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Four Questions on F U N with Dr. Eve Valera

Can Bollywood dancing keep the blues away? Carrie Collins, CEO of BIAAZ, recently had the chance to talk with Dr. Eve Valera of Harvard University about the role of fun and laughter in our everyday lives.

Brain Fun Kim and Eve

“I try to put myself in situations and surround myself with people who make me laugh as much as possible. I still live by a phrase I wrote under my picture in a yearbook: ‘The most wasted day of all is that on which we have not laughed.’ It was written by a French playwright, Sebastian Roch Nicolas Chamfort, in the mid 1700s.”

Four Questions on F U N with Dr. Eve Valera

Can Bollywood dancing keep the blues away? Carrie Collins, CEO of BIAAZ, recently had the chance to talk with Dr. Eve Valera of Harvard University about the role of fun and laughter in our everyday lives.

QUESTION 1

Collins: What do you do for fun?

Valera: Dance! It could be hip hop, rap, salsa, merengue, reggaeton, house, club, Bollywood – no seriously Bollywood! Bollywood dancing is sooo much fun!! But ultimately the form of dance doesn’t matter. I was probably dancing salsa in my mother’s womb! Simply put – it gives me incredible joy.

I also love to laugh! So, I try to put myself in situations and surround myself with people who make me laugh as much as possible. I still live by a phrase I wrote under my picture in a yearbook: The most wasted day of all is that on which we have not laughed. It was written by a French playwright, Sebastian Roch Nicolas Chamfort, in the mid 1700s.

I also must mention my love of traveling! To experience new cultures, scream with high adrenaline adventures (e.g., sky diving), snuggle sleepily with my puppy and bunny, swim, skip rocks and capture crabs with my kiddo at the beach, and splurge on weekly date nights with the hubby.

Brain Fun Kim and Eve

“I try to put myself in situations and surround myself with people who make me laugh as much as possible. I still live by a phrase I wrote under my picture in a yearbook: ‘The most wasted day of all is that on which we have not laughed.’ It was written by a French playwright, Sebastian Roch Nicolas Chamfort, in the mid 1700s.”

QUESTION 2

Collins: What is one of your earliest memories of having fun?

Valera: Ahhhh – thank you for asking this! It brings back such heartwarming memories!

My “Aunt Angie” would vacuum her black cat. We — my identical twin and I — were raised in a pretty strict household and did not get many “extras” (though we had everything we needed!). Aunt Angie would spoil us and make us laugh.

We loved walking a few houses down the street (in those days it was safe to do that even at a very young age!) where we would be entertained by her antics and truly vivacious personality. She would treat us like little angels, give us yummy goodies as we sat at her table and laughed at her funny comments, and send us shrieking through the house as she giddily vacuumed her beautiful black cat. She was a ray of sunshine for which I will be forever grateful.

QUESTION 3

Collins: My Girl Scout troop leader recently passed away from dementia. One of my many vivid memories of her is nearly 40 years ago on a trip to Toronto she took us cruising in her truck at night on Yonge Street. We were a bunch of girls giggling, hooting, and hollering. It was pure joy. Even though we were kids, she respected us as individuals, and she respected our ideas, and she was a fun person.

So, I had a childhood and young adulthood where I have some positive and fun formative experiences to draw from. Others are not so lucky. How can we as individuals support or understand so that we can serve survivors of trauma who have not had the same experiences in trust, joy and fun that we might have had?

Valera: I think it boils down to the basics, treating others with respect, compassion, dignity, and how we would like to be treated ourselves.

Not everyone has “trauma-informed” training, and not everyone can understand how trauma may change how people view later experiences or lose faith they may have held previously.

However, everyone can listen, be non-judgmental, and offer basic sources of support (a ride, a meal, lunchtime walks). When we act in this way, we create an opportunity for trust, which will ultimately bring with it the opportunity to experience joy, to hopefully create moments like the ones they did not get to experience as a child.

QUESTION 4

Collins: For someone who has left an abusive situation or survived an assault, it can be a jarring feeling to catch yourself having fun or enjoying life. Anger can be a protection, a control, or a way of honoring that something bad happened. What do you say to someone who needs to reestablish joy or fun in their life?  

Valera: This is a great and important question! I guess I would say, “You deserve to enjoy life!”

Unfortunately, in abusive relationships, the person experiencing the abuse has often been told repeatedly by the abuser that they are not worth anything, that they are bad people, that no one else likes them and they don’t deserve anything better or anything good. It can be difficult not to internalize that after constantly being told these things by the person you love.

I would tell that person the opposite of all those things and help them learn how to say the opposite to themselves every day until they believe it. Ideally, they could set a schedule to gradually allow some fun things into their lives as they try to retrain their brain that it is ok and even healing to have fun.

Dr. Eve Valera is an associate professor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and a research scientist at Massachusetts General Hospital.

ABOUT BRAIN INJURY ALLIANCE OF ARIZONA

The Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona (BIAAZ) is the only statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of adults and children with all types of brain injuries through prevention, advocacy, awareness and education. BIAAZ also houses the Arizona Brain Health Resource Center, a collection of educational information and neuro-specific resources for brain injury survivors, caregivers, family members and professionals.

What began in 1983 as a grassroots effort has grown into a strong statewide presence, providing valuable life-long resources and community support for individuals with all types of brain trauma at no charge.

The Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona:

  • Works with Congressional Brain Injury Task Force
  • Houses Arizona Brain Health Resource Center
  • Hosts Statewide Opioid Use Disorder & Cognitive Impairment Workgroup
  • Has Statewide Opioid Use Disorder & Cognitive Impairment Response team with peer support, training, and family wraparound services
  • Facilitates Brain Health Advisory Council
  • Manages statewide Neuro Info-Line: 888-500-9165

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