One Sunday afternoon in February, I was sitting on my couch mulling over the idea of submitting for keynote. I jumped up, set up a camera on a tripod in my office, hit record, and started talking. I’d told pieces of my story a million times, but there was something different about telling it alone to a camera. It made it visceral and it brought it all back in a way I hadn’t experienced since getting well. I laughed. I cried. I had a panic attack. I relived so many moments I’d have preferred to tuck away. It took me 8 hours to record 10 minutes of speaking. I wasn’t obsessing over getting it perfect or saying the right thing. It took me 8 hours because retelling the story alone in a room directly to a camera forced me to bare my soul to an unknown audience describing events in detail I’d never talked about before. It was, in a sense, truly admitting to myself that everything that happened…had actually happened.
After I finished, the sense of relief was palpable. So was the pride. It was probably one of the most uncomfortable things I’d done since my ERP days, but I kept the reason I was doing it front and center the entire time.
While I was at the OCDI, Dr. Michael Jenike told me, “The best thing you can do to treat your OCD is help others.” It seemed so ridiculous at the time. I was the one suffering, in need of help. Wasn’t I supposed to concentrate all my efforts on me? As I found wellness, I began to understand what Dr. Jenike meant. Submitting for and becoming keynote, in my mind, was the ultimate way I could give back. That easily superseded any amount of discomfort I felt and propelled me forward to finish and submit.
That brings us to July 19th, 2014, day of the keynote. Believe it or not, I didn’t write it out. I had an outline but I really wanted to be able to speak from the heart. Being an actor, people assume being on stage in front of 700-800 people would be no big deal. Playing a character and playing yourself are completely different animals. I don’t think what I was about to do really hit me until I walked on stage toward the podium. Time slowed a bit, I looked out at the audience and thought “WHAT THE HECK DID I GET MYSELF IN TO!”
What happened next I can only describe as surreal and unbelievable. There are very few things in my life that actually played out the way I imagined it would. My keynote not only did that, but far exceeded my every expectation. What came after truly solidified for me what I had just done: HUGS! LOTS OF HUGS! (Seriously, a ridiculous amount of hugs.)
After the keynote, it took me two hours to get back up to my room. Mothers, fathers, sufferers, therapists, all telling me how I touched them so profoundly, how one small piece of my story changed the OCD game for them, each walking away with something different.
A college football player walked up to me with tears in his eyes and said, “I feel real hope for the first time since my OCD began.”
A father, whose teenage son had suffered for 3 years told me, “I never knew I was supposed to be involved in his treatment. No one told me until today. You’ve just unlocked, for me, the reason why he keeps getting sick.”
A therapist approached and said “I’d never seen an ERP like that where the therapist kept pushing despite how upset and in pain you were. It really showed she wasn’t being insensitive to you; she was being insensitive to your OCD. That makes so much sense and I have a new perspective on what ERP should look like in my own office now.”
One particular conversation that really got to me was with a young woman in her early twenties. She approached me apprehensively, obviously nervous to share. She said “It was like you were inside my mind translating my thoughts into words I could actually understand. It was like having a conversation with myself where everything, finally after 12 years with OCD, made sense. I know what to do now.” I knew that feeling all to well.
I finally made it back to my hotel room, sat on the floor, and cried myself. The gravity of what I had done began to sink in, and the people’s reactions moved me in a way I had never felt. I was so humbled.
Prior to the keynote, I had always told people I wouldn’t have changed my life, even if I could go back, because of the perspective my GIANT battle with OCD gave me and with wellness, my ability to help others. But I don’t know that I believed that 100%…until the keynote. Without a doubt, sitting in that hotel room, I knew that the universe had a plan for me. That I wasn’t dealt a random hand, I was given an opportunity to turn my pain into someone else’s hope. I don’t know that there’s anything more important in life than that. The amazing thing as OCD sufferers is we all have the ability to do that. I’m not special. I’m simply an example of what can happen when you just say, “Ok, I trust you. I want my life back, so let’s go get it!”