Ro 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.
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.