Those who struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and those who love and care about them see the pain it can inflict. They recognize the seriousness of the disorder and the very real suffering involved. If they are lucky, they learn to laugh at their situation sometimes, for laughter may be healing. What about, however, laughter that comes at the expense of those with OCD, or laughter that comes from stereotypes about what OCD is? Is that a good thing?
This past week, I was perusing the posts on a professional psychologists’ page that I am a part of on a social media site. I notice that one of the psychologists has posted a photo of a flyer requesting participants for a study on OCD. It includes free treatment sessions. Every tab on the bottom edge of the paper has been torn off. Clearly, there are many folks who are interested. The bottom edge of the flyer is ragged.
Then I realize that, while the flyer is real, the post is a joke. It says something along the lines of:
“Looking at this I can imagine that people with OCD would be …um… disturbed by how uneven the flyer tore.”
The only comment on the post is a bunch of hysterical laughing emojis. You know, the ones with tears pouring off the little guy’s face because he’s laughing so hard. The thing is, I don’t think it’s funny at all. I don’t think this kind of thing is funny when it comes from the public, but I understand that the public has misinformed ideas about what OCD is. From a psychologist, I’m kind of flabbergasted.
I’ll admit, I’m kind of a serious person. Maybe I took it wrong. Maybe because I see patients in pain day in and day out I don’t find this kind of post funny. Maybe it’s because I’ve lived it at home. Maybe it’s because I’m tired of the stereotypes that make OCD seem like it’s all about having a finicky style, being neat, and needing everything lined up.
How a flyer is torn is the least of the issues for anyone I know or treat with OCD. In fact, it’s a non-issue. They’re more concerned whether that thought means they are going to kill another person, whether their unintended carelessness might cause a home to burn down, whether they might have accidentally hit someone with their car, whether they’ve offended G-d, whether they’re contaminated and about to become gravely ill (or make someone else ill), or whether their sexual orientation is what they’ve always thought it is – among many other concerns.
Seeing a psychologist – a mental health professional – perpetuate OCD stereotypes on social media beyond frustrates me. So I reply to the post, trying to be gentle, but not knowing exactly how to say what I want to say. I note that this isn’t what OCD is really about, that my patients probably wouldn’t even notice the raggedness of the flyer. I’m trying to say, “Hey, professional, please think before you post things that post fun or stereotype mental illness.” I feel timid, but I do it. Then I go to sleep.
By morning, I am sorry I’ve posted anything. The psychologist has replied, but, of course, is not appreciative of my comment. Instead, my comment is an opportunity to get deeper into the OCD humor – more sarcastic. The professional points out how many others have pointed out even more things about the flyer that would disturb folks with OCD. Thank goodness, notes the professional, that the folks I treat wouldn’t be disturbed by it!
I fight off an urge to fire something back. I do not try to educate any more. I sit with discomfort for most of the day. I do internet searches about why people act mean. I am an OCD advocate and I strive to put good information out there. There is so much work to be done to educate the public, and mental health professionals, about OCD. I don’t think the best use of my time is to respond to someone on social media who is just set on poking fun.
What I do is re-commit myself to educating. I re-commit myself to this blog. I re-commit myself to educating professionals and the public in whatever way I can. I will not let one mental health professional who was looking for a laugh (or even the little laughing emojis) deter me. OCD deserves to be seen and heard for what it is. It’s no laughing matter.