5 Months of OCD Questions

Back in November, I noted that 99% of the questions I’m asked are related to HOCD. So I tried to write ONE GIANT REPLY (which you can read here), but it didn’t stop the questions from pouring in.

Frankly, I was exhausted and overwhelmed by HOCD questions, especially when I felt like I’d shared everything I could on the subject. But of course, everyone wants a personalized answer. I understand that, but I’m also not an HOCD expert or any kind of therapist.

So I let the questions sit for a while. Especially when I have a link to the above article right in the form where people can ask their questions.

But today, home sick on the couch, I wanted to tackle some more. A lot more. 🙂

Here we go.

I’m doing self-directed ERP now but I don’t know when should I stop doing exposure works. Do you have any clue?

I do. When you begin, you should rate your anxiety level 0-100. Continue to rate your anxiety level before, during, and after each exposure. Keep doing the exposure until your anxiety level drops to 50% of your original level.

Since my onset of OCD, I’ve become plagued with these fears and dark thoughts…especially the feeling that i am an a ‘bad’ person. Who will hurt others or myself. i feel unworthy and yearn to be the person i was before this illness- light and ‘good’ and kind. I fear greatly that I am an awful and terrible person. Is this normal and what can be done to help?

It is normal for OCD. 🙂 This sounds a lot like a combination of harm OCD plus hyper-responsibility plus depression, if I had to guess! ERP therapy will help. Check out http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD.

I don’t know anymore if it’s compulsive or not.. I used to watch different kinds of porn like gay or cuck*old to figure out what I may like.. I watched it but didn’t think about it a lot afterwards but felt disgusted.. like hijacked..maybe I’m looking for an excuse.. Just tried to sleep when images of a porn came and scared me.. like that must be the final proof that its not HOCD.

Proof that it’s not HOCD? To me, being scared or feeling wrong about it is proof that it is HOCD. ERP will help!

Please read https://jackieleasommers.com/2017/11/01/hocd-4-steps-to-freedom.

I live in a country where there is probably no erp therapy available (I’d be very surprised if there was), and these apps you listed are for iOS, i have an Android :(. Do you have any other tips/resources for self therapy? Thanks ❤ much love. I appreciate what you are doing :))

(My kind of ocd is religious one if that matters, I’m a christian) 

Hello dear one, yes, if you have Facebook, try the Pax the OCD Bot (just search it in your Facebook searchbar). This article might also help: https://jackieleasommers.com/2014/10/05/self-directed-erp-therapy.

You don’t have any intrusive thoughts then? Or you do, and just don’t care?

I don’t have them nearly so often! When I do, I am usually able to pass them off now because ERP has re-wired my mind not to give them more worth than they deserve. On the occasion (usually once or twice a year) that the intrusive thoughts do get to me, I use my ERP tools and exposures and usually can get past it within a matter of hours and a good nap.

What is erp, to be honest? They expose you to your fears until you don’t care/find they annoying? Sorry for my ignorance

ERP is exposure and response prevention therapy. Here are some links where you can learn more:

Gaining Certainty through Embracing Uncertainty
Resisting treatment?

What life was like before & after CBT
Obsessing vs. Brainstorming: before & after
A Detailed Post about ERP
ERP is the RIGHT Answer
Better than a Band-Aid
Embracing Uncertainty
What CBT was like for me
Will treatment change me?
Why You Need CBT/ERP
Have Reservations about ERP?
Preparing for CBT/ERP
ERP & Imaginal Exposures
Uncertainty is the Key
The Problem with Seeking Reassurance
Finding a cognitive-behavioral therapist
Medication vs. Exposure Therapy
Can’t afford CBT/ERP?  Try this app or do self-directed ERP!

 I already am no longer afraid at my thoughts, no longer check, i just find them to be annoying as hell. Will i live with this “annoying friend” forever? Ugh. (i mean i believe one day God will heal me but while He doesn’t, will i just have to tell my brain to shut the hell up everyday? Man is that annoying). Thanks 🙂

Essentially, are you saying that you still have intrusive thoughts but they don’t cause you to perform compulsions? This is just real life, unfortunately! Everyone has ugly thoughts that come and go. The important thing is that when they come, they can also go. If you have a hard time letting them go, then ERP is your answer.

