Further Thoughts (I know, I know) on Choosing Joy

unsplash54In recent years, many of the activities I enjoy have been “corrupted” by my anxiety, negativity, perfectionism, and proneness to comparison.

Instead of loving writing, I’ve let myself be miserable about it: Will I finish this on time? Do I have any good ideas? Am I a total fraud? Do I have a career in this field?

Instead of loving reading, I’ve let myself get stirred up to unhappiness: I can’t compare to this author. My books aren’t like this. I’ll never have the readership this author has. Why does plot hate me?

Instead of loving recruiting, I’ve been stressed and discontent: I should be working on my novel. I’ve been doing this for too long. I’m washed up. Kids don’t think I’m fun anymore.

Part of it, I can’t help. I have an anxiety disorder and I do not play well with uncertainty.

But I’m so blessed: I’ve found the right medication, the right therapist, have found freedom through ERP, and have a league of people in my court.

All those resources are allowing me to finally start to chose joy and delight. To say, “Look, I’m going to read, I’m going to write, I’m going to work. I have to do all those things. So, as far as I can, I want to delight in them.”

I know I’ve been writing about this a lot of my blog. Bear with me. Or don’t. You can skip these posts if you want. I’m just learning so much and writing about it is helping me to sort through it and maybe even understand it a little better.

Take this weekend, for example. I’m reading a tremendously good book all while trying to graft a month’s worth of ideas, scenes, and revisions into my most recent draft. In one weekend. On Friday night, I was stressed and had all this negative self-talk: You’ll never write a book like the one you’re reading. It’s so much better than the one you’re writing. And there’s no way you can hammer through as much as you want in just one weekend.

Instead, I told myself: You don’t write fantasy. Quit comparing your unfinished contemporary to this published fantasy. Enjoy this book. And enjoy your weekend of hard work on your manuscript. You LOVE writing, remember? Do what you can before Sunday night and leave the rest for later.

And know what? I did.

I enjoyed the book I was reading and I had a BLAST writing. Felt like “the good old days,” back before I was writing under contract. I did as much as I reasonably could without killing myself, and then I sent my manuscript to my editor, knowing that I’d continue to brainstorm and work on things behind the scenes while she reads it.

Here’s to a great weekend. Here’s to choosing joy.

 

 

Identity

As many of you know, I’m a college admission counselor. I recruit students to my university, attend college fairs, and read a LOT of applications. It’s very common for these seventeen-year-olds to talk about their faith in terms of actions and activities.

unsplash5I go to youth group.
I teach Sunday school.
I went on a mission trip.

I also see a lot about behavior.

I don’t drink or swear.
I don’t go to parties.
I’m committed to sexual purity.

It’s really interesting to me to think back to myself as a seventeen-year-old. At that point, I’d committed my life to Christ for about three years. I was riddled with OCD and mired down in legalism, partially due to the intense black-and-white thinking that OCD forced me into. I probably would have talked about my faith in much the same way.

Now I’m nearly 34; Christ has been my companion for many years– 20 since I made the choice to give my life to him. I’ve been through ERP therapy and set free from so many things, and I think of my faith in such different terms now.

Were someone to ask me to define my faith, I’d have to talk about my identity: I belong to Jesus. I’m a sinful, selfish, prideful, broken person who makes bad decisions and is constantly learning, but I belong to Jesus, and that is what my faith is about. I walk with Christ. He walks with me. I never tackle anything alone– not my novel writing, my persistent issues with anxiety, my career, my relationships. I have a faithful friend, guide, rescuer, and love. I cling desperately to the cross.

Don’t mishear me. I think it’s fantastic for teens to go to youth group and commit to sexual purity. I think our actions (hopefully) flow out of our love for Christ. I just can’t use my actions to define my faith anymore.

My coworkers and I were talking about this and wondering about this shift in mindset that many of us have gone through in our late-twenties and early-thirties. When you are a child, you are taught black and white. It is good to share. It is bad to hit your brother. How could a young mind even begin to fathom gray? I’m not a parent, and sometimes I’m so glad for that. I would have zero idea of how to raise a child.

This blog post isn’t a lesson or a sermon, just an observation that I wanted to share and process via writing. It’s exciting to know that my faith looks different at 34 than it did half a lifetime ago at 17, and I can’t wait to see what it looks like at 51.

Choosing Joy Over Misery (Plus a Thoughtful Caveat)

melancholyI don’t understand it. I don’t exactly know how to do it. But I think I’m doing it.

