by Thomas Smalley, IOCDF Lead Advocate
The holiday season is one for joy, celebration, and good vibes.
Unfortunately, walking into a Target department store last year, that joy was ripped away in an instant. On full display was the ugly Christmas sweater section right when I walked in. The one that immediately caught my attention was certainly ugly, but for another reason. On the front in big bold letters it read: “OCD: Obsessive Christmas Disorder.”
The feeling of frustration that took over my body when I saw that was unbearable. I just wanted to rip all of those sweaters up. How could such an enormous business produce items making fun of somebody else’s sincere struggles?
This is the cold reality of our current society. Mental disorders are thrown into sentences as adjectives without even a thought of how it is making others feel. Just the other day, I heard somebody in my class explain that the weather is “so bipolar.” Most of the time, people don’t intend any harm and don’t know that they are contributing to stigma. Regardless, I know it is our mission as mental health advocates to educate others and stop it.
Personally, I have been called “soft” and “weak” because of my struggles with OCD. I have been told that I belong in an “insane asylum” and oftentimes when I open up to people who don’t understand mental health, I am labeled as “crazy” without hesitation. However, in reality, every single person I have met that is diagnosed with a mental health condition has been incredibly empathetic, kind, and intelligent. Nobody makes fun of somebody for having a broken leg, so why are we using mental health so loosely?
Real OCD is chronic, debilitating, and constant. It attacks everything you love and tries to take away everything you are working toward. It doesn’t bring joy or holiday cheer. Actually, it brings quite the opposite. Intense fear, anxiety, and panic that doesn’t ever quit.
You may not be aware of it, but when you buy a sweater like the one from Target, you’re wearing something that mocks a disorder that millions struggle with. We all have different challenges and backgrounds. Not one person should ever fear opening up about their struggles or feel that they are alone. However, if we don’t address the ignorance of major corporations using these mental disorders as adjectives, people will be less likely to open up about their mental health.
I have learned the hard way that as a public mental health advocate, not every response I receive about my struggles will be positive. I will be shamed by some, ignored by many, and called names by others. However, I will take 500 insults a day if it means I am helping one person who is struggling and bringing awareness that this disorder is not just some catchphrase. Mental health can no longer be an afterthought. We as a community must come together and brick by brick break take down the negative stigma that surrounds it.
This holiday season lets us acknowledge how much we have to be grateful for, but let’s not forget how far we still have to go. The jokes and catchphrases that people develop surrounding OCD and other mental disorders need to stop. It won’t happen overnight, but I am confident we can spread a little bit more than holiday cheer this year. We can spread awareness of mental health as a real priority, not just a gimmick on an ugly sweater.