I’m afraid to go thought erp because my ocd is the religious kind. Is the doctor going to “make” me (i know no one can make anyone do anything, it’s just a manner of speech) do bad things (ex denying Jesus, wich i wouldn’t do not now not ever but my brain keeps shouting at me to do so)? I rather live my life like hell then actually going to hell, thank you

Completely understand that. Here’s a fictionalized version of how I had to approach such a tricky concept: https://jackieleasommers.com/2012/09/05/tipping-point-my-entry/

I really don’t want to be gay and I used to be so confident in my sexuality (I’m a girl btw) I just recently got a boyfriend and I didn’t like him that much but I still kinda liked him and I thought being with him would make me know I’m not gay but for some reason I just don’t want to hang out with him does that make me gay 

Doesn’t make you gay at all. Probably just means what you said it does: you don’t actually like him that much. Don’t date a boy as a compulsion to prove your heterosexuality. Date a boy because you truly care about him. ERP can help with both HOCD and ROCD. Check out http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD.

I think I have HOCD but I’m not sure. My therapist is doing CBT but I don’t think it’s ERP and it’s making me anxious. Like what if this therapy goes know where and just becomes me talking about my problems.(what happened with my last therapist). Should I trust that she knows what she is doing? Her Website says she does CBT so by saying she does CBT does that mean she is also an expert on ERP? 

CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is the umbrella term, and ERP (exposure and response prevention therapy) falls beneath the CBT umbrella. The best way to know if your therapist knows what he or she is doing is by educating yourself about what ERP looks like. I suggest reading the posts at http://www.jackieleasommers.com and also going through the list of questions to ask a therapist at https://iocdf.org/about-ocd/treatment/how-to-find-the-right-therapist.

am I actually recovering from HOCD? I am trying to manage my intrusive thoughts and no checking as well. I’m feeling much better however what’s causing me anxiety is that all my straight attraction is gone for a toss. I have had no history of experimenting with girls or having a crush on them. But I feel  scared. I have always wanted to be with a guy. Will my attraction for guys ever come back?

ERP cannot change your sexual orientation. But I do hear from many sufferers that their attraction to others (the opposite gender if they are straight and have HOCD; same gender if they are gay and have HOCD) vanishes for a time. It’s normal for OCD.

Hi Jackie, I’m not having any kind of anxiety over my thoughts anymore. So I woke up and I got a feeling which said “I want to be lesbian” but there was no anxiety that followed. Which freaked me out. And today I was like okay fine, what if I am? That doesn’t change anything. But i know i want to be with a guy. Does that mean I’m recovering or does it mean I’m gay? I want to be with a guy.

This is meant gently and tongue-in-cheek, hon: “there was no anxiety” is followed immediately by “which freaked me out.” Which means there was actually still anxiety. 🙂 Your thought process here is actually correct! But I suspect it will still be bothersome for you until you do ERP. This will help: https://jackieleasommers.com/2017/11/01/hocd-4-steps-to-freedom.

G~Always thought of myself as straight,loved women and the female body always had 100s of crushes. Lately ive watched some gay porn and it actually has excited me to a certain point and i hate it so much.have felt like i would enjoy doing certain things and cant believe im thinking like this. Even been losing my attraction for the female body which i used to be crazy for. Is all this hocd related?

Very, very consistent with the HOCD experience. ERP can help! https://jackieleasommers.com/2017/11/01/hocd-4-steps-to-freedom/

So I’m a 16 year old and a female, for he past few months I’ve been having a thoughts like “what if I’m bi?Âť Or a lesbian?” I know deep down that I’m not but these thoughts are making me think I am. I’ve always liked guys my whole life and have had crushes on them. I’ve never had a crush on a girl or liked one either. It makes me anxious every time I’m around a girl could it be HOCD?

Sounds exactly like HOCD! Exposure therapy can help: https://jackieleasommers.com/2017/11/01/hocd-4-steps-to-freedom/

I keep on crying idk what to do I feel alone I keep on thinking about having s*x with other girls but when I think about i get discussed I’m only 14 years old I can’t be going through this please give me advice on how to control it or get rid of it please I cant even look at my friends anymore without thinking do I like hereading? It’s really uncomfortable and weird I can’t stop crying please help

Oh you poor dear! OCD is hard at any age, but to be 14 and dealing with it … and with something as personal as HOCD … so uncomfortable and lonely and difficult. Exposure therapy can help. It’s up to you whether you’d like to tell your parents what you’re dealing with in detail, or whether you’d like to just tell them you’re confident it’s OCD but you want to discuss details only with a therapist, or if you’d prefer to do ERP on your own. Here are some links that might help:

Can’t afford CBT/ERP?  Try this app or do self-directed ERP!
Also please considering trying Pax the OCD Bot on Facebook. Just look it up in the FB searchbar and enable it. It’s a computer program, but feels like you’re chatting with a therapist for real!

Is it a normal symptom to feel an urge to kiss the same sex then get extreme anxiety during hocd? I feel so lost.

