Karyn Buxman

Catching Up With Karyn

Archive for July, 2012

What’s So Funny About Alzheimer’s? One for the Caregivers

I think that one of the hardest things for any of us who has cared for a parent or loved one with Alzheimer’s Disease is the knowledge that the condition has a genetic component.  It’s one thing to be there, helping someone else navigate once-familiar neighborhoods or making sure they’ve remembered to shut the front door. It’s another thing entirely to contemplate needing that type of assistance ourselves. Caring for my Mother made me think about my own future in a way I never really had before.  Perhaps you’ve experienced the same thing.

How Humor Helps Caregivers: Facing the Future

None of us know the future in advance. We can’t peek around tomorrow’s corner and see what is going to happen. Every day, it seems, medical science has a new theory on what factors contribute to Alzheimer’s.  A week doesn’t go by that we’re not told about the preventative measures we should be taking to stave off the disease.

The last time I checked, that meant more red wine, more chocolate, less red meat, more exercise, more sex, more intellectual stimulation, and less stress…one day, I tried combining all of these into a single afternoon. I don’t think they’re ever going to let my husband and I back into the TED conference ever again!

We’d all love to know that we, ourselves, will never struggle with Alzheimer’s. Humor has a role to play in helping us face down the fear and anxiety that comes – sometimes below the radar, sometimes ‘off screen’, where we’re not even consciously aware of it – that comes with being a caregiver for a person with Alzheimer’s. Humor is the mechanism humanity has developed to process our fear, enabling us to move on and continuing function – especially in situations where we really have no alternative!

When I saw this image on Facebook this morning, I laughed right out loud. Yes: this little cartoon forced me for a moment to revisit those anxiety-provoking thoughts of “What’s going to happen to me someday?”  But at the same time, there’s a message in there: life will go on. We will have good times.  Things might change along the way, but we’re still going to have fun. These messages are more important to who we are – more central to our well-being – and they help put the fear into a fresh, more manageable perspective.

Sometimes we feel like we should never, ever laugh about Alzheimer’s, or the impact that this debilitating condition has had on our lives and the lives of our loved ones. In fact, the opposite is true.  Humor is an important tool that allows us to be better, more present, and more emotionally stable caregivers – for our loved ones and for ourselves!

 

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Humor and History: You Can’t Make This Stuff Up!

If I had to list the top ten questions people ask me, “Where do you find all these funny stories?” would have to be near the top. The ability to identify and enjoy humor is one of the most important skills to develop for people who want to manage their chronic disease more effectively. Luckily, it’s pretty easy to find the funny – especially if you’re willing to take the first step and commit to the search!

Being deliberate about upping the humor quotient in your life sounds counterintuitive, but don’t sweat it.  This isn’t one of those ‘delicious, healthy desserts!” type of things. You can truly enjoy the search for humor – even when you’re deadly serious about it.

History has a long reputation as a source of inspiration and wisdom.  What many people don’t know is that history has some really funny stories of its own to tell. For many years, we’ve been hearing about the tale of Jourdan Anderson, a former slave who dictated an eloquent letter to his former master, who wanted him to return to the plantation after the war.

Here’s the letter, in case you haven’t seen it before:

To My Old Master, Colonel P.H. Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee

Sir: I got your letter, and was glad to find that you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this, for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Colonel Martin’s to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again, and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville Hospital, but one of the neighbors told me that Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.

I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here. I get twenty-five dollars a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy – the folks call her Mrs. Anderson – and the children – Milly, Jane, and Grundy – go to school and are learning well. The teacher says Grundy has a head for a preacher. They go to Sunday school, and Mandy and me attend church regularly. We are kindly treated. Sometimes we overhear others saying, “Them colored people were slaves” down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks; but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Colonel Anderson. Many darkeys would have been proud, as I used to be, to call you master. Now if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.
As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free papers in 1864 from the Provost-Marshal-General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you were disposed to treat us justly and kindly; and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty-two years, and Mandy twenty years. At twenty-five dollars a month for me, and two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars. Add to this the interest for the time our wages have been kept back, and deduct what you paid for our clothing, and three doctor’s visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to.Please send the money by Adams’s Express, in care of V. Winters, Esq., Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past, we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night; but in Tennessee there was never any pay-day for the negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.

In answering this letter, please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up, and both good-looking girls. You know how it was with poor Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve – and die, if it come to that – than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood. The great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits.

Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.

From your old servant,

Jourdon Anderson.

There are some bitterly funny moments in there, including the bit where Jourdan inquired about the wages he and his wife were due; the sums he named here were well beyond the reach of his former master, and there’s a sense that this is obviously well known to all. Thanking George Carter for taking away the pistol at a critical moment is finely wrought sarcasm.

