Survivors Empowering Survivors

How Can This Be Funny? Using Humor to Heal

Kelly Wilson possesses one of the most powerful healing tools that any survivor can own — a sense of humor. The reality is that survivors struggle through dark moments and dark days, but that doesn’t mean that fear and depression hold our personalities captive. We are a community of men and women that are very often in tune with laughter and joy, because we have survived more misery and suffering than most. I already knew Kelly was an incredibly talented woman, but after reading her post Beating PTSD with Awesome Stand Up Comedy, and watching her hilarious stand-up videos (You gotta watch! Links at bottom of post), I knew I had to beg ask her to be a part of the #SurvivorsEmpoweringSurvivors series. Today, Kelly challenges us to channel our inner twisted senses of humor, and use laughter to take back the control.

Kelly-Wilson-headshotAfter I had my oldest child, I knew I was a writer. After I had my youngest child, I knew I was funny.

My oldest child, who is now thirteen years old, was born in a tornado of trauma that threatened both our lives. After a few days when it was certain we would both live, I discovered that my best friend had also had her baby in the midst of trauma. However, her baby died.

The confusion and grief that followed this news was overwhelming. As I trekked to and from the hospital each day to visit my oldest child in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, I found myself processing our near-death and healing through a filter that included immense grief for my best friend.

Everything that everybody said to me – regardless of the comfort that they intended – made me question my foundational philosophies and faith. If someone said I was blessed because my child had lived, I questioned if that meant that my friend was being punished. As another person said that my trauma was somehow part of God’s plan, I wondered what kind of God would take babies from their mothers. This was the tip of the iceberg.

During that year of being a new mom and getting very little sleep and wondering if I was going to make it, the only way I could avoid drowning in depression and hopelessness was to write. I had always been a writer, even as a kid. I wrote pages and pages of earnest questions and my changing ways of thinking, even as my fingers trembled and my heart fluttered in my chest.

About two and a half years later, I was pregnant with my youngest child and placed on mandatory hospital bed rest. I was in the hospital for 28 days – which I joked was as long as rehab without all the “perks” – because my uterus had sprung a leak and my baby kept sitting on the umbilical cord and cutting of his supply of oxygen. Every day was gambling on whether leaving the baby in the womb was safer than taking him via emergency c-section, and he still had eight weeks to cook.

I wrote about those experiences as well, and those stories have a certain twisted humor about them because I was trapped in a hospital and my baby’s life was threatened every day and let’s face it – I was going a bit crazy.

Kelly CFC-front-coverIt wasn’t too many years later that I decided to write a book about my experiences with grief and trauma, particularly how the nature of grief is cyclical and that the stages of grief theory hadn’t really helped me as I had expected. It was a very somber, earnest, and real look at the nature of the grief process from a survivor of abuse who had undergone a significant amount of trauma before finally breaking down.

It was also boring. As I shopped it around, an agent asked me, “Memoirs are a dime a dozen. What makes yours different? What makes you different?”

People of all ages had told me for years that I was funny. I cracked jokes without even meaning to, and especially in inappropriate times and places. I had just completed a stand-up comedy class and hadn’t done too badly, if I do say so myself.

Could I make this grief memoir funny? Was it even possible to make fun of trauma?

I went back through early versions of my stories to see if I had culled out the funniest parts, the segments that I thought may be too “offensive” or misunderstood.

Sure enough, I found them – what turned out to be the best parts of my book.

kelly stand-up-for-blog2

The brain is hard-wired for humor, we just don’t understand why or how. And while neuroscience is just beginning to understand the importance of humor in treating trauma and mental illness, I have plenty of personal experience and anecdotes to encourage others to at least try it as part of a larger treatment plan.

When I hang out at comedy clubs and hear other comics, I learn a lot about comedy and I leave feeling better than when I arrived. When I recognize that something is funny – especially when I’m angry or in pain, usually about my PTSD, depression, or anxiety – I write it down and feel more control. After I took a series of Improv classes at a local theater, my depression started to lift more frequently and I started to feel more even.

To me, making humor out of grief and trauma and mental illness is a no-brainer. Not to say that all of us need to take the stage and become stand-up comedians. But seeing our traumatic experiences through the lens of comedy can certainly help inject some light into those dark places where we need to hide, and make our trips into the darkness shorter and easier to manage.

Watch more videos here.


Kelly Wilson is an author and comedian who entertains and inspires with stories of humor, healing, and hope. She is the author of Live Cheap and Free, Don’t Punch People in the Junk, and Caskets From Costco.

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, Kelly writes and speaks about finding hope in the process of recovery. Through both stand-up and improv comedy, she brings laughter to audiences of all ages using a wide range of subject matter, including silly songs, parenting stories, and jokes and anecdotes revolving around mental health issues.

Kelly Wilson currently writes for a living and lives with her Magically Delicious husband, junk-punching children, dog, cat, and stereotypical minivan in Portland, Oregon. Read more about her at







Amazon Author Page –



One thought on “How Can This Be Funny? Using Humor to Heal

  1. What an awesome way to cope. Makes me a little bit sad for myself, when I think back to when I was young and funny, and my funny seems to be hiding somewhere lately. I’ll have to make a concerted effort to find her!


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