‘OCD Gamechangers’ MC Highlight: Chrissie Hodges and Neil Hemmer

Posted in Uncategorized on March 1, 2018 by chrissiehodges

For the first few years I attended the annual OCD Conferences, I always noticed this one guy running around just being fantastic. He was always laughing, connecting with people, and seemed so comfortable in his skin. I watched him in amazement. People were drawn to him. His energy was infectious and mesmerizing. Who was this guy? And, why wasn’t he MY friend?

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That guy was Neil Hemmer. Neil is one of the most magnetic people I’ve ever met. When you are in his presence, you just feel comfortable because of his genuine energy. People naturally gravitate to him and I felt connected to him because of that before we even met. Thank goodness we finally took the time to introduce ourselves!

Getting to know Neil over the last couple years, I’ve felt he and I have SO much more in common other than OCD. But one of the big things that surfaced for both of us has been our openness recently in talking about substance use issues. Neil and I both live with the coping skill of using alcohol to deal with the havoc wreaked on us by anxiety, OCD, and depression. The timing is amazing in both of us making the decision to start speaking out just this last year. I believe both Neil and I have suffered with the shame of feeling there is this ‘other side of us’ no one knows about and we keep quiet about. The fear of revealing the struggle with substance use keeps us trapped in the ‘what if’s’ of how people would feel about us. Would they think about us different? Would I be looked at differently? Judged? Rejected? It becomes a barrier to self-love and to our recovery.

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Substance use and addiction can easily go hand in hand with OCD and is not uncommon. However, the shame around that battle is extremely stigmatizing. There are not many people willing to stand up and share lived experience with both. The personal stigma is difficult dealing with just mental illness, and it compounds when substance use becomes part of the equation. In all my advocacy speaking out about the tough topics surrounding Pure O/intrusive thoughts, opening up about substance use has been the hardest and the scariest.

When I found out Neil was ready to start speaking out about his battle with substance use, I felt a huge weight lift off me. If he can do it, I can do it! And if we both can do it, maybe others will start speaking out, too!

I asked Neil to MC my event with me this weekend because I wanted the natural energy he brings to a room that makes people comfortable, inspired, and excited. Throughout the event, Neil and I will each share snippets of our journey through OCD as well as substance use. My hope is people will be able to know they are not alone with either and the shame that accompanies both of those diagnoses does not define who they are. Having Neil by my side on Saturday as well as in advocacy for substance use is a reminder to myself of those things as well.

There was no question in my mind about who I wanted to co-MC with to host all of the fabulous OCD advocates for ‘OCD Gamechangers’. We are seriously going to have a blast!!

For more information on the Saturday event ‘OCD Gamechangers’ in Denver, go to http://www.chrissiehodges.com/ocd-gamechangers.

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Ethan Smith: ‘OCD Gamechangers’ Speaker Highlight

Posted in Uncategorized on February 27, 2018 by chrissiehodges

I hate to admit it, but there are several people out in the world who I believe only want to be friends with me because of their fascination with my hair…and Ethan is one of them. Haha!

I met Ethan many years ago after we should have met in person, but instead connected much later than we should have over the phone. Ethan was giving the Keynote address at the IOCDF Conference in Los Angeles, and instead of waking up in the early hours on that Saturday morning to see him speak, I woke up casually, grabbed coffee, and went for a run. And not only did I miss seeing his keynote, we spent the entire conference in the same crowds, completely missing each other!

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Months later, he called me up to harass me for not attending his presentation, to make fun of my hair, and to connect to what has become a lasting friendship and colleague in our field of advocacy.

I knew immediately when we met that we were bound together in our goals and share the same passion in using our lived experience with OCD to educate and support people through treatment. Those that share the same mission seldom have a reason not to become life-long colleagues and friends. Ethan and I walk that path together.

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Ethan’s battle with OCD was tumultuous, arduous, and tormenting. But, he persevered through treatment, through stigma, and through the task of being able to compartmentalize everything he has gone through in order to be there for countless other people who suffer with OCD. He does this through responding to calls, requests, and cries for help from therapists who are in need of the lived experience voice to help their clients. He does this by telling his story in front of sufferers, clinicians, and families. And he does this by representing the International OCD Foundation as a spokesperson for several years and now the National Ambassador. Ethan is truly a face of hope for many individuals living in the depths of OCD symptoms to see they can overcome and live a life free from the daily torment.

Ethan has a way of capturing a room with his wit in one second, and his seriousness in the next. It is a gift he has—not which he has learned and crafted—but one that comes naturally. People gravitate to him because of this gift in hopes and relief in his ability to empathize and understand to a greater degree of what they are experiencing with OCD and to inspire hope that they have the strength within themselves to attain recovery.

