Your Secret Weapon
Up to this point, you haven't read about one of the most powerful weapons in the arsenal of OCD fighters. (It's not bad against other life problems, either.) It's a simple thing — one you can't buy or make, although you can encourage its development. It's something no one can give you, but others can foster in you. It is a sense of humor.
If you don't have a sense of humor, get one! (Happily, most people who have OCD do seem to enjoy well-developed abilities to see the funnier aspects and absurdities of their condition. Which doesn't mean that it isn't, at the same time, terrible.) No one will tell you that OCD is fun. But it can be funny. Even at its most horrible, it can be funny.
As a group, people who have OCD tend to be bright and creative. Many possess excellent senses of humor. This is important, particularly that last part. Think of your sense of humor as your “secret weapon” against despair, hopelessness and OCD itself.
An OCD Sufferer Walks into a Bar …
There are several jokes about OCD. Here's one about CBT:
It seems that Mrs. Moskowitz had a paralyzing fear of kreplach, the little meat dumplings that are practically staples of Jewish cooking. (“Kreplach,” by the way, is pronounced not to rhyme with “hatch,” but with a gutteral Germanic gargle-like sound, as in “ach!”)
In any case, this presented more of a problem than you might think: Mrs. Moskowitz was Jewish and had a large family. Naturally, at virtually every family get-together, someone — a newcomer or a forgetful relative — would arrive bearing a pot of chicken soup with kreplach, and poor Mrs. Moskowitz would forget to ask whether the pot contained any of the offending delicacy; she would lift the pot lid, peer inside, then drop the lid back down with a clang. Her face would turn ashen, and she'd feel a chill come over her entire body. “Aiee! Kreplach!” she'd scream.
Well, Mrs. Moskowitz's children decided it was time for them to get their mother some help. They found a specialist and set up an appointment, then surprised her with the news.
The thing you have to watch out for, of course, when you and your significant other both have OCD is enabling. This can be hard to avoid. Ideally, you will both get therapy and, if appropriate, medication. If you can also attend couples therapy to work on your shared problem, all the better.
Mrs. Moskowitz was just as eager as they were to bring a resolution to this terrible problem. So she eagerly kept her first appointment. She explained her situation to the doctor, who listened with sympathy and obvious understanding.
“Mrs. Moskowitz,” he said, “You've shown great courage by coming here and expressing the intention to tackle your kreplach phobia. It happens that I am a specialist when it comes to treating this kind of disorder. What we need is to get you acclimated to the food. So here's what we're going to do:
When you come in for your next appointment, I want you to use the side door. It leads right to my own kitchen. We are going to make kreplach together.”
Mrs. Moskowitz turned a little pale but agreed to come back next time and work on overcoming her fear. The big day arrived. Mrs. Moskowitz, not wanting to disappoint her children or herself, took a deep breath and rang the doctor's doorbell. He welcomed her into a spacious, spotless kitchen.
On Comedy Central's “Crank Yankers,” (on which actors, portrayed by puppets, made prank phone calls) Kevin Nealon performed the role of “OCD Ken,” a quirky, middle-aged accountant. Interestingly, Nealon also appeared alongside Tony Shalhoub in a
Hanging on a chrome hook was an apron. A copy of a tattered but clean cookbook of favorite eastern European recipes lay open on the counter. The doctor had even gone so far as to purchase all the needed ingredients. On the table were a steel mixing bowl and various utensils, as well as onions, a brand-new bag of flour, a package of kosher hamburger, half a dozen eggs, and so on: everything Mrs. Moskowitz and her doctor would need to prepare the tasty dumplings.
“The first thing we're going to do,” the doctor told her, “is to read through the recipe. What would you think of that?
” Mrs. Moskowitz dutifully read the recipe and felt only the mildest discomfort, hardly anything at all, really. Next, at the doctor's direction, she measured out the flour and poured it into the mixing bowl. The doctor was pleased enough to remark on how well his new patient seemed to be handling the stress of the exercise. She was doing well, indeed!
She managed to roll out the dough, cut little circles into it, brown the meat, chop the onions, make a mixture and place a small amount in the center of every dough circle. … At last, the tray of dumplings was ready to go into the pot of boiling, salted water.
Mrs. Moskowitz removed her apron and sat down at the kitchen table as the kreplach boiled.
“Mrs. Moskowitz,” the doctor said, “I'm pleased with your progress. All we need do is wait for the kreplach to finish cooking. In fact, it should be ready just about now. Would you do the honors?”
The patient walked across the floor to the stove, lifted the lid off the simmering pot, peered inside, dropped the lid back into place and hollered, “Aiee!! Kreplach!”
Although this joke incorrectly portrays CBT as ineffective, it does illustrate (rather amusingly, we think), the irrational nature of OCD.
The sheer number of jokes involving psychiatrists, psychologists, and analysts (and even, as you've just seen, a cognitive behavioral therapist), not to mention M.D.s, should give you an idea about how great the need is to laugh at our challenges.
Another OCD Sufferer
An old story goes that a man is driving in an unfamiliar neighborhood when he gets a flat tire. He pulls over to the side of the road and finds himself in front of a wrought-iron gate enclosing beautiful, bucolic grounds. He gets out of the car and removes the lug nuts from the flat. As he moves toward the trunk, which holds the spare, he accidentally kicks the lug nuts — as bad luck would have it — right down a sewer grate. He curses his misfortune. A man on the other side of the gate hears the other man hollering, and calls out to him: “Hey! Mister!” The guy turns and looks. “Yes?” he asks. Just then, he notices that, carved above the door of the most prominent building on the grounds is the name of a mental hospital.
In their 1960s “2,000-Year-Old Man” comedy improvisations, Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks created a psychiatrist character who cures his patient of her paper-tearing compulsion by simply telling her that she's a lovely girl and shouldn't tear paper.
The man behind the gate continues, “Mister! I saw what happened. But you don't have to get upset. There's a simple solution. All you have to do is take one lug nut off of each of the remaining tires. That way, they'll each have three, and that will be enough to get you to a service station or auto supply store, where you can buy four more.”
The other man's jaw drops. “That's brilliant!” he exclaims. “I would never have thought of that on my own.” Then, he thinks for a moment and adds, “Uh… I hope you won't mind my asking, but, just what is a fella like you doing in a place like this?”
His new friend responds, “Mister. I'm here 'cause I'm crazy, not 'cause I'm stupid.”
In spite of the now-politically incorrect portrayal of mental illness, this also points out that you can be completely rational (not to mention, very bright) in some ways, but decidedly irrational in others.
What All This Means to You
As OCD seems to affect bright, creative people, you may as well turn some of your mental energies and talent away from obsessive worries and toward the humor in everyday life, particularly yours. Humor, generally, is good for your mental health, your physical health, and (assuming it's not cruel or sarcastic) your relationships. Try to fit as much of it as you can into your life.