By now you’ve probably heard of the controversy over a holiday sweater Target is carrying this season. It reads “OCD Obsessive Christmas Disorder.” On the surface, it’s “just a sweater.” At least that’s what people keep telling me. They’ve also told me it isn’t making fun of OCD, and that “compulsive” is a pretty key word to the whole term. Of course, I think “obsessive” and “disorder” are pretty key words as well, and they’re included on the shirt.
An alternative title to this blog post could be “When Advocacy Turns Ugly” because I’ve been getting some nasty tweets in response to the one I sent to Target on Tuesday:
Usually when I open Twitter I’ll have somewhere between two and five notifications. The morning after I sent this tweet I had 22. What?! I soon realized why: My tweet was included in a Mashable article about the issue.
I didn’t attack anyone or call anyone names, but you wouldn’t have guessed that from some of the responses. I’d include screen shots of them here, but so many of the people who initiated an argument with me ended up blocking me. Here’s a general sampling of quotes, though:
- “THIS IS SOMETHING THAT ACTUALLY MATTERS. GET THE FUCK OVER IT.” (Alongside a photo of people protesting rape — for the record, I am against rape as well as the perpetuation of stigma and misinformation. Empathy is a superhero power I have.)
- “She’s just doing this to get attention for her book. Take a seat.”
- “If you can’t see the humor in anything — what a sad person you are.”
- “We the people should not have to be forced to deal with your situation.” (Very presidential sounding!)
- “This PC bullshit is out of control. JUST STOP!”
- “Stop trivializing people who can separate reality from a sweater.”
- “Just because you wrote a book does not mean you know everything.”
The last one is priceless because the person linked to an article written by my friend and fellow advocate Janet Singer, in which she noted how beneficial it can be to use humor as a coping method. Nowhere in the piece did Janet suggest that being made fun of is an effective therapeutic solution. Her point was that being able to laugh at oneself can be helpful.
Now this I laughed at! (Thanks, Janet, for defending me when I invited you into a less-than-fun conversation.)
The OCD community is pretty tight-knit, so in the future I’d do a little research before pitting us against one another.
In the midst of all of this, a reporter from KARE 11, the Minneapolis NBC affiliate, asked if I’d be interested in chatting about the topic. Since I’d already seen so many icky tweets I was nervous about more backlash, but of course I said yes to the interview. I won’t read the comments on the piece, so I don’t know if people are bashing my views or not. In this case ignorance is a little blissful, if not a means of self-preservation.
What I can’t believe about this whole social media war is how many people have told me I must not have a sense of humor because I didn’t find the sweater funny. I love to laugh! I love The Simpsons, Bob’s Burgers, Dumb and Dumber, Parks and Recreation, The Office — I’m not exactly highbrow. I probably joke too much, in fact. But OCD isn’t funny to me. Call me all the names you want — if you must — but it’s very difficult to see the humor in something so painful. My obsessions made me wish I were dead. When I was in my darkest, lowest points I thought there was no way out. The tremendous guilt I felt was overwhelming. Come up with a clever pun to make me laugh. If you’re my dog, chase your tail. You can even make fun of me! But don’t trivialize the single worst aspect of my life and tell me to get over it. And please don’t swear at me. Geesh. That’s just rude.
I may be thin-skinned, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. My empathy doesn’t begin and end with OCD. I will stand up for any marginalized group and won’t back down just because some mean people think I’m whining. Taking a stand is how we effect change. Pushing an unpopular opinion and being shouted down and harassed isn’t easy — but that doesn’t mean it isn’t right.
So, yes, this week has been strange. But the mean tweets were just a part of it. I also got wonderful notes and messages from people thanking me for working on their behalf. That’s who I do this type of thing for, others with OCD whose voice isn’t quite out there yet, for whatever reason. I can’t speak for everyone, but I will voice my opinion in the hopes that it will bring about change for all of us.
This sweater sickens me….it’s not funny.
It’s a reminder of how far we still have to go.
Sorry people are so mean Alison. There is no reason for people to be disrespectful. I don’t think people really realize the seriousness of this illness because it is trivialized so much. I don’t actually completely know how I feel about this shirt in particular. Some people with OCD find it funny. Some of us are angry. But I do know that OCD is not really understood – even by therapists. So the more people are talking about this illness the better.
I appreciate your take on it. And the fact that you share it so respectfully! I don’t mind disagreements, but it’s so upsetting and counterproductive when they devolve into insults.
Reblogged this on Jackie Lea Sommers and commented:
We literally had someone come onto our OCD Twin Cities Facebook page and tell us, “If you don’t like it don’t buy it, get over it! Another thing to be politically correct about I guess” to which Alison responded magnanimously and I replied:
“Brent, educate yourself. This is the page of OCD Twin Cities, a group of people who have gone through HELL because of this disorder. You don’t get to come to our page and tell us to be less sensitive about the disorder that has devastated our lives. Would you go to a cancer victims page and tell them to be less sensitive about cancer? Would you go to a hate crimes victims page and tell them to be less sensitive about racism? I sure hope not. And if you’re the kind of person who would, then I feel sorry for you. Again, educate yourself. It’s not about being politically correct. It’s about compassion. Try harder. Do better.”
Later I posted on my Facebook wall:
“So, here’s the thing with the Target “OCD: Obsessive Christmas Disorder” sweaters: people who don’t have OCD don’t get to tell people who DO have OCD whether it’s appropriate or not to be offended. It doesn’t work like that. You don’t get to approach a victim of mental illness (or of racism, or of abuse, etc.) and define for them what YOUR boundaries are for their complaints. What is the matter with people? I just want to crawl into a cave and hibernate. Wake me when the world learns common sense and compassion. Heck, I’d even settle just for the sun coming out again.”
Alison Dotson is the nicest, kindest woman ever. When she speaks up, it’s to educate, not to insult or shame. (I admit I am not always as kind!) To see people treat her like this is so sickening. She’s a sweetheart.
If people made light of any number of other things, it would be stopped in half a second. But there is still so much misunderstanding around OCD.
We soldier on.
Oh, you’re too sweet! Thank you for always backing me up, Jackie. You’re a dear friend.
You’re a rockstar. ❤