Guest Post: Our Unique Smile

perfilAgosto2.jpgRo Vitale is a singer and songwriter from Buenos Aires, Argentina. She was the keynote speaker at the Spanish Program at the Annual OCD Conference in Los Angeles last month, where she stole the show with her honesty, openness, and amazing singing voice.  Today, she writes a guest post for our blog about her experiences at the conference, but also about the bigger picture of what it’s like to live with a diagnosis of OCD.  Read the post below, and be sure to download her song My Inspiration on iTunes or Amazon, of which she is donating the proceeds to the IOCDF.
It’s been just a couple of weeks since I had the chance to participate in the 21st Annual OCD Conference in Los Angeles, CA. Just as pain’s effects endure over time, as aftershocks occur in everyday conversations (with ourselves or others), the same thing happens with wonderful experiences. Today I won’t talk about OCD, even though it’s clear that’s all we talked about during the Conference. Instead, I will deliberately attempt to generalize my vision.
I think about the surprising elasticity of certain human characteristics when properly stimulated. I have seen how often our difficulties, shortcomings and dysfunctions become our prisons and monopolize our will, to the point of shaping our identity. And for those of us who hold the symbolic certificate of an unquestionable diagnosis, we seem to walk through life dressed in a suit of our pathology, tolerating self and social stigma, slowly putting away the cards of our dreams as if they had no place at the game table. And I’m saying that because I often see us manipulating reality with our legitimate “I can’ts”, gently stroking the back of our symptoms, almost like a pet, justifying our frustrations over and over again. Oh, yes, I should have said our legitimate frustrations.
But even though it’s our right to be understood and respected for our difficulties, our torment and struggles, there is another great truth on the opposite side of the coin. A truth that states that we are NOT our difficulties, our pathology or our disorder. We are NOT our symptoms and we certainly are NOT our dysfunctions. All that is what HAPPENS to us, but it is not our identity. If even a concept as foundational as identity has stretchability, maybe it’s time to look at ourselves in a cleaner mirror.
Romina and her mother at the Conference.

Romina and her mother at the OCD Conference in LA.

Throughout the conference, there were no OCDs versus non-OCDs, ‘healthy’ professionals versus ‘troubled’ attendants. There were no scholars versus ignorants, problem-solvers versus problem-havers, treating therapists versus treated patients, supporters versus supported. Instead, there was a group of individuals, homogenized by a shared wish; a group of people deeply touched, moved and motivated by the same vision, inspired by hope. Above all, a group of individuals being heard and seen through their unique creative identity. No diagnosis would blur or cloud any I.D. picture (if I may use this metaphor). No symptom was greater than the shyest smile. This was probably one of the things that caught my attention the most. There were more than enough reasons to rightly establish a hierarchy of positions and roles. None of that happened. I remember having discussed this very same thing with Dr. Jeff Szymanski, IOCDF’s executive director, Carly Bourne, director of communications and my dear Stephanie Cogen at a meeting before coming back to Buenos Aires. I’m still so impressed and inspired by their wonderful work and their vision. I’m still processing everything I learned from them. The conference itself has certainly been a life-changing experience.

My commitment to raising awareness about OCD is much broader than the (very important) task of conveying information on the specific appearance of OCD symptoms (which might encourage sufferers to seek help), or the necessary mission of fighting stigma and social exclusion, or the fundamental goal of expanding and facilitating access to appropriate treatment, or spreading the main message that there is hope and we can get better. My commitment is much broader, because I strongly believe that we must dis-identify ourselves from the difficulty, the symptoms and ultimately the disorder itself, to find ourselves in our dreams, our voice and our creativity.
The more I talk about OCD, the less OCD will speak for me.
We seem to keep listening to the same old official voice of our failures and difficulties. Maybe it’s time to start hearing the sweet sound of another ringing bell: the one that makes us unique; the beautiful sound of our own voice, the kind, creative and sounding lines that we are made of. Even if it’s hard. Even if it hurts or annoys us at first. If we just let it, our willpower will work its magic.
Maybe it’s time to look in the opposite direction of what holds us back. Maybe it’s time to acknowledge our elastic strings, our own eyes, our creative freedom, our kindness, our unique smile.

