Throughout my life, I’ve felt burdened by my anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. For years, not a day went by when I didn’t get caught up in the chaos of my own mind. My thoughts were oppressive and repetitive, my worries nonsensical. Even though over time I became able to recognize that these distressing thoughts were symptoms of my diagnosed anxiety disorder, I was unable to shake the feeling of being trapped inside my own head. I feared being labeled “weird” by my peers, so instead of sharing how I was feeling, I constantly worked on maintaining my composure in public so nobody could tell when I was panicking.
When I was young and used to complain about the distressing obsessive thoughts I experienced, my mom, a fellow anxiety sufferer, would advise me to “find the humor in the situation.” At the time, I thought this suggestion was absurd. How could something so upsetting and oppressive to me be funny? I dismissed the suggestion and continued to wallow privately in self-pity.
At some point, however, something in my head switched and I decided to give humor a chance. I was so desperate to overcome my anxiety that I tried to look at myself from a different perspective. One of the compulsions I had at the time was obsessively checking to make sure my oven at home was off. I would have to take a picture of the knobs on the oven to make sure they were all turned the same way, and I’d have to go and check for myself no less than five times before I was able to fall asleep. Instead of being distressed by this annoying compulsion, I decided to step back and see the humor in the fact that I had a whole folder full of oven pictures on my phone. I imagined that if people saw the album they’d think I was running some kind of GE fan site.
Viewing my bizarre compulsion through the lens of humor made everything a little more manageable. It enabled me to talk about what I was going through in a way I was comfortable with. As someone with social anxiety, drawing attention to myself is my worst nightmare. But I had a hunch that talking openly about my inner turmoil could help to normalize it.
I figured that there was no need to have some dramatic sit-down where I would “come out” about what I was dealing with, when I could just tweet something like, “My OCD might be annoying, but my future roommate can be assured that our oven is always off and our door is always locked!” I started making subtle jokes with my friends about my anxiety and began to feel the weight come off my shoulders. Gently mocking myself is something I’ve always been good at, and it made me realize that my thoughts and behaviors were silly and nothing to get too worked up about.
I also realized that my friends were able to laugh at my jokes because they were able to connect to my feelings. Although not all my friends are medically diagnosed with OCD and anxiety, I began to realize that what I was working through was not some deep, dark secret affliction. Nobody is cool, calm, and collected all the time, and talking about something as common as anxiety can help to erase the stigma of “mental illness.” I realized that I was not alone in my anxiety, and I got a few laughs out of it! Maybe my quirk wasn’t so horrible or shameful after all. Humor helped me to find a way to be vulnerable that I was comfortable with, something that has helped me immensely to open up and feel free.
At that point, I started to get very into watching stand-up comedy because I realized how therapeutic laughter was for me. I even found comedians like Maria Bamford and Chris Gethard who do just what I was trying to do: talk openly and humorously about things that have caused them distress. I was in awe of the way so many comedians were able to turn their personal pain into something positive that could both entertain and potentially heal audiences. I quickly became a huge comedy buff, and became hooked on the instant relief laughter provided me.Although humor is not a cure-all for every problem, I believe it can be an effective coping mechanism. I’ve learned that if I can find humor in a seemingly awful situation, I feel more powerful and in control. Humor breeds optimism and hope. Laughing with others and making people laugh can also help to spread positive energy, something that I think can be very valuable during hard times. I’ve found that for myself, laughter truly is the best medicine to help me reset my anxious mind.