Janet Singer's son Dan suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) so severe he could not even eat. What followed was a journey from seven therapists to
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is often portrayed as a quirky, cutesy, bothersome at most, illness. This couldn’t be further from the truth. OCD is a potentially devastating neurologically based anxiety disorder with the ability to destroy lives. There is nothing funny about it.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t use humor when dealing with OCD. While there is nothing amusing about having it, the situations that often arise from dealing with the disorder can be downright funny. What OCD sufferer doesn’t have a story or two to tell that would be sure to make us laugh?
Everyone I’ve met who has OCD has a great sense of humor. Whether this has to do with creative thinking, a quick wit, or just sheer necessity, the ability to laugh at oneself, especially in the face of adversity, is a huge plus for not only those who have obsessive-compulsive disorder, but for those who care about someone with OCD. A stressful situation looked at from a humorous perspective will surely reduce anxiety, or at least keep it from over-taking the sufferer. And laughter is good for us. It relaxes us, helps us recharge, and can even boost our immune systems.
My son Dan has always had a quick wit and a great sense of humor, and his ability to see the comical, and often absurd, aspects of OCD has certainly helped in his recovery. But, understandably, the more severe his OCD was, the less his sense of humor emerged. So I tried to help. For example, Dan had a hard time driving for a while as he was not only afraid of hitting someone, he was afraid of upsetting other drivers (maybe he was making them late because he was driving too slowly, or maybe he hurt someone’s feelings when he inadvertently cut them off). I suggested we write down all the license plate numbers of all the cars he came in contact with, try to track these people down, and then send them all letters of apology when he got home. Conversations like this helped Dan get a little distance from his own thoughts, and often made him aware of how ludicrous his reasoning had become.
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Humor makes us all feel more comfortable, and the more relaxed we are around one another, the more natural the flow of conversation. Humor brings a certain lightness to a situation, thereby fostering open communication that can help reduce the stigma of OCD. It’s easier to talk with someone about what OCD is and is not when nobody is worried about asking the wrong questions, or saying the wrong things.
I’ve seen Dan use his sense of humor in this way when dealing with his OCD in college. Acknowledging his obvious compulsions (such as tapping or touching), indeed even making fun of them, made his friends more comfortable and encouraged dialogue about OCD. Making fun of himself served another purpose. It demonstrated to his friends that he knew his behaviors weren’t “normal,” and he recognized they were illogical. This, I’m sure, added to their comfort level.
Therapists often recommend personifying OCD as a way to battle the disorder. I believe taking that one step further would also be beneficial: Personify OCD and then laugh at it. Making fun of something takes its power away. Laughter can take the insidious disorder that is OCD and reduce it to something non-threatening and comical. This change in perspective doesn’t happen easily, but it’s certainly worth aiming for.
Fighting OCD is no easy task, and sufferers must strive to find the approach that works for them. I believe using humor certainly can’t hurt, and this tactic will likely be a powerful tool for recovery. Because, when you think about it, isn’t humor effective in dealing with just about anything?
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