#OCDcon: Homeward Bound

How are you feeling now that you’re back home in the real world, outside the bubble of the OCD Conference? I feel a little sad, and mostly exhausted. Adrenaline carried me through the entire weekend.

I love blogging during the conference so much, and arriving eight hours after I expected to threw me off and I didn’t keep up as I’d wanted to. I’d planned on kicking off my shoes for a bit before launching into a full long weekend  — but I wasn’t the only one whose flight was delayed, and not the only disappointed person. So we all soldiered on!


I had so much fun at the Friday night art activity, Draw a Monster. I really have no artistic ability, but I tried anyway! Did you go out of your comfort zone over the weekend? Maybe attending the conference was the bravest choice you’ve ever made.

Thanks to everyone who attended our Saturday afternoon panel about taboo intrusive thoughts. They’re so incredibly difficult to talk about, and so many people feel utterly alone, so we were happy to share our stories for the greater good.

How about that keynote? David Adam was so engaging, with just the right touches of humor, candor, and hope. Did you go to the social afterward? Did you dance? I did! I also accepted the Hero Award, which I’m still shocked about! And let me tell you, I was so, so nervous to get up there in front of all of you to accept, so thank you for your warm reception.


Saying goodbye is always difficult, and I’m already looking forward to San Francisco next year. Remember to take care of yourself as you ease back in to your daily schedule. Here’s to spreading awareness, reaching new milestones in recovery, and building on the weekend’s new connections over the next year.

#OCDcon: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Happy Friday, and happy OCD Conference weekend! I was so looking forward to arriving in Chicago yesterday afternoon — but multiple flight delays meant I got here eight hours late. Too late to roam the lobby looking for friends, too late for a reception I always look forward to, too late to freshen up. Ack! And it turns out I wasn’t the only one. Plenty of frustrated conference attendees were held up at airports, but everyone is all smiles today.

Well, as disappointed as I was to have missed several hours of fun, I got surprising news courtesy of the Conference program: Apparently I’m being honored with the Hero Award tomorrow night! What? Had I missed an email? I guess not — the sneaky folks at IOCDF had purposely kept it a secret.

I’m thrilled, of course, and it makes up for the hours of idle time at the airport and worrying whether I’d make it at all. While I’d love for you to come hear my two-minute acceptance speech, the most important reason you should come to the dinner and dance tomorrow night is that everyone who is anyone will be there mingling, dancing, and having a fantastic time. I mean everyone. (Is this peer pressure? Nah.)

See you there, and in the meantime, have fun!

#OCDcon: Hope Floats

Although I could not fall asleep last night, I woke up feeling oddly refreshed. You know why? I’m at the OCD Conference, the most wonderful time of the year!

One of my favorite parts of the weekend is running into old friends in the lobby and around the hotel and meeting new friends along the way. So that’s how I started the morning, before I went to hear the amazing IOCDF spokespeople — Jeff Bell, Ro Vitale, Ethan Smith, and Liz McIngvale — share their reasons for becoming advocates. Stigma and confusion is still all around us, friends, so the Fab Four encourages you to help spread awareness — and they don’t even expect you to go all in as they have. Jeff recommends that you dip your toe in to get an idea of how advocacy makes you feel. Try it! Share a great personal essay on social media, or politely speak up when someone misuses “OCD.” You can inspire hope.

I’ve been so busy since that session that I haven’t been to anything else yet! What have you attended today? Next up for me is Art Therapy for Adults: Draw a Monster for OCD, an interactive art event where you can draw your obsessions as monsters, which is how many people with OCD view them. I’m just helping out, and I admit I draw like a child (what’s “perspective”?), but you should come to learn from a true artist and OCD survivor. It’s at 7 in the Denver/Houston/Kansas City room.

Tonight I hope to fall asleep before 3:30. Hope you’re having a blast.



