April 29, 2020 by Speakers' Spotlight
Jessica Holmes: Not Today Puzzle! Using Humour to Cope with Physical Distancing
When physical distancing started, the structure-lover in me panicked. In that first week I pulled out an unopened 1000-piece puzzle I was saving for the apocalypse, baked a hundred muffins, and maniacally learned hip hop online, all to quiet my sense of uncertainty.
Within a few days, reason kicked in and a little voice in my head said “slow down. Your purpose at this time is to keep a roof overhead and deal with your feelings. You’re in the middle of a global health crisis, not at a job fair.” So, I’ve relaxed my expectations and focused on what’s best for us, moment by moment.
At this point the half-finished puzzle is more breadcrumb/cat hair than cardboard, and it’s become another running joke in the family. We laugh about the puzzle that won’t end the same way we laugh about my home hair colour attempt (my roots are currently a Ronald McDonald shade of orange).
We have lost control of many things during this pandemic, and the least I can do is find humour to cope through it. So, how can we get more laughter in our lives at a time when people are triggered by isolation, fear of uncertainty, and financial instability? It’s not always easy, but here are a few ways I’ve been focusing on the bright side.
A few years ago, after recovering from depression, I got back into an old habit of mine I call funny journaling. It means keeping a running tab of things that make you laugh — inside jokes, memories, or observations that wouldn’t necessarily mean anything to anyone else. Like a gratitude journal but for humour. I promise that the more you look for comedy, the more you’ll find it. Funny has been around you this whole time. On the flip side, if you look for bad news, you’ll find that too. I prefer to keep it light, and funny journal entries are great to read on a rainy day.
Going Over Old Memories
Remember when your parents would pull out an old photo album and you’d laugh “hahaha, that was right before Dad fell out of the canoe!” or “hahaha, I forgot about my angry goth phase!” I printed off some family photos this week and left them on the table to spark conversation so we weren’t just limited to the usual “how was your day? Oh wait, I’ve been with you all day, every day, for the last six weeks. Nevermind.”
Getting Out of the House SAFELY
The other day I could tell the walls were closing in on all of us. It was pouring outside so I took a chance:
Me: Kids, is there any place you’ve ever wanted to drive past in Toronto? A landmark or a neighborhood you’d like to see?
Kids: Where the rich people live!!
So, to the Bridle Path we went, driving up and down grand avenues admiring fancy gates, gargoyles, and residences worthy of having a season of The Bachelor shot in them.
Kids: Their grass isn’t brown like ours.
Me: Shhh, just enjoy the scenery.
It wasn’t a trip to Universal Orlando, but it was two hours out of the house on a rainy day, and now my husband owes me a huge favour for giving him alone time. So, look who’s winning (sort of).
If I ever stumble upon a time travel machine, I’m going back to January 2020 and buying stock in Zoom. We’ve managed to have a Choir! Choir! Choir! singalong with friends, celebrate birthdays, and go to Sunday Services, all online. The most meaningful calls have been to commiserate with friends on the tough moments (so important for our mental health!) and Saturday night dinner with my parents, which always ends with trivia games. Not too shabby for a lockdown!
Trying Something New
There’s fun in numbers, and there’s comfort in noise. I told the kids to “pick a fun family activity and we’ll do it each day!” A week later I got realistic and revised it every OTHER day. Our favourites so far are ping pong championships, Just Dance on the Wii, karaoke, and going for bike rides. It’s great to break up the monotony.
Making Wiggle Room for Screen Time
For those of us who are working AND homeschooling, technology has become our lifeline. Judge all you like but what’s working for us is a daily allowance of two hours of zombie screen time (mindless, disengaged watching of TV, skimming social media, etc.) and two hours of thoughtful screen time (playing on the HouseParty app with classmates, videogames with friends online, creating and editing their own funny videos, etc.). Socializing is incredibly important during physical distancing, and unless you’re one of those fancy, extroverted parent who happens to be their kid’s parent AND best friend, you gotta outsource the socializing!
Making Social Media a Positive Place
When I first joined Instagram, I thought, “ok, so this is where we all try to show we have the best life, right?” and used my account to keep up with the Joneses. Now that the curtain has been pulled back we’ve had to collectively rethink what we’re doing on these platforms, and the results are refreshing.
We’re being real. We’re being supportive and asking for support. And sure, some of us are starting WW3 with divisive political comments but that’s what the “block” function is for. Personally, I’m trying to be more mindful with it. Before I post I ask, “how do I want others to receive what I’m putting out there?” I chose “with laughter, validation, and a dash of fancy”. My daughter chose “with empowerment and inspiration” for hers. Love!
Finding the Kindness That Works For You
Doing something kind is an immediate mood booster. For some people, it’s delivering groceries to those in quarantine, ordering online from local businesses, or sewing masks. For me, it’s making funny videos to validate what we’re going through. I’ve impersonated Tiger King, encouraged formal housekeeping, pulled a Mrs. Doubtfire on the kids, and shown how Celine Dion might be coping in lockdown. It’s not much, but it feels good to do something for others, beyond staying home and having clean hands. Laughter is a great coping skill, so if you have a choice between watching comedy or drama these days, do yourself a favour and pick a sitcom over a thriller.
Wherever you’re at, know that you’re entitled to feel however you’re feeling. This is new territory for all of us, so cut yourself some slack. Take a deep breath. Let those shoulders down. Have a laugh.
Jessica Holmes has been a perennial favourite on Royal Canadian Air Farce for 15 years, and has brought the house down opening for giants such as Ellen DeGeneres, Russell Peters, Jerry Seinfeld, and Oprah Winfrey. Her hilarious take on life’s challenges as well as her unique knack for skewering celebrities (including Nikki Minaj and Celine Dion) have made her a beloved comedian across Canada.
Behind the laughter though, Jessica — like millions of Canadians — has struggled both with post-partum depression and, as she puts it, “regular, run-of-the-mill, garden-variety depression”. Hoping to help end the stigma around mental health issues, she openly shares her personal stories with the humour she’s known for, and is the bestselling author of Depression The Comedy: A Tale of Perseverance. In 2018 she became an ambassador for Bell Let’s Talk.