you do to help the nondisabled laugh at disability the way we’ve been laughing at it for years.

If you’re reading this in the Capital District of NY, Josh is performing again tonight (Saturday, July 29). His website lists his tour dates for other cities. You should go see him if you can. Maybe you’ll get to pose for your own photo after the show!

Photo of two women using wheelchairs and a man kneeling between them. The woman on the left is black and wearing glasses and a black shawl. The woman on right is white and is wearing a red shirt and blue skirt. The man has a beard and is wearing a black t-shirt  with the word "DELETE" in white letters. All three are laughing.

30 Days of Thanks Day 30 – The Pool Gang

I have never been a fan of exercise. This is partly because it is difficult for me to physically move my body, and exercise requires movement to be effective. It is also partly because I have never experienced the endorphin rush that is described by others who enjoy exercise. I don’t feel good when I exercise. I just feel fatigued and tired.

The only form of exercise I can do is aquatic therapy in a therapeutic pool. There are three accessible therapeutic pools in my area, and each one is at least a half hour drive from where I live. So, getting to the pool is a four hour commitment – 40 minutes to drive there, time to get undressed and transfer to a pool chair to go in, an hour in the pool, an hour to shower and get dressed, and 40 minutes to get back home. Add the fact that I need another person to accompany me for any of this to happen, and I don’t get to the pool that often.

Or rather, I didn’t get to the pool that often before May. But now that I am still trying to get stronger and recover from my femur fracture? I have become a regular at the Sunnyview Hospital therapeutic pool on Mondays and Wednesdays for the 7 AM open swim.

Today I give thanks for the other regulars at the pool. Jose, Chip, Dominick, Alberto, Susan, Tom, Sister Joan, Sue, The Doctor and his wife (I still don’t know their names after 6 months), Will, Debbie, and the others who sometimes cycle through welcomed me and my Personal Assistant Tina with open arms. They offer support and encouragement to everyone in the pool. When someone is absent, they worry. If someone has good news, they celebrate.

I still haven’t turned into a person who loves to exercise. But I look forward to spending time with my morning friends in the pool. The comraderie between us is positive and uplifting. As Tina put it when I read her a draft of this post driving to the pool this morning, it’s like we’re one big family.

Recovering from an illness or injury is difficult and requires determination and stamina. Having a peer support group keeps me focused. I know they will question me if I start to slack off. Last week when I walked for the first time while submerged in the pool they gave me kudos.

Thank you to my morning friends who greet me each Monday and Wednesday. I appreciate you welcoming me into the fold. There’s no better way to start the day.

30 Days of Thanks Day 27 – Christy and Mike

Twenty six years ago, my high school friend Vicki moved to the city I now call home for a new job. I met her roommate, Christy, when Vicki, Stephanie and I helped plan our friend Allison’s bridal shower. We held the shower in the community room of my apartment complex. A few months later, I saw Christy and Vicki again at Allison’s wedding where we danced and laughed all afternoon.

Two years ago, I saw someone who looked like Christy walking across the parking lot in front of my apartment. I thought about the fun times we had the summer of Allison’s wedding, and told myself I should do a better job of keeping in touch with long lost friends. I didn’t think about it again until I got a Facebook message from Christy a few days later.

Hey – do you still live in Strawberry Ridge? I think we’re neighbors!

Sure enough, Christy and her husband Mike had moved into an apartment in the building across the parking lot from my old apartment. Since I’m always looking for new people to add to my local support network, I was excited to have another friend close by.

Christy and Mike were great neighbors. They helped clean my car off when it snowed if nobody else had gotten to it. A few mornings when I was stuck without a Personal Assistant, Christy came over to help me get out of bed. The three of us spent a lively day at Saratoga Race Course a delightful young-at-heart friend of theirs. They kept a spare set of my car keys in case of an emergency while I was in Australia.

When I fell in January, I sent a message to Christy asking her to keep an eye on things while I was in the hospital. Christy and Mike came to visit me, bringing cheer and positive energy on a night when I was not happy with the prospect of an extended stay in rehabilitation.

Whatever you need when you get home, just let us know.

This past summer, Christy and Mike volunteered to help me move. They spent a Saturday packing box after box, taping and labeling at top speed. Seriously, those two are pros and had my living room and kitchen packed in no time!

Living down in town means I have more freedom to take part in town activities. In September, I was able to walk down to the harbor to meet Christy and Mike for the annual Tug Boat Round-Up. We walked along the canal, snapping photos of the tugs, talking while Mike (a former Navy sailor) toured the boats.

Thank you Christy and Mike for being great neighbors and loyal friends. I appreciate your willingness to help me and I’m grateful you were willing to join my circle of support. We’ll have to plan something fun together this winter, and I promise it won’t involve packing tape!

30 Days of Thanks Day 25 – Stephanie

I wrote about my bestest best friend, Stephanie, in 2014 when I first did the 30 Days of Thanks challenge on my blog. As I have explained for most of my life, Stephanie is the sister I got to pick for myself. She is what the author Lucy Maud Montgomery described inĀ Anne of Green GablesĀ as a bosom friend, “a kindred spirit to whom I can confide my innermost soul.”

