• Author:Ben Jones
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Being there when the laughing stops

I was reminded today of a moment that deserved to win the internet. A moment, so funny, so priceless, that it warrants its own category of viral. At least one clip of it has closed up 22 million views on YouTube with many other versions doing the rounds. I write of course about “Fenton!”.

The runaway labrador chasing a herd of red deer around Richmond Park, followed by a horrified owner mumbling and then shouting “Jesus Christ!”. All of which is caught on camera by a passer-by just minding their own business and admiring the wildlife. It is a clip that never gets old. It is a clip that always makes me smile. 

When it appeared again today – someone had reminded Twitter of its genius – it raised a smile and prompted me to show it (once again) to Dr J. It was like popping on an old, comfy sweater or a comfortable pair of soft shoes. But neither a belly laugh nor a roaring out loud snorter did this time it provoke. And that got me thinking. Not about Fenton, but about me and my propensity to laugh these days; my reaction when good stuff, funny stuff happens.

There is little doubt – now that I have spent a run thinking about it – I couldn’t get it out of my mind whilst plodding around the windswept streets of Birkdale this afternoon – that I don’t laugh like I used to; don’t find the Fentons of the world or indeed much else as funny as I once did. It is not hard to discern the exactly moment that this change occurred. There is pre-breakdown and post-breakdown laughing.

There is a blissful, ignorant time of my life, when, ironically life felt easier (it wasn’t and it was pushing me to a horrid cliff edge) and my enlightened self; the me of today. The me of breakdown; recovery; therapy; anti-depressants; more therapy; ongoing, day to day hard work on my wellbeing; no alcohol; better routines; quieter life; calmer; happier and settled. It is a further irony that I am now much happier than I have been  – still living with the awfulness of depression but now understanding who I am and what drives me and helps me – and yet I smile and laugh less than I did. A lot less. As someone ominously once said of one of the UK’s great comedians, I wouldn’t want to be there when the laughing stops.

There is one exception. The laughing I do with my extraordinary wife. Bent over double. Tears rolling down our faces. Can’t breath laughing. This is a regular thing for us and is mostly triggered by the silliest, smallest things. Last week it was my attempts to cut Dr J’s hair. Now. there’s a whole blog in itself!

Without sounding too pompous or pious, I realised today that a bi-product of having a greater grasp on my emotions – both good and bad – having a more settled outlook on life and being less frantic, active, always on – means that I find life a bit more serious and less funny. I have been through too much heartache over the last few years to take anything for granted and although I work hard to live in the moment, I am more conscious than ever to try to keep my ship on an even keel; reducing the lows and as a result, although not deliberately, the highs.

I have written before about the effect my fifteen months on anti-depressants had on my overall levels of anxiety and mood. They were a great settler and took the edge off, but not just of darker, more anxious moments, but off the great highs, big laughs and joys of life. In the end, that was why I took the decision – over two months ago now – to cut the cord and go it alone. Although, of course never alone. With my hand constantly held on one side by my wonderful wife – who knows and sees it all – and on the other by my darling daughter – who just sees her daddy and doesn’t know there is any other option but to love him.

As my run ended and the endorphins were kicking in I realised something else. The reason that I can continue to laugh like the pre-breakdown me with Aileen is because I am more comfortable, safe and happy with her than with anyone else in the world. Her support and love has created the warmest, tightest comfort blanket around me and given me the space and the confidence to let go of fears, worries and emotions. She has seen it all; my lowest points; my darkest moments.

It is the fact that she saw me curled in a ball in the kitchen sobbing; crying at the merest incident at work (maybe even just an un-replied to email); lost from myself and the world; on the phone crying, asking her to come home from work to pick me off the floor; unable to get in the car in the morning to go to work or take Miss J to school; tossing and turning in bed; up early; restless; in pain; in aguish. The fact is, that nothing is off limits. Nothing too sad or too funny for us. Nothing at all.

Fenton is still funny, really funny and I can still smile and laugh. But nothing would even be worth the smallest smirk or smile without my wife. My light. My love. My laughter. And for that I thank “Jesus Christ!”.