The 21st Annual OCD Conference in LA: A Look Back

Just two weeks ago, the 21st Annual OCD Conference was getting underway in Los Angeles.  Now we are back in the office and adjusting to reality again. All of the IOCDF staff had an amazing time meeting all of you, hearing your stories, and working to make this a conference you would never forget.  On today’s blog, IOCDF executive director, Jeff Szymanski, PhD, reflects on the highlights of this year’s conference, and takes a look at what attendees had to say about the event on Twitter and blogs around the web. – Editor

As the executive director of the IOCDF, boy do I love to hear that! My friend Sean O’Connell asks me each time we talk, “What is the most meaningful thing you’ve done today?” At the conference, every minute of each day feels meaningful. Shala Nicely sums up my hope for every conference goer, every year in a recent blog post on her Aha! Moments blog:

When I attended my first International OCD Foundation conference in 2010, the whole thing was one huge “Aha!” In session after session, I learned one mind-blowing thing after another about OCD and its treatment, and the fact that as a person with OCD, I did NOT have to suffer. (Read the full post here.)

Jeff-sunglassesSo, I donned my LA conference sunglasses and was prepared myself this year to again be blown away by the richness of the OCD and related disorders community.

K Oakley shared with us her experience of being a parent at the conference:

I again was amazed at the ease people had sharing their journeys of struggle with this disorder.  It definitely is a safe environment where your worst days and fears can be shared without fear of judgment.  We met a young man on the shuttle from the airport to the hotel that was attending the conference.  My not so shy son struck up a conversation right away, and we immediately became “friends.”  It was great seeing him through out the conference, giving each other updates as we went. (Read the full post here.)

As many of you know, the Annual OCD Conference is for individuals with OCD and related disorders, family members and supporters, and professionals. When I ask people about their favorite part of the conference they inevitably remark about how everyone affected by OCD and related disorders comes together on an even playing field to be generous, compassionate and courageous. Our invited Plenary speaker, Dr. Todd Kashdan, had never been to one of our conferences before. Todd is hard to impress, but was immediately struck by the tone of our conference:

But, here is what really got me about this year’s conference: the number of people who returned to the conference not just for a sense of community and an opportunity to learn something new, but to give back. Our 2014 Keynote Speaker, Ethan Smith, was a perfect example of this. The message of his keynote address hit exactly the right tone. He wasn’t up there to just tell his story. He was there to tell his story so that it might make a difference in someone else’s life. His courage and vulnerability during his Keynote was awe-inspiring and we can’t wait to get it posted on our website for even more people to see and be affected by it. Thank you, Ethan!

And we have continued to expand our reach. I was very proud to be involved in an organization that goes the extra step to reach out to underserved populations with the first, full day conference program given completely in Spanish on Saturday, July 19th. A shout out to our Keynote Speaker for this conference, Romina Vitale who wrote a song, My Inspiration, dedicated to the conference, as well as delivering a powerful Keynote address.

Saturday was also the night of our Saturday Night Social, where the entire conference community comes together for dinner, dancing, and more importantly, having fun. IOCDF guest blogger, Alison Dotson, wrote this on her post about the social…

On Saturday night we got dressed up for dinner and the awards ceremony. First up the IOCDF honored advocate extraordinaire Margaret Sisson for her role in spreading awareness in Georgia…. Next up was Minnesota-native comedian Maria Bamford, who received the first annual Illumination Award. Bamford uses her comedy circuit to spread awareness about OCD, telling side-splitting–and sometimes heartbreaking–stories about her life with the disorder. She sang a hilarious little ditty she wrote about her obsessions and compulsions, which had me cracking up every time I thought of it the rest of the night.

