This was also published in the International OCD Foundation fall newsletter.
Sitting in my room next to an empty suitcase, the day before I’m supposed to fly out to the Annual OCD Conference, I debate whether I should go. I’m already registered, the flight is booked, the hotel is set, I’m even presenting in a session, but I don’t move forward. My thoughts go back and forth and back and forth between if I should go or stay home. My low mood and rumination are holding me back. “Why bother? It will just be a stress-filled weekend and I don’t want to feel even more miserable,” says my mischievous brain.
My thoughts turn to previous conferences. I remember how nice it was to be surrounded by so many other people who understand OCD. I think about running around doing exposures at “Virtual Camping” and dancing at the Saturday Night Social. There are so many things I’m looking forward to this year as well: seeing the film Unstuck as the keynote, catching up with friends I haven’t seen in a year, and presenting a Harry Potter-themed kid’s session. So even though my body is weighed down by anxiety and a low mood, I use these memories and what I am looking forward to as fuel. I open my suitcase and force myself to start packing, an exposure itself since I hate moving things out of their “designated spots.” The best way through is to keep moving, one small step at a time, to pack and get to this conference.
And what happens once I’m at the conference? Do I wish I had stayed home, rather than push myself to feel the anxiety and other emotions I dreaded? Yes, sometimes I think this. They’re fleeting thoughts, especially when I am tired or hungry or stuck in a ritual. But most of the time they pass quite quickly. I bring myself back into the moment, as so many lessons on mindfulness have taught. I focus on the friends around me, old and new, as we go to sessions and eat together. We compare our weirdest obsessions and laugh about some; I make sure to join in. In presentations, I refocus on what the speakers are saying, instead of drifting off in mental compulsions. I, of course, also push myself to expose a few times. I introduce myself to new people and practice being assertive. You can’t be present in every moment at the conference. No one could do that. But it is helpful to keep bringing myself back to all that’s actually happening around me.
I’ve heard many people say this about the OCD conference, but it always seems to come around when we need it most. These past few months have been loaded with depression, nerves, hopelessness, and a general lack of “spark” in life. But after a day of sessions and socializing, and especially after running around exposing at “Virtual Camping,” I feel more energized than I have in months. On my DBT diary card, where I rate my emotions each day, the “joy” rating has finally surprised the “miserable” rating. A few weeks ago my therapist said, “It’s like a part of you has died,” after I again expressed feeling hopeless. Today, I feel like the spark in me has been relight.
Now it would be naive to think spending a weekend at OCDcon would cure me and I’d go home symptom-free. Still, I do think it has an impact that lasts even when we leave the conference. Before I had accepted the low level of OCD I’ve gotten to as good enough, but now I’m ready to expose on these fears that are sticking around. OCD should have no say in how I life my life, and I have the tools to fight it. I feel more motivated to throw willfulness out the window and really try in therapy, taking the risk of letting myself feel hope and practicing the DBT skills my therapist says will help.
When I was stuck at home, trying to decide if I should come to the conference, my brain was so close to convincing me I would be miserable and should stay home. Now I can’t help but laugh at just how ridiculous that thought was. Between sitting at home and being here, at least if I came to the conference there was a chance I would feel better. If I had stayed home locked in my room feeding a bad mood, I was guaranteed to be miserable. Fortunately, coming to the conference has made me feel more than just a little better. I have smiled a lot this weekend, and I’m grateful to everyone who facilitated this. This doesn’t mean going to the conference was the easier choice, but odds are it was the more effective choice.
I hope I can stretch out using this renewed energy and motivation as long as possible. Hopefully you feel it too, even if it’s still small, and can use it to fuel recovering no matter what stage you are at. The good news is when this post-conference energy inevitably does start to fade, we have ways to remind ourselves of how it was at the conference. We have notes, pictures, and most importantly friends who get it that we can reach out to. And then, of course, next year will come around right when we need it again.
Other blog posts for OCD Awareness Week 2017: