By Alison Dotson, author of Being Me with OCD
Two weeks ago, July 17–20, I fulfilled a dream I’ve had for several years now: I attended the 21st Annual OCD Conference, held by the International OCD Foundation (IOCDF). This year it was in Los Angeles (ooh la la!), but last year it was in Atlanta and next year it will be in Boston. As much fun as it was to travel, it’d be great if the conference ended up here in Minneapolis one year, too!
The very first OCD Conference was held in a small hotel in Bloomington, Minnesota, and only about fifty people attended. This year there were 1,345 attendees! The conference has grown in leaps and bounds and become a truly international experience.
The energy there was palpable. I was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) about eight years ago and have been managing it well, and I was thrilled to be among so many people who understood what I’ve gone through. I can’t imagine how overwhelming that would have felt when I’d just been diagnosed, or when I hadn’t yet met anyone else with OCD. To spend four days in an environment where every person you run across has at least some understanding of OCD felt unreal—and safe, comfortable, and welcoming.
Just one week before the conference began I read excerpts from my book, Being Me with OCD, to a support group in Stillwater, Minnesota. A mother in the audience said her nine-year-old daughter, who has OCD, didn’t know any other kids with the disorder. Fast-forward to the following weekend, where I saw her daughter running through the conference hotel with a group of girls, heading to their next adventure with such excitement she barely noticed me when I waved and said hi.
My goal was to soak up as much information, and as many emotions, as I could while I was there—but I also had to prepare for my own workshop, which I co-facilitated with Chrissie Hodges, a woman I first met when she interviewed me on her program, the Stigma of Mental Illness Radio Show. I had to wait until Sunday morning, but it was so worth it. We told a group of teenagers (and many parents) about our own experiences with OCD, sharing details we once thought were too taboo and shameful to discuss. I was so impressed with the teenagers in the group, who shared tips with each other about how to “come out” with OCD to peers and how to handle the backlash that sometimes comes along with that. One boy had been bullied, and he told another boy that he only needs one good friend he can trust, and that relationship will help him start to open up about his symptoms and feelings.
I had such a great time connecting with fellow OCD sufferers, advocates, family members, and psychiatrists that I didn’t want the conference to end. And it was definitely a bit of a letdown to come back to the real world where some people don’t “get” OCD, but I’m even more pumped than usual to keep spreading the word and raising awareness.
It would be hard to pin down the one highlight of the weekend, but I’d have to say it was running into author Lee Baer in the hotel lobby before his presentation on intrusive violent and sexual thoughts. Dr. Baer wrote The Imp of the Mind: Exploring the Silent Epidemic of Obsessive Bad Thoughts, a book that very nearly saved my life shortly after I’d been diagnosed with OCD. I had thought I was the only one ever to have the obsessions I’d been struggling with, and reading this book quickly proved me wrong. To meet the man behind it—wow. I had to hold myself back from gushing about how grateful I was!
The July 2015 conference in Boston can’t come soon enough. If you’re a teacher, counselor, or parent who wants to learn more about OCD from people who’ve lived with it and professionals who’ve treated it, I highly recommend that you register. See you there!
Alison Dotson is the author of Being Me with OCD: How I Learned to Obsess Less and Live My Life. She was diagnosed with OCD at age 26, after suffering from “taboo” obsessions for more than a decade. Today, she still has occasional bad thoughts, but she now knows how to deal with them in healthy ways. Alison is the president of OCD Twin Cities, an affiliate of the International OCD Foundation. You can read more about Alison on her blog at alisondotson.com.
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