Since I’ve loved Bamford for years, and because she’s a fellow Minnesota native, I quietly approached her. I told her I’d hoped to see her show last fall in Minneapolis but that I’d already spent money on a David Sedaris appearance. She nodded and said, “You have got to plan your comedy show budget very carefully.” When Maria went to the dance floor for the first song of the night, IOCDF Communications Director Carly Bourne said, “Alison, go dance with her!” Ack! Let me tell you — I do not dance. But I danced on Saturday! What a blast. I’m sure there’s photographic evidence that I may already be regretting… (Read the full post here.)


The photographic evidence.

For now, however, conference season is over, and Chrissie Hodges summed it up well:

I sit here tonight in front of my computer and I miss my friends from the conference. I miss the unspoken acceptance. I miss the excitement of discovery and the stories of triumph over tragedy. I miss the conversations that come naturally because of a common denominator between 1500 people. And I miss that feeling of being among “my type of people.”

I am the luckiest person in the world to have found the IOCDF and to have been blessed enough to attend a conference that has positively changed countless lives for so many years, including my own. Yes, there is sadness…but it is lined with optimism and confidence that the last few days of my life have changed me positively…and just like the conference time warp happened so quickly–before I know it, I will be right back on a plane heading to Boston for the IOCDF Conference 2015. (Read the full post here.)

I’ll see many of you in Boston. I will be the blur moving through the crowds.

Guest Post: Report from the Annual OCD Conference

Originally posted on Free Spirit Publishing Blog:

By Alison Dotson, author ofBeing Me with OCD

Ali Dotson, FSP authorThis past weekend, July 17–20, I fulfilled a dream I’ve had for several years now: I attended the 21st Annual OCD Conference, held by the International OCD Foundation (IOCDF). This year it was in Los Angeles (ooh la la!), but last year it was in Atlanta and next year it will be in Boston. As much fun as it was to travel, it’d be great if the conference ended up here in Minneapolis one year, too!

The very first OCD Conference was held in a small hotel in Bloomington, Minnesota, and only about fifty people attended. This year there were 1,345 attendees! The conference has grown in leaps and bounds and become a truly international experience.

Kids-Parade at 2014 OCD conf by Roberto Farren

The Kids’ Parade at the conference was joyful. Photo courtesy of Roberto Farren.

The energy there was palpable. I was diagnosed with OCD about…

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Conference Social and Day Four

I’m home now, and I’m still coming down from my conference high. I’m sure you are, too. It’s quite a shift from finding inspiration around every corner to having my dogs paw at me to let them outside (and back in and then back out and back in again). I’m back to work tomorrow, and I know it will be an adjustment to have a regular day again, where not everyone gets OCD or gives me a pass for being late because, hello, I have an anxiety disorder! Let me know how you’re doing back in the real world, too.

The entire experience was incredible, but for me the biggest highs took place on Saturday night, when the social was held in the hotel ballroom, and Sunday morning, when I co-facilitated a workshop for teens with my friend and amazing advocate Chrissie Hodges of Denver.

On Saturday night we got dressed up for dinner and the awards ceremony. First up the IOCDF honored advocate extraordinaire Margaret Sisson for her role in spreading awareness in Georgia. Margaret was inspired by her son, Riley, and his personal struggle with OCD to get involved on a grassroots level. Although the IOCDF presented her with a hero award, she stated in her speech that Riley is her hero. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room.

Next up was Minnesota native comedian Maria Bamford, who received the first annual Illumination Award. Bamford uses her comedy circuit to spread awareness about OCD, telling side-splitting–and sometimes heartbreaking–stories about her life with the disorder. She sang a hilarious little ditty she wrote about her obsessions and compulsions, which had me cracking up every time I thought of it the rest of the night.