That is almost the literal definition of HOCD! ERP therapy can help: https://jackieleasommers.com/2017/11/01/hocd-4-steps-to-freedom/

Jackie, I need help. My boyfriend and I are believers and he has been struggling with OCD. Much of it is related to his faith. He just graduated Bible college and he can convince me it’s all spiritual warfare. I’m exhausted, he is too but he doesn’t think he’s OCD. I’ve looked all over for a therapist who does ERP near Rochester NY and I can not find a male. He won’t go to a woman. Plz help!Thanks

My OCD specifically attacked my faith. It goes after the things that are most important to a person, so that makes sense that– for someone like your boyfriend who cares about scripture and God– it would attack that in his life. I hope he will read through the following posts:

OCD & Christianity
(or other religious scrupulosity)
OCD, ERP, and Christianity
I’m a Christian and Take Meds!
Unashamed of my OCD
Is the thought from OCD … or God?
God’s Sovereignty, OCD, the Cross, & His Purposes
Is Mental Illness a Spiritual Issue?
Is ERP Sinful?
OCD & Faith (or Lack Thereof): a Double Interview

The past year I have been struggling with a  fear of selling my soul through intrusive thoughts. I recently had a thought that if I didn’t write everything I write in perfect grammar, then my soul belonged to Satan. I didn’t fight the thought as I usually do, and this was before I learned that I was supposed to ignore the thought. Does that mean that I meant the thought?

I’ve had similar thoughts before. I think most people have, except that for those of us with OCD, it’s far harder to say, “Well, that was ridiculous!” and move on. 🙂 ERP therapy changed my life in this manner; I’m not being dramatic. I hope it will help you too. Lots of details at http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD.

I think I am suffering from hocd I’d like to talk to you about it please

Hi friend! I am not a therapist. Here’s how to find one: https://iocdf.org/about-ocd/treatment/how-to-find-the-right-therapist/

Also consider trying Facebook’s Pax the OCD Bot. It’s just a robot, but it feels like chatting with a therapist!

Is it normal to feel false attractions and feelings towards the same sex with OCD. I was clinically diagnosed by 2 doctors with OCD yet I still doubt I have it and am scared that some things aren’t OCD even tho I never felt them before this obsession started. Sometimes I notice that the “attractions and feelings” are just normal feelings and such but they feel really real and unwanted and scary.

This is all normal for OCD. In fact, doubting that you have OCD is also normal for OCD– I’m not sure I’ve ever met someone with OCD who hasn’t doubted that they truly have it! Exposure therapy is the key to disarming the doubt. Check out http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD.

Continuing from the false feelings and attractions thing. So they don’t feel good and I get them for my sister and mom too!!! And objects like random objects! They confuse me because they feel like attraction or something but I know it can’t be cause it just doesn’t make sense but it can feel pretty real. How do I know for sure they aren’t real??? What if I’m bi/gay??? I fear both I fear all attra

cont’d below

Continuation again these attractions and such Do not feel good no matter how much my mind convinces me they do like I don’t lay back and just think about them and be happy no I fear them and hate them and when they show up it’s like LEAVE ME ALONE YOU RUON MY LIFE. Ok do u think I really have hocd???? How do I know for 100% sure I don’t feel anything for the same sex I don’t want to feel anything 

OCD is a real beast, isn’t it? It goes after things that are most important to us, like our personal sexuality and even the pure feelings we have toward our families. You can take down this beast of an illness with exposure therapy. Check out http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD.

Our son, Nick is 17 yrs old, turned 16 yrs old, and developed signs of depression. He appears to have HOCD. Older brother revealed to family that he was gay. Nick was then 13. Nick was a very social and talkative kid until the last 2 yrs. One love – very gifted competitive swimmer. Seeing a therapist and psychiatrist,, taking meds- not seeing great results. No ERP close by? Struggling terribly.

First of all, it’s clear you are an amazing parent. Great work!! ERP is truly the answer here, and the great thing about it is that you don’t need a professional in order to do it.

Read this post about self-directed ERP. Also consider the free app nOCD or the Facebook bot Pax the OCD Bot. They are both amazing tools.

Hi jackie, I’m suffering from i think religous OCD, i keep on praying until i am satisfied with my praying. Also i am thinking about Jesus Christ is different from God, can you help me please? Thanks jackie

The important thing here is to understand that OCD is an illness, treated like an illness. You don’t treat OCD with learning theology. You treat it with ERP therapy and meds, okay? Once you do that, then you will be able to enjoy your relationship with Christ and dive wholeheartedly into theology in a healthy way. Check out https://jackieleasommers.com/2017/07/25/does-my-erp-therapist-need-to-share-my-faith.

