I got an interesting response to some older posts about OCD gag gifts — particularly one about OCD hand sanitizer. The reader was worried these gifts and other brands of OCD humor would only reinforce the stigma monster that keeps people like us in the shadows.
Here’s the comment, from Arthur Lawrence:
I can laugh at it, and so can you. We both have OCD. And laughing at the OCD “monster” does indeed weaken it. This is a therapeutic application. What bothers me are the millions who have no idea what OCD really is.
For them, products like this continue to trivialize OCD and help keep those millions uninformed about this disease.
Should we now have “Tourette itch powder”? It would be about as appropriate as this product. Again, I don’t dispute what you say about laughing at one’s own “mental defects.” But I do know that OCD research and treatment are still in the dark ages, relatively speaking. And products like this, out in the general public, aren’t going to get people to believe that OCD can be as debilitating as cancer. It needs to be taken as seriously as cancer.
Mocking it will almost certainly not help that to happen.
Arthur makes an important point.
I still 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, long before antidepressants were created.
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 other OCD cases that 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 they’re being made fun of.
Would people find the gags funny if they were about cancer or Tourettes? The truth is that we think differently about physical diseases than mental diseases. We understand the ramifications of physical diseases better and they’re more socially acceptable in that regard. And when a physical disease is a lethal one, we have much less tolerance for jokes about it. Yet people will make jokes about all manner of things for all kinds of reasons.
In the final analysis, I think 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, even if it’s only for a few moments.