Since I’ve loved Bamford for years, and because she’s a fellow Minnesota native, I quietly approached her. I told her I’d hoped to see her show last fall in Minneapolis but that I’d already spent money on a David Sedaris appearance. She nodded and said, “You have got to plan your comedy show budget very carefully.” When Maria went to the dance floor for the first song of the night, IOCDF Communications Director Carly Bourne said, “Alison, go dance with her!” Ack! Let me tell you — I do not dance. But I danced on Saturday! What a blast. I’m sure there’s photographic evidence that I may already be regretting…

I managed to pull myself away from the excitement early enough to get a decent night’s sleep in preparation for my Sunday morning workshop. I was excited and definitely nervous about it, but we had a great turnout and I think it went really well. The teens in the group opened up with us and shared tips about “coming out” with OCD and reacting to statements like “I’m so OCD.” One teen who’d been bullied told another that all he needs is one good friend who understands and who will listen. As much as I believe we have nothing to be ashamed about, the truth is that some people who don’t understand the disorder can be cruel–middle schoolers and high schoolers in particular. Kids are already navigating their social lives, and it can be painful to tell someone they have OCD only to be made fun of. It’s definitely a delicate balance, and it illustrates how important professional and family support is.

We think a great way to respond to “I’m so OCD” is to give the person the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they really do have OCD, and that’s how they share that information. One teen said that he often sends people to the IOCDF website so they can learn what OCD really is. If they do have the disorder, now they have a great resource to find help. And if they don’t, now they have a better understanding of how debilitating it can be and may think twice about joking in the future. Chrissie and I were so impressed with the teens who came to our workshop! If you were there, thank you! Keep up the good work, and remember you’re not alone.

Thanks to everyone who came to my book signing and to my workshop, and to everyone I met and chatted with. I made connections that will last a lifetime, and I feel humbled by so many of my fellow advocates. (Jeff Bell and Shannon Shy should be eligible for sainthood, I think.)

See you next year, right? Boston, here we come.

Day Three at the Conference

I’m in OCD celebrity heaven! Forget Ryan Gosling–I got to meet Lee Baer, author of Imp of the Mind. That book played such an important role in my triumph over intrusive taboo thoughts that I had to hold myself back from hugging the man and weeping in his arms. He was very gracious, and seemed happy to meet me as well!

I attended his session on sexual and violent intrusive thoughts, which reaffirmed how amazing he is, as well as how incredibly painful intrusive thoughts are for people with this type of OCD. He asked for volunteers to engage in an impromptu CBT session with him, and he sat at the front of the room with a young woman who fears that she’ll run someone over with her car without realizing it. So far she’s coped with her fear by avoiding it; she got an accommodation from work so she can take the bus instead of driving, and her husband drives her where she needs to go. Dr. Baer advised her to start with less intimidating exposures like writing down the worst “Stephen King” scenario that could happen and record herself reading it. He estimated that after about 10 hours of listening to the recording her anxiety will have subsided quite a bit and that by the end of the summer she’ll feel ready to drive again.

Now I’m off to an affiliate meeting, where I hope to learn a lot to apply to OCD Twin Cities, where I’m president. Tonight there’s a social, and IOCDF will present an award to comedian Maria Bamford, a fellow Minnesota native!

See you soon!

Day Two at the OCD Conference

I can’t explain how incredible it feels to be among so many people who understand me–it’s one thing to email with people who have OCD, but it’s quite another to be surrounded by them!

Last night I planned today’s schedule. I fully intended to go to a morning session, but my roommate (and fellow workshop facilitator, Chrissie Hodges) and I ended up sitting in our room, drinking coffee and talking about OCD. We’ve already talked about how similar our backgrounds are, but this morning we went more in-depth about our triggers and darkest moments. I’ve shared things with her in the last 24 hours I’ve never told anybody! And instead of saying, “Oh, Alison, that must have been so terrible,” she laughed. She laughed because she’s been there. She fully understands what it’s like to have inappropriate intrusive thoughts. (Don’t go around laughing when people divulge secrets to you in general, though.)

After we finally pulled ourselves out of our conversation, I got ready for my book signing. I met some wonderful people with OCD. I’m still amazed how many people I’ve met who have obsessions like I’ve had. For so many years all I knew of OCD was that people with it would wash their hands all the time. But I’ve also met several people whose OCD symptoms were nothing like mine! The more people I meet, the more I realize that no matter what our particular stories may be, we share a common truth: We’ve at some time or another been ruled by our obsessions.