Guest Post: Our Unique Smile

perfilAgosto2.jpgRo Vitale is a singer and songwriter from Buenos Aires, Argentina. She was the keynote speaker at the Spanish Program at the Annual OCD Conference in Los Angeles last month, where she stole the show with her honesty, openness, and amazing singing voice.  Today, she writes a guest post for our blog about her experiences at the conference, but also about the bigger picture of what it’s like to live with a diagnosis of OCD.  Read the post below, and be sure to download her song My Inspiration on iTunes or Amazon, of which she is donating the proceeds to the IOCDF.
It’s been just a couple of weeks since I had the chance to participate in the 21st Annual OCD Conference in Los Angeles, CA. Just as pain’s effects endure over time, as aftershocks occur in everyday conversations (with ourselves or others), the same thing happens with wonderful experiences. Today I won’t talk about OCD, even though it’s clear that’s all we talked about during the Conference. Instead, I will deliberately attempt to generalize my vision.
I think about the surprising elasticity of certain human characteristics when properly stimulated. I have seen how often our difficulties, shortcomings and dysfunctions become our prisons and monopolize our will, to the point of shaping our identity. And for those of us who hold the symbolic certificate of an unquestionable diagnosis, we seem to walk through life dressed in a suit of our pathology, tolerating self and social stigma, slowly putting away the cards of our dreams as if they had no place at the game table. And I’m saying that because I often see us manipulating reality with our legitimate “I can’ts”, gently stroking the back of our symptoms, almost like a pet, justifying our frustrations over and over again. Oh, yes, I should have said our legitimate frustrations.
But even though it’s our right to be understood and respected for our difficulties, our torment and struggles, there is another great truth on the opposite side of the coin. A truth that states that we are NOT our difficulties, our pathology or our disorder. We are NOT our symptoms and we certainly are NOT our dysfunctions. All that is what HAPPENS to us, but it is not our identity. If even a concept as foundational as identity has stretchability, maybe it’s time to look at ourselves in a cleaner mirror.
Romina and her mother at the Conference.

Romina and her mother at the OCD Conference in LA.

Throughout the conference, there were no OCDs versus non-OCDs, ‘healthy’ professionals versus ‘troubled’ attendants. There were no scholars versus ignorants, problem-solvers versus problem-havers, treating therapists versus treated patients, supporters versus supported. Instead, there was a group of individuals, homogenized by a shared wish; a group of people deeply touched, moved and motivated by the same vision, inspired by hope. Above all, a group of individuals being heard and seen through their unique creative identity. No diagnosis would blur or cloud any I.D. picture (if I may use this metaphor). No symptom was greater than the shyest smile. This was probably one of the things that caught my attention the most. There were more than enough reasons to rightly establish a hierarchy of positions and roles. None of that happened. I remember having discussed this very same thing with Dr. Jeff Szymanski, IOCDF’s executive director, Carly Bourne, director of communications and my dear Stephanie Cogen at a meeting before coming back to Buenos Aires. I’m still so impressed and inspired by their wonderful work and their vision. I’m still processing everything I learned from them. The conference itself has certainly been a life-changing experience.

My commitment to raising awareness about OCD is much broader than the (very important) task of conveying information on the specific appearance of OCD symptoms (which might encourage sufferers to seek help), or the necessary mission of fighting stigma and social exclusion, or the fundamental goal of expanding and facilitating access to appropriate treatment, or spreading the main message that there is hope and we can get better. My commitment is much broader, because I strongly believe that we must dis-identify ourselves from the difficulty, the symptoms and ultimately the disorder itself, to find ourselves in our dreams, our voice and our creativity.
The more I talk about OCD, the less OCD will speak for me.
We seem to keep listening to the same old official voice of our failures and difficulties. Maybe it’s time to start hearing the sweet sound of another ringing bell: the one that makes us unique; the beautiful sound of our own voice, the kind, creative and sounding lines that we are made of. Even if it’s hard. Even if it hurts or annoys us at first. If we just let it, our willpower will work its magic.
Maybe it’s time to look in the opposite direction of what holds us back. Maybe it’s time to acknowledge our elastic strings, our own eyes, our creative freedom, our kindness, our unique smile.

The 21st Annual OCD Conference in LA: A Look Back

Just two weeks ago, the 21st Annual OCD Conference was getting underway in Los Angeles.  Now we are back in the office and adjusting to reality again. All of the IOCDF staff had an amazing time meeting all of you, hearing your stories, and working to make this a conference you would never forget.  On today’s blog, IOCDF executive director, Jeff Szymanski, PhD, reflects on the highlights of this year’s conference, and takes a look at what attendees had to say about the event on Twitter and blogs around the web. – Editor


As the executive director of the IOCDF, boy do I love to hear that! My friend Sean O’Connell asks me each time we talk, “What is the most meaningful thing you’ve done today?” At the conference, every minute of each day feels meaningful. Shala Nicely sums up my hope for every conference goer, every year in a recent blog post on her Aha! Moments blog:

When I attended my first International OCD Foundation conference in 2010, the whole thing was one huge “Aha!” In session after session, I learned one mind-blowing thing after another about OCD and its treatment, and the fact that as a person with OCD, I did NOT have to suffer. (Read the full post here.)

