What if Target’s Sweater Poked “Fun” at Cancer?

What if it said "Christmas cancer. My spending is growing uncontrollably"?
What if it said “Christmas cancer. My spending is growing uncontrollably”?

Is really “just a shirt”?

This week, social media has been abuzz with two “holiday” issues so far: the Starbucks Cup ( and there’s not much left to say) and a sweater still being sold by Target which amusingly ( to their buyers, I suppose) calls O.C.D. “Obsessive Christmas Disorder.”

Mental Health Advocates are up in arms about this “joke”, which not only trivializes a serious and sometimes debilitating condition, but in doing so spreads misunderstanding and stigma. Target is refusing to remove the sweater from its racks, and its supporters say “oh, get a life, it’s just a harmless joke.”

But what if the sweater read:

 I have Christmas

Cancer.

My spending just keeps growing out of control.

I ask you, what then? Would anyone be supporting Target’s “right to make a joke”?

I have a sense of humor. My son has schizophrenia, another serious mental illness, and after years we can finally laugh together about parts of his past. But the key word is: together. We laugh with, not at. 

OCD is not “cute.” It’s not Monk wanting to keep his shoes in a row and the carpet clean.  Some are able to manage the symptoms, but many are not, and this illness prevents them from living a productive life. For those who struggle to manage this, or any other serious illness, it’s not a laughing matter – unless you have earned the right to laugh with, not at, perhaps struggling with the illness yourself – and then only if the time is right.

No one needs a healthy person wearing a sweater that trivializes the condition of someone who is not.

I recently went through a year of physical therapy to regain the ability to walk, and laughter has helped…but not laughing AT. Only in the physical therapy room, or with my family and friends who have helped me through, was humor appropriate – and actually quite welcome. But if anyone were to make fun of me, or wear a shirt that said “I am crippled for Christmas: My credit card has limitations”, I would be annoyed at the trivialization of my pain.

laughing at oneself is very different from laughing at someone else.

Mental illness is still a physical illness; it’s in the brain. If you wouldn’t make fun of cancer, Target, don’t make fun of OCD, schizophrenia, PTSD, bipolar, or any other illness of the brain.

Pull those  sweaters now.

 

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