Tuesday, September 27, 2011
I recently posted a blog discussing the use of psychological disorders such as OCD, Bipolar Disorder and ADD, as adjectives in everyday life. During the two weeks since I posted that piece, I have witnessed many examples of this phenomenon in action: OCD was used to describe someone who used a lot of hand sanitizer, ADD was used to describe someone who couldn’t focus in the library, and Bipolar was used to describe the weather. When I heard my friends and classmates use these terms, I made sure to ask them to think about why they chose to use them. This has allowed me to engage in many important conversations about what it really means when you say, “I’m so OCD,” and the implications that using these phrases have on those who actually do suffer from the disorder.
One of the most meaningful conversations that I have had about this issue actually took place about five minutes ago. I was sitting at the desk in my room, messing around on my laptop and brainstorming what I wanted to write for this post. One of my housemates, Anna, (who happens to have OCD) was lounging on my bed, struggling to get through some Spanish homework. I decided to share the topic of my post with her to see if she had any insight to offer. “Oh I hear people say it all the time,” she said casually. “Of course it bugs me. People need to stop saying that they’re having an OCD moment. Sure, you may like things to be a certain way—everyone feels like that at one time or another. For me, it’s different. I don’t just want things to be a certain way, I need them to be. Unless you have OCD, you can’t possibly understand what that means.”
In the middle of this in-depth exchange, another one of my housemates, Jason, walked into the room and we asked for his thoughts on the subject. Unlike Anna, Jason has not experienced a psychological disorder, nor does he have a background in the field of psychology.
“Well, I definitely eliminated the word ‘retarded’ from my vocabulary, that’s just not right,” he answered quickly. “It’s different with words like Bipolar though. I mean, when I say the weather is Bipolar that’s way more correct. Like, people who are Bipolar have two extremes, so when it’s rainy and then it’s sunny that actually makes sense.”
Anna pushed Jason a little further. “Don’t you see how they are similar though?” she asked. “You wouldn’t use the word retarded, because you understand that a person with an intellectual disability is more than just a label. How is Bipolar any different?”
“Yeah,” I chimed in, “People with Bipolar disorder aren’t so black and white. They experience a range of complex thoughts and emotions just like everyone else, and it’s unfair to compare their life experience to something as simple as sun and rain.”
Realizing that Anna and I might be coming on a bit too strong, I stopped myself in the middle of my lecture and gave Jason a chance to respond. “You know it’s something I never really thought too much about,” he explained. “People say OCD and Bipolar all the time. I just never really thought that anyone was offended by it. Now that you mention it, I’m definitely going to try to quit the habit.”
Before kicking my friends out of my room (so that I could actually start writing this piece) I asked Anna one final question. Why don’t you ever speak up? If you hear people saying it and it bothers you, why not ask them to stop? What it basically came down to is this: sometimes these things are hard to talk about. Anna doesn’t want to draw attention to her OCD when she doesn’t have to, and sometimes confronting the problem is more awkward and uncomfortable than just letting it slide by. Although I totally understand where she is coming from, I think it would really make a difference if people had more discussions like the one that took place in my room tonight. I believe the issue is not a matter of hate or discrimination; it results from a lack of education and discussion about the issue. Use of the “r” word improved significantly after people started speaking up and a powerful movement was born. Maybe it’s time for a new movement.
*I changed the names of my friends for this post.
Friday, September 9, 2011
The other day I was hanging out with some friends, reminiscing about old high school teachers, when one of my friends blurted out, “Yeah that class was so retarded!” I didn’t say anything to her about it, but it kept bugging me the rest of the afternoon. I hear the “r” word thrown around a lot. It has unfortunately become a part of our daily vernacular, despite campaigns to end its use as an insult. I can’t help but get a little bit uncomfortable when I hear it thrown around so often.
A few hours after the “r” word incident, I was working on my application to study abroad in the spring. (I’m hopefully going to Ireland to study psychology---I can’t wait!) My sister was helping me edit my personal statement, and I kept rearranging the paragraphs over and over. “Sorry I’m being so OCD about this. I just want it to be perfect,” I commented, without even thinking about it. Then suddenly it struck me. Why was it okay for me to refer to myself as OCD, which I frequently do, but totally unacceptable when my friend referred to that “retarded class”?
This got me thinking about other times when I hear diagnoses used incorrectly. How often do you hear “she’s so ADD” or “the weather is so bipolar today”? It happens more often than you might think. By using these terms in everyday speech, we are minimizing the severity of the conditions, and contributing to stereotypes that can hurt those who actually do suffer from them. Using the terms as an adjective (i.e. “I’m so OCD” instead of “I have OCD”) implies that these conditions are a personality trait, something that can easily be changed or controlled. I find that such distorted perceptions of these disorders sometimes lead people to incorrectly diagnose each other. I frequently have friends come up to me claiming, “Oh so-and-so definitely has Asperger’s, don’t you think?”
For the next two weeks, I plan to keep a journal of all of the times I hear psychological disorders used incorrectly or offensively. I will include things I hear in television or movies, that my friends and family say, and even when they accidentally pop out of my own mouth. Although I am now making a conscious effort to remove terms like “Bipolar” and “OCD” from my everyday vocab, it is something that has been so ingrained into my language that I know it will be a challenge. I will post a new piece two weeks from today, and share what I have learned. My own little pseudo-experiment! I imagine the results will be interesting…