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How 'Dad Jokes' Made Me Feel Less Isolated When I Was Struggling With OCD

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One time, I experienced somatic OCD so bad, both my parents flew to DC to help my boyfriend take care of me. Somatic means “relating to the body,” and obsessions involve the awareness of your own bodily functions like swallowing, breathing and blinking.

I had been going to therapy for a while at that point, but had not been diagnosed with OCD yet, nor had I started on any medication. My anxiety disorder had gotten bad before, but this was a different level. My brain took an involuntary bodily function and made it something within my control; I was manually breathing for a week and a half. Deep, deep breaths every time. So much so that my chest started to hurt. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I was convinced I’d ruined my life because I would be thinking about it forever. That’s what somatic OCD does and, while it was clear this type of fixating was present in my life for a long time, this was the first time it had risen to this extreme. Since my panic was in high gear, every weird feeling in my body was, according to me, a fatal disease.

It was debilitating. My mom flew in, cradled me, stayed with me, pet my head when I was having panic attacks and I am forever grateful for the care she was able to give me during that time.

Then my dad came.

My dad is less, “Honey, you’re OK, I’m here, nothing is wrong,” and more, *grabs me by my shoulders* “You’re going to be OK.” With that came honest conversations about how he has lived with fixations just like mine. They once got so bad he spent the better part of a year truly believing he was going to die, so much so that he was preparing for it. He went to multiple doctors and everything. It took over his life, and in the end, literally nothing was wrong. The brain is a hell of a novelist. I was starting to feel less isolated.

There came a moment when I was crying on the couch — my MO at the time. He was talking about how he manages his own obsessions in his daily life, and the inner dialogue he needs to have to make sure he doesn’t fixate. He brought up the following example:

Him: “There’s a light switch behind you. And the second I saw it I immediately realized the plate was crooked.”

Me: “No, it’s absolutely not. Where is it crooked?”

Him: *proceeds to explain, and brings up other things in my apartment that he already logged as not correct and how this happens in most environments he enters*

Me: *almost immediately stops crying* “… Damn. I’d rather forget how to breathe.”

It was such a moment of release. I hadn’t made myself laugh in days, and I usually make myself laugh every 30 minutes. The idea that I’d rather forget how to breathe (which wasn’t even something I made up! It was actually happening to me!) than deal with what he was dealing with was a hilarious thought. I called my mom about it later, and laughed again at how funny I thought it was. Of course, I wasn’t making fun of his fixations. I was making fun of myself. That was an honest assessment I made. I felt completely out of my body, betrayed by my brain and for a second, I could look across the couch at my dad, someone who cracks jokes at my expense all the time, and crack a joke right back at him about symptoms of a mental illness we both experience. It was the kind of joke I could only ever make with someone else who understands.

After that conversation, we complained about all kinds of fixations we share, our pet peeves, the worst things people could possibly do in a conversation, constant brain soundtracks and more. With every example and every joke, I felt more like myself again. I felt less like I was in crisis. I felt real, true hope for the first time. I thought, if I were a stand-up comedian, this horrific experience would at least give me endless material for a set to be performed only in front of an audience where every member had OCD. And that was something.

There are so many cheesy quotes about laughter and how powerful it is. So many tiny books and calendars and necklaces. Nothing I say about laughter would be new. So I’ll leave it at this: I think laughter saved my life.

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Getty image via LSOphoto 
Originally published: March 14, 2018
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