Reviews-A-Plenty

Hi folks, so I’ve been keeping up with my creative goal to read a book a week! Thought I’d better catch you up on the wonderful things I’ve been reading.

caravalCaraval by Stephanie Garber | Scarlett’s grandmother has told her and her sister Tella stories about Caraval since they were young– an audience-participation game that is like a magical carnival. Scarlett has always longed to go, but getting tickets now— less than two weeks before her marriage to a mysterious count she has never met– is not the ideal timing. At Caraval, Tella goes missing, and the game revolves around the sisters. Julian, the young sailor who brought the girls to Caraval, is shrouded in mystery too, and Scarlett can’t tell who is friend or foe, or whether the game is really just a game.

It’s intense, has gorgeous imagery, and keeps you guessing the entire time. I am happy to say that I did not figure the ending out ahead of time!! This is a must read, folks.

cursed-childHarry Potter & the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany | I think I went into this screenplay with reasonable expectations. I waited quite a while to read it because I knew that it was not going to be like “the 8th Harry Potter book,” as some stores touted. First, it’s a screenplay, not a novel; I knew I couldn’t expect the same thing. Because I went into it with realistic expectations, I loved it!

The story picks up about nineteen years after the Battle of Hogwarts took place; Harry’s youngest son Albus is headed to Hogwarts for the first time, and it is hard living in your father’s shadow, especially when your father is Harry Potter. Albus isn’t like his dad, and they butt heads, which leads Albus and his friend Scorpius Malfoy (Draco’s son!) on an adventure that gets worse and worse and worse … until it all comes together in J.K. Rowling fashion. I loved getting to revisit the characters. The important thing, I think, is not to treat it as the 8th book but as what it is: the script for a play that takes you back to the wizarding world for one more adventure.

poem-she-didnt-writeThe Poem She Didn’t Write and Other Poems by Olena Kalytiak Davis | This one was staggering. I absolutely adored it. It was like e.e. cummings had become a female spoken word artist. The rhythms were impossible to miss, even without hearing them, and I was exposed to a new vocabulary. I thought it the poem topics were really brave, and there were quite a few that she approached from such a stunningly unique perspective. The title poem, in particular, was mind-blowing. I will be purchasing her other books.

chinoiserieChinoiserie by Karen Rigby | This was the 2011 winner of the Sawtooth Poetry Award– and well deserved. Beautiful writing, rich imagery, the poems took me to other places, something I always love. I was happy to let this collection sink into my bones.

May the Free Make Others Free

 

Originally published on The Redeeming Things blog in September 2013. Edited only slightly here; note that where I talk about four years of freedom … it has now been nine. Amen.

unsplash74Last week, while listening to an audiobook by Anne Lamott, she mentioned a line she tries to live by: “And may the free make others free.”

I had to rewind a few seconds and listen to it over again.  And again, amazed at the stark and beautiful way these few words summarize the last four years of my life.

I have obsessive-compulsive disorder, an anxiety disorder that preyed on all I most value: faith, friendships, vocation.  Forget all media has ever taught you about OCD—it is not a funny, quirky, bothersome nuisance.  Instead, it is a hellish, tormenting thief and tyrant.  OCD is slavery, and I was in bondage to it for over twenty years.  I was a tormented pot that complained to the Potter, “Why-why-why did you make me this way?”

Four years ago, I stumbled, uncertain and afraid, through the door that led to freedom (labeled “Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy”).  It was a tremulous victory, and I’ll admit I was shocked to discover things like peace and joy re-entering my life for the first time in years.  Freedom gave me an exhilarating high that I have not yet come down from, even in four years.

These days, I am an OCD awareness advocate, a member of the OCD Network to Recovery, and a leader in OCD Twin Cities, an affiliate of the International OCD Foundation.  I communicate every week with people who are broken by anxiety disorders and other mental illnesses, my own OCD branding me as their war buddy, allowing me to move in closely and show them the way to health.  I advocate for Exposure and Response Prevention therapy, defend the right to and benefits of medication, and push back against the stigma of mental illness.  I talk to parents who don’t know how to help their children, to people whose anxiety makes their own home a prison cell, to those who are needlessly ashamed that they have a brain disorder.

