Several people have forwarded me news stories about Target getting flak over an “OCD Christmas” sweater on sale in its stores. The question: am I offended? No.
I do, however, see it as another example of the very thin line between hurtful and humorous.
I don’t think the sweater is particularly clever. It’s just the latest in a long line of attempted OCD humor that falls flat. I love OCD jokes when they are well done, but this doesn’t qualify.
Other OCD sufferers, however, are going to be hurt and anger.
I’ve written many posts about OCD gag gifts, particularly one about OCD hand sanitizer. They describe items that amuse the hell out of me. But I’ve also gotten feedback from readers who worried these gifts and other brands of OCD humor would only reinforce the stigma that keeps people like us in the shadows.
I firmly believe that humor is an important coping tool for someone learning to manage depressive mental disorders. Abraham Lincoln, a chronically depressed man for much of his adult life, relied on it during the darkest days of the Civil War. He reveled in telling jokes and amusing stories. It helped get him through the pain during a time before antidepressants.
But the stigma around OCD is still alive and well. I see people all the time talking about “their OCD” when they’re really talking about their Type-A personalities. That doesn’t bother me much, but I know people with OCD who get wounded by such talk. OCD behavior is still the stuff of ridicule and belittling. People will still make fun of a person’s quirks, which embarrasses and hurts that person when they inevitably find out that they’re being made fun of.
Would people find the gags funny if they were about cancer or heart disease? The truth is that we think differently about physical diseases than mental ones. We understand the ramifications of physical diseases better, making them more socially acceptable. And when a physical disease is a fatal one, we are much less tolerant of jokes about it. Yet people will make jokes about all manner of things for all kinds of reasons.
Most health issues need to be addressed with a combination of sober education and humor. People need to know the suffering real OCD brings about, just as people need to know the anguish a cancer patient experiences.
But we need to laugh at our conditions once in a while, too, because the laughter makes the disease appear smaller, if only for a few moments.