Ethan is an incredible addition to the line-up of speakers at the ‘OCD Gamechangers’ Event, and I guarantee you at some point during Ethan’s presentation, he is going to reference my hair. In fact, I was on the phone with him last night and we talked about how my hair could be the setting for the next ‘Honey I shrunk the Kids’ movie. My fear is, with the type of product I use, anyone stuck in my hair will never find their way out….hahaha!

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However, after the photo below…I don’t think he can EVER make fun of my hair again! 😀

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For more information about attending the event in Denver on March 3rd,  go to http://www.chrissiehodges.com/ocd-gamechangers.

OCD Gamechangers

Stephen Smith: Speaker Highlight ‘OCD Gamechangers’

Posted in Uncategorized on February 24, 2018 by chrissiehodges

Being able to see the good in things come full circle is something I am always reminded of when I think of Stephen Smith. Stephen is someone whose heart is set on helping people worldwide who are living alone and isolated with OCD. This is his mission because he has been that person who has felt incredible torment at the hands of Pure OCD/intrusive thoughts at his lowest point. And now, he is giving back in an AMAZING capacity!

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The full circle for me is the inspirational story behind one of Stephen’s lowest points with OCD. Many years ago in the beginnings of my advocacy, I had a podcast interviewing individuals worldwide about their lived experience with mental illness. I also used that platform to talk about my own battle with Pure OCD/sexual intrusive thoughts which plagued me for years. I never knew who was or would listen to my shows and the pessimistic, insecure side of me believed no one did. Haha!

Many years later, I found out something I had said on that podcast actually changed someone’s life for the better, gave them hope, and helped normalize their experience with OCD. That person was Stephen Smith. We connected about a year ago in regards to his advocacy project nOCD, and when I heard something I had recorded so many years ago had impacted him so greatly, I knew there was a reason we were supposed to meet.

Stephen founded the app nOCD and Treatmyocd.com platform in an effort to give individuals living with OCD a real-time tool to help manage symptoms and feel less alone in their struggle. Their mission is also groundbreaking in collecting data (no personal health info) in an effort for clinicians and researchers to expand their knowledge and better connect with their clients. Stephen is WAY more knowledgeable (and you definitely know it when you talk to him!) about the technical side of nOCD, but as a sufferer and advocate, I can truly say nOCD is an important and up and coming breakthrough in connecting sufferers to correct treatment, peers, and to hope, and he has the passion to make it work.

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Stephen has assembled an incredible team of people around him in expanding his mission, and without disclosing TOO much, let’s just say the future looks very bright for nOCD and a peer support component!

I call Stephen the quintessential millennial businessman who is driven, passionate, tech-oriented and focused. I often remind him that he can breathe and lose the business coat when we get to catch up by phone or passing by in the airport! Haha! I absolutely adore him and knew he would be such an inspiring addition to the ‘OCD Gamechangers’ event. The OCD community is so blessed to have someone with the drive and passion that Stephen brings to us.

For more information about the Saturday, March 3rd event ‘OCD Gamechangers’ in Denver, CO, please visit www.chrissiehodges.com/ocd-gamechangers.

OCD Gamechangers

Corey Hirsch: ‘OCD Gamechangers’ Speaker Highlight

Posted in Uncategorized on February 19, 2018 by chrissiehodges

Former NHL Goalie, Silver Medalist, and newly deemed Mental health advocate superstar Corey Hirsch busted onto the scene of advocacy about a year ago, which was the same time he busted into my life!

I received a facebook message right after publishing my memoir “Pure OCD: The Invisible Side of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder” from this guy named Corey Hirsch asking me if we could talk because HE has pure OCD as well! I thought, who in the world is this guy? But, he was insistent that we chat on the phone. And that was when an incredible friendship was born!

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I was drawn to Corey’s strong desire to reach people worldwide who may be suffering from OCD and his serious commitment of no one stopping him from delivering his message. HE is my kind of people! Shortly after we met and became bestie’s, he published his article called ‘Dark, Dark, Dark, Dark, Dark’ on ‘The Player’s Tribune’ about living with Pure OCD/Intrusive Thoughts, the struggle he endured, and how he learned to live in recovery.

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Corey is so much like me, which is why I think we are soul-friends, in that we both want to change the world NOW but then we don’t really think about how to make that happen after making a splash! As soon as his article came out, hundreds–-and I mean HUNDREDS of people started reaching out to him in gratitude, thanks, and for help. We talked daily on what to do, how to respond, and where to get these individuals/families to help. He handled it with humbleness, compassion, and true grace.

I truly believe Corey had no idea what an absolute amazing impact his story would have worldwide. And thanks to his courage and bravery in putting it out there, thousands of people now know they are NOT alone and help is available.

