“Ask anyone who has stood up for what they believe in, OCD or not. Most valiant moments start out with the hero about to vomit.”
My daughter has come a long way from the dark days of lying on the floor sobbing while deep in the throes of OCD’s demanding embrace, and so have I. At different times in our lives, we both managed to slip free from the bonds of scrupulous obedience, which promises assurance but delivers none. We’ve learned strategies, gained perspective, climbed the hill, and vowed to share what we’ve learned. So now that I have all this information and, at least to my thinking, moral responsibility to speak up, what will I do with it? When I’m confronted with misguided individuals using OCD to land a joke or sell a product, how will I respond? I should educate and inform. Spread the word, right?
Well, dear friends, take it from me, the Universe is listening. No less than 24 hours after asking myself this grand question, I visit a street fair and look up to see a vendor with a giant banner that reads “OCD Fashions for You.” Well, bless my crusading soul. I wanted to know what I’d do in such a situation, and the Universe said, “Wish granted. Have at it, Slick! Let’s see what ya do with this.” The Universe snickered, grabbed a glass of lemonade—it was a hot July day in the Deep South and the Universe had sweat running down its back like an OCD sufferer filled with righteous indignation and ready to make a point—no wait that was me. At any rate, the Universe sat back to watch me mumble and stumble my way through this lesson in practicing what I preach. After all, my last blogpost was about the annoyance of watching someone take a disorder that has stolen countless hours, years, and lives from its victims and reduce it to a cliché to market hand sanitizer. I’m ready. Nerves be damned. This is happening.
We know that declaration sounds brave in theory, but in practice it feels like a pounding heart, shaking hands, and a churning stomach. Ask anyone who has stood up for what they believe in, OCD or not. Most valiant moments start out with the hero about to vomit.
But then I notice…the vendor is a sweet-looking individual with an innocent smile.
“Hey, how’s it going?” she asks.
“I’m good, thanks. These skirts are absolutely lovely. The colors are so vibrant.” I feel oddly calm. I don’t want to go to war with anyone. I’d rather simply connect.
“Thank you! I made all of them. Each one is unique.”
“Well, they’re fantastic.”
Even as I gear up to ask her what I really want to know, there are no nerves and no defensiveness. I realize something about her that is so easy to forget in a world where we seldom meet face-to-face anymore. She likely needs and wants the same thing most of us do: connection, understanding.
“What does the OCD stand for in the name of your business?”
“Oh, when I make these skirts, I have to have each one just right or it drives me absolutely crazy. I have to take them apart and redo them until they are right, but I feel like I can’t stop making them either. So, I thought, why not just call it OCD Fashions for You?”
Not what I would have chosen, but this is a dialogue about mental health. Not an argument. Keep it open. “Okay, yeah, my daughter and I suffer from OCD, and I also write about it, and so your banner just caught my eye. Does it bother you, too, when people who don’t have OCD or don’t really understand what OCD is use it to sell things, or like when someone says they have OCD just because they like things neat? They aren’t panicking because it isn’t neat. Yet they tell people, ‘Oh, I’m so OCD’ or ‘You’re so OCD.’ Does that frustrate you?”
“Yeah, I doubt they’re waking up in the middle of the night to fix something.” I look into her eyes, searching for that same fright I’ve seen in the mirror after a night of checking the front door over and over again until I’m breaking out in a cold sweat as I did many years ago. I search them for the same helpless terror I detected in my daughter’s eyes that brought me to my knees, begging God and the internet for help, combing the library shelves and insurance databases before finding the right therapist for her. Did I see this same horror in this woman’s eyes? Truthfully, I’m not sure.
The lady really was a sweet soul, and we had a lovely conversation. I got a new skirt. Though I still don’t know whether she has OCD, I’m not a health professional, and it isn’t my place to judge. And yes, personally I would feel better if she would name her business something else. After all, I haven’t heard of Cancer Creations or Parkinson’s Pastries because that’s wildly offensive, yet it’s somehow okay to use OCD in this way. One thing I do know for sure is that very few people ever change, for the better at least, with scorching accusations and ego-driven diatribes, but connection-driven dialogue from one human being to another can work wonders. Planting seeds that bloom later is a very real phenomenon.
And speaking for myself, I learned exactly what I would do when faced with a situation where I needed to stand up for what I believe in. I’m happy to report that the Universe is full of opportunity to grow and connect, to trade in ego for our better angels of understanding and compassion. I’m happy to say that when we think we are looking for confrontation, what we are often seeking is simply connection. But I’m most happy to report that…
The Universe is listening.