This was something I wrote after attending my first OCD Conference in San Francisco in 2017. It was published in the IOCDF newsletter last summer. If you haven’t been to the Annual OCD Conference I strongly encourage you to consider attending. I never thought I would find myself sitting at a conference about OCD, but quite honestly it was life-changing. Here is the piece I wrote after attending my first OCD conference:
My Experience at the 24th Annual OCD Conference
We were taking a Lyft to the San Francisco airport to catch our flight back home after five days in California when my husband looked over at me jokingly and said, “Hey Katy, you didn’t get any souvenirs on this trip did you?” I laughed a little bit at the randomness of his comment and reassured him that I had plenty of souvenirs from the trip –– just not in the traditional sense. I wasn’t bringing home a t-shirt or key chain. My souvenirs were much more meaningful. I didn’t have any tangible items tucked away in my bag, but I had plenty of mental souvenirs tucked away in my mind. I had found things that for so many years of my life I never thought I would find.
About two months prior, my husband and I had made the decision to fly out to San Francisco to attend the International OCD Foundation’s 24th Annual OCD Conference. For months, I had looked at the Conference program online and had waivered back and forth on whether to go or not. Eventually, my husband just booked the flights and told me we were going. There was a part of me that was excited but the closer it got to the Conference the more I started to feel like I had gotten myself in over my head. I was pregnant and had been going through a tough period with my OCD. Getting on a plane and flying across the country entailed a handful of triggers I quite honestly just didn’t want to deal with and wasn’t sure I could handle. I’ve known that I’ve had OCD for a few years now but it has been an incredibly long arduous process for me in accepting that it is truly part of who I am. So, committing to going to a Conference that is all about OCD was a huge step for me.
I worried that I would get to San Francisco and completely regret going, or that I would shut down and not be able to leave my hotel room to attend the Conference sessions. Despite my hesitations, I was somehow able to board our early morning flight. I even surprised myself by somewhat calmly handling most of my triggers that morning. By the time we reached the hotel in San Francisco, I actually felt empowered by the small things I had overcome to get there –– but then I remembered I actually had to go to the Conference the next day. All of that fear, anxiety, and emotion built back up inside me. I also had to spend the next five days in a hotel room, which is essentially taking my OCD to an amusement park.
The first day of the Conference, I was a basket of nerves when I woke up, but I really tried to have a positive attitude. I’m embarrassed to even admit this, but quite honestly putting a name tag on that morning that even said I was attending the Annual OCD Conference was outside my comfort zone. We went down to breakfast and were greeted with a lot of smiles. I had to run up to the hotel room to grab something, but when I got back my husband told me he had met a woman who was part of the IOCDF Board of Directors. He told me they had chatted for a bit and that she was incredibly friendly and welcoming.
When we sat down at our first session my husband leaned over and asked how I wanted him to introduce us to other people, because he had noticed people were often stating what their relationship to OCD was. I had to pause for a moment. Publicly acknowledging that I had OCD was not something I had ever been okay with, but in that moment, I decided to own it. I told him to say that I have OCD and you are here supporting me. In that first hour of being at the Conference, I began to feel comforted and I realized I was in a safe space. I also came to the conclusion that there was no point in me flying across the country to attend an OCD conference if I was going to pretend that I didn’t have OCD. I decided to commit myself to making the most out of the Conference no matter how uncomfortable it made me feel. I went to all the sessions I was interested in going to, even if I was scared to do so, and I never regretted it. I pushed myself outside my comfort zone and I can honestly say that only good things came of it.
For so much of my life I struggled with a mental illness I didn’t even know I had. While I know I have OCD now, and I have made great strides in therapy, I still have days where I struggle tremendously. With each Conference session that I attended, and each person’s story that I heard, I felt a little bit less alone in my struggle and a little more empowered. It’s not that I personally connected with every single person, but I realized I had something in common with many of them. My OCD has always been something that made me feel separate from other people, but here at the Conference, it was the one thing that united us. I was able to identify with so much of what was being presented or shared during many of the sessions. I was truly astonished by how moved I was at times and by the amount of emotions that were constantly flowing through me. My therapist has consistently told me I need to connect with others who have OCD. I had always downplayed this because it made me uncomfortable, but at the Conference, I realized just how meaningful and therapeutic it can be. Hearing other people’s stories and seeing that there is a whole community out there that “gets it” really helped me own my OCD story.
As I mentioned, the Conference brought about a lot of emotions in me. There were the moments I felt grateful to be part of such an incredible weekend. I felt proud of myself for going and making the most of it. I felt joy for the people that shared stories of how they had persevered and been able to find happiness. I felt thankful for my amazing husband who supported me through my mental health battles. But in addition to these positive emotions, there were some tougher moments for me as well. Certain sessions stirred up a lot of old emotions for me. Often times, they were emotions I hadn’t even realized I was still holding inside. Since I was a child, my OCD has wreaked havoc on my life in many different ways, and in some sessions I found myself thinking of all the things OCD had stolen from me over the years. So, while I had some incredibly empowering moments at the Conference, I would be lying if I didn’t admit there were also moments of sadness for all those things I had lost. But there was something different about these feelings of sadness, because instead of pushing them away or pretending they weren’t there, which I so often do, I allowed myself to feel all these emotions throughout the Conference. It was a roller coaster, but I realized that it was something that I needed to do to heal.
After the Conference ended, my husband and I stayed at the hotel for a couple of extra days and we both commented on how weird it felt to be there without all of the other attendees. It felt like the end of a family vacation, where after a week of making amazing memories, you feel that nostalgic mix of happiness and sadness. When it was time to leave, and we were driving to the San Francisco airport, I found that I felt surprisingly calm. I also felt a new sense of pride and happiness. Not only had I made it through the Conference, but I had actually enjoyed it.
So, when the conversation turned to souvenirs it kind of made me laugh, because I felt grateful for so many things the Conference had given to me. The Conference challenged me, pulled emotions out of me that I didn’t even know I was keeping inside, made me realize I’m not alone in my fight, inspired me, gave me the strength to start fighting battles I had been avoiding, and helped me to realize that my struggle might just have a purpose. Most of all, it helped me to accept that I have OCD, and that it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s just a part of who I am.