This past weekend I attended the Annual OCD Conference, put on by the International OCD Foundation. It was a memorable weekend of talks, workshops, and meeting other people with OCD. I am struggling to even find the words to describe the weekend, but here is my best attempt at putting something so remarkable into words:
The conference took place over three days and this year was in windy Boston! It was my first time attending the conference and I’m very grateful I had the opportunity to go.
On Friday I mostly followed the young adult track and attended talks about personal stigma, college, and goal setting. I really enjoyed the talk about personal stigma. The speakers (Chrissie Hodges, Carol Thomas, and Ro Vitale) were inspiring with their openness to share their stories and were very insightful about an important topic.
My absolute favorite part of Friday was the young adult support group that evening (led by the incredible Chris Trondsen.) It was a surreal experience to sit in a room with 50 or so other young adults and without needing to say a word, knowing we all have OCD and can understand each other’s experiences. It was wonderful as well to hear everyone’s personal stories and intuitive thoughts. I’m encouraged by everyone’s strength in fighting their OCD. It’s healing to see there are people out there who truly do understand and to meet so many at once.
Then it was time for virtual camping with Jon Grayson! I had heard a lot about this and definitely wanted to go but I had no what to expect. What it entailed was several hundred individuals running around doing exposures together. We walked with knives, touched dumpsters, screamed at cars to “crash and burn,” and ate tic tacs off of toilets. There was also the part when security chased us for not having permission to go near the dumpsters, but hey not following rules was another exposure for me! I have to say it was a somewhat odd experience but immensely fun and loaded with comradery.
Saturday I didn’t follow a set track and instead I attended a mix of talks. One talk that stood out to me was about self-compassion (Jon Hershfield, Amy Jenks, and Shala Nicely.) We learned about the three components of self-compassion, wrote self-compassion statements, and created motivation plans. I’m going to try really hard to keep practicing these tools and being kinder to myself! I also attended a perfectionism workshop (intentionally arriving late!) and a talk about taboo intrusive thoughts. All of the speakers were knowledgeable and once again their openness was inspiring!
Saturday evening meant it was time for the Saturday Night Social! Three very deserving individuals received awards: David Adam accepted the Illumination Award and Chris Trondsen and Kevin Putman accepted the Hero Award. Then it was time for a dance party! This was another highlight of the weekend for me. Like so many other individuals at the conference I get nervous in social situations and often hide, but this night was different. Everyone at the conference was kind and understanding so there was no need to hide. We all gradually let the fear go and danced together. I definitely felt a sort of companionship with everyone on the dance floor, even with just a simple smile.
Then it was Sunday, sadly the final day of the conference. I first went to a talk from a college student about her story (Clare Mullaney and Elna Yadin.) I could relate to Clare’s story in many ways so it was uplifting to see how far she has come. Another highlight of the day was a talk about advocacy called “How I Became an IOCDF Spokesperson: A Journey to Advocacy” (Jeff Bell, Elizabeth McIngvale-Cegelski, Ethan Smith, and Ro Vitale.) I think my jaw was on the floor through this whole talk. What an astonishing group of individuals on one stage! I hope to one day make the sort of difference they have made and are continuing to make!
The whole trip home I was buzzing with energy. I’m motivated to push myself through exposures and I’m inspired to make plans for more advocacy work. I’m also grateful I could connect with so many other individuals with OCD and build a strong support network. Knowing others with OCD is so important to recovery!
It’s remarkable that just a year ago I didn’t even know I had OCD and now I’m fighting it as best I can. While at the conference I did feel some empathy for all of the people who are still at home and don’t know yet that what they are struggling with is OCD. They don’t know yet that there is effective treatment and a support network ready to embrace them. Whoever you are I hope we find you soon and we are here for you when you join us!
I do miss being at the conference where OCD was normalized and everyone understood, but it’s time to keep moving forward in the “real world.” I am excited to hopefully go back next year in Chicago! My countdown is set (only 356 days away) and I’m ready to keep talking about OCD in the meantime.