I didn’t believe the psychiatrist when he told me his diagnosis. There was no way I had OCD. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder? I’d seen those people on TV and I wasn’t one of them. I had a job and house and a car and a cat. And okay, so maybe I also never went anywhere without antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizer and actually, I did worry to the point where I made myself sick. I liked things in a certain order, and oh, actually I was repeatedly checking things, but that was just because, alright FINE. Turns out, I really did have OCD.
That was 15 years ago, and in the past decade and a half, I’ve learned a lot about the disorder that I share with approximately 3.3 million people here in the U.S. I’ve learned that OCD manifests completely differently in everyone, that it can appear to come and go, that you can have it and live a perfectly amazing life anyway, and that it can treated.
Since my OCD diagnosis, I’ve managed my condition in a variety of ways. I’ve also never been ashamed of having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I speak about it openly as often as I can, because mental illness shouldn’t be stigmatized or hidden. I’ve also learned to have a sense of humor about it and about myself.
That’s why I wasn’t upset about the Target OCD Ugly Christmas Sweater that has caused the Internet’s most recent flap.
If you haven’t seen it yet, the sweater is a purposely tacky, red, white and green pullover that says “OCD – Obsessive CHRISTMAS Disorder.” And people are losing their ever loving minds being outraged about it all over social media. Angry tweeters say the sweater is in bad taste and that it mocks and trivializes mental illness.
As someone who has truly suffered from OCD for most of her life, I can say that I don’t feel like that sweater wishes me ill will this holiday season. I have not been marginalized or cruelly attacked here, and I have to say, it takes a little more than some inexpensive knit-wear to offend me. I am perfectly okay with making a joke out of my mental illness. In fact, being able to laugh at my struggle has been enormously healing. Trivializing the condition is actually a good thing, at least in my case. For me, turning OCD into a harmless joke has defanged the condition and helped to make it a lot less scary and easier to confront.
It hasn’t always been this way for me, though. There was a time when I probably would’ve seen the sweater and felt hurt and pissed off too, but looking back, I can see now that my taking offense would’ve been another symptom of the illness. Getting mad about every little thing, stewing in outrage and resentment, obsessing over real and imagined slights, not being able to let things go or control my emotional reactions to often trivial situations? These are all big signs that my OCD has gotten out of hand and I need intervention. When I act like that, to me, it’s letting my disorder win. And I’m not about to let that happen.
I’ve found that it’s far more productive to channel my outrage towards things that actually deserve negative energy. This holiday season there’s no way I’m going to waste my time throwing a fit over a red cup or a silly sweater.
The best way to advocate for the mentally ill is not by trolling Target on Facebook over a piece of clothing. It’s by helping the homeless and the incarcerated. According to prisonpolicy.org, at least half of all the prisoners in all the jails in America are mentally ill. The Washington Post reports that among the chronically homeless, the percentage is similar. Go out and do something to offer some assistance or comfort to these individuals this year. They’re the ones who really are disenfranchised and truly suffering.
As for that sweater? When I saw it, I thought it was hilarious, especially considering that Christmas is one of my condition’s biggest triggers. I’m considering buying the sweater to show that I shouldn’t take myself (or anything) too seriously during the holidays. For me, the sweater would be a wearable reminder that my mental illness isn’t a demon that can destroy me. It’s just another part of my unique and quirky makeup, and it’s taught me to lighten up because laughter, not vitriol, is empowerment.