OCD Awareness Week 2014

ocd awareness weekIt’s OCD Awareness Week! Yahooooo!!!

Last night, here in the MN metro, we kicked off OCD Awareness Week with Jeff Bell, spokesperson for the International OCD Foundation, sharing his personal story. It. was. AWESOME.

I knew it would be.

I met Jeff Bell two years ago when the IOCDF flew me out to Boston to read an excerpt of the novel I was writing before Truest (it was called Lights All Around, and I’ll let you read it if you’ll promise to remember that I’ve grown as a writer since then!). Jeff interviewed me– both one-on-one at Starbucks before the event, and then again on-stage in front of the crowd after I’d read my excerpt.  Jeff is brilliant, charming, a tireless advocate for the OCD community, and all-around fantastic guy. When Alison, president of OCD Twin Cities, and I started throwing around names of guest speakers we might invite, he was at the top of our list– and he agreed to come!

I’m writing this immediately after the event, and I’m so tired, but I also know this post is going to go live in less than two hours, so let me just briefly share the things that Jeff spoke about that hit me the hardest.

* There are no shortcuts. This is so, so true. In order to achieve health and freedom from under the tyranny of OCD, you have to go through the hard, HARD work of treatment. Jeff didn’t mince words, just like I try not to here on the blog: ERP IS HARD. It is the second hardest thing I’ve ever had to do– but, you see, the first hardest thing was live with untreated OCD.

His cold pool analogy. When you jump into a cold pool, it’s shocking to your system. But if you stay in the pool, the temperature goes up … WAIT.  No, it doesn’t! What happens is that you GET USED TO IT. This is ERP therapy, and it works.

* “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink … but you can salt his oats.” I can’t force people to get proper treatment for OCD, but I can try to make them thirsty for it. I really need to think on this one and see what ideas come to mind!

And lastly,

The ah-ha! moment. I almost started crying when Jeff told about the moment he opened a book about OCD and found an example so true to his life on the very first page. (He even thought, “I don’t remember writing a book!” Ha!) That moment– when you finally know what’s wrong and, better yet, when you learn there is treatment— it’s so beautiful. I can hardly describe it. It’s the moment when you realize I am not alone and this has a name and I am not a freak– I am just SICK.

I want to help more people get to that point– and, even better, to the point of recovery/remission through ERP therapy.

Over at the OCD Twin Cities Facebook site, we’ll be giving away signed copies of Jeff’s books this week for various contest winners. Come check us out!

I think I might also be hosting an online chat about religious scrupulosity. I will keep you posted on that. In the meantime, I’m going to try to be active on my personal Facebook page this week to help break down stigma and misconceptions about OCD. Not sure what that is going to look like, but I’m ready.


What are you doing for OCD Awareness Week?


Sweet Freedom

freedom in redAlison Dotson, president of OCD Twin Cities, and I were emailing recently about how sometimes we feel as if we say the same thing post after post, article after article, especially since they usually involve our own stories with OCD, and history doesn’t change.

But I reminded her that even if we’ve heard our stories over and over, someone else might be hearing it for the first time. Not to mention that sometimes those of us with OCD need to hear the truth multiple times before it is finally able to sink into our heads and hearts.

So here it is again:

I was in bondage to obsessive-compulsive disorder for twenty hellish years. I was plagued by ugly, intrusive thoughts that caused me intense anxiety and even terror. Many days I felt completely out of control of my own thoughts, and I hated the ugliness that polluted my mind. I was sad, lonely, depressed, lost, engaged in an ongoing war where the battlefield was my own brain.

And then an amazing psychiatrist named Dr. Suck Won Kim gave me not only a prescription but also the phone number to a cognitive-behavioral therapist in the area, along with the warning that ERP therapy “will be hell” and the encouragement that I had to do it anyway.

And I did. For twelve grueling weeks, I practiced the exposure therapy assignments set out by Dr. Christopher Donahue, and after twelve weeks of hell … I was free. Free for the first time since I was seven years old. I could barely even remember what freedom felt like, what it felt like to be master of my own thoughts, to rule over my OCD instead of having it rule me, and so it was actually a little scary at first.

But let me tell you: you get used to freedom, joy, and light pretty darn fast.

The last five years have been magnificent.

Please, please ask me questions if you have them.

For (lots!) more about OCD and ERP, go to jackieleasommers.com/OCD

Image credit: Jesus Solana

Being Me with OCD by Alison Dotson

BeingMeWithOCDI first connected with Alison Dotson through the International OCD Foundation blog, where we realized that we were both from Minneapolis and made plans to get coffee.  I can still remember that first in-person meeting at Dunn Bros, one of those lovely times between two obsessive-compulsives finding joy and relief in saying, “Me too, me too!”