I attended a session on how OCD is portrayed in the media, and how inaccurate news stories can be. The media’s job is to get as many views as possible, and sometimes that means sensationalizing this disorder, twisting the truth for dramatic effect and picking only the most headline-worthy quotes from lengthy interviews. But the takeaway was that we can all be advocates, and we don’t have to wait for traditional media sources to tell our stories for us. We can tell our own stories; we can share them on Facebook, blogs, Twitter, and in person.

I just came out of a session for young adults; a panel discussed the possibility of relapse and how we can prevent a downward spiral. The fact is that there’s no cure for OCD, and that means we will have intrusive thoughts, and we will feel anxious and have fears. That’s life! The goal is to be armed with the right tools and not to beat ourselves up when those things do happen. An attendee made a great analogy: If you were on a weight loss plan, lost five pounds, and then gained two back, would you just give up? Or would you say, “Hey, that’s just a minor setback. I know I’m capable of losing weight because I’ve done it. Now I just need to get back on track.” Instead of giving in to OCD because it’s trying to poke its nose back into your business, recognize what’s happened and move on. Elizabeth McIngvale was on the panel and said that if you, say, wash your hands as a ritual, you can fight back right then and there and engage in an exposure. Stay mindful and you can decrease the chances that you’ll experience a full relapse.

That’s what I have for now! There’s still more to come, and even though I attended only two sessions today, there are so many more to choose from. It was hard to choose just one in each time slot. See you soon!


First Day in LA: Success!

IOCDF blogger Alison Dotson is attending the 21st Annual OCD Conference for the first time this year, and will be blogging about her experiences all weekend in Los Angeles. 

I arrived in LA early this morning for the first day of the conference, and it’s been a blast so far! I’ve already made so many connections, and I’ve finally met people I’ve only known through email and Facebook.

Tonight IOCDF held a reception for conference speakers, where I met IOCDF staff members, a few authors of books on OCD, three fathers and one mother of adult sons with OCD, a young woman who just two years ago couldn’t step on sidewalk cracks and is now an advocate–just to name a few. Everyone is so open, ready to share their own stories as well as listen to others’.

I’ve been up so long today I had to deny everyone my mad skills at pub trivia, opting to linger there a bit before heading back to my hotel room. I need to rest up now because everything will be in full swing tomorrow and the rest of the weekend. I can’t wait to see who shows up to my book signing at 12:30 tomorrow, and to attend as many sessions as possible.

See you tomorrow!

Tips from a Local: Things to Do in LA

In today’s blog, Wendy Mueller, our 2014 Patricia Perkins Service Award Winner and a Southern California resident, offers some tips and recommendations of things to see and do while you are in the Los Angeles area for the 21st Annual OCD Conference this weekend.  We also have a list of area attractions and special discounts for conference attendees on our website here.

Los Angeles has nearly endless entertainment destinations for whatever you might be looking for, from amusement parks to art museums to botanical gardens to movie studio tours to beaches, boardwalks, and the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

View the actual Space Shuttle Endeavor at the California Science Center. Stroll or skate along the famous Venice Beach boardwalk. Walk along the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame. Explore California history at the Mission San Juan Capistrano. Or visit Disneyland, the Happiest Place on Earth. The following is a list of some of the fun and interesting things to do in the Los Angeles and Orange County area.


