This weekend I attended the 1 Million Steps 4 OCD walk in Chicago. It’s an annual event (well, it’s been affected by COVID, but usually) affiliated with the International OCD Foundation. The main walk is in Boston, but there are additional walks around the country, and sometimes internationally! This one in Chicago was put on by the affiliate, OCD Midwest.
I ended up going to the walk alone, and running the table talking about Not Alone Notes alone. This wasn’t for lack of trying. I had asked several friends, my partner, even my partner’s sister to go with me. But they all had prior commitments or other valid reasons for not being able to attend. So, I went alone. I kept catching myself saying, “We are Not Alone Notes, and we…” before I realized it was just me at the table. Sure, Not Alone Notes is a team effort, but it looked a little silly to keep saying “we” when gesturing to myself.
While I drove three hours each way to the walk, stood around awkwardly at times by myself between introducing myself to groups of new people, I couldn’t help but see the metaphor in it all. Often, I so badly want people physically around me to feel supported. I want them there to protect me from my own emotions, to save me from anxiety, and to “fix” me. But something I’ve realized through years of treatment is at the end of the day, it’s on me. People can support me, and they do. I have a great support system. But it’s still on me to save myself. I have to put in the work to apply skills and stay well mentally. I have to be willing to stand alone sometimes.
So often we aren’t alone physically, but we still feel alone. Whether that’s in a crowded classroom or at a party or at an OCD walk, we know we aren’t alone. There are people all around us, but we still feel that way. The contrast of it all can be even more distressing. But that wasn’t the case for me with this 2021 OCD walk. I was quite literally there alone, but I didn’t feel alone. I felt the support of my family, my friends at other OCD walks, my partner and his family, and even all the friends I had asked to come with me to the walk but who weren’t able to come.
Alone isn’t always a bad thing. Being alone can sometimes be powerful. I was able to stand there by myself, and still feel like part of a community. In many ways, that can be more comforting than standing amongst a crowd and still feeling like the only one there. Social support is essential, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes it takes being physically alone to feel all of that support.