The other day I was hanging out with some friends, reminiscing about old high school teachers, when one of my friends blurted out, “Yeah that class was so retarded!” I didn’t say anything to her about it, but it kept bugging me the rest of the afternoon. I hear the “r” word thrown around a lot. It has unfortunately become a part of our daily vernacular, despite campaigns to end its use as an insult. I can’t help but get a little bit uncomfortable when I hear it thrown around so often.
A few hours after the “r” word incident, I was working on my application to study abroad in the spring. (I’m hopefully going to Ireland to study psychology---I can’t wait!) My sister was helping me edit my personal statement, and I kept rearranging the paragraphs over and over. “Sorry I’m being so OCD about this. I just want it to be perfect,” I commented, without even thinking about it. Then suddenly it struck me. Why was it okay for me to refer to myself as OCD, which I frequently do, but totally unacceptable when my friend referred to that “retarded class”?
This got me thinking about other times when I hear diagnoses used incorrectly. How often do you hear “she’s so ADD” or “the weather is so bipolar today”? It happens more often than you might think. By using these terms in everyday speech, we are minimizing the severity of the conditions, and contributing to stereotypes that can hurt those who actually do suffer from them. Using the terms as an adjective (i.e. “I’m so OCD” instead of “I have OCD”) implies that these conditions are a personality trait, something that can easily be changed or controlled. I find that such distorted perceptions of these disorders sometimes lead people to incorrectly diagnose each other. I frequently have friends come up to me claiming, “Oh so-and-so definitely has Asperger’s, don’t you think?”
For the next two weeks, I plan to keep a journal of all of the times I hear psychological disorders used incorrectly or offensively. I will include things I hear in television or movies, that my friends and family say, and even when they accidentally pop out of my own mouth. Although I am now making a conscious effort to remove terms like “Bipolar” and “OCD” from my everyday vocab, it is something that has been so ingrained into my language that I know it will be a challenge. I will post a new piece two weeks from today, and share what I have learned. My own little pseudo-experiment! I imagine the results will be interesting…