When I began therapy about a year ago, my therapist had just returned from the International OCD Foundation’s annual conference. She had been encouraging me to look up information and resources from this organization, which connects all members of the OCD community, from those who have OCD to the families to professionals. I looked into it a little at the time, but I didn’t think much about it.
As time went on, I became more passionate about sharing my message with others and creating more resources for people with OCD. I suffered some setbacks though, and eventually all I could focus on was finishing my last semester of grad school and fighting the OCD that was affecting me daily. I’ve made a lot of progress. I’m regularly taking 80 mg of Prozac, which helps minimize obsessive thoughts and anxiety. My perfectionism doesn’t rule me like it once did. My contamination issues were a little better. In fact, in June, I was doing so much better and had enough tools that my therapist said I was ready to go it alone and just come in occasionally. I wasn’t sure how this would affect me, but I knew it meant I was in a drastically different place.
But the thing is, OCD never completely goes away. It’s still there, popping in for a visit whenever it feels forgotten. OCD is very needy and clingy; it can’t stand the idea that you might not succumb to it forever. And so, my contamination issues began to get bad again. I was washing my hands multiple times. I was asking my husband for reassurance constantly. He was becoming increasingly frustrated. In our relationship, OCD was like my affair. But I wasn’t looking at it that way. I just assumed it was part of me and therefore something we would always have to deal with.
Some opportunities arose, and I started thinking more about becoming active in the OCD community. I felt that it would beneficial to me to attend the IOCDF’s annual conference, which was being held in Atlanta. On the day the early bird rate was about to expire, I looked through my resources. I had a flight voucher that was about to expire. My mom was willing to help me pay for my hotel stay. With a little work, I could afford to make it. So I signed up. That was sincerely one of the best things I’ve ever done.
I was so nervous as I headed to Atlanta. I’d looked at the Program Guide online and had an idea of what to expect, but I was terrified I wouldn’t meet people. Social anxiety has been a problem for me since I was a kid, and to top that off, I’m an introvert. Not exactly the best combination for getting to know new people. Usually I make new friends because I meet people who are super outgoing and can pull me out of my shell. But I’m always afraid going into a new situation.
I ended up skipping out on the getting-to-know-others activities the first night, Thursday. I actually kind of regret that now, but at the time, it seemed like a wise decision. I was tired, and I needed to emotionally prepare for the next few days.
Day 1, Friday: I attended the Young Adults orientation. It was nice to meet other people around my age who have OCD. The moderators facilitated lots of getting-to-know-you activities, which I found helpful mostly because it was my first time connecting with so many others with OCD, who were actually fighting and getting treatment and understood what I was talking about. It’s an amazing experience to use the terms I’ve learned in therapy without needing to explain them. I don’t mind explaining them, but no matter how much I explain it, a person without OCD can’t truly understand the struggle those of us with the disorder face.
Next, I attended a workshop aimed at those with social anxiety. We broke into groups and went around the hotel and next-door mall doing exposure therapy. This was my first experience with therapy in a group setting. The first thing our group leader had someone do? Touch a trash can. OMG. Since I have contamination issues, this was hard just for me to watch. I absolutely hate public trash cans. It’s been difficult for me to eat at food courts like this one because I don’t know what kind of trash can to expect, and I cannot handle touching trash cans. Ugh. Watching someone with contamination OCD like mine touch the trash can and then touch his hair afterward was so inspiring. It’s something I’ve been advised to do in therapy, but when you’re on your own, you don’t always hold yourself accountable. In a group setting, people are watching and counting on you. It completely changes the dynamic. We did several other exposures, and it actually became fun. We were supporting one another and sharing experiences. For our last group activity, we rode these glass elevators up and down and made faces at people. So many good laughs. We may have actually irritated this one guy who had been sitting in the lobby, but in true therapy style, we did not apologize for our actions. Who knows what he thought? That’s the beauty. We’ll never know, and why should we care? We had fun. That moment made my morning.
After that session, I walked around the exhibitors’ booths. I got some awesome OCD swag, including a foam sword and a blue water bottle. I’d never realized how many resources were out there for people with OCD. There are a ton of treatment programs and websites and schools and organizations. I don’t think I would have known about a lot of these if I hadn’t attended the conference.
Look out for part 2 of my conference recap, where I tell you about the life-changing virtual camping trip and contamination session with Dr. Jonathan Grayson, a fantastic advocacy workshop, a panel on perfectionism, and the social. I might divide these posts, so keep coming back!