Sweet Freedom

freedom in redAlison Dotson, president of OCD Twin Cities, and I were emailing recently about how sometimes we feel as if we say the same thing post after post, article after article, especially since they usually involve our own stories with OCD, and history doesn’t change.

But I reminded her that even if we’ve heard our stories over and over, someone else might be hearing it for the first time. Not to mention that sometimes those of us with OCD need to hear the truth multiple times before it is finally able to sink into our heads and hearts.

So here it is again:

I was in bondage to obsessive-compulsive disorder for twenty hellish years. I was plagued by ugly, intrusive thoughts that caused me intense anxiety and even terror. Many days I felt completely out of control of my own thoughts, and I hated the ugliness that polluted my mind. I was sad, lonely, depressed, lost, engaged in an ongoing war where the battlefield was my own brain.

And then an amazing psychiatrist named Dr. Suck Won Kim gave me not only a prescription but also the phone number to a cognitive-behavioral therapist in the area, along with the warning that ERP therapy “will be hell” and the encouragement that I had to do it anyway.

And I did. For twelve grueling weeks, I practiced the exposure therapy assignments set out by Dr. Christopher Donahue, and after twelve weeks of hell … I was free. Free for the first time since I was seven years old. I could barely even remember what freedom felt like, what it felt like to be master of my own thoughts, to rule over my OCD instead of having it rule me, and so it was actually a little scary at first.

But let me tell you: you get used to freedom, joy, and light pretty darn fast.

The last five years have been magnificent.

Please, please ask me questions if you have them.

For (lots!) more about OCD and ERP, go to jackieleasommers.com/OCD

Image credit: Jesus Solana

Who is Jackie Lea?: My Friends Share

So, the last survey I took of my blog readers said that you wanted more of me, and while that’s quite flattering, it can sometimes be a little weird to always be writing about myself. So, for this post, I asked three of my best friends a few questions about me and let them answer! I failed to factor in that my friends are the best, sweetest, most generous friends ever, so in the end, this blog post looks like a great big attempt at fishing for compliments (I promise it wasn’t!). Their kind words are such a reflection of how great they are!

First, the cast of characters:

me and Des at her wedding!

me and Des at her wedding!

me and Ash!

me and Ash!

Eir and me! (throwback-- Eir, we need some new pics!)

Eir and me! (throwback– Eir, we need some new pics!)

How did we meet, and what was your first impression of me (be honest!)?
We met at Northwestern. You asked my boyfriend at that time to be in charge of a South Dakota club for prospective students, but he didn’t want to and told you to ask me. I said I would do it, and we started talking about South Dakota club and lots of other things! My first impression of you was actually from the emails you sent as my admissions counselor. You seemed super outgoing and friendly, and I liked your love for camp. I was excited to meet you, even though I never wrote you back!

Ashley: We met at Pine Haven camp when I was in tenth (?) grade. You were already super close with my favorites from doing faculty with them at a different week. I was jealous of how much they adored you already.

Erica: I met Jackie at our summer camp when I was in high school. My first impression of her was that she was really funny and that I wanted to hang out with her more. She told funnier stories than anyone I had ever met!

How did we become friends?
Des: While planning for South Dakota club, we talked about almost everything else over coffee dates and eventually we decided we should live together (which is a good story).

Ashley: I think the moment I realized how great you were was when you were telling stories at Sno Feast (a youth get together). My side hurt from laughing so much and I just kept thinking, “why didn’t I get to know her sooner?” It was such a fun weekend and definitely laid the ground work for you to continue to make me laugh non stop.

Erica: Jack and I really became friends that fall after we met at camp when we attended a retreat. I think our main connection was that we both lived in the Twin Cities, since all of our other friends lived elsewhere. We decided we should hang out, and there began our friendship through getting dinner together and chatting online pretty much every night!

What’s your favorite memory of ours?
Des: Funny: Laying on the floor napping at a youth group retreat, and the girls come in. “You guys are the lamest youth leaders ever, except for [redacted].” You respond, “Well at least we’re not the lamest.” And then we continued to laugh about several inside jokes!

Serious: Watching God save you from OCD over the years. There were so many times that I would just think, “Why in the world, God?” but he has turned it into an amazing testimony that you can share! He is using the redemption of your brokenness as a gift to others, and it has been a privilege to experience that with you.

Ashley: I don’t know that I can pick just one. Truthfully, my favorite memories are simple. Sitting around while you entertain us with stories is always a favorite.  

Erica: I feel so lucky that I have so many favorite memories with Jackie! I will choose 2. First would be when we returned to camp together the following summers and we would set aside one afternoon to go on a canoe ride together and talk about EVERYTHING (mostly about boys and God). There was one canoe ride where the wind was so strong we barely made it back to shore! My other favorite memory is when Jackie came to visit me my first year in college in Chicago. We sat in my dorm lounge one night and laughed, cried, and prayed…we missed each other so much! Basically, neither of these are unique events, but the best part of our friendship is that we enjoy each other no matter what we’re doing!