I am being treated by a Psychiatrist for depression/anxiety. I am also rather sure i have OCD, as I have all the symptoms but I am afraid to tell my doctor about my intrusive HOCD related thoughts as they are strange and taboo. I am also worried she will think I am crazy and maybe not know about HOCD. My HOCD is also under control now and that making me procrastinate telling the DR. Any advice?

I can appreciate the fear that goes into telling someone about taboo intrusive thoughts. If your therapist or psychiatrist is an OCD expert, they will not be shocked at all. This is common territory within OCD. Unfortunately, many doctors and therapists are still unfamiliar with OCD/HOCD and end up giving awful advice that only makes things worse. The more you educate yourself on OCD and HOCD, the more you will be able to recognize whether or not your therapist/psychiatrist knows about it!

This article may help: https://iocdf.org/about-ocd/treatment/how-to-find-the-right-therapist/

Dear Jackie, sorry for another HOCD question (I am a straight male), I know HOCD can make you feel a loss of attraction to the sex you’ve always been attracted to, but can it make you fearful of that sex? This occured after reading an account from a female perspective of HOCD that got me really confused, like I’m now afraid of women despite wanting to be attracted to them like my normal self.

I hear narratives like this all the time. I always say “normal for OCD.” 🙂 ERP can help, friend. Check out http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD.

Hi Jackie,

I’ve been suffering with hocd or what I think is hocd for just over 3 years. I have just recently started to see a cbt therapist. I was wondering when you went through this did you have a nagging feeling constantly in your head. Also how did you accept the uncertainty that all of this brings to get rid of the obsessional ruminations. 

First of all, check out https://iocdf.org/about-ocd/treatment/how-to-find-the-right-therapist. It’s important to find a therapist who truly understands OCD and how to treat it with exposure therapy.

Secondly, ERP therapy is how you learn to accept the uncertainty. It takes about 12 weeks, and it’s very hard, but it’s life-changing. It re-wires your brain back into a healthy pasture. 🙂

Hi I’m not sure if Hocd or am I gay or bi I keep checking gay porn hundred times a day but my mind telling me I like it but I have no arousal then when switch to female I get aroused instantly so I can’t figure what going on 

The key word here is “checking”– that is a very, very common compulsion. ERP therapy can help: https://jackieleasommers.com/2017/11/01/hocd-4-steps-to-freedom/

Was diagnosed with other types of ocd, but now not sure if I have HOCD or gay? Always had crushes on boys/had straight relationships.I feel like my personality is straight but once I started worrying I was gay i put pressure on sexual arousal to men/penises and now it feels like I’m no longer sexual attracted to men but am to women..emotionally speaking/crushes never wanted to be with a woman. 

You can have OCD and then experience many different “themes” within it. For me, until I treated OCD with exposure therapy, my themes just got harder and worse as I went along untreated. Once I treated OCD for one theme, it took care of them all. 🙂 Read about it at http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD.

Hi Jackie I’ve think I’ve been suffering from pocd but I can’t tell it started once I graduated high school I’m an 18 yo male I had never worried I was attracted to kids but now I’m constantly worried about it all of a sudden I started having thoughts of kids but in sexual situations and they tormented me I’m seeing a therapist and she says it’s ocd but I’m scared it’s not

Ahhh, the doubting disease … where it even causes us to doubt whether we have it! What you wrote is the textbook description of POCD, and it means that you actually value healthy sexuality and would never hurt a child. That’s why you have all the anxiety and torment! (A pedophile would enjoy it.) Exposure therapy can help, even though it is really difficult. It’s 12 hard weeks, but it is wayyyyy better than a lifetime plagued by such thoughts. Check out http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD.

Is this HOCD or am I in denial?  I am 13 and I suffer from depression and anxiety, a month ago I thought to myself ‘what if I’m gay?’ Which stared this torment. I had never had any crushes on girls only guys and I felt it getting worse each day. Now I feel like I have no orientation but still an plagued with thoughts images and sensations. I don’t know if it’s the antidepressant or I’m in denial. 

May I introduce a third option? What if it’s not the antidepressant OR denial, but you just suffer from HOCD, a treatable illness? ERP therapy can help, truly: https://jackieleasommers.com/2017/11/01/hocd-4-steps-to-freedom/

Hi Jackie, I was in therapy but left because the exposures were too scary: he wanted me to ‘agree’ with my thoughts…I was worried I was aroused by horrible sexual intrusive thoughts, so I would say “yes, I was turned on by that!” I saw that this is basically what you did?  I thought saying “maybe I was” would be effective, too…or even “it’s just OCD.”