*In the downtown area:

Grand Performances free events start in June:

Grand Park is fun to visit, whether there’s an event happening or not:

The entire rooftop of the Walt Disney Concert Hall is a multi-level park, with trees, an amphitheater, a giant mosaic fountain, great views, and a close-up perspective on the construction of our downtown music landmark:

There’s the MoCA (Museum of Contemporary Art):

LA Live, an entertainment complex of restaurants, theaters, etc., adjacent to Staples Center:


The La Brea Tar Pits:

Los Angeles County Museum of Art:

Hollywood Star Walk of Fame:

Hollywood/Highland complex:

The famous 3rd Street Farmers Market (and the Grove, outdoor mall) — at 3rd and Fairfax:

The Magic Castle:

California Science Center, home of the Space Shuttle Endeavor:

*On the west side:

All kinds of rides and games and places to eat at the Santa Monica Pier:

The famous Venice Beach boardwalk:

The Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica is a popular pedestrian activity:

Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills is actually a city park — fun to visit the grounds. Many movies were shot there:

Will Rogers State Historic Park:

Temescal Canyon is a fun hike, not too difficult, with waterfalls:

The Getty Museum:

*On the east side:

Echo Park Lake has pedal boats, cafe, walkways and places to sit all around, many ducks and plant life:

Griffith Observatory and Griffith Park are fun to explore — be sure to check out The Trails cafe in the park:

Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens:

Golden Road is one of L.A.’s bigger breweries/restaurants (with a fun outdoor space, including giant Connect 4, giant Jenga, and other games):

Explore Downtown L.A.’s fashion district — people watching, plus deals to be had:

*On the north side:

Universal City Walk

Universal Studios amusement park:

Warner Brothers Studio tour:

Huntington gardens, library, art, San Marino, CA:



Redondo Beach:

Long Beach:

*Public Transportation

Depending on where you are staying during your visit, you may want to try using the Metro light rail system to get around. Trains now reach as far west as Culver City, via the Expo Line:



Orange County (south of Los Angeles County):

Orange County is home to a number of amusement parks, including Disneyland!  These destinations are best reached via car.

North Orange County:

Disneyland and California Adventure Amusement Parks, Anaheim, CA:

Downtown Disney entertainment complex:

Knotts Berry Farm amusement park, Buena Park, CA:

Medieval Times Dinner Theatre, Buena Park, CA:

Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum:

Central Orange County:

Huntington Beach – expansive beaches, surfing, shops, restaurants, famous pier:

Discovery Science Center, Santa Ana, CA:

South Orange County:

Mission San Juan Capistrano:

Laguna Beach, scenic views, art galleries, beaches, quaint shops:

Newport Beach/Balboa Peninsula:

South Coast Plaza shopping mall, a shopper’s paradise:

Have fun exploring Los Angeles and Orange County! – Wendy

Meet Wendy Mueller: The Woman behind OCD-Support

Last week, we announced the 2014 IOCDF Award Winners who will be honored at the 21st Annual OCD Conference in LA next month. Among them, is Wendy Mueller, moderator of the OCD-Support group on Yahoo! and longtime member of the IOCDF.  Wendy has touched the lives of many in the OCD community, posting messages of hope, helping people find the resources they need, and just being a source of comfort. Today’s blog is a guest post from Wendy about how she became involved with the IOCDF and how she became the moderator of the world’s largest OCD support group. 

Twenty-six years ago, I gave birth to my first child. The day before she was born, I felt good. Within a few days after she was born, I knew something had gone terribly wrong inside my brain, but I didn’t know what it was. I now know that I developed OCD almost overnight when I gave birth. Within weeks, I sank into a deep depression and sought out the help of a psychiatrist, but I had no idea why I was performing strange, unwanted, repetitive rituals of checking, arranging, repeating, and counting things virtually every waking moment of my day. I had never heard of OCD. I didn’t tell my psychiatrist about the OCD symptoms, because I thought he would proclaim me “crazy” and put me into a psychiatric hospital.

One day about a year after I first developed my OCD symptoms, I picked up a copy of Newsweek magazine and read an article about what OCD is, and that’s when I realized what was wrong with me. The article was about a woman named Patricia Perkins, who was working to recover from severe OCD and was co-founder of what was then called the Obsessive-Compulsive Foundation (now the IOCDF) in Connecticut. The address and phone number of the OC Foundation was given in the article, so I immediately called their office and asked if they knew of any OCD support groups in my area. Amazingly, there was a good-sized OCD support group meeting within a mile of my house in Orange County, California. I started attending the monthly group and was amazed to meet a roomful of people who experienced the same odd thoughts and performed the same odd rituals that I did. It was such an amazing relief to know that my disorder had a name and that there was an entire organization in Connecticut dedicated to helping people deal with this disabling condition. I joined the Foundation in late 1988, received their packet of introductory materials, and starting receiving the OCD Newsletter in the mail several times a year. It was amazing to read stories in the OCD Newsletter written by people who experienced the same things I did, and I looked forward to each issue that the Foundation sent out.

