The second day of OCD Con was not as great as day one, though there were some good insights and our conference day ended with the keynote presentation/world premiere of “Unstuck: An OCD Kids Movie” (our actual day ended with seeing “Hamilton,” which, side note, was amazing).
Our first session on Saturday was titled “When Emotional Meltdowns Hijack OCD Treatment” by Kathleen Norris. This was a great session. When faced with lifestyle or unplanned “exposures,” I have often had meltdowns and outbursts. Though Norris focused mainly on children, it was totally relatable (and actually was really helpful in general terms for dealing with non-OCD but spirited and tantrum-prone children too).
She talked about the “anatomy of a meltdown” using a hose analogy, where a kink in the hose stops the flow of brain power, forcing those resources to back up and eventually causing an “emotional explosion” where the resources needed to solve the problem at hand actually burst and explode everywhere but where they are actually needed. When emotions are high, learning is difficult or impossible and problem solving is likewise thrown off course.
She gave steps for coaching others through meltdowns, or rather steps on how to deal with the meltdowns of others, including ignoring the behavior, watching for and dealing with “the burst,” trouble shooting tips, what to do after the burst, and how to help the individual “reset” to normal behavior. I think that last one is so often overlooked. She talked about how we need to give those who have had an emotional meltdown time to “cool off” and not try to engage or talk to them about what happened immediately. Overall, it was a really fascinating and well planned presentation that was applicable not only to family members of OCD sufferers but parents in general!
Next, we went into a session about ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy), but we just couldn’t accept and commit to it 😉 and left. We ended up in a “research” class called “Treatment of Emotional Regulation Difficulties in OCD: Depression and Co-Morbidities” with Scott Blair-West and Christopher Morgan.
Frankly, it was a bit over our heads, but I did take a few notes about emotional avoidance and awareness and how we need to accept and notice not only our various emotions but also the times when we engage in avoidance—cognitive avoidance, safety behaviors, etc.
Some other helpful things from that talk were: that we need to continue with “exposures” or else our (negative) beliefs may or will return (I’ve seen this in my life!), that OCD is like “mosquito bites” in that the thoughts/obsessions “itch” and beg to be scratched (ie do compulsions)…but we should not scratch those itchy bites unless we want things to escalate and get way worse, and that the “material of OCD is 100% imaginary.” The comparison was made to dreams and how we aren’t ashamed of dreams but are relieved when we wake up and realize that it was only a dream—why don’t or can’t we feel that same way when it comes to our OCD thoughts?
After lunch, we went to a session called “The Use of Technology in OCD Treatment” with Elizabeth McIngvale, Katrina Rufino, Jon Herschfield, and Monnica Williams, but were frankly disappointed. I guess we expected (my husband being a programmer and working for PayPal) that it would be more in depth and talk about virtual reality treatments for OCD, etc…. but let’s just say that the mental health (or at least OCD treatment) community is not universally so cutting edge quite yet. Or at least not these presenters. Mostly they discussed old studies and tele-therapy (ie therapy over the Internet), which is important and super necessary, but I guess we just hoped for more! I also wish the last presenter, who was talking about race and access to/quality of treatment, had more time as well.
After that we tried out a session titled “How DBT Skills Enhanced my OCD Treatment” with Leah Jaramillo, Kate Rogers, Carol Thomas, and Jessica Ann Bishop. The stories shared with super interesting, heart breaking, and triumphant, but we were getting tired and a bit done with sitting and listening to speakers and ended up leaving before the end. Before we left, though, I wrote down some notes, mostly about “emotional regulation” and how we should try to get to the point where our emotions are no longer controlling us or dictating our behavior. They spoke about the difference between pain and suffering and how we can and do have pain but don’t necessarily need to “suffer”—we need to respond to our emotions differently.
After our “break,” we headed back to the conference for some awards presentations and the keynote, the premiere of “Unstuck: An OCD Kids Movie” by Chris Baier and Kelly Anderson (who are total peaches).
The movie was really beautifully done, focusing on the self-told stories of six youth who live with various types of OCD. As often happens when hearing peoples’ OCD stories, I was fascinated by the different types and worries exhibited as well as the commonalities and similarities that those of us who have OCD share. That may sound strange to those without OCD, but it’s true—OCD obsessions can be so strangely unique and personal, yet the methods OCD uses to “hook” us are so similar in each case: obsession, worry, anxiety, compulsions, and cycle back/repeat.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about children with OCD and how difficult it would be to deal with this “monster” of a mental disorder at such a young age—to be just beginning life and be presented with it and not to know what a “carefree” childhood is like! To think that life is simply like this—worries, anxiety, fear—how terrible would that be? I just ache for children with OCD and hope that they discover what it is they are up against sooner than later and that their parents and guardians are cognizant and proactive enough to notice that something is different and wrong and requires professional care.
For that reason, “Unstuck” brought me both a sadness but also a hope—the children in the film are so brave and amazing—from their willingness to get help and do their exposures and treatment to their courage to tell their story to the world. They are awesome, and I applaud them. If you get the chance to see or support this film, please do (click here for information) and then share it!
I think the statistic from the film was that 1 in 200 children has OCD. It made me think about my son’s elementary school and how maybe several children there have OCD but may not know what it is they are fighting…. I don’t know. It made it feel somehow more real and urgent. Awareness is so important.
So… that was Saturday! Sunday was pretty good, so stay tuned 🙂