When you and I get together, we are most likely doing what?
Des: Reading, working, chatting over coffee or a meal, catching up about life, talking about the silly things my students doing, watching SNL, watching Harry Potter, watching a Disney Channel Original Movie

Ashley: Probably getting coffee or supper and rehashing everything that has happened. We vary from topic from anything funny to the deepest pits of our souls. Whether we’re sobbing or laughing, it’s always real and honest topics.

Erica: Eating dinner and watching TV shows like true spinsters.

What’s one thing you think my blog readers should know about me?
You care deeply for people and about truth. I think it shows in your many passionate posts, but it really is true of you as a person!

Ashley: Jack has one of THE best hearts of anyone that I know. Jackie loves Jesus first, and friends second. I’m so thankful to be in the second category. I went through a really rough year and Jack let me sob and be broken and yell. She was in the midst of everything with me. You will not find a better friend than my dear Jackie Lea.


One thing that is really beautiful about Jackie is that she is so good to people. She always looks out for the kid that’s an outsider, she calls my mom on Mother’s Day, and she’s so generous. I remember when I first started getting to know her she would say, “I just LOVE people!” I think she’s definitely rubbed off on me in that way and I’m so thankful. Also, I think the blog world should know about Jackie’s stubs. 😉  [Note from Jackie: did you all know that I’m missing two of my fingertips and six of my toes? It’s true.]

Why do you think our friendship works so well?
Des: We are opposite in lots of ways but we love so many of the same things—Jesus, teens, good boy stories, little children, reading, teenie-bopper music and movies—just to name a few.

Ashley: Our foundation is in Christ, which means that it is already at a deeper level than other friends. We have the understanding that each is a safe person for the other. I can confess the terrible things that I am doing or thinking about. Which is received in love and usually a gentle reminder that I need to shape up. We both have the understanding that this friendship is permanent and that we are support systems for each other.

Erica: We find the same things funny. We like and care about many of the same things. We can be completely ridiculous and completely serious, all at the same time.  I think we’re the kind of friends that can share the most random detail of our day or our deepest hurt with each other and know that the other will respond with equal care or interest to both.

Well, my blog readers, do you feel like you know me a little bit better now?

Butt in Seat: Why Showing Up Works

writing Rubin 110I’m a writer, and I know a lot of my blog readers are writers too, so you’ll have to excuse me while I redirect our focus to math for a moment.

1 + 1 = 2, and that’s not a lot. But if you + 1 over and over and over again, you end up with a lot. If you need to walk a mile, walking 1/8 of a mile 8 times will get you there. If you want to write a 60,000-word manuscript, 1,000 words a day for two months will do it. If you have 200 hours of revisions to complete and you work for 4 hours, you only have 196 left.

Showing up. It’s as simple– and as difficult– as that.

Theoretically we know that all those little moments of work will add up to a completed piece of art, but I think the bigger problem is that we artists are so often filled with such dreadful self-doubt that we sabotage our own equations.

What if the next four hours are a waste?

What if I write ten thousand words that are total crap and unusable?

What if I do all this research for nothing?

It can be paralyzing. I know there are times where I’d rather just avoid-avoid-avoid than do something that is going to be a waste.

But the truth of the matter is that the creative process needs those parts too. If you’re a writer, you’re going to write a bad first draft, you’re going to write words that will get cut– maybe even whole scenes, whole chapters, you’re going to go down rabbit holes that are dead ends. That’s just a part of the process.

Some writers know that it takes them a while to warm up, so they’ll make a practice of writing several throwaway pages before they roll up their sleeves for real work. When I get stuck, I make myself freewrite– write without thinking or trying or self-editing– and a lot of times, that’s when the gems spill out.

A lot of times, it’s hard for me to get started, especially when one writing session feels like I’m barely making a dent in things.  But session upon session upon session adds up.

Regarding OCD, I love the quote, “What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step.” The same rings true for writing.


Image credit: Rubin 110 on Flickr



Recent Reads (i.e. books books books)

I’ve been trying to read as much as possible lately while still keeping up with the demand of editing. Here’s what I’ve been reading:

sinners welcomeSinners Welcome by Mary Karr | I really loved Karr’s memoir Lit, so I thought I’d try some of her poetry. While it wasn’t my favorite collection of poetry, I absolutely loved the essay at the end of the collection, which was about faith and art. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it was one of my favorite essays on the topic I’ve ever read– so real, so raw, a story that will appeal to Christians and non-Christians alike.

skirmishSkirmish by Dobby Gibson | It’s fair to say that I’m completely smitten with Dobby Gibson’s poetry. It seems like every collection of his I read just wallops me and leaves my head spinning in amazing ways. Skirmish was no exception. Up next for me is his book Polar, which I took off the shelf, cracked open, read a couple lines, and then slammed the book shut because those few lines threatened to change my plans for the afternoon.

grasshopperjungleGrasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith | Okay, so this book is going to be hard to review. I will say this: I don’t think that a lot of you will like it. I did. But even though I did, I’m not entirely sure why, since it’s not my usual cup of tea. Grasshopper Jungle is the story of giant praying mantises at the end of the world. But it is really about a boy named Austin as he explores his bisexuality. As I said, this would not be my typical read, but I won the book from a blog and gave it a go. It has a very, very different style of writing– full of teensy, tiny details that are oft-repeated– and I wouldn’t recommend it to just anyone. It was also a little crass, so read at your own risk.

rose under fireRose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein | This book is the companion novel to Code Name Verity, which I read earlier this year and couldn’t stop raving aboutVerity was one of my favorite books I’ve read in 2014, and Rose Under Fire is also a magnificent book– incredible writing, amazing characters, thoroughly researched– but it was harder for me to read. It might have to do with the fact that the majority of the story takes place in a Nazi concentration camp, so it’s heavy. It’s marvelous, and I can’t wait for Wein to write another book, but it’s– well, as I said, heavy.

If_I_Stay_Where_She_WentIf I Stay & Where She Went by Gayle Forman | My friend Kristin has been singing the praises of Gayle Forman, so a little while ago, I went whole-hog and bought four Gayle Forman books. I started with If I Stay, a story about a young cellist who, after a severe car accident, has an out-of-body experience while she is in a coma. It was decent, but the real magic happened in its companion book Where She Went, which takes place three years after the events of the first book. Where She Went was so raw and savage and heartbreaking that I could only read it in small doses before I’d have to give my heart a break. Needless to say, I loved it.

smoke and boneDaughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor | Let’s be honest: this is not the kind of book that I would normally read, but I’d heard so much good stuff about this story of chimera and seraphim that I decided to give it a chance. I tore through it: it’s packed to the brim with the kind of delicious imagery that lends itself to the fantasy genre. Just truly enjoyable and I look forward to the next book.

Up next for me: Polar by Dobby Gibson, City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare (book six of The Mortal Instruments series– I have been waiting for this book since SEPTEMBER 2012!!), the rest of the Smoke & Bone series, and Cinder by Marissa Meyer (according to the vote of my blog readers!).

How about you? Have you read anything amazing lately?

THINGS WILL NEVER BE OKAY AGAIN [& other lies I sometimes still believe]

It’s been about five years now since I underwent the Exposure and Response Prevention therapy that changed my whole life, and those five years have been amazing: I have so much freedom, so much joy.

But 20 years in slavery to OCD does leave behind some residue, and I’m only now beginning to recognize those areas of my life where that’s true.

One thing that I’m sure most OCD sufferers will understand is the obsessive thought that things will never be okay again, which sometimes has a tail of until I do X on it, so often resulting in a compulsion. It’s actually kind of hard to explain this feeling to someone who doesn’t have OCD because it’s difficult to express how in that moment, you can sometimes see no way out. The fear is crippling, the anxiety so intense that we shatter beneath it and either cave in to a compulsion to temporarily alleviate the ugliness of that moment or else fall into a stupor of depression.

Things will always be like this.
I will never feel comfortable again.
I’m going to always think of X now when Y happens.

It’s such a black and white way to look at things– and so terribly short-sighted! If we can learn to push through the discomfort without performing a compulsion, we are legitimately shocked on the other side when that “truth” we so adamantly believed 24 hours ago is no longer true.

Even though OCD is no longer my master, there is fallout from years stacked upon years of thinking this way. 

Just the other week when I was writing in Duluth, I saw myself play through this entire scenario. I got frustrated with a scene I was trying to re-write, and I decided, I absolutely cannot do this; I will never be able to do this right. Then I succumbed to compulsive behavior (all without realizing it!) by emailing my editor and asking for more details. The next morning, I had an email from her: “Let’s talk this morning. We can find a solution. You should be comfortable and happy with what you write.”

And so we sent back and forth a few emails, and things were better.  You know, those same things that would never be better. Yeah, those ones.

All this panic that I have been experiencing is because I feel like control is being taken away from me. What does a person with OCD hate the most? Uncertainty.

So, while in some ways this anxiety that I’ve been experiencing is quite different from my OCD (in fact, I would go so far as to say that it is not OCD; it does feel different), I guess I’d have to classify it as a repercussion or consequence of years of obsessive-compulsive thinking and behavior.

Now that I have recognized that, I am hopeful that I will be more mindful of that thinking. I want to be able to say to myself that my reaction is programmed behavior from years of reacting thus, and that– just like so many things connected to OCD– it too is a lie.

For (lots!) more about OCD and ERP, go to jackieleasommers.com/OCD.

not ok but it's ok

Image credit: unknown