I have OCD and I’m not offended by a top that says “Obsessive Christmas Disorder.” What bothers me most is not the sweater itself, but some people’s reactions to those who are offended by it. I do stand-up and often make fun of my OCD, but I do so within the context of understanding the disorder; my jokes aren’t borne out of malice. Interestingly enough, so many people who are dismayed by OCDers’ dismay tell us to lighten up.
The other thing we’re told is: Don’t we have better things to worry about than a stupid sweater? I see where these individuals are coming from. We live in a dangerous world, as evidenced by the attacks in Paris, the horror in Syria, and the countless other acts of violence that are perpetrated every day. In the midst of all this, an unfunny sweater on sale at Target seems trivial. But for many of us with OCD, what’s bothersome about the reactions to the top is that such comments speak to a casual disregard of mental illness in general and OCD in particular. (Not all reactions were like this. Some people have spoken with empathy about people with mental illness.) OCD is difficult and debilitating and horrifying. Being told to lighten up and worry about what matters comes off as crass.
I’m sure most of us can agree that destigmatizing mental illness and fighting for access to affordable care are absolutely important, but these issues get buried beneath false dichotomies. We’re talking at cross purposes. The violence in the world must be discussed, and so too must the issues surrounding mental health care. There’s room in this world to have reasoned discussions about both.
I don’t believe that people are being willfully ignorant about OCD. Perhaps I’m naïve. But I do know that OCD is widely misunderstood and oftentimes misrepresented in popular culture. Instead of pushing back against the torrent of invective, I’d rather have informative conversations about the topic. That’s why I write, why I tell jokes, and why I’m open about having OCD.