Life with OCD: When OCD Means Something Else

Last winter Target started to sell “ugly Christmas sweaters,” and one of them was especially ugly to me. It said, “OCD: Obsessive Christmas Disorder.” It wasn’t the first time I’d seen this phrase, but it was the first time I’d seen such a mainstream retailer using it—and I really, really like Target.

I was disappointed enough to tweet a message to Target, and the next thing I knew my tweet appeared in an article on the topic, a local news station called to interview me about my take on it, and I started to receive nasty tweets telling me I needed to get a sense of humor, I was overreacting, and just because I’ve written a book about OCD or even have OCD myself doesn’t mean I can tell anyone else what to do.

Being an advocate had always been positive and rewarding until that point, mostly because I was preaching to the choir, sharing my message with people who either have OCD or genuinely want to learn more about something that’s so misunderstood. And I started to wonder if I had overreacted, if people throwing around the term OCD isn’t such a big deal after all. I didn’t second-guess myself for long, though, because the misuse of OCD meant that I didn’t get the right diagnosis for decades.

All I knew about OCD was that people who have it wash their hands a lot, need everything to be spotless and organized, and check and recheck the locks on their front doors and the knobs on their stoves. Oh, and that it’s something people wish they have so their house is clean, too! Well, my symptoms didn’t match up with any of that—right now I’m sitting in a messy house on a couch with dog fur all over it, and I couldn’t tell you where any important documents are, even if they are in a file cabinet.

When you have taboo intrusive thoughts like I do and misinformation dominates most conversations about OCD, how are you supposed to know that you have OCD? And how are you supposed to feel comfortable telling anyone about your obsessions? I didn’t. It took an incredible amount of bravery, after hitting rock bottom, to tell a psychiatrist what I’d been struggling with.

And when everyone and their brother thinks OCD is all about being perfect and keeping shelves dust-free and books organized by genre, how do you suppose they’ll look at you when you say, “Actually, my fear is that I’ll hurt somebody and has nothing at all to do with being clean.” I’ve always worried they’ll think I’ve been misdiagnosed, that I’m actually a monster, and that they should be scared of me. In fact, a friend of mine did question my diagnosis once. He said, “Are you sure? I mean, I’ve been to your apartment. It’s not that it’s messy, but it didn’t seem like you clean compulsively.”

Wearing a sweater with “OCD: Obsessive Christmas Disorder” seems harmless—and maybe it really is—but I think it makes light of a serious disorder and what OCD really stands for. When I see OCD in the context of a disorder, I want to read accurate information, and I want to people to get the right message.


What do you think? Do you think things like “Obsessive Christmas Disorder” or “Obsessive Candle Disorder” are harmless and funny? Does it bother you to see OCD used in jokes or along with articles about organization?

Alison Dotson


*Sponsored by nOCD – an OCD treatment app that helps OCD patients get treatment when they need it most in a clinically effective way (!

Learn more about nOCD and our mission to revolutionize OCD treatment at 


3 thoughts on “Life with OCD: When OCD Means Something Else

    1. I usually just let it go. I haven’t shared my having ocd with too many people. I feel there is still too much of a stigma attached to mental illness and so many people treat you like your either dangerous or somehow not safe to be around.


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