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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 That easily superseded any amount of discomfort I felt and propelled me forward to finish and submit.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!”

 

 

13 Comments

  • Julia Abdullah

    I feel the same when I share my story. It is always heartwarming. The last time I presented I was on my high anxiety level.

    Reply
  • I haven’t watched the video yet, Ethan, but I will asap. Congratulations on your recovery and for spreading hope to all those whose lives have been touched by OCD. I agree; that’s what it’s all about!

    Reply
  • dorothy

    Ethan bravo! My son has suffered for so long…it was so hard to hear your story..he went to Occident after college..I stayed with him also for a while hes doing ok but has flare ups thank you for sharing

    Reply
  • Nancy Chadwick

    Hi ,Ethan. I was at the conference and heard you speak. Your words were the most powerful thing that happened at the conference for me.
    And..that’s really saying something because it is truly an amazing conference. I have been a therapist in private practice for almost 40 years now, and have been to many conferences and workshops during that time. Nothing comes close to what happens at the IOCDF conferences. I think the key ingredient is people like you who share their stories… whether that is in such a powerful way like you did or the questions asked during the small sessions by people with OCD and their family members. Thank you for your wonderful talk. It was the highlight for me. So glad IOCDF posted it on their website so I can listen to it again and share it so your words can continue to give others hope.

    Reply
  • Jade

    Ethan I had to stop and keep watching your video throughout my day because I relate to what you had gone through so much it was very intense for me to have someone else explain it. The self harm aspect- i had never felt like anyone went through the same feelings and thoughts as I did with self harm ocd, especially the hands part.

    I’ve had odd since i can remember, noticed harm ocd at age 9 felt with it coming in and out of my life ( thoughts compulsions urges ect) unitl i was 17 i finally couldn’t handle it on my own anymore nor did i have any clue what was making me suffer so much throughout my life. i got a little help, surprisingly joined the military got out and here i am today still struggling. I finally made the attempt to find a therapist and stay with it for good and do cbt, I’m thinking about medications. to say the least this has been a long journey and I’m only 22 i feel like its been forever dealing with this, I’ve given up a lot of my childhood and things that people take for granted while dealing with this.im ready to change this.

    I’d love to speak with someone who can relate if at all you get a chance please email me id love some advice to help me along!!

    thank you for your story it was beautiful

    Reply
  • TaraR

    I was lucky enough to see your speech in person and it was fantastic. Funny, sad, but mostly inspiring. Many thanks for sharing your story!!

    Reply
  • Nicholet

    I need to watch that again. There’s a lot of acronyms I don’t know about, but overall it was great and amazing. Before this, earlier today I just admitted to the phone counseling in my city about my compulsive hoarding, my phobias -bugs, spiders, dirty outside surroundings, junk piles w rats jumping out and I never talk about that stuff to anyone because they’ll ridicule me. But to learn that yes those things are going to scare the jeebies outta me and yes i might sweat and shake , but the focus and reaction are the things I can control and that I need to stop letting these things rule my life. It was good to admit that I have these obs phobias and I’ve beed looking around for help. It sounds like u got it and maybe I might be able to too because it’s kinda taken over my life.

    Reply
  • I was lucky enough to see your speech in person and it was fantastic. Funny, sad, but mostly inspiring. Many thanks for sharing your story!!

    Reply
  • Robin Lerman

    Thank you so much for sharing your journey. My daughter started at the Institute at McLeans today. You truly gave us hope. It’s such a difficult journey but we know that it is necessary.

    Reply
  • Delema

    Hi Ethan, I really need to attend this conference. Can you show me the way. I was diagnose of ocd. I live in west africa in a country where there is no support group. It is so difficult to tell someone about your condition cause if you dare do they will feel that you are a evil person. Am nurse and really want to help myself and other. I just cry most often and keep reading about Ocd on the internet. Your story touch me a lot. I know I made was created by God for purpose, and I am believing in him and praying for his intervention. I told a pastor once about my condition but he does not know what am going through. I wish to meet other people that know what am going through.

    Reply
  • […] year Ethan Smith, a Los Angeles-based actor, writer, producer, and director, delivered the conference keynote. Ethan described his fight against severe OCD, and even as he was talking about the darkest moments […]

    Reply
  • Liti DeMane

    Very helpful to me. I have had ocd since abou
    11. I am 59 now. I started ERP a few years back
    But had to stop because of the cost. Then I started again recently and again had to stop
    Because of money. I am having a hard time
    Finding a place that takes Medicaid. I am looking
    Into hospital programs. I want help.

    Thankyou and GodBless Liti

    Reply
  • Johan

    Thanks man.

    /Johan

    Reply

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