Hannah Zidansek and Melanie Lefebvre, IOCDF Advocates and best friends who met virtually through OCD Awareness Week in October 2014, talk about their conference experience. Check out the schedule and register for this weekend’s Online OCD Conference!
Hannah: Melanie, I fully credit you for personally recruiting me to attend my first OCD conference. We built a supportive online friendship through 2014 and 2015 and decided that the OCD Conference was the perfect place for us to meet up in person for the first time. OCD can make it difficult to commit to big decisions and I was lucky to have you to give me the push that I needed to travel all the way to Boston for the 2015 conference. It truly changed my life! Could you share what was your motivation behind attending your first conference?
Melanie: I actually won a random draw that gave me free admission to the conference in Los Angeles in 2014. I was in a Lululemon pop-up shop and I got an email on my phone telling me I had won it. I remember being shocked that I won! Since my OCD was bad at the time and made it difficult for me to travel, I was really torn on whether or not I should go. Part of me felt like winning the free ticket was a sign from the universe that I should attend. I remember calling the director of the OCD center of LA and I was trying to bargain with him to see if I could just take half the prize.
Hannah: So typical for OCD to try to bargain!
Melanie: Yes! I remember asking him, “What if I go for a day and you give it to someone else and they go for another day?” And of course he said, “No, you’re either going to have to go or we will have to give the prize to someone else.” I remember calling and talking to so many people and asking them what I should do. But I feel that I always would have wondered “what if” if I did not go. The fact that I won it was honestly enough to give me the push. I don’t think I would have gone if I had not won it.
Hannah: There definitely are points with OCD where the “other” what-If, like the what-if of missing out or not following through with a big opportunity becomes scarier than the what-if’s that your OCD typically torments you with.
If you could talk to yourself before your first conference experience, what is something you would tell yourself in preparation?
Melanie: I would probably say something about embracing uncertainty and the power of community, especially if you have never been around people with OCD before. To be around hundreds of other people with lived experiences, therapists, and researchers who get on so many different levels, it’s almost a type of therapy in of itself.
Hannah: Yes, I always say my recovery did not begin until I started attending the OCD conferences. Like you said, the community is just so powerful.
I feel like I had a safety net in building an internet friendship with you before I went to my first conference. And I know not everyone has a Melanie as an extra motivation for showing up to the conferences, so what advice would you give someone who is hesitant about attending?
Melanie: I think the IOCDF does a good job at creating connections before the conferences. For my first conference in LA, I was able to find a roommate through a Facebook group. Even if you don’t know anyone, there are so many meet and greets and opportunities to meet people. If you are super shy and anxious, you can just say “I’m super shy and anxious,” and people will understand.
Hannah: You don’t have to hide anything. You make such fast friendships and lifelong bonds with people because everyone understands what you are going through. It’s an abundance of support, more than you ever could really imagine until you experience it. This year is virtual again and still a wonderful opportunity to connect.
Melanie: Yes, there was a time early on in my recovery where an online conference would have been so amazing for me, especially because of how I struggled with travel anxiety. For anyone who is attending the virtual conference this year, I would recommend stepping out of your comfort zone and reaching out to make connections. I did that at my first conference. I volunteered for things that I would never normally volunteer for. I really immersed myself and I would recommend doing that online however you are able to.
Hannah: I experienced the OCD virtual conference last year and it was amazing. I made several connections, which I was not expecting and it allowed me to nurture the ones that I had already established.
Melanie: Cultivating connections online is just as important!
Hannah: Right! I mean … look at us!