Last week, I wrote a long post about choosing joy:

The biggest thing that I’m learning is that I need to love the work and love the process, or I’m going to be miserable. [I read something that] was basically asking if you wanted to be the person who loved the work or the person who loved the reward. Because if you’re the latter, you’re going to spend most of your life kinda miserable. But if you can be the former, you’ll be satisfied.

It’s mysterious to me. I have zero idea how this works.

But I do believe it’s working in my life.

Last week, I got a hard email, an email that would normally spiral me into panic and tears. And, instead, I paused and reminded myself to choose joy, told myself that my writing life is going to have highs and lows but that I’ll persist, and that panic and tears would not solve problems … and there was no panic and there were no tears. Instead, I thought rationally, sought out advice from a friend, waited for a couple hours, then wrote my reply.

It occurred to me: this is how a “normal” person reacts to bad news.

It felt like the first time in my life it happened for me.

I’m growing. Somehow. I don’t know any of the secrets to this yet. Do you? I’d love to hear.

P.S. I want to clarify: this post is not in contradiction to this one. I still believe that many people with brain disorders do not have the capability to simply choose to be happy. But I am finding in my own life that medication and OCD treatment and talk therapy and prayer are tools that are making that more and more possible for me. I am one of the lucky ones who has had so many opportunities and resources. They are opening up new doors for me that were locked even just a year ago. Would love to hear your thoughts.

 

Worth Saying Again & Again

Exposure therapy is the best avenue we know of for treating obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Close up of hand drawing gears mechanism with chalk

ERP (exposure and response prevention) is what every OCD expert will suggest as the frontline treatment for sufferers.

It works.

It’s hard and scary, but it works.

Catering to compulsions is a band-aid on cancer. It treats symptoms. It cuts leaves off a weed.

ERP is chemotherapy. It goes after OCD itself. It digs out the root.

On this blog, you’ll only hear OCD treatment recommendations for:
1. ERP
2. ERP plus praying for a miracle
3. ERP plus meds
4. ERP plus meds plus praying for a miracle.

You can learn all about ERP therapy at jackieleasommers.com/OCD.

Blog Tour: Truest by Jackie Lea Sommers

Some thoughts.

Adventures in Reading

Truest BannerTruestGenre: YA realistic contemporary
Published on September 1st, 2015
Published by Katherine Tegen Books
Purchase Links:AmazonBarnes & NobleBook DepositoryBooks a MillionFishpondIndieBoundKoboPowell’sHarperCollins

Synopsis
Silas Hart has seriously shaken up Westlin Beck’s small-town life. Brand new to town, Silas is different than the guys in Green Lake. He’s curious, poetic, philosophical, maddening– and really, really cute. But Silas has a sister– and she has a secret. And West has a boyfriend. And life in Green Lake is about to change forever.

Guest Post
A Modern Parable

Truest was always going to have some religious themes– the narrator, Westlin Beck, is the daughter of the local pastor, after all. But I wanted to write the story in such a way that wasn’t preachy, cheesy, or saccharine– because my personal faith isn’t those things either. It’s messy…

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Review: Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

bone gapThere’s been a lot of buzz about Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, and so I finally purchased the book and read it. It was great.

Bone Gap is the name of the small town where the O’Sullivan boys live on their own, their father dead and their mother having run off. Sean is the big, strong, brilliant one, and Finn is the “spacey” but beautiful one. Roza is the lovely Polish girl who appeared out of nowhere and disappeared from their lives just as fast. The story is mostly told from Finn’s and Roza’s perspectives.

What’s missing from that description is Petey. Priscilla “Petey” is the beekeeper girl that Finn falls for, and she’s my absolute favorite part of this novel, maybe for reasons I can’t quite explain. I’ll try anyway.

Petey is unusual. She’s not traditionally beautiful. She’s brave and feisty and strong and weak. I love her for all those reasons, and so does Finn, and it’s adorable.

Roza is incredible. Total badass Polish heroine.

Sean is strong and broken. I loved him. He frustrated me too.

Finn is lovely, precious, amazing, boyish in the best way. I want to put him in my pocket.

Bone Gap is classified as magical realism. It may or may not surprise you that I loved the realism and could have done without the magical element, though it seems that it works for most readers.

Read this. You will love it.

