Can. Not. Wait.

Melina Marchetta

Apart from the release of the Tell the Truth, Shame the devil paperback in the US this month (press release below) I’ve been working on my new novel, The House That Seb Built (working title).  Some of you read my short story When Rosie met Jim which was published online by the Review of Australian fiction, and know that it will serve as the first chapter. I’m hoping to have the novel finished before the end of the year.

I’ve said a thousand times over that the novel isn’t about the Saving Francesca/Piper’s Son gang and that readers will be disappointed if they expect to see more than a glimpse of them. It’s mostly about Rosie and Martha and Jimmy and a whole cast of new characters.  But his friends are present in Jimmy’s life, so I thought I’d share with you his opening chapter.

He’s home, and he knows…

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OCD & a Career? You Bet.

Yesterday, I got this question from a blog reader:

Do you think people with OCD can have a successful career? Do you know people who have OCD but also got a great career? Thank you very much Jackie. You’re the best 🙂

careerHello dear, thanks for the question and compliment!

In a nutshell: yes, absolutely!

I am actually enjoying two careers right now: I recruit for a university and write novels. This is such a dream for me because I love-love-love getting to work with high school and college students who are so passionate and in such a wild time of life and transition. And, of course, writing is my calling. I am so grateful to be able to write for a publisher I deeply respect.

In addition:

My friend A is an author and editor.

My friends C and E are therapists.

My friend L is a teacher.

Do we have days where OCD flares up and makes things difficult? Absolutely. But everyone I have mentioned has taken their OCD diagnosis seriously and pursued treatment, which has allowed each of us to continue to thrive in our careers. 

 

Healed Not Cured: OCD Remission & Relapses

I got an email this past weekend from a lovely blog reader who has found victory over obsessive-compulsive disorder through exposure therapy. It’s such a joy any time someone shares a story of freedom, and it does my heart so much good. It reminds me of the reason I preach the benefits of ERP therapy. It reminds me of when I first went into OCD remission back in 2008.

But I also find it important to mention that while the person with OCD has experienced healing, it does not mean that they are cured. In the vast majority of cases, OCD is never cured; it is treated and maintained. What does this mean?

First of all, it’s definitely something to celebrate. I revel in my remission, and in fact, after eight years of this freedom, sometimes I even find myself taking it for granted. It’s a victory to come out of exposure therapy with a new tolerance for uncertainty. It’s a joy and a relief and, for me, at least, a whole new life.

But it doesn’t mean that I don’t have OCD. 

not you again

There are days of intense stress where I buckle a bit and find myself having some obsessive thought patterns or even resorting to old compulsions. This disorder is mostly dormant in me … but it is still in me. And it can wake when I am stressed or fearful. Every once in a while, there is something that will trigger my OCD, and it’s like there’s a CLICK in the way my brain works, a little BLIP in the new system.

But, usually

  1. I recognize it for what it is. I am able to do this because of ERP.
  2. I do not beat myself up over it or assume “all is lost.” It’s merely a step back. I don’t have to start the race over.
  3. I refuse compulsions. (Notably, I allow myself to ask a group of people [usually my coworkers] ONE TIME for what they would deem the appropriate response, and then I DO IT, whatever they say. I know that when my OCD is triggered, I have a hard time understand what is or isn’t a valid response. So I give the decision to others.)
  4. If it’s particularly bad, I listen to my ERP audio track.
  5. I go to sleep, as early as I need to. It is–almost without fail–better in the morning.

I don’t mean this to be bad news–not at all; rather, it’s just something to take note of, something to have in the back of your mind for those stressful days, for those moments when your OCD wakes up and starts to whisper in your ear.

Here’s some anecdotal data about my remission and relapses:

  • In the first 1.5 years after completing ERP, I didn’t experience obsessions or practice compulsions at all.
  • In the years after that, I have had about 1-2 relapse incidents a year.
  • Each incident has lasted on average just a couple of hours. One lasted about two days.

This is nothing compared to my life before ERP. This is manageable. This is freedom. This is remission.

This is good news, people.

