I have a major fear of losing control of things. I live in constant fear of my life getting away from me – whether that’s spinning out of control in my car, not having enough money to pay my bills or sleeping through my alarm and being late to class.
Just a few days ago, a friend of mine asked my opinion on a ward activity she was planning – she thought, for Halloween, it would be fun to give people a plate of spaghetti to eat, but not allow them to use their hands.
I didn’t want to be a party pooper – but that fear of losing control I mentioned? Sometimes it gets the best of me. I tried to be subtle about how “unpleasant” (more like a complete nightmare) that suggested activity seemed to me.
Immediately the people around me turned it into a joke.
“We should throw spaghetti sauce on her face,” someone said.
Another friend joked they should lock all the doors so I can’t get out.
Then they said we should end the night with a food fight.
I had to take a two-hour-long shower after that conversation. And I couldn’t tell anyone about it, because I knew it was all meant as a harmless joke. I also know that the more I made a fuss about it, the funnier it would seem to them. I know the fear of getting spaghetti sauce on my face is irrational and absurd, and I understand why my discomfort seemed comical from a bystander’s point of view.
But why do things like OCD always take the hit when it comes to “joking around?”
Don’t even get me started on my claustrophobia. The second I mention it, someone in the room has to stand close to me and ask, “am I making you uncomfortable?”
I get it; it’s a joke to them. It’s all good fun. They might think it’s just slightly unpleasant for me when they make jokes.. I can’t explain why I feel so uncomfortable standing too close to someone or why I get dizzy in elevators and nauseous on a plane before we even get into the air. I can’t explain why the idea of eating spaghetti without my hands made me feel the need to scrub my skin until the scalding water ran cold.
But that’s my reality. And no matter how often I tell myself I’m crazy for feeling like this, the idea of spaghetti sauce splattering on my face will never be funny.
I’ve learned to just not talk about it with anyone. Talking about depression or anxiety is different – of course any mental illness comes with its own societal troubles, but when you tell someone you have depression, they don’t tell you about a loved one dying and ask you if it makes you feel sad. They know that’s just not funny.
Sometimes, people won’t be able to explain why their reality is different from yours – and you won’t always understand why someone acts, thinks or feels the way they do.
And that’s OK.
What’s not OK is to treat someone as an inferior because their reality doesn’t make sense to you.
Now, my point is not to condemn anyone who’s ever made a joke about OCD or claustrophobia. I’d be condemning myself, if that were the case.
We grew up hearing the phrase “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” But I’ve broken bones before, and those have always healed. Somehow words have always left more lasting damage.
We need to be more aware of the impact our words can make on others. Whether you make that impact a positive or negative one is up to you.