Since his splash of a debut onto the mental health advocacy scene, Corey has continued his mission of reaching individuals worldwide. He is partnering as an ambassador for the Centre of Addiction and Mental Health in Canada (CAMH), received the Illuminati Award for advocacy from the International OCD Foundation, and has published a second article on ‘The Player’s Tribune’ titled ‘You are not alone’.

 

I am not only excited to have Corey take the stage at the ‘OCD Gamechangers’ Event, but I am excited to see how much more he and I will do together to reach people at the far corners of the earth to let them know they are NOT alone with Pure OCD and recovery is possible!

For more information on the ‘OCD Gamechangers’ Event in Denver, CO and to buy tickets, please visit www.chrissiehodges.com/ocd-gamechangers.

OCD Gamechangers

‘OCD Gamechangers’ Speaker Highlight: Margaret Sisson of ‘Riley’s Wish’

Posted in Uncategorized on February 16, 2018 by chrissiehodges

Margaret Sisson; My fellow advocate, friend, colleague, and family.  There isn’t enough blog space to talk about the amount of love and respect I have for Margaret as a person and advocate.

So, I’ll start with my fateful meeting with her son Riley at the IOCDF Atlanta conference many years ago. It was my first conference, I barely knew anyone in the OCD community, and I was nervous! In my first breakout session the presenters asked for volunteers, so of course I raised my hand. I was picked along with this big, burly guy who I instantly felt connected to named Riley. We were supposed to do this serious demonstration on how difficult it is to do tasks with intrusive thoughts constantly spinning in your head. I was supposed to do the task, Riley was supposed mimic intrusive thoughts. When we started, Riley’s intrusive thought dialogue was the funniest thing I had ever heard. I couldn’t keep a straight face, I couldn’t focus, and we both laughed through the whole exercise. I think the presenters hated us!

I instantly adored him. We became friends immediately and then I met Margaret later at an event as we recalled the failed presentation and laughed hysterically. I knew then they would become my family.

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The following years, I watched as Riley fought to wrestle the demons of OCD and substance use disorder (SUDS), but in the midst of that suffering he rose as an integral voice in bringing awareness to OCD and SUDS. His resounding message made a huge impact. His presence as a human and advocate was larger than life. I willingly followed him around the conferences with adoration just to hear him talk and laugh. He could make an entire room laugh just by a facial expression. His humor and personality were magnetic.

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Our lives were devastated when he lost his battle with OCD and SUDS in 2014. It was a terrible loss to the OCD community, his friends, and especially his family. We still feel the impact of his absence to this day.

Margaret, who was always his biggest support and cheerleader, didn’t miss a beat in keeping his legacy of advocacy and memory alive. She created the Riley’s Wish Foundation. Riley’s Wish serves to educate, create awareness, and help provide resources to those living and suffering with dual diagnosis of OCD and SUDS. The foundation stays true to the mission Riley embarked upon in his advocacy of helping those struggling to know they are not alone, and reducing the shame and stigma of OCD and SUDS.

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Riley’s bravery in sharing his deepest struggles as well as the devastation of his passing created a reality of the NEED for more individuals to speak up and out about the reality of SUDS and OCD. His mission will live on through Margaret, his sister Sarah Sisson, myself, and countless others who still hold his spirit and mission close to our hearts.

At the 2013 IOCDF conference in Los Angeles, I leaned over the balcony with tears streaming down my face as Margaret, accepting the Hero of the Year Award in Advocacy, pointed to Riley standing in the middle of the dance-floor and let the hundreds of us watching know that ‘Riley is her true hero’.

To this day, he continues to be a hero to so many of us, and his voice will continue to be heard through all of ours.

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For more information on the March 3rd event in Denver, CO ‘OCD Gamechangers’ and to purchase tickets, please visit my website at http://www.chrissiehodges.com/ocd-gamechangers

OCD Gamechangers

 

‘OCD Gamechangers’ Speaker Highlight: Sean Shinnock

Posted in Uncategorized on February 13, 2018 by chrissiehodges

‘OCD Gamechangers’ Spotlight #4: Sean Shinnock

Sean Shinnock is the epitome of an up-and-coming OCD advocate. In 2016, Sean made a HUGE impact when he was part of a project at the Logan International Airport displaying stories of individuals living with mental illness to eliminate stigma. And I literally mean huge as the displays were eight feet tall!!