Jeff-sunglassesSo, I donned my LA conference sunglasses and was prepared myself this year to again be blown away by the richness of the OCD and related disorders community.

K Oakley shared with us her experience of being a parent at the conference:

I again was amazed at the ease people had sharing their journeys of struggle with this disorder.  It definitely is a safe environment where your worst days and fears can be shared without fear of judgment.  We met a young man on the shuttle from the airport to the hotel that was attending the conference.  My not so shy son struck up a conversation right away, and we immediately became “friends.”  It was great seeing him through out the conference, giving each other updates as we went. (Read the full post here.)

As many of you know, the Annual OCD Conference is for individuals with OCD and related disorders, family members and supporters, and professionals. When I ask people about their favorite part of the conference they inevitably remark about how everyone affected by OCD and related disorders comes together on an even playing field to be generous, compassionate and courageous. Our invited Plenary speaker, Dr. Todd Kashdan, had never been to one of our conferences before. Todd is hard to impress, but was immediately struck by the tone of our conference:

But, here is what really got me about this year’s conference: the number of people who returned to the conference not just for a sense of community and an opportunity to learn something new, but to give back. Our 2014 Keynote Speaker, Ethan Smith, was a perfect example of this. The message of his keynote address hit exactly the right tone. He wasn’t up there to just tell his story. He was there to tell his story so that it might make a difference in someone else’s life. His courage and vulnerability during his Keynote was awe-inspiring and we can’t wait to get it posted on our website for even more people to see and be affected by it. Thank you, Ethan!

And we have continued to expand our reach. I was very proud to be involved in an organization that goes the extra step to reach out to underserved populations with the first, full day conference program given completely in Spanish on Saturday, July 19th. A shout out to our Keynote Speaker for this conference, Romina Vitale who wrote a song, My Inspiration, dedicated to the conference, as well as delivering a powerful Keynote address.

Saturday was also the night of our Saturday Night Social, where the entire conference community comes together for dinner, dancing, and more importantly, having fun. IOCDF guest blogger, Alison Dotson, wrote this on her post about the social…

On Saturday night we got dressed up for dinner and the awards ceremony. First up the IOCDF honored advocate extraordinaire Margaret Sisson for her role in spreading awareness in Georgia…. Next up was Minnesota-native comedian Maria Bamford, who received the first annual Illumination Award. Bamford uses her comedy circuit to spread awareness about OCD, telling side-splitting–and sometimes heartbreaking–stories about her life with the disorder. She sang a hilarious little ditty she wrote about her obsessions and compulsions, which had me cracking up every time I thought of it the rest of the night.

Since I’ve loved Bamford for years, and because she’s a fellow Minnesota native, I quietly approached her. I told her I’d hoped to see her show last fall in Minneapolis but that I’d already spent money on a David Sedaris appearance. She nodded and said, “You have got to plan your comedy show budget very carefully.” When Maria went to the dance floor for the first song of the night, IOCDF Communications Director Carly Bourne said, “Alison, go dance with her!” Ack! Let me tell you — I do not dance. But I danced on Saturday! What a blast. I’m sure there’s photographic evidence that I may already be regretting… (Read the full post here.)


The photographic evidence.

For now, however, conference season is over, and Chrissie Hodges summed it up well:

I sit here tonight in front of my computer and I miss my friends from the conference. I miss the unspoken acceptance. I miss the excitement of discovery and the stories of triumph over tragedy. I miss the conversations that come naturally because of a common denominator between 1500 people. And I miss that feeling of being among “my type of people.”

I am the luckiest person in the world to have found the IOCDF and to have been blessed enough to attend a conference that has positively changed countless lives for so many years, including my own. Yes, there is sadness…but it is lined with optimism and confidence that the last few days of my life have changed me positively…and just like the conference time warp happened so quickly–before I know it, I will be right back on a plane heading to Boston for the IOCDF Conference 2015. (Read the full post here.)

I’ll see many of you in Boston. I will be the blur moving through the crowds.

Guest Post: Report from the Annual OCD Conference

Free Spirit Publishing Blog

By Alison Dotson, author ofBeing Me with OCD

Ali Dotson, FSP authorThis past weekend, July 17–20, I fulfilled a dream I’ve had for several years now: I attended the 21st Annual OCD Conference, held by the International OCD Foundation (IOCDF). This year it was in Los Angeles (ooh la la!), but last year it was in Atlanta and next year it will be in Boston. As much fun as it was to travel, it’d be great if the conference ended up here in Minneapolis one year, too!

