In our “Straight From the Experts” column, we will highlight OCD thought leaders and industry experts. This edition features a Q&A with Chrissie Hodges.
Chrissie is a mental health advocate and public speaker on obsessive-compulsive disorder, mental illness, and stigma reduction surrounding mental health. She is the author of ‘Pure OCD: The Invisible Side of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder’. Chrissie works with individuals providing peer support and consultations for referrals and resources for OCD treatment. She provides Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) therapy coaching for individuals in treatment at Effective OCD Treatment. She is the founder and Executive Director of the non-profit OCD Gamechangers, and she is the co-founder of OCDPeers. Chrissie was the recipient of the 2017 ‘Advocacy Hero Award’ by the International OCD Foundation. Chrissie also blogs at ‘Battling the OCD Demon’ and is a professional contributor for ‘Mental Health on The Mighty’.
Chrissie, you’ve built quite the reputation through your advocacy work, online platform and business building. Take us back to the very beginning. What was the impetus that drew you to working in the OCD field?
CH: The impetus was loneliness! When I lived with OCD symptoms back in the 80’s and 90’s, there was no way to even find out what was happening, so I suffered in complete isolation. After diagnosis and treatment, the shame and self-stigma was so overwhelming that again I turned inward and stayed silent. In my early 30’s I experienced a major relapse. It was then I realized how staying isolated and silent about what I had been through was working against me. I scoured the internet and couldn’t find anything from the sufferer’s point of view on Pure O/sexual and violent intrusive thoughts. I desperately wanted to find people who understood, so I thought the only way to find them would be to start speaking out. I learned how to speak in public and began exploring ways to get my story out there. I built my advocacy on blogging and my very first podcast, ‘The Stigma of Mental Illness Radio’. Eventually I found that doing Youtube videos and becoming a peer support specialist was my niche. And from there I built an amazing community!
You’ve personally experienced several types of OCD. Why has ‘Pure O’ become one of your biggest areas of focus?
CH: From the get-go in my advocacy I knew that building connections and a platform had to come from my own lived experience. Plus, the content for individuals in the ‘Pure-O’ community is very troubling, shameful, embarrassing and difficult to talk about. As I started doing more videos, I found a comfort level in saying things many people wouldn’t dream of putting out on the internet (lol!). The responses I receive from people all over the world inspire me to continue to focus on these specific intrusive thoughts. People are so lonely and scared. When they hear and see this girl on video bringing humor, seriousness, and empathy to something that it torturing them, it makes them feel more human, normal and hopeful. Intrusive thoughts with mental rituals are the most common form of OCD, but the amount of misinformation out there to support and educate people on that is dismal. I want to provide that platform for people until we can build up more resources and mainstream information about the reality of OCD.
Your passion for OCD awareness and understanding is incredible. What do you think can make the biggest difference in terms of shattering the stigma around mental health and OCD?
CH: Lived experience, lived experience, lived experience! Sharing our stories and being vulnerable is the only way to shatter the shame people live with when suffering with mental illness. For so long there has only been the ‘us vs them’ mentality with mental health challenges when realistically it is ‘us and us’. So many people suffer in silence for way too long for fear of who will judge them. This has to change. People have to stop demonizing mental illness. The way that we do this is to start making a stand. Sharing our experiences. Stopping the trivialization of mental illnesses (‘I’m so OCD, The weather is bipolar, etc.’). We have to collectively change the narrative. Once we make the shift where more voices are in support of and empathetic to mental health, we will start to change the stigma.
Speaking of stigma shattering, you tend to tackle the more “taboo” subjects head-on. Is your candor simply part of your personality, or is there more to the reasons why you choose to speak so openly and directly?
CH: If someone told me I’d be talking about ‘the groinal syndrome’ over the internet 20 years ago, I would NEVER believe them, haha! I think my style has evolved through the years based on the comfortability I feel with my community. I know exactly who is listening. I know how lonely, scared, and confused they feel. I also know that they are watching and questioning whether or not they really have OCD. I have to put myself in their shoes (which I already am!) and think about what I’d need to hear to feel hopeful and motivated to keep fighting. The interesting thing is I rarely get backlash about my content. I would have expected way more. But, I think the way I make the content specifically about my community leaves less room for misinterpretation. This is why I think it’s easier for me to dive deep into the scarier parts of the illness. Also, it’s hard to argue with someone who has actually experienced these things first hand. I don’t think I’m a monster for having POCD thoughts. I don’t think I’m a horrible person for having Harm OCD thoughts. I want that to resonate with my listeners. I want them to see themselves through that lens when they watch my videos. If I can laugh about the fear of bestiality, they may be able to chuckle about some of the scary thoughts they have!
Could you tell us about how peer support has played into your own recovery, and how you decided to enter the field and become a certified Peer Support Specialist?
CH: Peer support came along for me when I really needed to heal and grieve my experience with OCD. I had done a lot of work on how to manage symptoms, but had no idea how to grieve and process my journey. I didn’t even realize I was allowed to grieve it. I entered the field of Peer Support to help support others, but little did I know, it was one of the biggest catalysts to self-love and compassion, which was really what I needed the most to help move my recovery along. I worked with a mentor for a while who also offered me peer support. His support gave me permission to grieve and heal. It also helped me separate my authentic self from what OCD and the themes I experienced would tell me. There is so much power in sitting with someone who just ‘gets it’. The normalization helps connect you back to humanity, and I think for many of us that is what we feel like OCD takes away from us—being a good human. Connecting to others who have been through it helps us to understand we are not alone and we are capable of healing and of cultivating self-love.
Everyone knows that, these days, questions around the pandemic are bound to be on people’s minds. What have you seen as the most useful tool for coping with OCD in a COVID-19 and quarantine culture?
CH: Connection! With OCD, we live with uncertainty all of the time, but when the entire world is shrouded in uncertainty, it has an impact on us whether our fears are around COVID or not! I encourage my clients and my community to reach out and talk to people who understand what they are going through. OCD is already an isolating illness, so when we put quarantine on top of that, it is a recipe for disaster. Fortunately there are so many platforms for connection now that jumping into a community is just a click away. We have OCDPeers for group support, Chance and I do individual peer support through my practice, there are support platforms through nocd, Made of Millions, and it seems that there are more and more popping up all the time. Get involved, start commenting and posting, meet people, share your story! Connection is what helps heal us but can also help us in times of struggle.
Lastly, what advice would you give to someone who’s just beginning their OCD recovery journey?
CH: This is not a race with a finish line when life will be peaches and cream afterward. Take your recovery very seriously and work at it every day. While this may feel daunting to think there isn’t just a moment it will all be gone, I want to remind everyone that living with OCD is not a punishment. You can live a very rich, deep and meaningful life when you realize the degree of self-actualization we experience by living with OCD. We have a very large and incredible community of people who really get it and understand. They are some of the most creative, empathetic, amazing people I’ve ever encountered. You are now part of that and you belong to us! Life with OCD can be tough, but it can also open up areas in your life, in your thinking, and your worldview you’d never have the opportunity to explore without it.
If you’d like to inquire about receiving Peer Support and/or a referral consultation, check out www.chrissiehodges.com.
For more information about Chrissie’s advocacy work, check out www.ocdgamechangers.com.