“I’m calling on @Target to remove the #OCD sweater! Please RT if you stand for #mentalhealth @IOCDF”
That’s the tweet that blew up my phone yesterday and had me responding to haters and praises for the remainder of the day. Who knew everyone could get so worked up about a sweater, right?
A lot of people disagree with my stance to get rid of the Target “Obsessive Christmas Disorder” sweater. Why? Two biggest reasons are A. It’s funny and B. There are way worse things in this world than one silly pun.
“Lighten up”, they say. I’m being too sensitive, too politically correct, they say. Why can’t I take a joke? I need to grow thicker skin and shut up already.
But I’m not one to believe there’s only one side to a story. I wanted to dig into why we had these different opinions—especially when a lot of the arguments were coming from people who had OCD themselves!
Conclusion? There’s nothing wrong with the sweater itself. BAM OK, you all are partially right. Take that one to the bank.
HOWEVER, the sweater represents a small piece of a larger puzzle. When my doctor first said, “Kaila, I think you might have OCD.” I was like, “No way.” My room was so far from clean. Ask any art teacher I’ve had and they’d tell you I’m no perfectionist. And germs? I had once licked the floor of a boy’s bathroom. I fear nothing.
But apparently the woman sitting across from me with a PhD in psychology knew a little bit more than me about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I learned that it’s not just about straight lines and hand-washing. It’s the concerns that overwhelm you and keep you from living your day-to-day life. It’s feeling like you can control the uncertain with the use of patterns, repetition, and rituals. And I would have never recognized this if the professional hadn’t schooled me.
So, once I learned about what “real” OCD is (and not the colloquial expression I had used so freely before) I started to notice how loosely people around me used it. Being “obsessed” means to give any regard to. OCD means focusing your attention on something. But I knew that the way I obsessed over whether or not I had accidentally let a home invader in through the back door was different from my friend who obsessed over color-coordinating her T-shirts.
We have to fight to get respect for our illness. People use the term “mental health day” as a synonym for playing hooky. Parents post Facebook statuses asking for prayers for their child’s surgery but keep the kid’s stay in a psychiatric ward hush-hush. They still chain people up as a form of treatment in some countries! Every time people misuse these phrases they create a culture that belittles the struggle of people with mental illness. And it IS a struggle. Suicide is still the 10th leading cause of death in the US (MNT) and 1 in 4 adults suffer a mental illness at some point in their life (WHO). And yet, people still have not grasped the seriousness of these diseases.
When I say the sweater offends me, I don’t mean I think it’s inherently evil. I mean it in the literal definition that it opposes my fight to eradicate the stigma attached to mental illness. Many people disapprove of my opinion saying that it’s “just a joke” and to “lighten up”. I’m all for jokes, learning to laugh at this illness is one of the best ways people get through it. I tell my friends to laugh at my obsessions to make me less scared of them. I post memes about the struggles of mental illness on my twitter (#MHIRL)
But here’s the big difference. I’m laughing WITH the people who suffer from OCD and other mental illnesses. I’m taking their hand and trying to find joy in the situation. I know where they come from, and I try to empower them so they are no longer ashamed to be sick. I still dignify their illness as being serious and real while using humor to strengthen their resilience and determination.
The problem I have with the Target sweater is that it seems to laugh at the disease. It trivializes it. The word “disorder” doesn’t carry the same weight. The sweater chooses to ignore the real state of how mental illness is perceived. It chooses not to be a leader in stigma fighting. It chooses to be apathetic to the plights of the mentally ill.
THAT is why it offends me. It goes against my fight to make this disease become equal in the worldview of medicine and illness.
So let’s start this conversation, even if that means I might have to admit I don’t know everything there is to know about this topic. Talk to your friends. Talk to your frenemies. Talk to your sociology teacher. But whatever you do, please don’t brush this issue off as unimportant. Everyone has a brain; everyone is susceptible to mental illness. The only thing that will offend me more than some silly sweater is apathy to the growing issue of mental illness in the world.
Kaila Sekula has been fighting mental illness stigma since she was 12 as an online forum moderator. From there she has formed advocacy organizations, planned events, and blasted the message out over social media. Kaila wants to chip away at stigma by empowering people with mental illness and giving them confidence. She believes the best way to do that is through cooperative opinion sharing and a healthy dose of well-timed reaction reaction GIFs. Kaila tweets with two hashtags: #MHIRL (mental health in real life) to show solidarity for common mental health experiences and #OCDiva to praise over-comers and advocates of OCD.
She also likes cats. Like a lot.
Kaila can be found on Twitter.
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