blogging against disablism

Shabbat was Blogging Against Disablism Day 2010, so here’s my (late) contribution.
I hang around people who learn Torah, and jokes about OCD are common fodder. One says “oh, I’ve got a bit of OCD” to suggest being self-conscious about being unusually particular about some Jewish ritual requitement, and people have a laugh, and those of us in the room who actually suffer with obsessive-compulsive behaviours – we aren’t so happy.
You can be particular about a ritual. Such behaviour gives you a degree of pleasure, even if you are a bit embarrassed to admit it. OCD isn’t like that.
It’s crushing and inescapable. It’s something that lives in your brain and forces you to do really stupid things, even though you know doing them isn’t the slightest use, but still you have to do them and if you don’t you can’t function. It’s like somebody stuffed a cushion into your skull so that none of your thoughts can move until you’ve completed the particular set of movements which will get the cushion out. It’s the difference between having new shoes that are a bit stiff and having your feet encased in concrete and nailed to the floor. It’s not annoying, it holds you and paralyses you and hurts you and it isn’t funny and it isn’t trivial.
And it hurts when our teachers of Torah behave like it is.

20 thoughts on “blogging against disablism

  1. I know the feeling. I hate it when people joke about being an “alcoholic” – when they have no idea how compulsive, terrifying and all consuming this can be.
    You might be interested in Norman Doidge’s ‘The Brain that Changes Itself’ Try
    (this isn’t pop-psychology, self help crap)
    Also, despite thinking for a long time meditation was hippy crap, I have found it extremely helpful for anxiety – “mindfulness meditation” particularly.
    Email me if you want more ideas (that email address is like a private one that I don’t check very often, but I do check it)

  2. Undoubtedly–people should understand that “OCD” is a serious condition that causes serious suffering. But. The term “Obsessive-Compulsive” also refers to Obsessive-Compulsive personality traits, or in the extreme, Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder. Now OC personality disorder is also quite debilitating but despite the similarity in name it is *not the same* as OCD and it is much more what people mean when in common phraseology they say “I’m Obsessive Compulsive” about something. They mean the Obsessive Compulsive *personality trait* characterized by fastidious attention to detail, not the first level (“axis I”) psychiatric disorder characterized by debilitating obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. Most people really know only of the personality trait, not the disorder, and incorrectly assume they are the same thing and therefore use the technically incorrect language–“I’m OCD about that.” They are not talking about the real OCD at all. They are talking about the personality trait. Few people really know what true OCD even is and when they make the offhand reference they are not referring to it and are not aware that their language is not psychiatrically accurate.

  3. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)– and Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD)– are both very real and very crippling. Thank you so much for your post, HatamSoferet. I am a Research Assistant in clinical trials for OCD and OCPD at Columbia University, and working with folks suffering from these disabling disorders made me very aware of the inappropriate colloquial usage of these terms. Though we know that those who toss around “OCD” surely mean no harm, it remains insensitive to those who actually have this diagnosis.
    For more information on OCD, as well as our clinical trials at Columbia, please visit our site:

  4. Thank you for your recent post discussing OCD. More than 2 million adult Americans suffer from OCD. In an effort to better understand this common disorder, Columbia University/New York State Psychiatric Institute is conducting a study to examine possible genetic contributions to OCD. The study is sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health.
    We are looking for individuals with OCD who would be interested in participating. Participation involves a 2-3 hour interview and a blood/saliva sample for DNA. We also ask that family members (parents or siblings) provide a blood/saliva sample for DNA. Individuals with OCD are compensated $75 for their interview and DNA sample, and family members receive $35 for their DNA sample. Study procedures can take place in the home or at our medical center.
    If you would like to help us gain a deeper understanding of OCD, you may contact Columbia University research staff at 212-543-5364 or e-mail [email protected]. Confidentiality is assured.

  5. Ken- I’m pretty sure people are making reference to the disorder when they say “I’m OCD on…” Let’s call a spade a spade here. Now, they may not intend to be offensive. I buy that. But it doesn’t change the fact that their language is hurting people. People who say “gay” to mean “stupid” or “gyp” to mean “cheat” may not realize that they’re saying something offensive and hurtful. But they are, and they shouldn’t do it.
    Thank you for sharing your perspective, HatamSoferet. I’m trying to learn more about ableism and to be aware of it in my actions and especially in my speech. It’s mind-boggling how pervasive ableism is in US slang.

