freedom begets freedom

When I first decided to “go public” with my OCD, I was sincerely terrified.  I think it was 2006, and I was asked to share my testimony with the campers at a week of 9th and 10th grade Bible camp.  My family and closest friends knew about my OCD, but it was hush-hush among everyone else.  The night I publicly told a group of people about my OCD, I was so scared that I thought I was going to throw up or fall apart.  There is no going back.  Once you tell people this, you can’t make them forget you’ve said it.  They will always treat you differently, look at you differently.  You will lose friends tonight.

Instead, what happened was that a long-time friend ended up sharing with me that he too struggled with obsessive-compulsive disorder.  He was so ashamed of it that he hadn’t even told his own family.

Honest sharing from one person draws out honest sharing from others.

In other words, freedom begets freedom.

I have seen the truth of this over the last six years.  The more vocal I am about OCD, the more people seem to come out of the woodwork: I struggle with that too; my friend is an OC and I don’t know what to say; I never knew that it was OCD until you described it that way.  They want to know the next step, they want to know there is hope, that they are not alone.

And they are certainly not alone.

“OCD is the fourth most common mental disorder, and is diagnosed nearly as often as asthma and diabetes mellitus. In the United States, one in 50 adults suffers from OCD.” (Wikipedia)

But we find one another by saying it outloud.  OCD.  I have OCD.

And then there is the response: I have it too.

And we begin to steal back power and control.

These days, I drop those three little letters into conversation pretty much any chance I get.  I am not ashamed of it or nervous to tell people I am an OC.  I am only hoping that my freedom will beget freedom.

I have OCD.  What about you?

the ups and the downs

Isn’t life as an obsessive-compulsive like riding a roller-coaster?  At least for myself, I found that I had really HIGH highs and really LOW lows.

I’ve just always been someone who really, really delights in the good moments, and when the bad times come, boy, do they ever hit hard!  And yet, I have never wanted to NOT celebrate those high points.  Some people have said that it would be better just to be stable, and I can see that, but MAN, I wanna feel JOY down to my toes when it’s there for the taking!

I think part of it is OCD and part of it is being a writer.  If you’re an artist, I bet you know what I mean!

About five days ago I posted that I had been moping in the depths of despair, worrying that I would always be a mediocre writer and wanting SO desperately to be great.  I put my project on hold indefinitely and spent the next five days creating new characters in my head, getting more and more excited about them as time went on.

Only five days after my horrendous sadness, having come face-to-face with my failures, THIS was my prayer last night:


Tonight is one of those nights where I am just THRILLED to be a writer.  How incredible that I get to PLAY around this way with absolutely no constraints but the ones I put on myself?!  I can name a character whatever I choose and make him/her act as I want and do as I please and have whatever history or hang-ups I can imagine.  And it’s up to me to invent feelings and family and conversations.  It’s so much power– and it’s given to writers.

I am blown away.  I am SO grateful to You, Lord, for making me as I am!  I pray EARNESTLY that my writing has a purpose and a message of hope and grace.  YOU.  I want to share You with the world through my writing.

Here we go, back on up … !

not only neurotic, but a writer too

If you subscribe to my blog, you know that my posts revolve around obsessive-compulsive disorder and that I sometimes post scenes from the book I’ve been writing about OCD.  Tonight, instead of writing about OCD, I want to write about writing.  Meta-writing … now there’s something an OC can latch onto!  Haha!

Words have been important to me since I was young– summertimes, my mom would have to yell at me to go play outside, since all I wanted to do was lie in my bed and read.  We met halfway: I took my book outdoors.  My sister and I and the neighbor girl would play “library,” setting all our books out on the stairs to the deck, carefully each selecting one, “checking it out,” and retreating to various areas of the yard to read.  They would abandon their books long before I would.

When I was in third grade, I remember creating a whole made-up family of characters so that I could write stories about them.  In junior high, I started to mess around with poetry.  In high school, I wrote an episodic soap opera and passed it around for friends to read.  When the notebook made its way back to me, I wrote some new scenes.  In college, I studied creative writing and finally discovered a true family of other writers, who– let’s be honest– are all a little strange.  It’s not mean.  We just are.

In 2008, I began chicken-scratching some thoughts about my latest Paxil-induced obsession, which turned into a four year novel-writing project that I’m pretty proud of.

Well.  That is, until I read some fantastic new book.  Then I feel like I will never be more than mediocre.

Readers love books.  Writers do too.  But sometimes writers kind of hate them as well.  Take, for example, last night when I read The Fault in Our Stars, the latest by John Green, and found myself simultaneously DELIGHTED by it and MORTIFIED as it revealed my own weaknesses.  One of my greatest desires in life is to be a good writer, and so, reading great writing from others is wonderful/horrible, an honor/shameful, a gift/a rebuke.  I would never “forfeit” the opportunities to have read The Book Thief,  Jellicoe Road, The Last Unicorn, For the Time Being, Peace Like a River, and absolutely anything by Billy Collins.  Doesn’t mean I didn’t seethe with envy while I read.

I complained to my friend Kyle, who wrote me You can trust a good giver that He’s given you what you need. So, take heart, and write.

And my friend Erica patiently encouraged Remember you are part of the body of Christ and have greater purpose.  I totally believe in your writing.

Both were needed reminders for this neurotic writer.

three obsessive-compulsives walk into a bar

Okay, not quite.

But this past week I did have the blessing of having lunch with two other OCs.  And we met SPECIFICALLY to talk about OCD.

“Harry” suffered most from 8th-11th grade, checking and rechecking the locked door so much that he broke the doorknob at his parents’ home.  His sophomore year of high school, he was terrified that his family would die.  “Hermione” has never struggled with obsessions until last August … when it was like a switch was flipped in her.  First, she worried that she would die young … felt certain it would happen.  Then, last month, her worries for herself transferred to her mom, and now she spends the entire day worrying that her mom will die.

