“If the palms of the hands told the future, as some believed, then her present was written for all to see, painful, burning obsession, not content to be contained inside her mind, but making its presence known for the world to see, slashing its way across her skin.”
Recently, other members of the OCD community and I have called out several retailers that have marketed hand sanitizers as “OCD survival kits.” Why did that labeling hit us like a slap, a bucket of cold water, but most of all like trying to put lotion on hands that are bleeding from the chronic hand washing brought on by obsessive compulsive disorder? It is a massive misconception that OCD only has to do with cleanliness. For the sake of this blog post, we are talking about the torment of obsessive handwashing, but as I’ve written about previously, there are many types of OCD: harm, checking, scrupulosity, morality, and the list goes on.
I realize that some misguided marketing hire might not understand what they are doing when slapping “OCD survival kit” on a package in a clichéd attempt to sell hand sanitizer. Because knowledge is power, let me explain why this is so hurtful by citing a real-life example. Many years ago, my third grader came home from school with hands that were cracked and bleeding. For weeks, I had noticed them getting progressively drier, redder, until one day…
My daughter walked into the living room, pulled her backpack from her shoulders, and I noticed the jagged, red lines that scored her hands. If the palms of the hands told the future, as some believed, then her present was written for all to see, painful, burning obsession, not content to be contained inside her mind, but making its presence known for the world to see, slashing its way across her skin.
Tears sprang to my eyes as I noticed the bright red through the cracks, blood not yet pouring from the lines but visible in each one. I swallowed hard, not wanting her to hear the panic in my voice. “Stop using so much soap,” I pleaded.
“At school, they tell us germs are everywhere. Besides, I like the foamy stuff.”
“But you’re tearing your hands up.”
“Yeah, they sting.”
I grabbed a bottle of lotion from the counter, squeezed a generous amount in my palm, and proceeded to rub her hands with it. Tears gathered in her eyes.
“Stop! That burns.” She yanked her hands away.
“But it’s going to get worse if we don’t do something. Sweetie, you have to stop washing them so much.”
“I’ve already told you. I can’t.”
“I just can’t.”
My daughter is now nineteen years old, and it has taken years of therapy to get the hand washing, among the many other forms of OCD she wrestles with, under control.
She has never been a neat freak. Her room is messy. Her bathroom is even worse, and that sink that she scrubs her hands in until they bleed, sports dried toothpaste and hair clippings mingling with old soap residue—not at all the fastidious image that comes to mind when many people think of OCD. And while we are at it, it is neither cute nor funny to tell your friends that they are “so OCD” because they like to have things neat. OCD is a serious neurological disorder. If your friend is in the floor crying, panicking, and considering ending their life because they can’t get their sock drawer arranged just right, then yes, they might have OCD, but even then, it would be worth a serious talk with your friend about finding a skilled therapist, not firing off a flippant comment meant to shame and tease. Despite what many may conclude, OCD is not simply a disorder for people who get annoyed if things aren’t tidy. While there is a spectrum to OCD like most things in life, if you can walk away from it without panic, or at least extreme discomfort, then it likely isn’t a disorder.
In short, using OCD to market hand sanitizer is insulting at best, enabling and dangerous at worst, and retailers should not have to be asked repeatedly to remove this wording from products and advertising. A company that cares would understand that words matter and listen the first time.