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Bloom Vol. 25: Kids in the Sandbox

This week, musician and mental health advocate Alex Wagner discusses emotional contagion and the power of humor. Remembering the comedy of life itself can help us lighten up a little and, in turn, encourage a more empathic world

There was always a dark matter cloud hovering over my every move through my days navigating the mental health challenge of bipolar disorder.

A brooding seriousness.

What does that mean, exactly?

If I began to feel significantly elated at any particular moment, I wondered if an uncontrollable sense of mania would soon follow my upbeat ways.

I’d then feel Insecure, confused, doubtful, and inadequate.

My mind was tensing up as I anticipated some sort of collision.

It was a ticking time bomb that didn’t exist most of the time. I’d attempt to diffuse a force that wasn’t there.

Inadvertently, that action would then produce a bomb.

I was immensely troubled by how people would interpret my well-being and how that interpretation would change the course of their day.

There is a concept called emotional contagion. Emotional contagion is the infectious nature of our state of being and its influence on other people.

The emotions of one can alter the feelings of another, which we’ve discussed in “Bloom” before.

Earlier today, I listened to Ben Glenn II, a television historian, speaking on how laugh tracks in comedic pieces spur boisterous eruptions within individuals who might not have chuckled otherwise.

We are interpreting something as funnier perhaps than it is because we hear a roar of laughter.

Unknowingly, I was obsessed with this notion of emotional contagion.

All those awkward and uncomfortable emotions and feelings I described earlier that I would feel close to every day made me feel like I had to constantly create a stable baseline outside of myself through external action.
I’d think to myself to prove my inner resolve that I had to take on all of the world’s problems and solve them.

I would focus more on external action than internal regulation and create the problem I wanted to prevent.

Implosions would only hurt me and those close to me.

Those closest to me would feel my tears, feel my brittle nature. Things would repeat themselves because I was looking to the wrong place to influence how I affected other people.

I had the order of operations wrong with the self-imposed weight of the world on my back.

What if I had laughed a little through the process?

What if I had seen that I’d set off positive emotional chain reactions by just focusing on my inner self first?

Regulate within first.

On airplanes, they say to fix your oxygen mask to your head first before a child’s. This scenario is the same. It is in the best interest of everyone.

Fix that mask onto yourself and give yourself a break! Partake in the comedy of life. You’ll set a better tone for the rest of the folks in the cabin.

An example – If we are livid about the commute home from work, it might be wise to sit in the car for a second and take some deep breaths before entering the home and wait a few hours more before making a final call on committing to a date later in the week with a new lover.

Those breaths might lead to humored sighs. “How ridiculous was Steve at work! That wasn’t my problem!” you might say as you chuckle.

You’ll say yes to that date, and that date could turn into your lifelong partner.

When I’m lighter, I hear people better. I see things better.

I am a greater contributor to my outside world when I laugh.

Empathy becomes more accessible when we wiggle a little.

After all, what are we?

We, humans, are these wiggling atomic structures hurdling through space.

Taking off the jackets of anticipation and removing accrued societal perception, we see that we are all just molecules swirling about.

I laugh at the gravity I used to place upon myself now – it doesn’t mean it’s gone forever.

It still happens from time to time.

I caught myself last week placing pressure on things that were already diamonds.

Then I invited a friend over for a playdate. Yes, that is what my mother used to call the time scheduled with friends when I was four years old.

That was the stage we set as two humans in their 30s.

Together, we made alien sounds. We danced like robots who also knew a touch of thai chi. We laughed. We paused.

We rapped about food.

We stayed up until the wee hours of the night.

We made a mess.

It was truly contagious.

Two compositions of excited atoms just grooving.

We illuminated the dark matter, identified as technicolor silly puddy that we could mold with our thoughts and emotional being.

We would take a second to regulate ourselves internally, in silence beside one another, then continue in our dance.

I, from the United States, and them, an immigrant from China, together in harmony.

It made me wonder about the harmony of the world, and what it could be if we all just realized we are a bunch of kids in the sandbox of the universe.

Now, we might not always have the bandwidth or the ability to have a friend come over and play in the sandbox.

We can all be play specialists and create our own comedy.

Lighten up the falls.

Set a better stage in which to gain dominion over our emotional states.

To choose when we allow the gravity of the species to modify our orbit.

A great inspiration of mine for this is the comedic musician Marc Rebillet.

If you have never heard of him, watch this short clip.

He inspires me to be silly.

He never does the same performance twice. Each instance is perfectly fit for the moment in which it occurs.

We can do the same to check in with ourselves, to give ourselves a little polite brain massage through laughter.

I wonder if we all on this planet could laugh a little more, that we might drop the layers that prevent us from loving one another more.

I can love others more now that I love and value myself.

Lightening the load has helped.

I can contribute to my communities in meaningful ways and make a positive impact outside of myself.

Loving myself came in part from laughing at myself more.

I could laugh because I was able to separate myself from society for a second, then rejoin, understanding interconnectivity.
Chuckles give way to compassion.

Perhaps the rich person in their ivory tower might realize they could share the same joke of life with someone trembling at the base of their fortress.

Perhaps if the person with a mental health challenge was shown that there is no rush or pressure from the outside world, they might heal faster.

It’s just a thought.

So, as Marc Rebillet would do, I challenge you to grab a robe, put on a beat, and rap about your day.

Be absurd.

Take a step away from this mutually agreed upon reality and become a goofball.

Play like the child you are inside.

You might just change the world.


About the Author

Photo: Sumit Dhungel

A dance music producer, singer, and songwriter, Alex Wagner’s production career includes releases on Atlantic Records, Big Beat Records, and more.

As a crisis counselor for Crisis Text Line and certified peer counselor with the state of Washington, he has organized multiple mental health awareness events called “Grooving for Good” leveraging the power of music and the arts. He currently resides in Seattle, Washington. You can follow him on Instagram at @asinglewave.