For many years, people thought this letter could potentially be fraudulent or exaggerated, created to support the abolitionist movement.  Then as now,  humor has a powerful role in shaping public opinion about political issues.  (Back then? Newspapers mattered.  Today, we’ve got Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, among others, filling this role.)

Armed with this knowledge, the letter becomes a little less funny – one still laughs, but there’s a sense of being manipulated which just doesn’t work as well as it might. That’s why I’m thrilled to report that researchers have found the letter to be genuine.  We don’t have to make this stuff up.  Life really is funny.  Seek, and ye shall find.

What are your favorite funny moments from history? This week, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite stories – and I’d love to hear yours!

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What’s So Funny About Lyme Disease: Humor and Healing

Do you know what really ticks me off? When people don’t take Lyme Disease seriously.  This condition – which can be truly devastating – is often ignored or dismissed as even a possibility until the symptoms become debilitating. By that point, treatment is difficult and expensive – and often, not covered by insurance.

As a nurse, humorist, and professional speaker, I was really glad to see this story in the Santa Cruz Sentinel about Carol Fox – also a nurse – who has devoted her life to teaching people about Lyme Disease. Carol uses two powerful tools – humor and art – to present the facts about Lyme Disease to her community.

This is an effective approach for a number of reasons. People are overwhelmed by information today. We’re all wired up, connected to our smartphones and tablet computers every minute of the day. You can’t avoid being inundated by health attention. There are messages about blood pressure and cholesterol and blood sugar control and the need to exercise and no fat, no salt, no flavor diets – that’s all before the warnings about public health concerns like disease-carrying ticks lingering in the high grass.  It’s not that people don’t want to pay attention to everything, it’s that they can’t.

Humor cuts through the noise and overwhelm with a powerful clarity.  We pay attention to what makes us laugh, and that’s for one simple reason: humor makes us feel good.  Psychoneuroimmunologists are scientists who research the connection between our emotional state and our physical well-being, and it turns out that they’ve discovered some pretty concrete connections between a positive frame of mind and our overall health.  That’s why we’re predisposed to be aware of situations that are potentially humorous.

Any time someone walks into a room with a puppet named “Tricky Dick the Tick” there’s a good chance there might be some laughing going on. Carol Fox’s audiences will pay more attention to her presentation than any of the other health information they’ll encounter during the day. They’ll enjoy, remember, and retain what they heard.  They may even tell other people about it.  That’s the healing power of humor in action – amusing and amazing every time!

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What’s So Funny About Diabetes: Humor Teaches!

I have to tell you all, I’m really pumped up. I’ve just gotten back from speaking to the National Association of School Nurses. They’re an amazing, vibrant group of professionals who provide top quality health care and education. I’ve got to say they’ve caused me to reflect on exactly how much health care education you do when you’re a person with diabetes.

That’s right. We’re the ones that wind up doing the educating – despite the fact that the whole world is full of people who are convinced that they know more than you do about your diabetes! If you’ve ever gotten The Lecture from a well-intentioned relative who’s convinced you cure diabetes by avoiding all white foods, you know what I’m talking about.

In What’s So Funny About Diabetes?: A Creative Approach to Coping with Your Disease you’ll find useful ways to use humor to provide this education. Humor can make difficult conversations easier – that’s why you’ll often see politicians using jokes to ‘soften’ a crowd, particularly before they have to deliver an unpopular message. When we laugh, we relax, lowering some of those social defenses that can serve as a barrier to effective communications.

For example, let’s say I wanted to talk to you about basic English grammar – punctuation and that sort of thing. Why, I bet you’re as excited as you were when this topic was covered by your seventh grade teacher… Okay, maybe that’s no fun. But check out the cartoon with this post. I bet you’re laughing – and I know you’re going to understand comma placement better than you did before!

Here’s the thing: we remember the things that make us laugh.  Laughing is a pleasant experience.  All sorts of nifty bio-chemical reactions go on inside of body and mind when we laugh: our mood lifts, our circulation increases, we feel energized and revitalized.  It doesn’t take long for our bodies to draw the association between feeling good and whatever prompted that laughter. If that prompt contains useful information — something about the beauty of a well-placed comma, for example— that’s information we will retain and use.

Whenever you want someone to remember information – let’s take the “My insulin pump is really not a cell phone!” message, vital for teenagers everywhere – find a way to deliver your message with humor. You’ll find that your audience (teachers, bosses, parents, colleagues) remembers what you say, and that can mean fewer stress-inducing ‘helpful conversations’ you have to endure.

Humor! It’s amazing and amusing every time!

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