Alison’s book– Being Me with OCD— is aimed toward teenagers and young adults, but I think its audience is much wider than that.  It’s incredibly well-written, chock full of helpful information, and– most importantly, I think– it’s like sitting down with a friend.  While reading it, I kept thinking of my first meeting with Alison.  Her comforting, empathetic voice comes through so strongly in the book that you feel like you have a friend, a cheerleader, right beside you.

The book is part-memoir, part self-help, and is sprinkled throughout with personal essays from teens and young adults who offer wonderful insight into a variety of areas.  OCD is a strange beast in that, while it works the same way for most people, it manifests itself differently for each person, and the personal essays help the book touch on areas that haven’t been a part of Alison’s own personal journey with OCD.

I deeply appreciated her approach to medication.  I also loved that she dedicated considerable time discussing exposure and response prevention, even though she never underwent ERP herself.  Alison also spends time talking about overcoming stigma.

All in all, a great book for teens, young adults, or any age!  The best part is finding someone who gets it,
someone brave enough to share, someone on your team.

Read an excerpt. Buy the book on Amazon. Follow Alison’s blog.

A Night to Believe 2012, Part Two

I am writing this post from the Starbucks located in the lobby of the Boston Sheraton Hotel, having had an incredible weekend.  My friend Cindy joined me in Boston, and I was sooooo blessed by her company; together, we explored Boston and Cambridge, including adventures like eating White Trash cheese dip at Bukowski Tavern, incredible treats at Georgetown Cupcake, and my first experience on the subway!

But Saturday night was certainly the highlight.  First of all, the International OCD Foundation has incredible staff members, and they made this whole experience so simple for me– booking my flight and hotel, picking me up from the airport (someone was there with a “J. Sommers” sign!!), and giving me plenty of time to explore the city.  Jeff Bell, spokesperson for the foundation and founder of the Adversity 2 Advocacy Alliance, was the emcee of the event, and he sat down with me on Saturday morning and asked fascinating questions about my OCD and my writing, putting me totally at ease about the on-stage interview that would come that evening.

The event began with a cocktail hour, and then the award ceremony began.  Jeff Bell is an absolute all-star, and he discussed the theme of OCD awareness week, which was “Dare to believe … together we can beat OCD,” hitting hard on the DARE, the BELIEVE, and the TOGETHER.  I cannot tell you how impressed I was with this man– I can’t wait to learn more about his A2A Alliance.  He has also written a book, which I’d like to read and review on this site soon.

After that, I was the first to share.  I read an excerpt of my novel, and people laughed in all the right places.  It was an incredible audience, a vocal one, so you knew when they were totally jiving with you.  Love that.  Then Jeff interviewed me on the stage about my experiences.  The only question he asked me that I didn’t expect was “Do you ever worry that people will think your fictional story is actually your true story?” and I said, “No, I don’t worry about that because I’m not ashamed of my OCD.  Neely has a lot of the same experiences as I’ve had … except she has a much better love life,” which made the audience laugh.  We also talked about cognitive-behavioral therapy and about how it is simultaneously horrible/incredible and how someone will know he/she is ready for it “when the hell you’re in becomes worse than the hell you’ll have to go through.”  It’s true.

Next up was Jenn Cullen from Washington, DC, who wrote a children’s story called Ranger Ben Discovers the Mysterious Mr. OCD, this wonderful story to help children with OCD feel empowered to tackle their disorder.  She wrote it for her son Ben, who was diagnosed with OCD at age 5.  He is 13 now, and he joined her on the stage.  Very, very cool.

Then we watched a film trailer for Englander Claire Watkinson’s in-process documentary called Living with Me and My OCD.  Claire is so talented, and I am so excited to follow the progress of her documentary!

Vincent Christoffersen from New Zealand finished off the evening with his song called “Till I’m Down,” which I completely adored.  Vincent is 21, looks 15, and has the maturity of a 30-year-old.  He had wonderful stage presence and everyone LOVED him!

They also presented an IOCDF Hero Award to Denis Asselin of Walking with Nathaniel.  Denis’s son Nathaniel suffered from intense body dysmorphic disorder, on the OCD spectrum, and took his own life in 2011.  Denis made a 500-mile pilgrimage from Cheyney, PA, to Boston, MA, for BDD awareness and research.  It took everything in me not to weep as he spoke.

Afterward I met him and was very impressed by his humility.  I also met Michael Jenike, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School (by the way, I just looked him up, and his CV is 92 pages long!  Intense!), and a slew of people who thanked me for my story.  It was a wonderful, well-planned event, and I enjoyed being in a group of OCs and awareness advocates, and it only made me want to do MORE.  I want to just scream from the rooftops about CBT, and I want to help the general public to understand more about OCD (unfortunately, it still believes primarily that OCs are just “neat freaks”).

This whole Boston trip was an incredible adventure, and I want to thank everyone who voted for me in the creative expression contest.  I loved-loved-LOVED this entire experience, and I am so grateful to you for making it possible for me.

On a sidenote, I really want to go to the IOCDF annual conference in Atlanta when it rolls around next year … anyone want to join me??? 🙂