I completely understand this. Here’s a fictionalized version of how I was able to side-step things in ERP and still beat OCD: https://jackieleasommers.com/2012/09/05/tipping-point-my-entry/


Hello buddy. 🙂

I’m a 16 year old girl who is struggling w HOCD. I am 99% sure I have HOCD. However, when I read about the difference between gay and HOCD or even about gay, my mind makes me feel like I am truly relating to the gay side of things even if I relate more to hocd when it comes down to it. Is that normal?

OCD/HOCD will make you doubt everything. Does the idea give you anxiety or stress? If so, that’s very telling! Try to take deep breaths and continue to read up on HOCD. Knowledge is powerful!

Hi Jackie, this question is also about HOCD, it’s just that I can’t find anyone who at the moment has the same problem. Not only am I scared of people of the same sex but also of people of the opposite sex because I’m so worried I might not be attracted to them. So basically I am avoiding both genders.. What should I do? Should I be doing ERP for both?

As you can see, I was asked this question (or something similar) by two other people even in this thread! So you are not alone. 🙂 Do ERP for HOCD, and it should eventually kick everything else’s butt too. I did ERP specifically around my religious/spiritual obsessions, but it also took care of any other themes I was experiencing too, because ultimately ERP is restoring a healthy brain wiring to you.

Hi Jackie i am 15 year old girl and i feel like am going crazy. I think i am dealing with HOCD i never been diagnosed with ocd before but am not sure i been dealing with this ever since i was 13 but i never told anyone or gotten help. I feel like it’s different this time i feel like am always in denial. I have lost my attraction to the oppsite sex it it depresses me.i always had crushes on guys

You’re not crazy. As you can read above, what you’re going through is a very common experience within HOCD, even down to losing attraction to the gender you’re usually into.

It’s up to you whether you’d like to tell your parents what you’re dealing with in detail, or whether you’d like to just tell them you’re confident it’s OCD but you want to discuss details only with a therapist, or if you’d prefer to do ERP on your own. Here are some links that might help:

Can’t afford CBT/ERP?  Try this app or do self-directed ERP!
Also please considering trying Pax the OCD Bot on Facebook. Just look it up in the FB searchbar and enable it. It’s a computer program, but feels like you’re chatting with a therapist for real!


Here’s what I’ve been consuming lately:

hard sunHard Sun on hulu: season one of a show about mismatched police partners who, in investigating a suicide, discover a dossier about an extinction level event occurring just five years from now


restore meRestore Me by Tahereh Mafi: a surprise addition to the Shatter Me (former) trilogy!


kings hawaiianKing’s Hawaiian sweet rolls


reno my renoReno My Reno on Netflix: basically Canadian Fixer Upper 🙂


Review: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

strange the dreamer coverI’m sitting here, staring at the blank screen, unsure of where to start. Beauty sometimes leaves you stunned into silence.

If you’ve read anything by Laini Taylor, you know exactly what I mean.

Honestly, she is an auto-buy author for me (in other words, I will buy anything she writes without needing to know what it is about or read a review). Her Daughter of Smoke & Bone series walloped me (“These books are full of some of the most beautiful prose available in YA lit! The world-building, the characters, the humor, the beautiful imagery: this was the fantasy series I’ve been waiting for.”) and the short story collection she wrote, illustrated by her husband Jim DiBartolo, was “fantastic, full of the powerful, literary prose you’d expect from Laini Taylor.”

I’m convinced she is the most creative fantasy writer in YA right now. Mind-blowing.

So, what is Strange the Dreamer about?

A librarian named Lazlo. A lost city. Blue-skinned children of the gods. A citadel in the sky that blocks out the sun.

Moths. Dreams. Justice and vengeance. Forgiveness. Ghosts. Heroes wracked with guilt.

I just realized it’s better for me to not describe it.

Instead, let me just tell you: read it. Please. Here are five good reasons:

  1. Prose like poetry.
  2. Complicated characters with more layers than an onion.
  3. Romance you believe in.
  4. Sheer creativity.
  5. Everything.

strange insta

Sick Day, Part One


Stayed home sick today, which feels both lame and necessary. I had to cancel an appointment with my therapist AND had to miss the first day of the writing class I’m auditing.

Really not ideal.

But it is what it is, and I’ve decided to use today to practice some self care AND be productive. In other words, I’m in sweatpants on the couch, the complete Harry Potter movie collection is on HBO Go, my computer is on my lap, and I have a glass of cold milk beside me.

Here we go.

Here, have some vulnerability & New Girl GIFs

The truth is I feel like I’m failing at being an adult.

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I always want to be transparent and vulnerable in this space, but I try to not fall over the Cliff of TMI or into the village of Downerville.

But today, I’m gonna dive right over that edge and tumble my way into that town. Here we go.

