Each year at the Annual OCD Conference, we feature a keynote speaker who can share their own personal experiences of living with OCD and finding hope for recovery from OCD. Ethan S. Smith is an actor, writer, producer, and director living in Los Angeles, CA, who spent years struggling with severe and debilitating OCD before finding a way through the pain, fear, and anxiety. You might recognize Ethan’s face from TV shows such as Dexter, but you will almost certainly recognize Ethan’s stories of his life with OCD. Today’s blog is a guest post from Ethan, sharing a bit of his personal story. You can hear the full story on Saturday morning of the 21st Annual OCD Conference in LA next month!
When I was growing up, living an amazing life where OCD didn’t rule my every action was what I considered the “big dream”. Despite having OCD for as long as I can remember, I knew what I wanted my life to look like because I had models all around me: my parents, my teachers, and my friends. At the age of five, I learned that not everyone is afraid that if they swallow a fly, they’ll explode. (It’s hilarious now — you can laugh!). But as I got older, life without OCD seemed less attainable, and I eventually started believing it was completely out of my grasp — it seemed that a “big dream” was all it would ever be.
Throughout my 20’s, even though I found success as an actor, I lived a double life. I experienced constant fear and anxiety. I couldn’t do most things normal twentysomethings did. I couldn’t even leave the city without my mother or father being with me. I lived inside a box that grew smaller with every passing hour, unable to pursue my dreams. I was a prisoner in my own brain.
By the time I was 32, despite seeing numerous therapists over decades that thought they knew how to treat OCD, yet had never even heard of ERP, I found myself bedridden in my parent’s guest room. I was too scared to eat, too scared to drink, lost 100lbs, and was barely existing. I would lie on top of my hands 24/7 because I was afraid I was going to accidentally hurt myself. Finally, after getting three CT scans in three days at three different hospitals to be certain I didn’t have a brain injury from thinking I hit my head, my parents caught on that I was ritualizing and then physically prevented me from doing so. Without the ability to ritualize, and no proper therapy or coping skills under my belt, I convinced myself I was going to die and I became completely out of control. What I was experiencing was definitely a far cry from the OCD that the media likes to portray as “quirky” or “adorable.: This was an OCD that so many parents, family, and friends know too well within the confines of their homes.
Now here’s the really cool part. That “big dream” I was talking about earlier finally became a reality only three years ago when I was 33 years old. Today, I’m a 36-year-old writer, director, producer, and actor living thousands of miles away from my parents in Los Angeles, California. So what happened during that year and a half that changed my life forever? That’s what I can’t wait to share with you at the OCD Conference — and not just what happened but how it happened, because therein lies the key.
I’m not going to tell you that I don’t ever struggle now, because that’s not the truth. OCD is a disorder I will carry with me until the end. Some days, weeks, months I forget I have it, and other times it screams at me so loud I jump. The difference in my life now is that in either case, my actions are the same — I choose living a life where OCD has no say, no weight, pull, push, or power. I acknowledge its existence, but that’s where our relationship ends.
Words cannot describe how moved and elated I am to share my story with all of you at the Annual OCD Conference next month. To show you actual video footage of me when OCD was at it’s worst, and share with you the tools that helped me turn my life around. Most importantly, I look forward to meeting all of you, because we all have our stories of pain and suffering — some of us are still suffering, and some of us are on the other side of the war. In the end, we all share a common goal: to make life not about OCD but about living, and even enjoying it in the process.
I know we will get there, because that is my “big dream” now. See you in Los Angeles!
-Ethan S. Smith
Ethan’s keynote will take place on Saturday, July 19th, 2014 during the 21st Annual OCD Conference at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in LA. Be sure to register for the conference before the Early Bird Discount ends on Monday, June 16th and SAVE.