    1. It’s mind-boggling how pervasive ableism is in US slang.
      Yeah, it’s seriously lame and dumb. How blind can people be?

  6. Shoshie, I don’t disagree with you–it is ignorant, and intentionally or otherwise, it is hurtful and the OP raises awareness through her post and that is good. I was merely seeking to shed some light on the nature of the ignorance. I do believe it is fueled in part (but only in part) by ignorance of the difference between “obsessive compulsive personality traits” of fastidious attention to detail and the serious psychiatric disorder OCD. When people say I keep my living room neat because “I’m OCD” they are not talking about the kinds ritualistic compulsive behaviors or intrusive obsessive thoughts that plague OCD sufferers. They are talking about a fastidious personality style.

  7. “Ken- I’m pretty sure people are making reference to the disorder when they say “I’m OCD on…” Let’s call a spade a spade here.” I’m really not sure I agree with this. People who say that are not saying “I have instrusive obsessive thoughts and compulsions to engage in repetitive ritualistic behaviors.” They are saying “I am a perfectionist.”
    The DSM-IV Primary Care Version states: “. . .These [compulsive]behaviors can and should be distinguished from a personality trait of perfectionism, in which functioning is not impaired, and from Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder, which is characterized by a long-standing pattern of preoccupation with orderliness and mental control.” The ignorance is, I believe, largely a failure to appreciate these distinctions.

  8. BZ, there’s a line between the appropriate use of metaphorical language and the abuse of words. I’m not sure that describing a car behind you on the road as being in your “blind spot” or being “paralyzed with fear” is the same as what HatamSoferet describes.

  9. BZ– a more common example– “that’s crazy!”
    (embarrassingly, I work in mental health and should know better. I’m working on it)

  10. I object: lame, dumb, crazy and even blind are no longer used to describe the disabled. They are now exclusively used to describe things that are idiotic, stupid, illogical and sightless (respectively). The minute we get other words for the disabled, they too will in time become slang for other things, at which point we will find other words for the disabled.

    1. Similar to Amit’s point, I wonder if “That’s retarded!” is actually (slightly) less offensive now than 10 or 20 years ago, now that almost no one actually uses “retarded” non-pejoratively to refer to people with a disability.
      Fun fact: there is a concept in physics called “retarded time” (and the related concepts of “retarded field” and “retarded potential”), which goes all the way back to when “retarded” primarily meant “delayed”. And it’s actually a concept that most people are familiar with: when you look at a star that is 10 light-years away, you’re not seeing it as it is now, but seeing it as it was 10 years ago, because light travels at a finite speed. But for obvious reasons, the term “retarded time” is no longer used in physics classes (until you get to grad school, anyway). (When I taught high school physics, my students had a hard enough time keeping it together when I referred to “balls”.)

  11. From the article about Obama’s young staff:…..wanted=all
    “ The nearly inseparable pair ride to work together, and then the hyperorganized Lesser (Axelrod jokingly says he has “O.C.D.”) ”
    hat tip to rooftop rapper.

  12. BZ, in second semester physics, did you ever rub animal fur against a plastic rod in front of the class to demonstrate static charge?

    1. After you work with high school students long enough, you learn to rotate the rod (in place) instead of pushing it back and forth.

  13. Also want to point out the shockingly common and stupidly uninformed use of the word “bipolar.” Most people who claim themselves, or more often – another person – to be a “little bipolar” have no fucking idea what they’re talking about.

  14. Amit — my impression is that even when a word isn’t generally used a certain way, the stigma of the original meaning can linger. especially with words like “crazy”, where it isn’t very far removed, if at all.
    Granted, it would take a survey of people with various disabilities to have a good sense of how words are perceived. In the meantime, I’d rather err on the side of caution/ not hurting people here.
    So if I want to say “illogical”, I might as well just say “illogical.

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