The very first OCD Conference was held in a small hotel in Bloomington, Minnesota, and only about fifty people attended. This year there were 1,345 attendees! The conference has grown in leaps and bounds and become a truly international experience.

Kids-Parade at 2014 OCD conf by Roberto Farren The Kids’ Parade at the conference was joyful. Photo courtesy of Roberto Farren.

The energy there was palpable. I was diagnosed with OCD about…

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Conference Social and Day Four

I’m home now, and I’m still coming down from my conference high. I’m sure you are, too. It’s quite a shift from finding inspiration around every corner to having my dogs paw at me to let them outside (and back in and then back out and back in again). I’m back to work tomorrow, and I know it will be an adjustment to have a regular day again, where not everyone gets OCD or gives me a pass for being late because, hello, I have an anxiety disorder! Let me know how you’re doing back in the real world, too.

The entire experience was incredible, but for me the biggest highs took place on Saturday night, when the social was held in the hotel ballroom, and Sunday morning, when I co-facilitated a workshop for teens with my friend and amazing advocate Chrissie Hodges of Denver.

On Saturday night we got dressed up for dinner and the awards ceremony. First up the IOCDF honored advocate extraordinaire Margaret Sisson for her role in spreading awareness in Georgia. Margaret was inspired by her son, Riley, and his personal struggle with OCD to get involved on a grassroots level. Although the IOCDF presented her with a hero award, she stated in her speech that Riley is her hero. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room.

Next up was Minnesota native comedian Maria Bamford, who received the first annual Illumination Award. Bamford uses her comedy circuit to spread awareness about OCD, telling side-splitting–and sometimes heartbreaking–stories about her life with the disorder. She sang a hilarious little ditty she wrote about her obsessions and compulsions, which had me cracking up every time I thought of it the rest of the night.

Since I’ve loved Bamford for years, and because she’s a fellow Minnesota native, I quietly approached her. I told her I’d hoped to see her show last fall in Minneapolis but that I’d already spent money on a David Sedaris appearance. She nodded and said, “You have got to plan your comedy show budget very carefully.” When Maria went to the dance floor for the first song of the night, IOCDF Communications Director Carly Bourne said, “Alison, go dance with her!” Ack! Let me tell you — I do not dance. But I danced on Saturday! What a blast. I’m sure there’s photographic evidence that I may already be regretting…

I managed to pull myself away from the excitement early enough to get a decent night’s sleep in preparation for my Sunday morning workshop. I was excited and definitely nervous about it, but we had a great turnout and I think it went really well. The teens in the group opened up with us and shared tips about “coming out” with OCD and reacting to statements like “I’m so OCD.” One teen who’d been bullied told another that all he needs is one good friend who understands and who will listen. As much as I believe we have nothing to be ashamed about, the truth is that some people who don’t understand the disorder can be cruel–middle schoolers and high schoolers in particular. Kids are already navigating their social lives, and it can be painful to tell someone they have OCD only to be made fun of. It’s definitely a delicate balance, and it illustrates how important professional and family support is.

We think a great way to respond to “I’m so OCD” is to give the person the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they really do have OCD, and that’s how they share that information. One teen said that he often sends people to the IOCDF website so they can learn what OCD really is. If they do have the disorder, now they have a great resource to find help. And if they don’t, now they have a better understanding of how debilitating it can be and may think twice about joking in the future. Chrissie and I were so impressed with the teens who came to our workshop! If you were there, thank you! Keep up the good work, and remember you’re not alone.

Thanks to everyone who came to my book signing and to my workshop, and to everyone I met and chatted with. I made connections that will last a lifetime, and I feel humbled by so many of my fellow advocates. (Jeff Bell and Shannon Shy should be eligible for sainthood, I think.)

See you next year, right? Boston, here we come.

Day Three at the Conference

I’m in OCD celebrity heaven! Forget Ryan Gosling–I got to meet Lee Baer, author of Imp of the Mind. That book played such an important role in my triumph over intrusive taboo thoughts that I had to hold myself back from hugging the man and weeping in his arms. He was very gracious, and seemed happy to meet me as well!

