In the summer of 2007, I went for a week trip to Barcelona. Just my assistant and I. The trip did not start off that well, my wheelchair stayed behind in Holland when we stopped there from Helsinki to take a connecting flight to Barcelona. I had a rental apartment right on the famous the ‘Las Ramblas Boulevard’. Our apartment was in 3rd level but should not be a problem because they have an elevator. Little did I know that the elevator was so small that I could barely fit in.
When we opened the door of the lift for the first time, we were like “no way we can fit”. But we had no choice but to try. It was a complete event. First every moveable part had to come off the chair while I am sitting in it. Then my assistant would push the button, closed the door and ran upstairs with all those parts of the chair. And running wasn’t the easiest thing for this particular assistant.
One time we were going out, and she put me to the lift and pressed the button. But instead of going down I started to get up! My God! Someone else was also going out and had ordered the lift before we pressed. I could hear my assistant running after me screaming my name. Couple levels later the lift stopped. An elderly man opened the door a bit absent minded and was just about to step in when he noticed me and jumped up in a shock. Luckily my assistant arrived just seconds after saving just not me, but the old man also. I was just laughing all the time while she sent me down and went running again after me. When we came home later that day we had wised up, and now she found a way to squeeze into that infamous lift with me!!! It was like the American game Twister where you have to put one foot here and other there. In one hand, she was holding parts of the wheelchair. And with the other hand she was taking support of the wall. We had such a good laugh the whole week long just with the taking of the elevator.
You can imagine that I was not laughing and joking much right after the stroke. My brother ‘Jukka’ was the one who stepped up at the time. Both Jukka and I love practical jokes. We have the same kind of weird sense of humor, and we get each other. (Same with my friend Stephanie. We can be laughing tears in our eyes, and people around don’t understand what was so funny).
Jukka was a big part of my mental healing. He could and was able to make me laugh no matter the situation. He was a big help during the hospital period. In the hospital, I had motorized bed, and he used to lift it as high as possible. So the nurses weren’t able to reach me when they came to do something to me (it put a smile on my face every time). At least we had fun. He also would take me running around the hallways of the hospital in my wheelchair. Once we were going so fast that one time the wheels came off!
At home, we laughed a lot. Humor was certainly one of the most important unofficial therapies that helped me to deal with everything that has happened. When I was at the Käpylä Physical Rehabilitation centre, I was told that I didn’t need psychotherapy because I had such strong mental health caretakers at home. Our continuous laughter has protected us from depression. No tranquilizers or medication for depression was needed.
Very often we use black humor; sometimes it can be so black that others don’t understand it. Our ability to laugh at bad things has helped us to survive what seemed like a hopeless situation. Some people think my mother is a frightening and dominating person but the truth is she’s just the opposite. They just don’t understand what she has been through and a sense of humor she developed because of it.
It was a normal hot day in Aruba when my assistant Michelle and I took the car and went to the city looking all nice. Our first stop was at my favorite shop on the tourist strip. Of course, it is an Asian shop full of bling. It was always very difficult to find parking around the shop. And since my assistant Michella would only pick up my last obsession we decided just to pull up in front of the shop, and she would run inside to get the things. After closing windows and locking car doors off, she went. I was deep in my thoughts when someone scared the living daylights out of me. I do so not appreciate being frightened, because of the involuntary reaction of my body and noises I make when so. My anger immediately disappeared when I looked at a beautiful pair of chocolate brown eyes. My eyes slid downward only to find perfectly formed body in a dark blue uniform.
P O L I C E!!! He motioned to roll down the window. Thoughts were racing in my head what I could do. Shall I scream? Shall I play suddenly getting some seizure mouth foaming? Then the great unthinkable master plan hit me. I gave him my sweetest and seductive smiles ever looking straight into his eyes. He motioned again. Now I also tried winking eye with a smile. He looked extremely puzzled why I didn’t open. Not to be arrogant, but I have to admit that If you see me without the wheelchair you will not think that I am paralyzed. The look in his face started to change when luckily Michella came to the rescue. She explained him the situation. Then he just gave me a smile and returned to his vehicle. We just could not stop laughing! That situation had been HILARIOUS. And they say disabled people cannot have fun.
My sense of humor has helped me to keep my old identity. People often ask me how I can always be so happy. I do have days when I’m down but, fortunately, those days come less and less frequently. I’m used to this life. For me this is a perfectly normal way to live. After the first year of shock, I decided to take everything I could get out of the life I have left. Otherwise, I would have wasted many years just being depressed and waiting to die. Where is the fun in feeling sorry for yourself?
One main ingredient of living life as good as possible is humor. And of course I share it with family, friends and everyone else. It is one of the biggest components in my relationship with Henning. We laugh much more than the average couples. It is a way of life for us. You can say that we are mainly happy people, and we are not ashamed to show it. We laugh very much also with assistants. We laugh about everything happening around us. For instance, when misspelling and coming up with funny words or sentences. When I look for a new assistant, I don’t care much about her past nor her papers and experience. One of the most important things that I focus on is that we are on the same wavelength and if we can share some humor.
It was a beautiful summer day here in Mikkeli. Mom and I were sitting in the garden. Mom being her energetic self was starting to get bored just sitting there taking sun (Oh no. She could have never survived being in my shoes without going crazy). Suddenly she got this amazing idea to practice rollerblading. Well, she does love speed like I. She is crazier than I in that sense. She decided that the best place to practice was garage because there was an even floor. First she wheeled me inside the garage. She put padding on just to her knees so she would still have her nice legs in case she fell. Then the rollerblades on and off she went. She was doing surprisingly well. At first she was wobbling a little then speeding more and more. Mom was circling the garage the way professionals skate. Suddenly her trip and the walls came closing in very fast. Luckily for her she was just across by the garage side door which was open. It was a mixture of running, skating and leaping like a frog and she vanished through the opened door. Man I was laughing so hard! After a moment, she walked in from the main doors all covered in grass. I could not stop laughing and said: I wish you had been paralyzed so they would build a second wing to the house. Can you imagine dad running from one wing to another to help us that would be really hilarious.
To be able to laugh at oneself is the ultimate definition of a free spirit that has no limits. A spirit that can trespass every border and conquer the world.