If you want to learn more about the exposure therapy that got me to this point, you might want to check out the following links:

jackieleasommers.com/OCD: a collection of my posts about all things OCD
jackieleasommers.com/OCD-help: a letter from me to OCD sufferers, along with a list of next steps
jackieleasommers.com/twin-cities-OCD: resources for OCD sufferers living in or around Minneapolis and St. Paul

PANDAS

Did you know that in addition to it being OCD Awareness Week, today is PANDAS Awareness Day?

Learn more about PANDAS/PANS at https://kids.iocdf.org/what-is-ocd/pandas!

JACKIE LEA SOMMERS

The PANDAS that I’m talking about has nothing to do with these guys …

… and everything to do with childhood strep throat.

PANDAS = Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal infections

Say what???

PANDAS describes a set of children in whom an ordinary bacterial strep infection can turn into a neuropsychiatric disorder.  The strep seems to cause the body’s immune system to build up antibodies that – who knows why – turn traitor and attack the basal ganglia in the brain.

In other words, a simple case of strep throat gone to hell.

Sometimes a child gets strep throat, and the body gets confused– instead of fighting off the bacteria, it attacks the basal ganglia … which leads to obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The first time I had an intake with a psychiatrist, she asked about my past medical issues.  “Ummm … I broke my elbow twice,” I said, thinking…

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Asking for Help

I was just going to write a post about asking for help and then wondered if I’d already written one. I had.

Here you go!

JACKIE LEA SOMMERS

I battled with undiagnosed OCD for fifteen years before I finally sought help. Now, that just seems silly.

These days, when I encounter a problem, I open my mouth and ask for help. This isn’t weak. It’s smart.

I’m so over the ridiculous stigma attached to this. There is nothing shameful about identifying areas where I struggle and then seeking out solutions. I celebrate my enterprising, aggressive spirit and commitment to health.

This post is not to toot my own horn but to give my blog readers another way of framing the often humbling experience of asking for help. Doing so is a brave, intrepid, wise move– don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Vintage inscription made by old typewriter

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Online Dating Sites as Described to Harry Potter Fans

eHarmony
Here I paid serious cha-ching to get curated matches– so these people were basically me with different anatomy, except everyone was freakishly timid and on their best, most boring behavior. The closest matches to what I think I want– at least on paper– but IRL it looks more like monthly credit card charges so that I can shout into the void.

Bottom line: Dumbledore is setting you up, buuuuuuuut you have to destroy horcruxes for him in exchange. 

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Coffee Meets Bagel
Every day at noon, female users get sent one “bagel” (yes, that’s what a man/his profile is called on this site). If we like each other, a chat screen opens up. You only get one bagel a day unless you want to purchase another with “coffee beans” that you can earn or buy. I mean, I have friends who found love in this hopeless place, but unless you are ready to make it rain, this is the slowest possible method for finding breakfast. I mean, a partner.

Bottom line: this is like going to the Room of Requirement every day at noon, just hoping that some hottie will be there at the same time. 

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OkCupid
Okc has multiple search options but a pretty unfocused constituency, so be prepared for booty calls and marriage proposals in the same day. I find myself coming back to it over and over again though, since you never know who will show up.

Bottom line: keeping an eye out for love at the Three Broomsticks.

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POF
Plenty of Fish wins #1 Sketch City, and your profile picture is all that matters to most. In a weekend, you might get 99 inquiries for chill and 1 for Netflix.

Bottom line: Knockturn Alley. 

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Christian Mingle
If you’re picky (which I am– hence a specialized dating site), Christian Mingle might give you a killer selection like it gave me: two locals and one guy from Ohio. Cool.

Bottom line: seems like a great idea until you match with two Muggles and one wizard from Durmstrang.

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Bumble
Bumble is called the “feminist Tinder” because only women can initiate conversations. Bumble brings all the hotties to the yard, enough that it makes me wonder how many profiles are fake. It gives me a feeling of power over incredibly attractive men … who may or may not exist, so … win? Hard to say.

Bottom line: you and Professor McGonagal have a girlfriends night to drink wine and look at cute wizards, which kind of makes it fun even if you don’t find love.

