The last weekend of July, Chicago’s Magnificent Mile welcomed attendees of the 23rd Annual OCD Conference. For three whole days the Chicago Marriott was swarming with thousands of people from all around the world united by one joint goal: to explore the topic of OCD. Sufferers, family members, treatment providers, and researchers filled up dozens of lectures, workshops, groups and social events in the span of 65 hours.
For someone who suffers from a disease that is rarely discussed in any seriousness and is often severely misunderstood, words cannot describe how exiting it was to be surrounded by so many that understand the true struggle of OCD.
People often joke around about OCD, and I do too. I firmly believe finding humor in every situation is essential. When I talk to my mom, who was with me in the days leading up to my psych ward admission, we can’t help but laugh of some of the bizarre memories we have from that time. Throughout my treatment we have often joked around about the strange things my OCD has made me do and believe. Being able to find the humor in OCD is definitely sanity saving, because suffering from OCD is no joke. During the conference we were reminded of that fact, listening to the stories of sufferers and hearing about the things the illness has robbed them off. We are also reminded of how serious of an illness OCD is by the absence of those who lost their battle with the disease.
When many people think of OCD what comes to mind is extreme cleanliness and someone who is very precise about making sure everything is perfectly organized. Some folks might associate OCD with checking behaviors and odd rituals. Most folks are however completely unaware that there is literally a whole world of OCD. Yes, we have washing OCD, organizing OCD, and checking OCD. However, we also have many other types of OCD such as scrupulosity OCD, harm OCD, violence OCD, sexual OCD, hit-and-run OCD, relationship OCD, and hoarding. We also have disorders like Body Dimorphic Disorder, skin picking, hair pulling, and Tourette’s that are considered related to OCD.
Because there are so many subtypes of OCD, I went through my entire residential treatment experience, and an intensive outpatient OCD program, all without ever meeting anyone with the same kind of OCD as me. At the conference it is different because of the volume of attendees. They have specialty groups for mostly all the various types of OCD, and it was during one of those groups last year that I, for the first time in my life, shared details about my OCD in a group setting. After having gone through most of my life believing I was literally the only human that was going through what I was going through, hearing others talk about having similar issues was incredible.
I still have a difficult time discussing the details of my OCD publicly, although I truly hope that one day I will be brave enough to do so. I find it extremely important to share details about these lesser known types of OCD so that others can hear learn about the symptoms. So many people out there are suffering from OCD without knowing, and if the various subtypes become better known to the average person that might change. I know for myself, if I had know more about the different forms of OCD, it could have spared me decades of agonizing suffering. Attending this conference every year is definitely making me more comfortable sharing further details on my illness, and bringing me closer to being able to discuss it more freely. Eventually I hope that my sharing might be able to educate, and prevent others from going untreated.
Although I love learning about new treatments and the latest research on OCD, my absolute favorite thing about the conference is simply being surrounded by folks that understand. Suffering from OCD often leaves me feeling different, isolated and a bit like an alien in a foreign galaxy, so meeting so many others like me reminds me that I am not alone. There are countless others out there with brains that also process things a bit different from the average person.
Last year I went to my first conference and it was truly remarkable. I didn’t think that this year could ever top that experience. However, whereas last year I was running everywhere trying to attend all the lectures and soaking in all the information, this year I was able to be more selective and enjoy the time with other attendees more. I felt as if I had mastered a better balance this year, and I made many new friends that I cannot wait to see again next year. With every year I attend I feel more connected to this community, and that brings me great comfort and joy. I admire these fighters so much. It takes a village to fight OCD, and I couldn’t ask for better villagers to fight this battle with.
I left the conference with a renewed commitment to continue to be fierce in fighting my OCD, and gain even more freedom. It can be so difficult to find motivation to engage in exposure therapy, since in essence it is basically finding the things that torture you most and make you feel the worst and keep doing those things regularly. Therefore it is so important to be reminded of the gains are, and what you are truly fighting for. The conference definitely reminded me of that, and after I came back I have been pushing myself more than ever in keeping up with my treatment.
I am grateful for the wonderful time I had in Chicago and all the inspiring folks I had the pleasure of spending time with there. Next year my state will host the conference as it will be held in San Francisco in the summer of 2017, and I am already way excited to be reunited with this amazing group. In the meantime I hope to become more active with the local chapter of the IOCDF, and keep the inspiration and education going all year.