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Guest Post: Report from the Annual OCD Conference

Originally posted on Free Spirit Publishing Blog:

By Alison Dotson, author ofBeing Me with OCD

Ali Dotson, FSP authorThis past weekend, 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.

Kids-Parade at 2014 OCD conf by Roberto Farren

The Kids’ Parade at the conference was joyful. Photo courtesy of Roberto Farren.

The energy there was palpable. I was diagnosed with OCD about…

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Conference Social and Day Four

I’m home now, and I’m still coming down from my conference high. I’m sure you are, too. It’s quite a shift from finding inspiration around every corner to having my dogs paw at me to let them outside (and back in and then back out and back in again). I’m back to work tomorrow, and I know it will be an adjustment to have a regular day again, where not everyone gets OCD or gives me a pass for being late because, hello, I have an anxiety disorder! Let me know how you’re doing back in the real world, too.

The entire experience was incredible, but for me the biggest highs took place on Saturday night, when the social was held in the hotel ballroom, and Sunday morning, when I co-facilitated a workshop for teens with my friend and amazing advocate Chrissie Hodges of Denver.

On Saturday night we got dressed up for dinner and the awards ceremony. First up the IOCDF honored advocate extraordinaire Margaret Sisson for her role in spreading awareness in Georgia. Margaret was inspired by her son, Riley, and his personal struggle with OCD to get involved on a grassroots level. Although the IOCDF presented her with a hero award, she stated in her speech that Riley is her hero. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room.

Next up was Minnesota native comedian Maria Bamford, who received the first annual Illumination Award. Bamford uses her comedy circuit to spread awareness about OCD, telling side-splitting–and sometimes heartbreaking–stories about her life with the disorder. She sang a hilarious little ditty she wrote about her obsessions and compulsions, which had me cracking up every time I thought of it the rest of the night.

Since I’ve loved Bamford for years, and because she’s a fellow Minnesota native, I quietly approached her. I told her I’d hoped to see her show last fall in Minneapolis but that I’d already spent money on a David Sedaris appearance. She nodded and said, “You have got to plan your comedy show budget very carefully.” When Maria went to the dance floor for the first song of the night, IOCDF Communications Director Carly Bourne said, “Alison, go dance with her!” Ack! Let me tell you — I do not dance. But I danced on Saturday! What a blast. I’m sure there’s photographic evidence that I may already be regretting…

I managed to pull myself away from the excitement early enough to get a decent night’s sleep in preparation for my Sunday morning workshop. I was excited and definitely nervous about it, but we had a great turnout and I think it went really well. The teens in the group opened up with us and shared tips about “coming out” with OCD and reacting to statements like “I’m so OCD.” One teen who’d been bullied told another that all he needs is one good friend who understands and who will listen. As much as I believe we have nothing to be ashamed about, the truth is that some people who don’t understand the disorder can be cruel–middle schoolers and high schoolers in particular. Kids are already navigating their social lives, and it can be painful to tell someone they have OCD only to be made fun of. It’s definitely a delicate balance, and it illustrates how important professional and family support is.

We think a great way to respond to “I’m so OCD” is to give the person the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they really do have OCD, and that’s how they share that information. One teen said that he often sends people to the IOCDF website so they can learn what OCD really is. If they do have the disorder, now they have a great resource to find help. And if they don’t, now they have a better understanding of how debilitating it can be and may think twice about joking in the future. Chrissie and I were so impressed with the teens who came to our workshop! If you were there, thank you! Keep up the good work, and remember you’re not alone.

Thanks to everyone who came to my book signing and to my workshop, and to everyone I met and chatted with. I made connections that will last a lifetime, and I feel humbled by so many of my fellow advocates. (Jeff Bell and Shannon Shy should be eligible for sainthood, I think.)

See you next year, right? Boston, here we come.

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Day Three at the Conference

I’m in OCD celebrity heaven! Forget Ryan Gosling–I got to meet Lee Baer, author of Imp of the Mind. That book played such an important role in my triumph over intrusive taboo thoughts that I had to hold myself back from hugging the man and weeping in his arms. He was very gracious, and seemed happy to meet me as well!

I attended his session on sexual and violent intrusive thoughts, which reaffirmed how amazing he is, as well as how incredibly painful intrusive thoughts are for people with this type of OCD. He asked for volunteers to engage in an impromptu CBT session with him, and he sat at the front of the room with a young woman who fears that she’ll run someone over with her car without realizing it. So far she’s coped with her fear by avoiding it; she got an accommodation from work so she can take the bus instead of driving, and her husband drives her where she needs to go. Dr. Baer advised her to start with less intimidating exposures like writing down the worst “Stephen King” scenario that could happen and record herself reading it. He estimated that after about 10 hours of listening to the recording her anxiety will have subsided quite a bit and that by the end of the summer she’ll feel ready to drive again.

Now I’m off to an affiliate meeting, where I hope to learn a lot to apply to OCD Twin Cities, where I’m president. Tonight there’s a social, and IOCDF will present an award to comedian Maria Bamford, a fellow Minnesota native!

See you soon!

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International OCD Conference Annual OCD Conference - 2014 - Los Angeles