Jeff Bell

Beyond the Doubt

One Million+ Steps for OCD Awareness

A grieving father turns his loss into a national advocacy campaign

Posted Jun 03, 2013

My friend Denis is taking a walk. A long walk. Hundreds and hundreds of miles, in fact.

Like most of us, Denis Asselin walks for health. But he also walks for illness--the mental illness that robbed him of his son.

Two years ago, Nathaniel Asselin, just 24 years old, took his own life after an excruciating battle with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), an OCD-related disorder marked by obsessive misperceptions of minor or imagined flaws in appearance.

Devastated, Denis began putting one foot in front of the other, figuratively and literally. He set out to walk from his home near Philadelphia all the way to Boston, aiming both to share his son’s story and to raise awareness of BDD. His 552-mile trek included stops at places where Nathaniel had been treated. And along the way, Denis challenged himself to talk about Nathaniel and BDD with five strangers a day.

Through his walking, Denis raised not only awareness, but also more than $25,000 for the International OCD Foundation (IOCDF).

Now, Denis is walking again--this time from Cheyney, PA, to Washington, D.C. He's continuing to tell Nathaniel's story and raise awareness of BDD and OCD along every mile. You can view his itinerary here and read his daily blog posts at the Walking with Nathaniel website.

The other day from the road, Denis texted me the following:

"I am struck by the warm hospitality and generosity of spirit of the folks on my path--educators, researchers, clinicians, counselors, psychologists, sufferers, people on the streets, donors, host families, friends--all who share Nathaniel's and our vision of wholeness in mental health and the importance of awareness of brain disorders that can so easily cripple and destroy lives. We all have power to do something about it!"

So, what can YOU do to help?

You can walk "with" Denis.

The IOCDF has launched a wonderful campaign called 1 Million+ Steps for OCD Awareness, and getting involved couldn't be easier. Simply register your pledge to walk 1000, 5000, or even 1 million steps in your community. You can create your own fundraising page and use it to reach out to others to walk with you. And if you happen to live in the Boston area, don't miss your chance to join the hundreds of walkers expected to participate in a 5k walk at Jamaica Pond on Saturday, June 8th, to support Denis and the IOCDF.

Clearly Denis's walking is making a huge difference for individuals battling mental illness. Knowing Denis as I do, though, I'm certain that he'd also want me to point out the difference that his walking is making for his own mental health. Denis believes firmly that we help ourselves by helping others. And while he knows that nothing will ever take away the unfathomable grief that he and his family endure, he's learning that walking with Nathaniel--sharing his story that others might benefit from it--helps him find solace and purpose like nothing else.

I encourage you to listen to Denis describe all this, in his own words, in a recent Spotlight interview we did for The Adversity 2 Advocacy Alliance.  I think you'll agree that he's making a huge difference ... one step at a time.

Godspeed on your journey, Denis. You, my friend, are a true inspiration.