Because of the similarities of their stories, I decided to put them together so they could talk about it.

Needless to say, our lunch was interesting.

Harry told us how one time his sister didn’t come home at the right time, so he naturally assumed she was in an accident … he had so convinced himself that this was the truth that he actually almost told that to his friends, figuring that maybe they could help him grieve.  OCD’s voice is very loud and convincing, friends.

Hermione has been obsessing for five months, and she asked Harry and me (I guess I can be Ron!  Ha!) how to tell when OCD crosses the line into the unbearable territory.  Gosh, what a question!  “It’s terrible right now,” she said.  “I think about my mom dying all day every day.  I really don’t want to take meds or do CBT.  How will I know?”

“You’ll know,” I said.  “You’re not there yet.  There will be a time when you realize that the hell of daily obsessions is so bad that you’re willing to take on the hell of CBT or the hell of side effects just to escape it.”

I hate that it has to get that bad.

like finding a friend

Well, I did it.  I finished writing my first novel.  It took me just short of four years to write, rewrite, revise, rewrite, edit, polish, and complete my book, Lights All Around.  (You were wondering about the blog title, weren’t you?)

Lights All Around is a story about 26-year-old Neely Jane Richter, an obsessive-compulsive undergoing cognitive-behavioral therapy, and my own 20-year struggle with OCD informed my writing.  While I hope that this book will be helpful for non-OCs to understand OCD, I have always intended that the primary audience be those who struggle with OCD themselves.

OCD can be incredibly alienating, and I want my story to be like finding a friend.

In fact, that is exactly how I felt when I first read the book Kissing Doorknobs by Terry Spencer Hesser.

This book, although intended for a young adult audience, was HUGE in my life.  Reading it and identifying with Tara, the protagonist, was like finally having someone put into words what I’d been experiencing for years.  I recommend this book to OCs and everyone who loves an OC.

I guess what I am trying to say is that I hope my story will do the same.  It’s intended to be a companion.  I hope you understand what I mean.



black and white … and gray

Today, one of my staff members was really pushing me to set some boundaries/define some things around a particular part of his job.  I pushed back on it, simply because I needed some room to breathe, room to change my mind, room to be a manager.

And then it suddenly occurred to me how strange this was– that I, Jackie Lea Sommers, wanted a little gray working room instead of a black-and-white prison.  Me– the girl who, at one time, wanted a ten-step manual for every minute task of life, who had to ask permission for the silliest of things, who NEEDED boundaries drawn around her just so that she could lessen the daily guilt by a smidgeon.

Watch out, world!!  This obsessive-compulsive’s shackles are off!!


Know what bugs me?  When quirky people say, “I’m a little OCD.”

A little OCD?  Are you aware that OCD ruins people’s lives?

OCD is NOT simply:

* being a neatfreak

* being super organized

* being particular

* being quirky

OCD is when a person has unwanted, disturbing thoughts or concerns– ones that usually disgust or terrify– and then that person performs some kind of ritual to temporarily relieve the worry or panic.  OCD, by definition, causes a major disruption in a person’s life.  Obsessions and compulsions are often over-the-top: the OC doesn’t just feel guilty for the normal things but instead feels RIDDLED by guilt about the tiniest things … and is DRIVEN to confession.  The OC doesn’t just like things tidy but instead feels that some terrible thing will happen or a terrible sensation will last if things are not organized right … and is DRIVEN to ordering.  The OC doesn’t just want to stay healthy and contaminant-free but instead is TERRIFIED of contamination … and is DRIVEN to washing his hands, sometimes with bleach and Brillo pads.

I sound crabby in this post, I just realized, but I’m actually not– I’m just trying to make this nebulous disorder a little better defined.

I’m not sure it helped though.  Did it?

The Last Battle

On this first night of 2012, I am thinking about my favorite book, The Last Battle, written by C.S. (Jack) Lewis.  If you haven’t read The Chronicles of Narnia yet, then 2012 is your year!  These books have been so important in my life that I find myself reading the entire series about 6-8 times a year.  They are well worth the time invested.

In The Last Battle, there is incredible confusion in Narnia– there is an imposter pretending to be Aslan, the great Lion, who is making terrible commandments.  There is one bit of dialogue I’d like to share with you:

You will go to your death, then,” said Jewel.

“Do you think I care if Aslan doomes me to death?” said the King. “That would  be nothing,  nothing at all. Would it not be better to be dead than to have this  horrible fear that Aslan  has come and is not like the Aslan we have believed in  and longed for? It is as if the  sun  rose one day and were a black sun.”

“I know,” said Jewel. “Or if you drank water and it were dry water. You are in the  right,  Sire. This is the end of all things.”

During my darkest OCD moments, this is how I felt– and actually some of my issues I refered to as “black sun obsessions”– obsessions where the ground was taken from beneath my feet, where I felt as if my entire worldview was being dismantled.  Those nights, my soul felt as if there were no place to land.  I was in free-fall.

But, later in the book, the King and Jewel discover the Truth— that an ape is behind this entire masquerade.

But now, as Tirian looked round on the miserable faces of the Narnians, and thought how they would all believe that Aslan and Tash were one and the same, he could bear it no longer.
“Ape,” he cried, “You lie. You lie damnably. You lie like a Calormene. You lie like an Ape.”

What I am trying to say is this: there are no black suns if you love Jesus Christ– only things that appear to be black suns.  He is bigger than our obsessions, and He is the solid ground beneath our feet.  It may feel as though Christianity could crack down the middle like a split log, but God is our gravity.  I was never in free-fall; I was lying in the great palm of my God.