I got my first home computer in 1990 and signed up with the Prodigy computer network. Like most first-time computer owners, I had fun finding web sites and groups that related to my interests. One day I found the Prodigy health bulletin boards and searched to see if there was an online group for people with OCD, but there was none. There were online groups for people with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and many others, but I couldn’t find anything relating to OCD. So I created a new topic heading called “Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder” and posted a message asking if there was anyone else out there who had OCD and would like to communicate online. Bit by bit, people found my online OCD group, and we slowly grew from 5 members to 20 members and finally to about 50 members. I continued to post messages to the group each day, offering suggestions for discussions about medications and CBT and asking people to share their experiences. It felt like a safe place for all of us to go where we could talk to others who understood what we were going through with our OCD.

One day, a doctor by the name of Michael Jenike found my OCD group on Prodigy and offered to participate and answer questions. I also found an OCD therapist from Florida, Bruce Hyman, who also offered to contribute. The group continued to grow.

In October 1993, the Foundation held its first annual conference at a hotel in Bloomington, Minnesota, and I was determined to attend. It was a life-changing experience for me…a whole weekend of talking to people who were just like me. I remember sitting at the round tables in the main meeting room, exchanging email addresses with people from all over the country who were interested in joining my online OCD group. At the time of this first conference, I was still suffering from severe OCD, so I went to the conference as a sufferer seeking help. I went home with the names of about 30 different people who wanted to keep in communication either by email or letter or phone.

That first conference had such a positive impact on my life, I was determined to keep attending the annual conferences every year or at least as many as I could. Over the years, I have attended 10 of the OCD Foundation’s Annual OCD Conferences, and each one has been such a positive and inspiring experience.

Ever since my diagnosis of OCD in late 1988, I had been trying to find a medication to help me with my OCD. In early 1995, I started on liquid Prozac and, my own personal miracle started to take place. The Prozac, combined with learning exposure and response prevention (ERP), turned my life around.

I went from being disabled by constant OCD to being nearly free of it. And that’s when I started attending the Annual OCD Conferences not as a sufferer, but as someone who had recovered tremendously and wanted to spread the message that if I could overcome severe OCD, anyone could. I also spread this message on a daily basis on my online OCD group, encouraging people not to give up because there was always hope.

In 1994, a large online OCD support group called the OCD-L List was started up by Chris Vertullo, and its membership grew to hundreds of members. In 2001, Chris’ busy schedule caused her to turn over leadership of the group to me, after I had been a contributing member to that group for about 5 years. Along with my co-moderator Sheila Cavanaugh and contributing professionals Drs. Michael Jenike, James Claiborn, and Jonathan Grayson, the group was renamed the OCD-Support List, recreated under YahooGroups, and has continued to grow to its present membership of more than 4,700 people worldwide.

Every day, new people join the online group and I do my best to send as much relevant information as I can to each new member according to their particular needs. Some people join the group desperate to find others who understand their isolation and suffering. Some are distraught parents, siblings, spouses, or adult children, hoping to find some help for their loved one with OCD. I have directed thousands of people towards finding the help they need, whether it be an OCD therapist or support group in their area, information available on the IOCDF web site, or references to professional articles on various aspects of OCD. And every day I receive messages from people who are very grateful for the wealth of information provided by our online group and for finding the first glimmer of hope they have been seeking.