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Zoosk
What the heck is going on here? This is a hot mess.

Bottom line: like apparating the first time. I got out before I got splinched.

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Half-Mast, a brief story

I wrote this five years ago. I wish it didn’t feel so real in 2017.

JACKIE LEA SOMMERS

We were thrilled, the whole crowd, as we giggled and whispered and whistled outside the school that day.  It was quarter to noon on Memorial Day, one of the most exciting days of the year. The American flag, with its crowded square of 64 stars, looked as if it housed a universe on that patch of blue.  It flew at half-staff, as usual, though there was not a breath of wind to spread the banner.

Betty was the littlest of our crew.  At only five years old, she couldn’t remember why we celebrated this day—the morning or the afternoon, my favorite part.  She kept taking Mom’s face into her hands and staring into Mom’s eyes, asking wordless questions.

“C’mon, Bets,” Jakey said.  “I’m only nine, and I know why we’re here today.”

“The flag?” she asked, showing she knew more than she was saying.

“Mmm hmmm,” I said, prompting her…

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A Poem for the Weekend

A Crazed Girl

    By William Butler Yeats


That crazed girl improvising her music.
Her poetry, dancing upon the shore,

Her soul in division from itself
Climbing, falling She knew not where,
Hiding amid the cargo of a steamship,
Her knee-cap broken, that girl I declare
A beautiful lofty thing, or a thing
Heroically lost, heroically found.

No matter what disaster occurred
She stood in desperate music wound,
Wound, wound, and she made in her triumph
Where the bales and the baskets lay
No common intelligible sound
But sang, “O sea-starved, hungry sea.’

Question & Dancer: September 2017

question-and-dancerI’m an artist not an expert, one who is learning to embrace questions more than answers.

These are some questions I got last month. Ask yours here.

Recently I’ve found out a website called This Way Up which offers an online CBT course to help people self-treat OCD. The link is here:
https://thiswayup.org.au/how-we-can-help/courses/obsessive-compulsive-disorder/
Do you think this is helpful? The price is very reasonable, especially for those like me, who live in a developing country that doesn’t have any OCD exert.
Thank you very much!!!Hi friend, hmm … it’s hard to say without being able to access the materials. However, I will say that their description of ERP has a faulty premise. They say, “People with more than one episode of OCD and who are ready to confront their fears very gradually to find out that what they fear does not occur.” That makes it sound like exposure therapy is intended to make you certain, when the reality is that exposure therapy is intended to make you okay with uncertainty. Don’t get me wrong: I know that the first one sounds better, especially to someone with OCD! But certainty (in the way OCD sufferers want it) is not actually possible, and it’s far, far, far better to start moving down the path of accepting that. Ironically, it may actually provide you with more certainty about some things!

That said, I would rather recommend to you the nOCD app, which is FREE and put together by people I trust, people who deeply understand OCD and ERP. Click here for more info.

I wanted to know if hocd can start at 11 years old. Also, can an hocd sufferer fear the social repercussions of coming out. I wanted to know this because I am 13 and I’ve never had a boyfriend and a crush. But I’m not attracted to the same sex either. This causes me great anxiety. Does this sound like hocd or a person in deep denial?

Hi dear, personally, my OCD started when I was about seven years old (and HOCD is one theme of OCD). That said, if you are not feeling attracted to either gender, you might just be too young (it varies SO MUCH from person to person– I have friends who were boy-crazy at age 6 and friends who didn’t care about men until they were in their 20s) or you might just be asexual. Neither of those is wrong, by the way. But if you are suffering from intense anxiety, you should certainly pursue a diagnosis, whether it’s OCD or something like generalized anxiety disorder. Talk to your parents about seeing someone about your anxiety. You don’t even have to tell them what it is about.

I also have another question, what’s the difference between denial, internalized homophobia, and hocd. Its gotten so bad I wonder if its actually hocd.And can hocd cause false attraction and arousal, even though I know I’m not attracted to the same sex. I feel like Iread reassurance so much that I feel like I have everyone else’s symptoms of hocd. It causes intense anxiety. I don’t want to be gay.

