For quite a few years now I have been working in various roles within Social Work. In one role I worked with people in the early stages of dementia and their families. One of the things we provided was groups for those just diagnosed with dementia and also carer’s groups.
I used to co-facilitate a group for those in the early stages of dementia and one memory sticks with me. There was one participant a woman in her mid 50’s to early 60’s who was always positive and laughing and joking. Making positive statements like ‘we’ve got this!’ or ‘we’re doing great!’. In fact, I once commented that she was too bright and bubbly, too ‘Polyanna’ ie. overly positive given her diagnosis. One member of the group caught up with me one day after the group finished and said, ‘I wish I could be more like her. She is so positive and managing so well!’ I turned to them and told them that often those who laugh the loudest and joke about the most are the ones who use humour as a defence mechanism. The more stress they are under, the more difficult the situation at times this may make the joking and laughing intensify. We can’t see behind the mask that people choose to show the world. They only show what they want to show and often this does not fully reflect how they are feeling.
I know for myself that I have used humour to defuse situations and also as a defence mechanism. Working in a stressful job in a hospital setting, we often talk about ‘black humour’ being used by staff. Without a sense of humour, I don’t think we would manage to get through some days.
So, if you meet someone with this diagnosis or those that care for them, be aware. We/they may have a jolly smile and a cheerful persona, but this may just be the mask they wear to face the world. With a diagnosis like Parkinson’s there will be times when that mask slips to show how we really feel. That is true both for those of us with the condition and those that support us.
As the saying goes ‘laugh and the world laughs with you. Weep and you weep alone.’ There are times when we genuinely do laugh and smile in a genuine way and can share the joy of laughter with those we care about. But equally, it is essential that if we need to, we are not left to ‘weep alone’ but can safely show when the laughter dies within us, and we need someone safe to cry our tears with.