Not a day goes by that I don’t remember what it was like to spend every waking moment in a black hole of depression due to my inability to control my OCD. And not a day goes by that I don’t feel extremely blessed to have recovered from my OCD. I have made it a huge part of my life to do everything I can to help others who are still suffering. My main goal is to give hope to those who thought there was no possible hope for getting better by sharing my own personal story of recovery.

Wendy will be presented with the IOCDF Patricia Perkins Service Award on Saturday, July 19th at the 21st Annual OCD Conference in LA. Please join us to congratulate her in person.

The International OCD Foundation Honors Individuals for Their Outstanding Work in OCD Awareness

Dr. Steve Rasmussen, Wendy Mueller and Margaret Sisson Receive Awards for their Work in the OCD Community

BOSTON, June 27, 2014 – It can take up to 17 years from the appearance of symptoms for an individual with obsessive compulsive disorder to get an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment. While this statistic is improving as awareness about the disorder grows, there is still much work to be done to make sure that the two to three million adults and half a million kids in the U.S. with the disorder have access to effective, appropriate treatment.

As part of its mission to improve the lives of those affected by OCD and related disorders, each year, the International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) recognizes 3 individuals who are working hard on the ground to make a difference.

The Foundation is proud to honor Dr. Steve Rasmussen with the 2014 IOCDF Career Achievement Award, Wendy Mueller with the 2014 IOCDF Patricia Perkins Service Award, and Margaret Sisson with the 2014 IOCDF Hero Award for their achievements and service to the IOCDF and the OCD community. The IOCDF will present the awards to them at the 21st Annual OCD Conference at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles on July 19.

“We are so proud of Dr. Rasmussen, Wendy and Margaret for the work they have done to affect change in OCD awareness and treatment,” said Jeff Szymanski, executive director of the International OCD Foundation. “They have left an indelible mark on the OCD community and the foundation, and it is our privilege to honor them with the Career Achievement, Service and Hero awards.”

Dr. Steve Rasmussen is a highly respected and acclaimed expert in OCD treatment.  In the 1980s, he established one of the first OCD clinics is in the United States.  He later helped develop the Yale Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale (Y-BOCS), the gold standard for rating OCD symptoms that has been used for the last 25 years. Dr. Rasmussen has authored and co-authored over a 100 publications on OCD, and he is the Principal Investigator of an OCD longitudinal course of illness study. He currently chairs and serves as a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at the Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

Known for her activism, Wendy Mueller has been an advocate and member of the IOCDF for over 25 years. After she was diagnosed with OCD, she started an online support group for OCD that grew to have 50 members. Mueller was later chosen to lead what is today called the OCD-Support List, an online support group hosted by Yahoo Groups with over 4,700 participants worldwide. She has spent countless hours helping people find OCD therapists, support groups and OCD literature. As Mueller has learned to conquer her OCD, she has devoted her life to helping others do the same.

Margaret Sisson is a mother from Georgia who was inspired by her son’s struggle with OCD to become an advocate for other families affected by OCD.  She has been an enthusiastic and vocal supporter for the IOCDF, having served on the Conference Task Force for the IOCDF’s 2013 Annual OCD Conference in Atlanta, and having organized a “Wine Raffle” in her community to raise money for the IOCDF, while also raising awareness about OCD. She has also worked to expand treatment options for families in Georgia by advocating for more therapists and clinics to specialize in OCD treatment. Sisson’s grassroots advocacy is a testament to how even modest, local efforts to have the power to affect real change.

About the International OCD Foundation
The International OCD Foundation is a donor-supported nonprofit organization, working to increase access to effective treatment, end the stigma associated with mental health issues, and foster a community for those affected by OCD and the professionals who treat them. Based in Boston, the IOCDF has affiliates in 25 states and territories, as well as 9 Global Partners. The IOCDF was founded as the Obsessive Compulsive Foundation in 1986. Now in its 27th year, the organization has an over $1.5 million annual operating budget, has granted millions of dollars for OCD research, and is a vital resource for the estimated 1 in 100 individuals with OCD around the world. For more information, visit


Kevin Friedman
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Carly Bourne
Director of Communications
International OCD Foundation
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