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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.




  • Thank you so much for writing this blog, Alison. As someone with taboo obsessions myself (also mostly religious and sexual), I can relate to not wanting to talk about it. However, I have a video blog about mental health and I knew that I’d have to eventually, so I can help those like us. I made a video on sexual obsessions, talking about them in general as well as my own experience, and got really good feedback from my subscribers. It feels amazing to know people will support you, even when you talk about something hard. Also, all of the comments I received from people saying they can relate or that I helped them really made me feel better. OCD advocacy is hard in many ways, but so rewarding.

    Thank you again, Alison! You really inspire me and I’m definitely going to read your book!

    • Alison Dotson

      Hi! Thanks so much for responding. I would love to check out your video blog. It’s been so hard to be open about some of my obsessions, even after all these years, and people thanking me and generally just being kind and accepting has meant the world to me and kept me going.

  • Luke

    Hello Alison. I was in attendance for your presentation with Dr. Baer at the conference in Boston. I had read Dr. Baer’s book and was really impressed with it. I had never heard of you before the conference but was really happy to see you speak about your darkest thoughts in front of a large audience. As I continue my practice of “flying into the darkness,” I go back and forth between courageous or motivated to exhausted, frustrated, and hopeless. I also have had “what if I’m gay” OCD mixed with some other just strange images invading my mind, recently ones of spiders.
    My next level of treatment needs to be sharing with other sufferers in a forum type environment and really talking about not just having OCD, but specifically the types of thoughts and images. I’m tired of OCD shaming me and I’m trying to be more open than I ever have before.
    I felt like I might have had some insight regarding your role playing therapy session with Dr. Baer. Would love to share that with you and to hear your thoughts about some of my stuff.
    I’m really just looking to get involved at the next level.
    Thanks. Hope to hear from you or anyone else who can relate.

    • Alison Dotson

      Hi, Luke! Nice to hear from you. Let’s chat more–if you fill out the form on the About Me page on my blog, alisondotson.com, it will come directly to my inbox. Talk to you soon!


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