It’s hard to believe it’s been two weeks since the OCD Conference in Boston! As expected, I was a little bummed to be back home after being surrounded by people who understand OCD — although my husband and two dogs are pretty cool about the whole anxiety disorder thing — and super energized to keep up the momentum of spreading the word about OCD recovery, including the roadblocks.
I have so many of you to thank for that energy. My co-presenter Lee Baer and I had lunch before our session, where I said I was nervous about presenting.
“Why?” he asked, very kindly.
“Because I am about to say the word pedophile to a room full of people,” I said.
“Well, you don’t have to. You can say whatever you want, whatever you’re comfortable with.”
He was right, of course. I didn’t have to drop heavy words like pedophile while I shared my painful story of taboo intrusive thoughts, mostly sexual and religious, and how I eventually overcame them, forgiving myself for what once seemed unforgivable.
“I know,” I said. “But there might be people in the room who need to hear me say it.”
That’s the thing with being an advocate — it’s not necessarily easy, but it’s so tremendously important. That day I spoke about my worst obsessions, about how utterly hopeless and alone they made me feel. And it was embarrassing. I cried. I cried because I was on stage with one of my personal heroes, Lee Baer, whose book on taboo obsessions, The Imp of the Mind, very nearly saved my life. I cried because the memories hurt. I cried because I’m grateful that I’m in a much better place now. And people cried with me.
I shared intimate details with a large group of strangers—and a few friends—and an amazing thing happened afterward. People approached me, introducing themselves and sharing their own struggles with OCD. They asked questions and offered support and solace. They thanked me for being honest and acknowledged how difficult it must have been to stand at that podium and say what I did. Interactions like these are why I am an advocate for OCD awareness. How can I help people who went through the same heartache and confusion I did if I don’t talk about it?
You can be an advocate, too, but that doesn’t mean you to have to bare your soul like I did. I worked up to writing a book, speaking, and blogging about OCD, and I understand every hesitation people have about opening up about their personal experience with mental illness. Advocacy comes in many forms, from sharing an article with a loved one to taking the world by storm with TV interviews or best-selling memoirs. There’s no one “right” way to go about it.
Start by signing up to be an OCDvocate. See our blog post from Wednesday for more information about the program and details on how you can sign up. Are you on Facebook? Share an interesting article about misconceptions about OCD. (Or an IOCDF blog entry!) You don’t even have to mention that you have OCD yourself; you can just say, “Wow, this shed light on a commonly misunderstood disorder, OCD. Check it out.” Tweet a link to a video about OCD. If you hear someone make a joke about OCD, politely say, “I always thought OCD was all about hand-washing, too, and then I read this book about it.” Volunteer with your area’s IOCDF affiliate (if you’re in the Twin Cities, contact me about OCD Twin Cities!). There isn’t one in your area? Start one! OCD Awareness Week is in October; consider getting a group of people together to bowl (So many people with OCD have never met another person with OCD before!) or hosting a guest speaker. The possibilities are endless. Together we can make OCD easier to talk about, help others understand what it really is, and get people the right treatment, faster.