The ocdopus: Elise Petronzio

We’ve all seen “cute” OCD jokes on things like T-shirts and mugs (and scented candles and hand sanitizers and soaps and…), and many of us with obsessive-compulsive disorder don’t think they’re funny. A lot of us think they’re actually harmful to people with OCD and get in the way of spreading awareness of what OCD really is. Very few of us, however, have taken it several steps further and started our own line of awareness-building merchandise! Meet Elise Petronzio, who did just that with her shop, the ocdopus.

Your OCD advocacy and recovery shop, the ocdopus, recently turned a year old! First of all, congratulations! Can you tell us more about it? What inspired you to start it?

Thank you so much! I sell things that motivate people with OCD to work toward recovery, as well as advocate for what living with OCD is really like. Things like a “maybe” beanie or an “embrace uncertainty” bracelet are quick, visible reminders of what we are working toward in our everyday lives.

I was inspired to make merchandise because OCD tends to be joked about on T-shirts, home decor, etc., more than other illnesses I’ve really ever seen. This joke merch minimizes OCD to our whole society and is a big challenge in OCD advocacy. It’s hard to believe OCD can be what’s wrecking your life when you see someone with an Obsessive Christmas Disorder T-shirt. I also noticed there was not a lot out there that incorporated what we learn in OCD treatment. I wanted to make things that were specific to our community and really spoke to our experience.

How long have you had OCD, and when did you realize what you were going through was OCD?

I have had OCD since I was at least ten. I showed compulsive behaviors by age six, but it hit the fan right before I turned ten. The therapist at that age I saw was helpful, but did not believe in labeling. I started to see people mention Pure O when I was googling my intrusive thoughts in high school. I self-diagnosed before receiving a formal diagnosis at age twenty.

Did you tell your loved ones about your diagnosis?

I don’t think I have any friends who don’t know about it at this point. When it comes to family, I’m not as forward as I am everywhere else. My distress was obvious from a young age and they saw it, it just wasn’t named. I was diagnosed over ten years after my symptoms began, so it makes the order of it all a little strange. This also means they’ve witnessed parts of my recovery and relapses, but we were all a little late on putting the pieces together, and I think that’s hard to understand. I also feel a little differently when I’m talking to different generations about mental illness. It’s an interesting dynamic to be super open in some places and not in others.

Let’s say you’re out getting coffee and someone in line asks what your Maybe beanie is all about–but you only have a few minutes! What would you tell them?

“This beanie is actually from an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder awareness shop. It says ‘maybe’ because people with OCD have a very hard time dealing with uncertainty, which is why they do compulsions to try to lessen their discomfort. For example, checking the stove because they want to be sure they are not going to burn down the house. It reminds people with OCD to say maybe to these obsessions and keep moving through their day when they’re tempted to get caught up in compulsions instead. It’s not exactly what people think OCD is about, right?”

Pink elephant hoodie

A few years ago Target had a line of ugly Christmas sweaters that included one with “O.C.D. Obsessive Christmas Disorder” on the front. I tweeted about it and was interviewed by a local news station about my thoughts, and I got so much hate! People felt the need to track me down and let me know what a snowflake I was (I guess it was almost Christmas!) and that I didn’t have a sense of humor. Have you had any experiences like this when trying to spread awareness of OCD? And have you had the opposite response with your awareness-raising merch?

I’m glad you stuck up for it and managed to get some traction! The hate definitely stinks though. I have actually had few experiences like that. My followers tend to be in the OCD community themselves and relate very much to what I say about OCD. Even on TikTok, I have not really had anyone come down on me, only people who were curious/confused about what OCD really is. I have been trolled for my appearance or just in general on social media while doing advocacy though, but never about the OCD advocacy itself, actually!

I’m not what the kids today would call young, so I love that you’re on social media with entertaining messages—especially TikTok. How can younger people advocate for OCD awareness? Any advice for those of us who are shy about being on camera?

I love TikTok. Easily my favorite social media platform. It’s filled with so many creative people and ideas, and it’s easy to see content from people you’ve never interacted with before. This makes it a really great place for OCD advocacy. It’s definitely where I’ve met the most people who were newly diagnosed with OCD or have never met others with it.

“Embrace uncertainty” bracelets

The good news is there are many ways to make videos without being on camera. People often film things they’re doing and tell stories through a voiceover or through their speech-to-text feature. Someone may be baking a cake and telling a story about what happened in school that day. You could easily bake a cake and just film the decorating process and talk about OCD and it wouldn’t actually be that surprising to people.

I also find being on camera easier on TikTok because I tend to just use sounds and mouth the words, it’s not actually me talking. It’s not the same as going live on Facebook or even filming a video of yourself speaking and posting it. Also, you can redo it if you don’t like it, but for people with OCD that can definitely be a tricky area.

If you could give someone with OCD just one piece of advice, what would it be?

If you can find a way to get treatment, go! (A favorite resource of mine is NOCD’s free support groups, accessed at treatmyocd.com or the NOCD app.)