When I fell in January, I made two phone calls while waiting for the ambulance. I called my sister Caroline, and then I called Stephanie. I always call Stephanie whenever I am at the end of my rope. And she always answers.

Stephanie lives three hours away, and does not like to drive in snow. I did not expect her to come visit me in the hospital because a trip to see me in January or February would most likely involve snow. So, when she walked through my door on the first Sunday I was at Sunnyview Rehabiltation Hospital, I almost started to cry.

Hello there Niecie!

Stephanie is one of five people who can get away with calling me that, a nickname her mom used to use. Stephanie, along with her husband, youngest son Brad, and mother-in-law, made me laugh, offered repeated hugs, and brightened an otherwise dreary afternoon.

I had to come. I just needed to make sure you were really OK.

Stephanie and Brad came up to visit again in August, the weekend before I moved. She knew I was stressed about finishing my packing, and cleaning out my “junk room.”

We’ll see what the weather is like. If it’s raining we can do work inside. But if it’s nice we should probably go have some fun.

I can always count on Steph for fun. Sure enough, she and Brad arrived and within two hours, we had a lunch packed and were on our way up to Saratoga Race Course. We spent the day watching horses and people, laughing over silly things, trying to capture the perfect photo. Our day was the perfect break from reality, a much needed oasis of frivolity in the midst of anxiety.

Stephanie – thank you for always “getting me.” I cannot imagine a world without your presence as my bosom friend, a true kindred spirit. Throughout this year you have listened, cajoled, encouraged, and laughed with me. You have seen and listened to me at my absolute worst, and you still love me anyway. I don’t know how I managed to get so lucky as to claim you as my partner in cute. Everyone needs a Stephie in their life, but I’m not sharing mine.

I’m grateful for the gift of your friendship all these years. Here’s to more fun adventures for another forty years!

Two Caucasian women leaning towards each other, holding adult size sippy cups with straws. Both women have brown hair and glasses.

30 Days of Thanks Day 23 – Alyssa

One of the best outcomes of my brief employment in an office at the New York State Department of Health was my introduction to Alyssa, my friend and massage therapist. Alyssa brought her massage chair to our building once a week and set up shop in an alcove near the cafe on my floor. I was quickly one of the regulars, reserving the 1 PM spot.

Over the next two years, we swapped stories and developed a friendship as she worked the knots and kinks out of my shoulders and neck. When she moved her workspace into an empty office large enough for a massage table, I lamented that I wished I could get on it for a full body massage.

You know, I don’t mind doing a home visit. Would that be an option?

Wait – she was willing to bring her wonderful hands to my house?! Of course I said yes!

So began our monthly visits. Since I have a fully electric hospital bed, Alyssa does not need to bring her massage table. With the help of my red satin sheet used as a pull sheet, Alyssa is able to move my body into positions which are comfortable for both of us.

I was scheduled to have a massage on the week after I broke my leg. I contacted Alyssa from the hospital to cancel our plans.

I’m going to keep it on my calendar. I’ll plan to come visit you at the hospital.

Alyssa arrived that Sunday to find me whimpering in discomfort. The swelling in my lower leg and foot, below the fracture, was the worst I’ve ever experienced. My leg felt like a sausage under pressure, my skin shiny like a casing ready to pop.

Would you like me to just massage it gently? I see you have some lotion here.

The next hour was bliss. Alyssa dimmed the harsh overhead light, used her iPhone to provide relaxing music and slowly started to rub my leg. Gradually, the fluid started to work it’s way up my leg and I felt the pressure decrease. The pain and tightness disappeared as she worked her magic hands over my skin. When Alyssa was done, I asked her to grab my purse from the drawer next to my bed so I could pay her for the massage.

I’m not going to let you pay me Denise. I didn’t come to massage a client. I came to visit a friend.

Alyssa has become a very treasured friend. She listens without judgement, providing encouragement and support. She frequently shares my writing with others and always takes time to comment on posts she has heard me talking about writing or researching. When I had to learn new ways to move my body after the fracture, Alyssa was willing to adapt our sessions. Throughout this year, she has helped with stretching and massage, providing some of the few fleeting pain free moments I have had since fracturing my leg in January.

Sometimes when people have to provide my physical assistance for the first time, they are nervous about hurting me or doing the wrong thing. Alyssa did not have experience with personal care before she started coming to work at my house. But, she listened to my instructions and very quickly became adept at moving me and working within my limitations to give me the most benefit.

Alyssa knew I was planning to move out of my former apartment this year. She witnessed the stack of boxes growing as I packed my life in June and July. Then, she surprised me with a text.

I’ve blocked out the morning you are moving. Plan on me being there to help, and I’ll try to bring my boyfriend.

Alyssa and Josh lifted and carried many of those boxes in August. Even when her family plans changed, Alyssa honored her commitment to provide help during a stressful time in my life. Because that is what Alyssa always does. She provides relief when I am stressed and anxious.

Thank you Alyssa, for being a true friend through good times and bad. Yes, I love your massage skills and talents. But they pale in comparison to your kindness and compassion. I am grateful to all you do to make my world less stressful and less painful. I function better because you are there whenever I call.

Two open hands.
Alyssa’s hands after a massage.