I am not an expert on any of these subjects, although of course I know a bit about HOCD simply because I know so much about OCD. What you’re doing– seeking reassurance, checking, etc. to decrease the anxiety– is a textbook description of OCD though. Definitely pursue getting a diagnosis and doing exposure therapy! I know it can be scary (terrifying!!) to talk about this, and for some reason, HOCD feels even more “taboo” to many sufferers than other OCD themes.

Hello, sorry I keep posting, I also wanted to know how do I know I’m not gay. ( I’m a girl.) And do gay people worry about these types of thoughts. I worry so much I get cold sweated, . And when it passes, I feel drained mentally. I fear that at school that I will fall in love with a girl. Which makes me feel frustrated and depressed. My family on both sides have anxiety and ocd. Please answer!

Hello dear, again, what you’re describing sounds a lot like HOCD, but you would need a psychiatrist or psychologist to diagnose you officially. Consider these posts, okay?

HOCD: Letter to Loved Ones
Doing ERP On Your Own
nOCD, an ERP App/Hero

My HOCD left shortly but came back and now I’m scared. My thoughts seem to be so real when I know they’re not. I only want to be with men but I can’t help but look at clues that lead to what if all along I’ve been gay unknowingly. I’m trying to seek help but I’m only 16 and am too scared to ask my parents for help bc they never believe me when I say something’s wrong. 

Hi dear one, firstly, as hard as it is, I recommend not thinking about these things as “leaving” and “coming back.” If you have OCD (which is sounds like you do), it doesn’t come or go– although various obsessions can!– but OCD can be subdued and maintained through something called Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy. Please read all three of these posts, which I think will be helpful for someone in your situation:

HOCD: Letter to Loved Ones
Doing ERP On Your Own
nOCD, an ERP App/Hero

Hi Jackie! I’ve been doing self-directed ERP for HOCD and taking an SSRI and i am feeling much better right now. However,  I was wondering if you could give me some insight on using the ‘community standard’ as a therapy tool? I think it could be helpful to me (as you too have pointed out to me in a reply to one of my questions). Some examples of applying it maybe?

Yes! This is a great question. Here is an example from my own life. When I bought my new house, I thought briefly about scraping off the popcorn ceiling in the living room and even tried it on a small spot. When someone mentioned “asbestos,” I started freaking out that with that small spot I’d cleared, I had somehow released all this hazardous material into the air in my home. I was worried that every time a friend came over to my new home, I’d be exposing them to this– and what caused me even MORE fear was thinking that I really wouldn’t KNOW if I was slowly killing my visitors until they actually died. I could tell that this was my OCD, though– taking something tiny and making it into a HUGE DEAL. So– the deal with the “community standard” is to basically ask “Would the majority of people in my community (excluding those with anxiety disorders) agree with me that this was a huge deal?” I suspected the answer was no. The next day, I lined up three of my dear friends, laid out the situation to them, and asked what they suggested I should do. All of them said, “Meh, move on. No big deal.” So, you see, the community standard was that this was not something to worry about … and so I was not permitted to worry either. (This might sound impossible at first, but with practice, it honestly gets easier. Sometimes I literally assemble a “community” and go with the majority– but usually I can tell on my own what the standard would be. If I know that anyone without an anxiety disorder is going to say “Um, that’s weird. Why are you worried about that?” then I already know the community standard.)

Does that make sense?

Jackie, Imma about to die. I started with HOCD, Harm OCD, now its trasgender Stuff, the deal is, i was sexually abused, bullied, so hard that i wanted to be a guy as a young kid cause being a woman was hard, have had attracion for women, it all leads as i am a butch lesbian woman. Where is god?

Oh my dear, dear, dear one! I am so sorry for the pain you’re in. I know that OCD is tormenting, and to deal with that alongside the other trauma you have experienced, … it’s just too much. Are you in therapy, friend? I would make this a priority. If money is tight, look into walk-in therapy clinics in your area. There is a lot to unpack in your life. As to your question of where is God … that is a question I myself asked for years and years and years as I felt so alone and so abandoned. It wasn’t until much later that I felt I could answer that question. For me, God was there all along, sustaining me in my unsustainable years and quietly guiding me toward the freedom I found through exposure therapy and in remembering just how much Jesus suffered and how much he could relate to my agony. That answer might not feel useful to you, and I wouldn’t blame you if that was true. Please don’t give up. In addition, take a look around and try to keep your heart open to people you sense you can trust. God works through people like this too– people who are full of compassion, patience, joy, and wisdom. Keep your eyes wide open, friend.