If We Were Having Hot Cocoa

Let’s each get a big mug of hot cocoa. With marshmallows.

hot cocoa.jpg

If we were having hot cocoa, I’d tell you that this break has been incredible. I can’t remember the last time I had a real, true vacation. Basically all of my “vacations” are really writing retreats, which actually amount to a TON of hard work. But I had six days off over Thanksgiving, and my manuscript is currently with my editor, which means … a real vacation!! Now, that said, I thought about my novel a lot, and I even wrote and worked on it for a while, but whenever it felt stressful, I shut it all down. I’m so programmed to work on it, but I reminded myself that I will have plenty of time to work (and stress out) in just a few weeks when I get my next round of revisions.

If we were having hot cocoa, I’d tell you that I fell into a tiny reading slump. I think it was because during my recruiting travel season, I had so much time on the road to listen to audiobooks, and now that’s over, so I have to readjust. That said, I’ve started Bone Gap by Laura Ruby and am loving it so far!

If we were having hot cocoa, I’d tell you that I have been thinking about what story I want to tell after Yes Novel is done. I have three story ideas in my mind, including the first draft of a manuscript that I put down after 65k words to switch projects to Yes Novel. That is the one I think I want to pick back up. Before, I needed to step away from it because I couldn’t feel confident about the ending I wanted it to have. Now– largely due to Huntley Fitzpatrick, her novel The Boy Most Likely To, and our conversations in Chicago– I think I’m ready to write it now. Not only ready to write it but ready to stand behind my ending. Gosh, even as I write this, I’m starting to doubt myself. Nevertheless, I hope it will be my next story. I’ve dubbed it Hair Novel. For reasons.

If we were having hot cocoa, I’d tell you all about the panel I was on called “I Was a Teenage Writer.” There weren’t a lot of people in the audience, but it was still really, really fun. There were five of us debut novelists on the panel– including Mackenzi Lee, a fellow Katherine Tegen Books sister– and we each read something from our books and something we wrote as teens. Mine was really, REALLY dramatic poetry about a boy, and it was really fun to share and actually not at all embarrassing! I loved it.

If we were having hot cocoa, I’d tell you how much I love Addendum. Addendum is a local independent bookstore that is the only bookstore I know of that specializes in YA. Katherine and Marcus, the owners, are so terrific, and they’ve been so fun to collaborate with this year– for my launch party, for the panel I mentioned above, and for Indies First. Yup, that’s right– I got to be a bookseller for a couple hours on Small Business Saturday. Okay, so my only customers were my friend Tracy’s children, but they were the perfect customers! Together, along with help from Addendum, we found a chapter book for Emma, a Christmas book for Ava, a “pink” book for Elsie, and a dog book for Owen. I think everyone went home happy.

If we were having hot cocoa, I’d tell you I’m done with Christmas shopping. This year was easier than usual, partly because I’m broke. But I’m still excited– I love giving gifts, and there are a couple I really want to enhance by personalizing them. Cryptic at all, Sommers? Gotta be.

If we were having hot cocoa, I’d tell you 2015 looked a lot different than what I’d imagined. I know I write a lot about having my book published and all I learned from it. I’m sparing you. I could probably write a lot more. The biggest thing that I’m learning is that I need to love the work and love the process, or I’m going to be miserable. I think it was something I read recently from Anne Lamott (which, by the way, if you’re not following her long, lovely posts on Facebook, you’re missing out on so much!), and it was basically asking if you wanted to be the person who loved the work or the person who loved the reward. Because if you’re the latter, you’re going to spend most of your life kinda miserable. But if you can be the former, you’ll be satisfied. Now, that’s easier said than done. For me, learning to love the work is an exercise in life skills. It involves good friends and Ativan and more faith than I can ever muster on my own. I’m not sure, but I’m hoping that faith accumulates due to a history of successes and a history of failures that don’t destroy us. I want so desperately to throw my arms wide and say, “Come at me, life; I choose to enjoy you.” But I also have an anxiety disorder plus additional problems with panic, the devil on my shoulder. Thankfully, I have more than one angel on the other shoulder– so many of them: my parents, my siblings, my entire TEAM of friends, and a small army (okay, just six) of “kid therapists.” I have hot showers and a fantastic bed and a great job and a brilliant editor and a creative mind (though it sometimes works against me). In 2016, I’m going to do my very best to choose to enjoy life– and to take practical steps that will allow me to do so. Some will be solid (Ativan) and some will be mysterious (prayer). I welcome them all.

If we were having hot cocoa, I’d ask you: do you want a shot of flavor in your cocoa (I like hazelnut)? Have you done any Christmas shopping? How are you feeling as we head into December? Do you have any advice for me on choosing to enjoy life?