Laugh It Up

Embrace Freedom and Experience Defiant Joy

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by Kelinda Crawford

Solutions Magazine goes deep with Candace Payne on depression, joy, and her new book, Laugh It Up!

Q: Candace, as “Chewbacca Mom” you lit up the internet with your infectious laughter and became an instant hit with millions of people. Why do you think your “Chewbacca” video had such a profound affect on so many?

A: I believe there are two things about the video that resonates with people. The first is the authentic moment that was captured. Because let’s be honest, there’s nothing truly remarkable about a 4 minute video with 3 minutes of it being laughter (unless that laughter radiates pure joy). I feel people connected with that moment of true authentic laughter and unfiltered joy.

I also know that the “temperament” on social media can be somewhat spicy and negative. I believe this video offered some much needed levity at a time when the world felt heavy. It was a nod to the simpler moments of life; the ones that defy the norm and mundane of an average day and finds space to play. We all want to revel in simple joys. And for those four minutes, you could!

Q: You write in your new book, Laugh It Up! Embrace Freedom and Experience Defiant Joy,that we all put on masks at some point in our lives that end our true desires, wants and identities. Share with us a bit about some of the masks you have worn.

A: I have often felt as though being fun and childlike was not useful in a world that demands we be taken seriously in our profession. I really felt the pressure to be “taken seriously” and found myself hiding behind a facade of do’s and don’ts, trying to replicate the success others found in their unique styles. Through those experiences, I learned there was a difference in being childlike and childish. And, somewhere along the way, I had to shut out the shouts of comparison and stand up to be the very person I was trying to suppress. It all started with a simple belief that I am enough and who I am authentically is what I am meant to be.

That’s not the only mask I’ve worn. When I became a mom for the first time, I was consumed with the desire to be a good one. What that meant to me at the time was trying to keep up with the newest trends and advice about breast-feeding vs. bottle-feeding, how you’re supposed to discipline your kiddos, and whatever else…you name it. It was exhausting. All the while, I was unaware that who I am was exactly what my kids needed in a mother. Once I realized my value, I didn’t need to be anyone else. I took off my mask and our house quickly changed from hustle and worry to fun and fluid.

Q: You candidly describe your own struggles with depression and an attempt at suicide. What changed for you? Describe the moment you discovered you could “embrace freedom and experience defiant joy.”

A: I believe my struggle with depression and my suicide attempt were a direct result of fighting comparison. Have you heard the old quote, “comparison is the thief of joy”? Well. Yeah. That about sums up what was going on internally with me. Not only that, but coupled with the fact that I didn’t believe people were laughing WITH me, but AT me… it was a perfect storm. I felt tired of being the object of everyone’s joke. And, like many others who have dealt with suicidal thoughts, you really feel hopeless in a moment where your thoughts overwhelm and overtake rationale.

The moment for me changed when one of my roommates found me and confronted me with compassion and empathy. She walked with me until the next morning light. And sometimes that’s all it requires to being to embrace freedom: to get through the night and make it to the next day with someone who will walk with you, believe in you, and remind you of who you really are.

Q: The truth is, we have all been wounded in one way or another. Life can be very difficult sometimes and we often get hurt. Some people, unfortunately, choose to stay stuck in the “hurt.” What has helped you the most to move past the wounds, past the hurt, to find healing and joy?

A: In a very practical way, I’d like to offer up what’s worked for me when processing hurtful words. First off, check the weight of the words that have hurt or wounded you. Sometimes the words come from strangers online, bullies, or acquaintances that don’t truly know you. Those words carry very little weight in the way I repeat and receive them as a truth about myself. Now, if its someone that knows me well, loves me, has been a voice of encouragement for me in times past?

I find myself listening with a more intentional ear when they offer critique. You’ve got to admit…criticism isn’t the easiest thing to receive or hear. Yet, when it’s spoken by someone who loves us and cares for our best, no matter how hurtful, I listen differently. The other sad reality? Often we wound ourselves more than any words spoken by others. We would NEVER talk to a friend the way we sometimes talk to ourselves. And, more often than we are even aware, the offense and hurt done to us by someone else has long lost its’ power…we are the ones who have internalized it and keep picking the scab instead of nursing the wound. I have found a heart that doesn’t get offended so easily is a key to finding healing and true joy.

Q: Why do you feel it is so hard for people to take their masks off, to be their authentic selves?

A: Well, I believe taking off a mask is hard work for anyone. We are conditioned to perform and behave for affection, reward, and promotion. And while that is good in many areas of our lives to be successful and contribute to our communities in ways that help the common good, it can also be damaging if this becomes the norm for how we find our value and worth. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found myself in friendships and relationships where I felt an unhealthy pressure to be someone or something I am not.

How many of us have said to ourselves: You are more loved and accepted than you ever imagined possible. “if they really knew who I was or what I thought, then they wouldn’t ________.” And that fill-in-the-blank is where most of us stay stuck. We struggle with feeling as though we won’t be loved or accepted if we take off our masks. The irony? When you do, in most cases you are more loved and accepted than you ever imagined possible.

Q: What role did shame play in your struggle to find your authentic self, and how did you finally rise above it?

A: Wow. That’s a loaded question that I think the book answers a bit better than I can in just a few sentences here. But, simply I believe this: shame and joy cannot live peacefully together in your thoughts about yourself. Shame is a bully that whispers you’re never enough or worthy of the life you long to life…ultimately of the life that’s filled with joy. Yet, in order to experience true joy, find your authentic self, and be set free from debilitating thoughts…you must evict shame. Listen. If it comes down to being full of joy versus being full of shame, who wouldn’t want the first? One of them has to go!

Q: Can you share with us briefly one of the things people can do when life weighs down heavily upon them?

A: I have to PAUSE. Most of my ill thought decisions came from a mind that was heavy with legitimate cares of this world. My self-hatred and self-shaming talk came from the moments I would rush into try and make it all better or create a counterfeit joy. I cannot express enough the importance of PAUSING in the middle of your day and re-focusing on the good and not the bad, embrace thoughts that are noble, not shaming. There’s something about taking a giant breath in and defying the hurried pace that worry brings. It resets when you feel that heaviness. It offers a chance to get out from under your thoughts and think differently about the reality of a situation or to recognize the truth about your self.

Q: So, what does the future hold for “Chewbacca Mom”? Tell us a bit about your plans for the future.

A: Well, I am speaking and writing a ton nowadays. But, really? The sky is the limit for what’s next. I have dreams I have still yet seen come true. I have desires for good things for my family and friends that I want to see come true as well. But, ultimately, I am continuing to walk through open doors and take it a day and project at a time, all the while (hopefully) bringing fun, hope, and joy wherever I may land.