I am also a Christian struggling with OCD. My OCD takes many forms.  Currently the worst is obsessing over the safety of the entire world. Coughs-what if someone is choking? Small items like change on ground-child could choke? People not driving perfect-could be a accident.  List goes on!  Recently began ERP. Feeling so anxious and sick all the time.  How’d you handle this during treatment? 

Hello! I have a book character who has the same OCD themes– in fact, in one scene, he is systematically chipping away at the ice on the Minneapolis sidewalks, scared someone would slip and fall. In another scene, he is thinking about a guy at a bus stop who was smoking, wishing he had said something about the dangers of smoking, and wondering if there was a way to find that person again. Of course, I think that you and I (even with our OCD!) theoretically realize those are a bit much, yes? And yet, I have been where you are, feeling the weight of the world on my own shoulders. It’s exhausting. You are doing the right thing by pursuing ERP. In ERP, your anxiety will likely flare up and get a bit worse before it improves. But please hang in there. Try for 12 weeks straight and see how you feel. For me, 12 weeks later, I was living an entirely different life.

Hello, I have been diagnosed with HOCD twice. It is causing me so so so much anxiety. I have lost all attraction to men and now worry I was never attracted to men in the first place. I’m now worrying that I’m not coming out because of what my boyfriends friends would think, which I know is a coming out tendency. I’m worried that I’m thinking this as it’s not an hocd tendency. I want my old life bk

It’s not an HOCD tendency? I think just about every person I’ve ever known with HOCD has had those same thoughts actually. Everything that you describe sounds like textbook HOCD … in fact, you’ve been diagnosed with it. Twice. Next step: ERP!

I’m an 18 yr old male suffering from (I’m under the impression that it is) HOCD for a couple of weeks, now. I’ve managed to mostly calm anxiety/panic attacks, but I still get uncomfortable feelings, thoughts, and groinal responses when looking at guys (especially my friends.) I’m scared that this means that I actually am attracted and am just hiding it. Does it? If not, what can I do to stop it? 

Hi friend, the anxiety and panic attached to this makes it far more likely that you’re dealing with HOCD than anything else. The best treatment for HOCD (or any type of OCD) is exposure therapy, which you can do with a therapist OR on your own, with the help of a book, OR by using an app. Check out these links:

HOCD: Letter to Loved Ones
Doing ERP On Your Own
nOCD, an ERP App/Hero

I don’t have access to any OCD therapists so I’m unable to know for sure if I have HOCD or not. Over time I’ve been doing small things to stop my anxiety over gay thoughts (and it seems to be working.) But no matter what they keep interrupting everything I do, and now I’m beginning to worry that my lack of anxiety means I secretly want to be gay. I’m even starting to doubt that I even have HOCD.

“Unable to know for sure” … this is the core of OCD, friend: having intense anxiety over uncertainty. And since OCD is the doubting disease, it might not surprise you that almost everyone who has it has doubted at one point or another if they really did have OCD. 🙂 Have you done your research? Here are a few places to start:

HOCD: Letter to Loved Ones
Doing ERP On Your Own
nOCD, an ERP App/Hero
Interview with a Former HOCD Sufferer
Another Interview with a Former HOCD Sufferer
A Third Interview with a Former HOCD Sufferer
A Fourth Interview with a Former HOCD Sufferer
Q&A with Former HOCD Sufferer
HOCD Story: Meet Mae, Part One
HOCD Story: Meet Mae, Part Two

Thanks for all the questions, folks! If you have questions for me about anything, ask here.

As always, I leave you with these, some of my favorite questions in one of my favorite poems, “Questions about Angels.” Click here to hear Billy Collins himself read it. (P.S. It starts with questions, ends with a dancer.