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First of all, I have been straight-up PMSing for about two weeks now.

giphy (18)

My hormones are completely out of whack, I can’t stop crying, my body HURTS, and I feel like a panicky failure. I’ve cried about everything from feeling like a bad friend, bad writer, feeling ugly and unhealthy, bad dreams, men on dating sites who don’t want me, and the endings to books. Even the kittens I follow on Instagram sometimes make me want to cry.

I was gonna SLAY 2018, you know? Finally getting all my health stuff figured out … diving in with a big novel revision … learning to love myself, single or not …

But it is just so hard, all of it.

Money. Friendships. Work. Responsibility. Illness. Loneliness. PERIODS.

But I know that my hormones tell me lies. Things will get better. I am not a failure because I haven’t given up. I’m still here, figuring out money and friendships and work and responsibilities and illness and loneliness and periods.

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And then it gets better again.

If you want to leave me a one-sentence pep talk, I’d love that.





Six Parts of Writing a Book that Aren’t Actually Writing

There is so much more to writing a book than just writing a book. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately and thought I’d write up a few thoughts about it. Note that this is my experience; every writer has his or her own methods!


When I was younger, I thought, “I’ll never write historical novels; that way, I won’t have to do research.” HA. I think any well-thought-out piece of writing requires so much research, and not always the kind you might imagine. I’ve spent countless hours researching things that my characters are interested in, just so that I can have my characters talk about them with convincing acuity. When those things are above my head (i.e. the quantum mechanics in Yes Novel), I have to still find a way to write just enough to convince the audience I know more. (Then I had to have my physics Ph.D friend read those scenes to make sure I didn’t say anything absolutely wrong.)

Speaking of bringing in friends, I do this all the time. My Facebook friends usually assume that any random question that comes from left field is usually book research. Sometimes I will spend hours just finding the name of a color or how to build a table or how to translate one sentence of Portuguese. I remember taking so long just to find the name for the “blanket” used during X-rays: a lead apron. That sentence wasn’t about X-rays either; it was about how depression presses weighs on a person. I spent all night researching boats for a paragraph in Salt Novel. And if I get the details right, the reader probably won’t notice– it will flow smoothly instead of tripping someone up!


For me, this usually looks like conversations, either prayer or otherwise. I get out either my prayer journal or my process journal and start asking questions, thinking, waiting for answers. Sometimes I tell my friends, “I have a problem to solve. I need this square peg to fit into a round hole,” and we go back and forth until we make it work. Sometimes this takes a long time and means headaches and tears. But I don’t do it alone.


I’m not sure if that’s entirely the right word. But with the exception of when I’m sleeping (although not always– sometimes I think about my novel while I dream!), I am always on alert for ideas, solutions, objections. My co-worker said, “Can I still rent a vehicle if I’m not 25 yet?” and my first thought wasn’t how to help her but, “Oh crap, I have a 19-year-old renting a car in my manuscript. FIX.” Anything funny or beautiful or interesting– all my experiences, in fact– pass through the novel-sieve: is this something I can use for the story?


I spent the entire evening earlier this week nailing down the timeline of my story. For me, I find it easiest to use an actual calendar and to fill in the days with the names of scenes. Timeline matters especially if there is a “time bomb” in the novel or if there is some process (pregnancy, an academic year, etc.) that has to follow certain general guidelines. It also keeps me from bypassing important holidays. And the weather has to be right for that time of year (see above: research). And if there is a love story, I want to make sure that it’s reasonable. I don’t want my characters falling in love in just three days.


This is something I am learning. With my first novel (Lights All Around, unpublished), I had no strategy. I barely even considered the most basic constructs of a novel: action, climax, resolution, and the like, let alone thought strategically about how the characters were changing from beginning to end. I did that so much more with Truest, and now it’s becoming a built-in part of my writing life. I find myself thinking things like, “If I want M to relax and C to become more assertive, then I should have a scene where C takes control and M follows suit.” That probably seems like a no-brainer, but for this writer, it took about three decades to get there. Now I think, “If I want X to be especially impactful, then I need to set it up by making Y more extreme. How can I do that?” (See above: brainstorming.)


When I am writing, I like to stay deep in the waters of great fiction. I have re-read a handful of books that inspire Salt Novel over and over again. I enjoy the story, but I also examine it. Why did that work? How did the author make me feel that way? Why did I change my mind about that character? If I am trying to create a river, it helps to stand in one. 

There are other things too, like outlining, marketing (eventually), and finding connections between themes (my favorite!). It’s a lot of work, but soooo rewarding! How blessed am I to get to do this with my life?

