I went on a date recently, and this guy was awesome. It was going great, and the thought had crossed my mind that I would like to go on a second date until he told his favorite joke. It involved mention of bubble wrap, repetitive hand-washing, and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). He laughed loudly, and I forced an uncomfortable half-smile as I tried not to make eye contact.
The joke hit way too close to home, but I couldn’t tell him that. I was still coming to terms with my diagnosis, and I was certainly not ready to share this intimate detail of my life with the guy I had just met who found the whole thing to be oh so laughable. I just wanted to tell him that it really, really wasn’t funny.
I wanted to say my mental illness is not a joke. Yet, here I was, expected to laugh about OCD, which was right then the heaviest burden in my life. This social situation demanded I laugh, but mental illness is not a joke.
We’ve all heard it. They laugh and say, “I’m so OCD about _____.” Then, they go on about how they like to alphabetize their DVDs or how they like to load the dishwasher a certain way. They say it when they talk about how they like to keep their dresser tidy or how they like to have their socks match.
I can’t really blame them. I mean, I used to say things like that, too. I even used to watch a television show called “Monk,” which was about this wildly successful private detective who had OCD, and I used to laugh at his little compulsions. I thought it was amusing how everything had to be in multiples of 10 or how he had to put his clothes on in a certain order. I thought it was hilarious how he would get side-tracked and have to touch every point on a picket fence or how he always had to have hand wipes nearby.
I laughed. I thought it was funny. However, his mental illness was not a joke either.
I used to do it, too. Believe me when I say I am sure they say it because they don’t know better, and I am sure they don’t mean to irritate me or make me feel like less of a person. However, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s not OK to say stuff like that. Just because you’ve never had to actively regard your mental health does not mean you get to joke about people who do. Yet, I can’t open my mouth and tell you this because I will be met with awkward stares and the ever-so-belittling, “Can’t you take a joke?”
No, not this one. Because mental illness is not a joke.
You haven’t had to deal with obsessions, compulsions, repetitions, intrusive thoughts, the immense stress that anyone with OCD must face on a daily basis, the depression that often accompanies it, the anxiety attacks or that unmistakable feeling of brokenness as you long for the days before you first started feeling any of this. You’ve never had to wonder what it would be like to live without OCD because you’ve never lived with it. You’ve never stayed up at night wondering if it could have all been avoided, thinking that maybe, just maybe, you were in the wrong place at the wrong time when the stars aligned and the universe just nonchalantly dropped this heavy illness in your unsuspecting hands. You’ve probably never kept such a huge secret from so many of the most important people in your life.
My mental illness is not yours to joke about.
People say, “I am so OCD” rather than, “I have OCD.” Yet, here’s the thing. OCD is not a character trait. It is not something you “are,” and it is definitely not something I am. I am compassionate, outspoken, resilient, artistic and sometimes relentless, but I am not OCD. I am a daughter, a friend, a student, a shower-singer and a cat lover, but I am not OCD. I am a lot of things, but I am not OCD.
I have OCD. That is to say, OCD does not define me, but it does affect me. If it were something I am, like a character trait or even a flaw, then I could get rid of it. I could change. Trust me, I would if I could, but it’s not. I can’t change it, and I would like the world, and especially the people I love, to recognize that. Believe me, if I could choose a different kind of struggle, then I would. So please don’t joke about it.
We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.
Image via Thinkstock