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But that is not all Sean brings to the advocacy world. Sean is working on the project ‘Draw Your Monster’ which is part of his greater movement called the ‘Monster Initiative’. During the International OCD Foundation Annual Conference a few years ago, Sean hosted an event so individuals could join him in ‘drawing their monster’. That phrase, action, or creativity is up to the person’s discretion! When OCD first showed up in my mind as an eight year old, I absolutely had a picture in my head of what the monster looked like haunting and torturing me, but never any inclination to draw and see it face to face. Sean’s idea helps bring alive imagery that if kept in the mind can be a manifestation of larger than life fear. When you put it on paper, it may not seem as scary as it feels in the mind. It is a brilliant way to face the terrifying things lurking in the corners of our mind creatively and effectively. By acknowledging the monster and facing it, it just may help take the power away.

Since then, he is working on a project where he can help ‘Draw Your Monster’ to individuals worldwide suffering with OCD. While his project is still in the early stages of development, it really is something I believe he will have no problem getting momentum and support with. Artistry helps SO much in the expression of the scary things we live with that cannot be put into words at times. I believe Sean has really nailed the idea of pulling the fear out of what so many of us call OCD, ‘the monster in our heads’.

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On a side note, Sean probably doesn’t know this, but I secretly call him the supermodel of the OCD advocacy world. Haha! I first met Sean when we were speaking on a panel on ‘taboo thoughts’ at the IOCDF conference a few years ago. When I met him face to face—well my face to his chest—I thought, ‘good lord, is this guy here to present or walk the catwalk?’ He is strikingly tall and has a presence about him that makes you do a double take. But, the most wonderful thing about Sean is his genuine call to help others in feeling less alone with OCD. Like so many, Sean spent way too many years agonizing in tormenting symptoms of OCD. His journey has been a long and winding road to recovery and I am very eager to hear more on his story and inspiration for ‘Draw Your Monster’ at the ‘OCD Gamechangers’ event.

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For more information on the Denver, March 3rd event ‘OCD Gamechangers’ and to buy tickets, go to http://www.chrissiehodges.com/ocd-gamechangers

OCD Gamechangers

‘OCD Gamechangers’ Speaker Highlight: Aaron Harvey

Posted in Uncategorized on February 12, 2018 by chrissiehodges

‘OCD Gamechangers’ Spotlight #3: Aaron Harvey

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Aaron Harvey splashed on the scene several years ago with his hugely impacting and informative website www.intrusivethoughts.org. When I first found out about his website I thought, how do I not know this guy?…and WHY do I not know this guy? Our stories of OCD seemed so incredibly parallel from upbringing, to silence, to shame, and to learning what and how we needed to know to be in recovery. I thought it was so bizarre to know nothing about someone but to feel like you know everything about them. I was very much intrigued.

I felt the same way about Aaron that I did Stuart Ralph of ‘The OCD Stories’. When I saw his website, I was mesmerized, excited, and thankful that it was there to help the thousands of people that were going to need it. I started to write him several times, but ended up just deleting the emails because I was too scared to write him. I swear, it’s no wonder I have any friends at this point! Haha!

What I do know is Aaron’s bravery in opening up a website to the world completely focusing on intrusive thoughts in regards to OCD is one of the most incredible things I have seen in regards to Pure OCD/intrusive thoughts. This is seriously a one stop, normalizing website of hope for those of us that suffer and have suffered for years with sexual, violent, health, relationship, blasphemous, and every other intrusive thought under the sun. The sheer volume of expertise on his website is more than one can hope for in the midst of their suffering.

I think what I admire the most about Aaron is his determination in the decision of wanting to give back. A life with the shame, guilt, and embarrassment of living with sexual/violent/blasphemous intrusive thoughts isn’t the same as creating a website about gardening or food or any ordinary hobby. This is facing incredible fears by putting very sensitive topics in plain view and risking the consequences. He looked at his life of suffering with intrusive thoughts and decided that he didn’t want others to go through what he did. And with that, he put his entire story on display. It is the epitome of selflessness. It is admirable, and I can tell you with absolute certainty that his website has saved thousands of lives. He is a hero in his own right.

I have never met Aaron in person and I invited him to this event with fingers crossed that he’d say yes. And he did! It is one of the many things I look forward to on the weekend of the event is to get to meet him and learn more about who he is and listen first-hand to his story. He will be one story neither you nor I will want to miss!

Aaron Harvey is one of the people who remind me that I am NOT alone. The OCD world and community is a better place because of him!

http://www.intrusivethoughts.org:

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You can hear more about Aaron’s journey to advocacy  at the ‘OCD Gamechangers’ Event in Denver, Colorado on March 3rd at the Historic Grant Avenue Theater. Event doors open at 5pm and presentation is 6:30-9:30pm. $35

Please go to http://www.chrissiehodges.com/ocd-gamechangers to find out more and to link to buy tickets!

OCD Gamechangers