Off to write now– actually write!

via Six Parts of Writing a Book that Aren’t Actually Writing

VOICES: Cautious Hope

I am so excited to host today a woman who has changed my life and worldview. I have written before about my friend Whitney, a former coworker at my university, who spent several years slowly chipping away at the crust of my heart just by being exactly who she is and doing so unapologetically and with enthusiasm and passion.

Whitney has since followed her calling to do trauma-based education with refugees in Europe. If what follows stirs your heart, consider donating to the International Association for Refugees by clicking here and choosing “Gerdes” from the drop-down menu.

The numbers she leads with can feel staggering, but please keep reading to hear the heartbreaking story of one man. And if you have questions, please post them in the comments.

Okay, enough of me. Here’s Whitney:


Cautious Hope
written by Whitney Gerdes

refugee childThe term refugee has become a bit of a buzzword these days. Mentioning “refugees” in certain contexts can even create a visceral response or a more-than-you-bargained-for debate! While, the last 3 years has brought the desperation of refugees to the forefront of media there have been refugees way before there was Twitter. For the sake of this discussion we need to clarify a few terms.

A refugee is a subset of a larger category of people called forcibly displaced people (FDP). Currently, there are 65.6 million people that have been forced to flee their homes as a result of persecution, conflict and/or human rights violations. This is the highest number recorded since WW II. That number is only increasing with 10.3 million people uprooted from their homes in 2016, which means that 20,000 plus people have to flee for their lives every minute. Of these FDP’s 40.3 million are consider internally displaced (IDP), which means while they had to leave their home, they there able to find temporary safety and shelter in their country of origin. That leaves 22.5 million that are considered refugees who have had to leave everything familiar and throw themselves on the mercy of a foreign government and people for safety and an opportunity at a better life.

These numbers are ridiculous, and certainly overwhelm me so let’s zoom in and hear a story.

I met Justin in a refugee camp in Italy. He had just arrived by boat a week earlier. He actually came on a coast guard ship after being rescued from the Mediterranean sea. That is because he was on a rubber boat that was overfilled with over 100 people, and was not able to withstand the waves. His boat capsized, and he was one of 7 survivors from that boat of over 100 people. This story alone was enough to destroy me, but Justin’s treacherous journey began two months earlier when he left his home and family in Nigeria with the hope of being able to get a job in Europe and provide for his family who were starving and had no other visible option.

So, he traveled by car, bus, and by foot on his way to Libya. He gained three other travel companions, whom he spoke of fondly. However, all three were shot during a car jacking in Niger. He then was imprisoned multiple times in Libya for being dark skinned before he made enough money to pay a smuggler to get him on one of the rafts to Italy. Justin’s face as he told me his story was almost apathetic, but he wanted me to know what he had gone through. He told me about his dreams and goals for the future that centered around providing for his mom and siblings back in Nigeria, and a wife and children of his own one day. Of course he told me these plans with cautious hope because he knew his chances were slim. He knew that most likely he would not be granted asylum the first, or second time he applied, but he still hoped that he would get it.

I timidly asked him the question that was burning in my head, “After all that you went through, do you still think you made the right decision leaving home? Was it worth it?” He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “I don’t know yet, but I do know that the hope of what could be here in Europe is already better than the reality I knew back home.” How valuable and powerful is this hope, this perseverance, this resilience and faith that Justin and so many others like him have had to develop?

You see, people don’t choose to be refugees, they don’t choose to risk their lives– because there wasn’t a choice. You would only leave everything behind with your children because the threat of death and anhilation is chasing you out.

I don’t know if Justin has been granted asylum yet, but many have both here in Europe and America. While, receiving that positive confirmation is cause for great celebration, the re-building of a life takes some time. This usually means learning a new language, new culture, new climate, new educational system, new job skills, and a new way of life. While organization such as Preemptive Love Coalition, UNHCR, the Red Cross, and Samaritan’s Purse are doing the front lines work, organizations like the one I work with, the International Association for Refugees picks up where they leave off.

Once FDP have settled to some degree, the emergency services stop and the needs change. Relationships, connection, and empowerment is what they need. There is great power in inviting refugee families into your world, and then in turn being invited into theirs. All of the trauma that so many people have seen and experienced can cripple a gifted mind and strong work-ethic. While professional counseling is most often needed there is great healing power in having your humanity seen and heard through relationship.

To learn more:
IAFR Toolbox
Preemptive Love Coalition
Humans of New York’s Refugee Series

Healed Not Cured: OCD Remission & Relapses

It’s been almost A DECADE of freedom now. I am still in awe.


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…

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Writing & Careers

Had a good chat with a college senior about all this today, so I decided to re-blog. 🙂


It’s true that creative degrees usually get picked on, at least in my experience both as someone who studied creative writing AND as a college recruiter who interacts daily with college-bound students and their parents.