I attended his session on sexual and violent intrusive thoughts, which reaffirmed how amazing he is, as well as how incredibly painful intrusive thoughts are for people with this type of OCD. He asked for volunteers to engage in an impromptu CBT session with him, and he sat at the front of the room with a young woman who fears that she’ll run someone over with her car without realizing it. So far she’s coped with her fear by avoiding it; she got an accommodation from work so she can take the bus instead of driving, and her husband drives her where she needs to go. Dr. Baer advised her to start with less intimidating exposures like writing down the worst “Stephen King” scenario that could happen and record herself reading it. He estimated that after about 10 hours of listening to the recording her anxiety will have subsided quite a bit and that by the end of the summer she’ll feel ready to drive again.

Now I’m off to an affiliate meeting, where I hope to learn a lot to apply to OCD Twin Cities, where I’m president. Tonight there’s a social, and IOCDF will present an award to comedian Maria Bamford, a fellow Minnesota native!

See you soon!

Day Two at the OCD Conference

I can’t explain how incredible it feels to be among so many people who understand me–it’s one thing to email with people who have OCD, but it’s quite another to be surrounded by them!

Last night I planned today’s schedule. I fully intended to go to a morning session, but my roommate (and fellow workshop facilitator, Chrissie Hodges) and I ended up sitting in our room, drinking coffee and talking about OCD. We’ve already talked about how similar our backgrounds are, but this morning we went more in-depth about our triggers and darkest moments. I’ve shared things with her in the last 24 hours I’ve never told anybody! And instead of saying, “Oh, Alison, that must have been so terrible,” she laughed. She laughed because she’s been there. She fully understands what it’s like to have inappropriate intrusive thoughts. (Don’t go around laughing when people divulge secrets to you in general, though.)

After we finally pulled ourselves out of our conversation, I got ready for my book signing. I met some wonderful people with OCD. I’m still amazed how many people I’ve met who have obsessions like I’ve had. For so many years all I knew of OCD was that people with it would wash their hands all the time. But I’ve also met several people whose OCD symptoms were nothing like mine! The more people I meet, the more I realize that no matter what our particular stories may be, we share a common truth: We’ve at some time or another been ruled by our obsessions.

I attended a session on how OCD is portrayed in the media, and how inaccurate news stories can be. The media’s job is to get as many views as possible, and sometimes that means sensationalizing this disorder, twisting the truth for dramatic effect and picking only the most headline-worthy quotes from lengthy interviews. But the takeaway was that we can all be advocates, and we don’t have to wait for traditional media sources to tell our stories for us. We can tell our own stories; we can share them on Facebook, blogs, Twitter, and in person.

I just came out of a session for young adults; a panel discussed the possibility of relapse and how we can prevent a downward spiral. The fact is that there’s no cure for OCD, and that means we will have intrusive thoughts, and we will feel anxious and have fears. That’s life! The goal is to be armed with the right tools and not to beat ourselves up when those things do happen. An attendee made a great analogy: If you were on a weight loss plan, lost five pounds, and then gained two back, would you just give up? Or would you say, “Hey, that’s just a minor setback. I know I’m capable of losing weight because I’ve done it. Now I just need to get back on track.” Instead of giving in to OCD because it’s trying to poke its nose back into your business, recognize what’s happened and move on. Elizabeth McIngvale was on the panel and said that if you, say, wash your hands as a ritual, you can fight back right then and there and engage in an exposure. Stay mindful and you can decrease the chances that you’ll experience a full relapse.

That’s what I have for now! There’s still more to come, and even though I attended only two sessions today, there are so many more to choose from. It was hard to choose just one in each time slot. See you soon!


First Day in LA: Success!

IOCDF blogger Alison Dotson is attending the 21st Annual OCD Conference for the first time this year, and will be blogging about her experiences all weekend in Los Angeles. 

I arrived in LA early this morning for the first day of the conference, and it’s been a blast so far! I’ve already made so many connections, and I’ve finally met people I’ve only known through email and Facebook.

Tonight IOCDF held a reception for conference speakers, where I met IOCDF staff members, a few authors of books on OCD, three fathers and one mother of adult sons with OCD, a young woman who just two years ago couldn’t step on sidewalk cracks and is now an advocate–just to name a few. Everyone is so open, ready to share their own stories as well as listen to others’.

I’ve been up so long today I had to deny everyone my mad skills at pub trivia, opting to linger there a bit before heading back to my hotel room. I need to rest up now because everything will be in full swing tomorrow and the rest of the weekend. I can’t wait to see who shows up to my book signing at 12:30 tomorrow, and to attend as many sessions as possible.

See you tomorrow!