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Humor experts shed light on mental illness

 From left: Jeannine Luby and Gab Bonesso, comedians, with Katie Spencer and Marie Onukiavage of NAMI Northeast Region.
Jeannine Luby
Laugh to Live
From left: Jeannine Luby and Gab Bonesso, comedians, with Katie Spencer and Marie Onukiavage of NAMI Northeast Region. The group visited the Scranton Counseling Center to give a presentation during Mental Health Awareness Month.

Every stand-up has a shtick. Gab Bonesso tells us hers right away.

“I have bipolar disorder, I have CPTSD, I have OCD, and I have anxiety. And I like to list my mental health diagnoses the way other people list their degrees at the end of their name, because mine took more time and more money.”

Gab uses humor to share what she’s been through, including many therapists, treatment plans, and medications. She promotes kindness and self-love as she shares her journey to happiness.

 Gab Bonesso performs stand-up comedy at the Cooperage Project in Honesdale.
Haley O'Brien
Gab Bonesso performs stand-up comedy at the Cooperage Project in Honesdale.

Her story starts with childhood trauma, followed by angry outbursts.

“My mother would describe it as, oh no, my baby’s gone, and the alien’s here,” she said.

Gab was placed in group therapy by a school psychologist, but when her mother found out, she had her removed. At that point, Gab says, she recognized that she needed therapy.

“I knew it was a possibility someday, just not while I’m living in my house. It’s that wild? This is the 90s, and I was living in a place where I knew that my mom and dad would be mad at me, or that it wouldn’t be real. That’s the 90s, still today in 2023, high school kids are going through that.”

When she received her diagnoses in college, Gab started seeing a therapist and began treatment for bipolar disorder. She found that the psychiatric medications she was prescribed caused gastrointestinal issues, so she learned to manage it by making lifestyle changes.

“So that’s basically what happened to me,” she said. “I started getting my eight hours of sleep, I started eating healthy, I started exercising twice a day, I cut out alcohol, I really limit my sugar intake, I do what is asked of me. I was managing my bipolar and still miserable. It was almost like in order to manage my bipolar, I couldn’t have a life.”

Gab learned that her other mental health diagnoses needed to be addressed. She found a therapist who helped her reframe the thoughts around her trauma.

“It has changed so much for me, because my main trigger with bipolar, when I have my big manic episodes, it’s because I went through a trauma,” she said. “It’s not just a chemical imbalance, I’m triggered by legit trauma. That has been such a game changer on how I view my bipolar disorder.”

Gab is a mental health public speaker, and she travels to schools in several states as part of Josh and Gab. The duo hosts musical assemblies to promote kindness, and Gab shares her personal stories of being bullied as a child.

Bonesso, who lives in Pittsburgh, was brought to Northeast Pennsylvania this month to share her message at multiple events hosted by the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI). Marie Onukiavage is the Executive Director of NAMI Northeast Region.

“Folks in this room tonight seem to feel very comfortable talking about their own experiences with mental illness because Gab was sharing that, and when we do that we encourage other people not only to share it but to know that they are not alone and it could be okay,” she said.

NAMI received a grant from the Humor Therapy Fund through the Scranton Area Community Foundation.

Jeannine Luby, a stand-up comedian and podcaster from Scranton, started the Humor Therapy Fund in 2006, which gives to a nonprofit every year to help spread humor and laughter therapy.

“Laughter can be somewhat of a form of, I don’t want to say exercise, but wellness. A wellness tool,” she said.

Jeannine teaches laughter yoga, using breathing exercises with “ha” and “ho” sounds on the exhale. The body gets the same health benefits even if you’re not genuinely laughing at a joke.

“It is not what you might be thinking, like downward dog trying to laugh,” Luby explained while warming up the crowd for Gab. “I had someone tell me recently that they thought it was laughing at people doing yoga.”

Jeannine was trained through the World Laughter Tour. She founded Laugh to Live, a company that’s hired to teach the practice of laughing without a punchline.

Gab says learning to laugh at and love herself was monumental.

“I once followed a car to another state out of anger. But now, I have things that I do. This is going to sound ridiculous, but Cat Stevens music,” Gab said. “You can’t get mad when you listen to Cat Stevens. Simon and Garfunkel, another one that calms me. Vivaldi, The Four Seasons woo! It will take you places! But you gotta be nice to you, because if you’re not, you’re not gonna have any space for other people.”

The comics who spread this message have found, arguably, the best ways to face the battles in their mind.

“I spent my whole life hating myself. Hating myself. I hated the alien, you know, I hated that side. Now? Oh my God, thank God for the alien,” Gab said.

NAMI Northeast holds regular mental health support meetings in-person and online, and will host the Hawley Spring Run 5k on Sunday, June 4th.