Creative writing– what are you gonna do with that?
You’re a theatre major? So, like, a future homeless person?
You study art … because you want to starve?

It’s annoying at best. At its worst, it usually looks like a parent insisting their artistic student choose a “safer” major– like business.

writing and careers.jpg

I have so many thoughts here.

Many jobs simply require that a candidate has a bachelor’s degree, doesn’t matter what it’s in. Honestly, humanities-type majors help students learn how to think critically, which is something every employer wants. Many of the arts degrees teach students how to become incredible communicators– again, a highly regarded skill.

Some jobs (like mine!) don’t even align with a…

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TRIGGER WARNING: This post, and pages it links to, contains information about human trafficking and rape, which may be triggering to survivors.




For women’s history month, I wanted to feature the voices of other women who have impacted my life tremendously, speaking about topics that are close to our hearts. Some of the topics are really, really difficult, like this one: human trafficking. Minnesota operates with a Safe Harbor Law; in other words, youth who engage in prostitution are not considered criminals, but rather victims and survivors of sexual exploitation.

Let me be very clear: while the article you are about to read is not graphic, it is horrifying– but so terribly important to know.

“Sofie,” the author of this post, works as an advocate for women and girls who have been trafficked, and has been privileged to work with survivors, advocates, leaders, and law enforcement from around the country on prevention, demand operations, and recovery work with survivors.

I’ve known Sofie over five years now, and she inspires me daily. This is a woman who loves not only with words but with action. She makes my heart so proud it could burst.

“How Much?”
written by Sofie

How much for half an hour?  

Send me a picture of your tits.

I want to rip you wide open.

These are the first three texts I receive in response to a fake ad posted on a website infamous for its facilitation of prostitution ads. I cannot give you the details of our operation – in fact, I cannot even tell you my name – but stings to capture the tricks/johns are sometimes done via fake online advertisements on popular websites.

When I began, I had intended to write an article exposing some common myths; that human trafficking and prostitution are two sides of the same coin, that women don’t choose this life, that this isn’t the movie Taken and no one is getting kidnapped at gunpoint, that coercion and manipulation and exploited vulnerabilities are more useful to traffickers, that prostitution is not a damn choice.

I could.

I could tell you about all the women I know trying to leave this life; about the barriers they face. I could tell you about the kids I know; manipulated by someone who tells them they’ll be a model or a movie star or even just a girlfriend.

But in the middle of the demand stings in the weeks prior to the Super Bowl something changed. Demand for trafficked women and girls surges, and law enforcement agencies converge on the host city to conduct their sting operations. We posted this fake ad offering a girl, advertised merely as “young,” and within two minutes the phone began to buzz and did not stop for fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes.

Hundreds of men.

Trying to rent a teenage girl.

Can I describe how it felt to hold that phone in my hand; to know that at the other end were hundreds of men imagining violence and power and pleasure at the expense of a kid?

I want to rip you wide open.

They haunt me; the men we don’t succeed in capturing. The men too smart to get caught. The men who have done this so many times; the men who have rented girl after girl after girl. The ones who bought a different girl that ugly Friday night in February.

And I want you to know: these men? They belong to you. They live in your suburbs. They work in your office. They go to your church.

According to statistics obtained by a local offenders program, about 70% of the men who try to rent trafficked women and girls are white, married men. Half of all the men who had been through this offenders program had their own daughters.

I’m a little young, we’d type.

How much?

Not how young? or oh my god no I’m not here to have sex with a kid.

Just that: how much?

I have worked in the anti-trafficking world for a number of years; been aware of the realities of that world for longer. I have heard the heart-wrenching stories of the women and girls we recover; seen face-to-face some of the buyers and the traffickers arrested for this horrendous crime. But I will be honest: the week that led up to the Super Bowl nearly destroyed me.

I could give you the Sex Trafficking 101 speech I’ve given to countless groups of volunteers, churches, etc. I could tell you the myths and the truths. I could talk about the girls and women: badass and vulnerable and hard and angry and tired and kind and resilient and alone.

But that week – those men who texted the phone I held in my outstretched hand – left me with this, and this is what I leave with you: this city is full of men who want to rent your daughters.

What are you going to do about it?


If you want to learn more about sex trafficking in the twin cities, check out Breaking Free’s website. If you’re looking to get involved and are a person of faith, Trafficking Justice can connect you to information, training, and volunteer opportunities. Beautiful & Loved also serves women leaving the industry, with a special focus on survivors who were once in the strip clubs. Agape International Mission is a wonderful organization fighting this problem on a more international level. Finally, Nefarious is a documentary that gives a broad and important overview of sex trafficking all over the world. If you are interested, here are some of the articles that have already tackled some common myths.