Voices

That joke isn’t funny anymore

Heard the one about the slightly wonky tile/ pattern/bookshelf that drives someone crackers because – tee-hee – she or he has OCD? Gabby Hutchinson Crouch has. And she’s not laughing.

bookshelf arranged by colourEver have a little niggling detail really annoy you? Like a tile slightly out of place, or a book that doesn’t quite fit the shelf, or people repeatedly pretending that a mental health problem that’s affected you for years is just a fondness for tidiness and order, or a part of a pattern that’s ever so slightly skew-whiff?

If so, you might have OCD. This is because people with OCD also get annoyed with little details just like everyone else. It is not, as anyone who’s been affected by Obsessive Compulsive Disorder will tell you, OCD behaviour. What it is, is liking things neat.

“But how can this be?” you might wonder. “I’ve seen the jokes on Twitter and Facebook and the likes – I’ve seen the slightly disordered patterns hilariously captioned “OCD nightmares”, or a friend sharing one and commenting, “This really bothers my OCD side,” and it’s bothered me too, because those patterns were ever so slightly wrong, which I found weirdly annoying so maybe I’m a little bit OCD too. Hey, maybe we’re ALL a little bit OCD! Maybe that’s a good thing because OCD people like things neat and tidy and so if I were more OCD then wow, my house would be spotless!”

“If you aren’t affected by OCD, then why make jokes about things that aren’t OCD and slap the OCD label onto it? You’re still making mental illness jokes, but you’re doing it to spread misinformation about the condition.”

I’ve seen all of this, friends. I’ve heard the conversations about the spotless house of people’s dreams, if only they had this mental illness people keep complaining about for some silly reason, and I’ve seen the amusingly slightly disordered everyday patterns. And they bother me. They bother me, because I’m ‘a little bit OCD’.

By this, I mean I have mental health problems. I have bouts where I spiral into deeply unpleasant anxiety and depression, which often manifest as Obsessive Compulsive behaviour. And wow, when that happens do I ever hate disorganised patterns!

When I bite hard into the ball of my hand because my treacherous, screeching brain is telling me that’s how I make whatever’s terrifying me this time go away, it sure does annoy me if one of the tooth marks is wonky! And is my house ever clean! Yes, when I spent a week in 2011 believing that I had to constantly monitor live news feeds of the Fukushima disaster, because if I stopped watching my negligence would cause a nuclear holocaust, I certainly prioritised hoovering round the back of the sofa.

I have a close family member who suffers more regular, intense bouts of OCD than me. The bouts are usually triggered by a happy life change, planting the belief that a good thing has happened as a result of an unknowing pact with Satan, thus putting a horrible dampener on many of what should have been their happiest times. Still – alphabetised DVD collections, amirite?!?

I’m not saying you can’t joke about OCD. As somebody who gets it, and who has seen someone she loves get it, I can confirm that it’s both horrible and funny. Even when you’re in the depths of it, repeating ridiculous mannerisms as a little tornado of stupid beliefs swirls around your mind, you are generally aware that this is all fucking ludicrous

Laughing at yourself, I’ve found, actually helps. It reminds you that there’s still a sane person in there going, “What are you DOING, you lunatic? You can’t seriously believe that there’s a Paris-sized meteor out there in space whose Earth-directed trajectory can suddenly be changed by you brushing your teeth again?”

“Why did the OCD sufferer cross the road? He can’t tell you, because if he does, he believes the thing he crossed the road to avoid will become real.”

I like OCD jokes, as long as they’re honest. One of my favourite OCD jokes is in The Simpsons – the gun-toting evil Southern tycoon who shoots his pistols, yee-hawing gleefully before anxiously tapping his foot four times. It was funny because it was real – because OCD sufferers and their families could relate to it. We can all relate to liking neat patterns and clean houses too, but as I may have mentioned before, THAT’S NOT FUCKING OCD.

Therefore, I would like to present to you a few honest OCD jokes, based on my experience of the disorder. Use them if you like, with my blessing.

Knock knock.
Who’s there?
OCD Sally. Knock knock.
Who’s there?
OCD Sally. Knock knock.
Who’s there?
OCD Sally. Knock knock.
How many more times are we going to have to do this, OCD Sally?
Well, I was on the last one, but now I have to start again. Knock knock.

Why did the OCD sufferer cross the road?
He can’t tell you, because if he does, he believes the thing he crossed the road to avoid will become real.

An OCD bear goes in to a bar.
He says, “I’ll have a … … … … … … … … gin and tonic.”
Barman says, “Why the big pause?”
The OCD bear says, “I have to count up to eight in my head before I can say … … … … … … … … gin and tonic, or something terrible will happen to my cubs.”

These jokes are probably a little more uncomfortable than funny pictures of patterns slightly out of order: in my opinion, an honest joke about OCD has to draw reference to the fact that it is a manifestation of mental illness. It has to be a little bit dark. And it might make people who aren’t affected by it feel awkward. But if you aren’t affected by OCD, then why make jokes about things that aren’t OCD and slap the OCD label onto it? You’re still making mental illness jokes, but you’re doing it to spread misinformation about the condition.

If you want to make jokes about liking things neat, then do OCD sufferers a favour and call it what it is, would you? It’s just ‘liking things neat’. It’s not OCD. Please forgive me for repeating this point, it’s just… I’m a little bit OCD about this sort of thing, you know?

@scriblit

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Written by Gabby Hutchinson Crouch

Gabby Hutchinson Crouch is a comedy writer, mum & nerd. She writes for BBC Radio Comedy and Huffington Post UK, and once saw Dawn French coming out of a toilet.