Trigger warning! Mentions extremely upsetting psychosis episodes
Healing by Humour

Healing by Humour

Stress and its kryptonite

A good laugh has great short-term effects. When you start to laugh, it doesn't just lighten your load mentally, it actually induces physical changes in your body. Laughter can:

  • Stimulate many organs. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.
  • Activate and relieve your stress response. A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response, and it can increase and then decrease your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.
  • Soothe tension. Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.

I discovered this to be true during the darkest, earliest days of my wife's struggle with Postpartum psychosis.

If you can imagine watching your best friend, the love of your life and the mother of you children seem to vanish before your eyes, then you might just begin to understand what it was like.

Trust me when I say it was worse. 


Missing while present, how psychosis stole my wife

My wife was there, in the room with me, talking to me, just faster than normal and without making any sense at all. Psychosis had scrambled her mind, fracturing her personality into a thousand shards that seemed to bounce around inside her head. Then heartbreakingly, a few tiny fragments would realign just long enough for me to see the woman I loved behind panicked eyes, filled with confusion and fear. Then she was gone once again. 

Those days were hard, not just on her, but on me, and my mother who was there at the time to help. But the worst hurt was that of my son, who at two years old was not equipped to understand why he couldn't be with mummy, even when he could hear her talking nonstop upstairs.

I was tasked by the doctor in the community care team to have my wife at home, in a low stimulus environment where she could rest and sleep. It was a futile effort, she couldn't sleep, even though she was being given enough medication to down an adult Rhinoceros. She slept a total of 4 hours over an entire week, while we slept in shifts and tried to juggle a toddler, a new born and a very mobile, manic woman who had the safety sense of a blindfolded matador.  

We tried everything to help my wife sleep. Darkness, low light, soothing and calming music, and it all failed. Eventually we learned to manage her wakefulness, hoping that the gradually increasing doses of medication would ultimately win the battle. That too proved to be a futile hope.

It was here that humour became our ally, and most important weapon in the fight against her illness. 


Journals and where to put them

Looking back, it's both funny and ironic that a journal was the trigger for the humour that helped us all cope. 

Tara has always been a fan of journals. Since i've known her she's kept a diary, was always fan of bullet journalling and making lists she could work through and importantly, tick off. This is a coping mechanism she had built up over time, though she likely did not know that back then. It was such a huge part of her core self that when she got sick her most common request was for her journal. She would write everything down, to-do lists, memories, questions and thoughts. None of which had any of the structure she had previously employed. No, these were the ramblings of a broken mind struggling to make sense of it's shattered self. 

Tara asked for her journal every ten seconds for three days straight, she agreed to take actions like dressing, washing, eating and taking her medications only if she was then granted access to the journal. A journal which I should add, we were told to keep away from her as it was too stimulating. 

Eventually, in a moment of exhausted (inspiration) lol, my mother answered Tara's latest journal request with a humorous, "if you ask for that journal again i'm going to stick it up your arse."

It was a strange moment, because Tara's reply was to stick her two fingers up at my mum, give her a cheeky grin and tell her to F off, which is something she would never do, like ever. The whole scene was too funny for both of them and they burst out laughing.

 It was the first time for days that I had heard laughter and it was just what the doctor ordered against lol. But screw them, it was working. Tara calmed, she was still awake but she was more settled. She kept secretly asking if my mum would really put the journal where she threatened to, but it was always asked with a sly cheek that is pure Tara. I began to feel hopeful that she was truly still in there and I would see her again as I had been told I would.


Instances of Laughter and Insta sleeps

As the time passed we found ways to inject humour into our routine, and watched as Tara settled and calmed. She was not out of the woods, she still was not sleeping, and the meds were now getting to the point where the maximum dose was in play. Then she started fainting. Fake fainting as we called it, as it looked like a bad theatre act. During one such moment I jokingly clicked my fingers and said "and your back in the room." Im sure I saw this on Phoenix nights or some other comedy show but it made her laugh, and from then on when the faint happened she raised her hand and clicked her own fingers before opening her eyes again. 

By now the sleep deprivation was taking its toll. Tara would have momentary blackouts, which we called Insta sleeps, where her head would drop for a second, but which to her felt like a full nights sleep. Her perceived sleep in a four hour period totalled several days.

We had been getting daily visits from the community care team all week and both myself and my mum were exhausted, then finally, Tara reached the point where being at home posed more of a danger than a benefit. She was energised, jumping out of the chair and getting a few steps before she would collapse. The blackouts were sudden and dangerous, and she nearly hit her head a few times when we were holding the baby and were unable to stop her. 

It was then I was forced to make the call that no husband would envy, I had to ask for my wife to be hospitalised to keep her safe.

The dreaded call...

One of the few blessings in this scenario is that it’s not up to the spouse to make the final call regarding hospitalisation. That is made by the doctor in charge of the home care team. And based on Tara's decline they decided that hospitalisation was the safest and best option. But they also let Tara decide.

They spoke to her about what it entailed and she agreed to go voluntarily. We agreed that we would bring her to the psychiatric unit at 12pm and until then Tara could pack and prepare. And prepare she did. She laid out every outfit my daughter was to wear for probably the first two or three years of her life, left little cards to be filled in on each outfit, first steps, first bath, first date lol. 

She then prepared herself for the trip, and off we went. Even the journey to the hospital was full of humour. Tara's appetite had been ramped up by the medication and she was eating enough food to feed a small village by then, and on that car journey she managed to decimate an entire packet of mini rolls before offering me the wrappers apologetically. It was funny because Tara is so careful with her diet normally, and it was so strange to see her eating like a 300lb man (me).

I will finish here

There is more to the story, as i'm sure you can imagine. Much of it I have repressed, or overwritten in my mind. Much of it was too painful to describe, or I simply don't have the words. But what I will say is that before the laughing began I was sure I would need therapy, but that was proven not to be the case. The laughters effect on my cortisol levels was like Kryptonite stripping Superman of his powers, it made him feel a little more human.


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