OCD, once the thorn in my side, has become my platform.

So the Potter finally answered my tormented question.  I was given obsessive-compulsive disorder so that I, now the free, may make others free.

Question & Dancer: OCD & Family, Romanticizing Mental Illness, and What to Expect in OCD Remission

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

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

How do you explain OCD to your family? Especially when you’re not sure whether or not your family has mental illness?

First I’ll say that I think that it’s up to each individual to determine whether or not they’d like to share– and how much. With OCD, many of our obsessions are taboo, which– quite honestly– makes the idea of sharing seem terrifying. I hear from a lot of younger sufferers too, who are under their parents’ roof and parents’ health insurance, which complicates treatment.

I heard from so many teens with HOCD that I wrote this post in 2015 so that they could share it with their parents and not have to say a word themselves. I’d be happy to write a general OCD one, if you guys think that would help.

As for me? I gave my mother a copy of Kissing Doorknobs by Terry Spencer Hesser– a copy in which I had underlined all the quotes that resonated with me. At that time, it was the best I could do to explain what I was experiencing. These days, I’m more articulate– but I have lived for longer with my diagnosis, been through treatment, and come out shame-free. I know many aren’t there yet.

Is HOCD a physical illness as well as mental?

Briefly, yes.

Hi, does OCD make you want to confess something even when it’s not true?

I have Pure-O, and confession was one of my biggest compulsions. I would confess to bad thoughts, things I thought might be sinful, anything that my OCD took and throttled me with. And yes, sometimes those were things that I didn’t even need to apologize for. But the anxiety would grow so intense that the only “release” was to confess. I got a lot of weird looks in those days.

Here is the thing: if you (like most people with OCD) can understand when you’re thinking or doing something off (you know it is not quite logical, even if you have created a weird sort of logic for it; or if you know it is something that the general public would not care about or confess), then don’t. This is fighting back against your OCD with the tools of exposure therapy. It will, for a time, feel like the anxiety will go so high that things will never be okay again, but that is the lie of OCD. The anxiety will diminish, and you will be okay. Stay in the cold pool long enough to adjust, and eventually the water will not feel cold anymore. But this can only happen by staying in the pool.

I read your post about OCD and creativity. Could those two ideas be linked to intelligence?

Great question. You’re likely referring either to this post or to this one.

Research has shown that high IQ is correlated with anxiety. Anecdotally, many people with OCD are also very creative (did you know popular YA authors John Green and Maggie Stiefvater both have OCD, along with unpopular YA author Jackie Lea Sommers? ;-))

HOWEVER, OCD is not something to be embraced. I know that in the past, I thought if I didn’t have OCD, I wouldn’t be as funny or quirky or creative. John Green, in a talk I once heard, shared that he also had that false understanding for a time– that his OCD was what fueled his creativity. He’s written about that here. Please read it; it’s very good.

The point is that– whether or not there is a link between OCD (bad, awful thing) and creativity and/or intelligence (good, excellent things)– we need to be careful not to romanticize mental illness or to give props to it. If you are smart or intelligent, kudos go to you, not to the disorder.

I treated my OCD in 2008, and now I am more creative, more me, more productive, more intelligent. So it wasn’t OCD that made me what I am at all. In fact, OCD was holding me back. Don’t romanticize mental illness. Treat it.

Hi…this is a weird question, but I’m worried ERP won’t work on one of my particular obsessions. I made some account on a website and now feel the compulsive urge to delete it because maybe I don’t like the username and it’s “contaminated.” But at the same time, I don’t want to delete it because I’ve invested some time into building it up (it’s a writing website, more articles you write higher rating you get)…but I’m worried if I don’t delete it, this anxious feeling will never go away!

That is a lie: the anxious feeling will go away … and possibly sooner than you’d think. ERP works great for situations such as these. You can do this.

With OCD, can it be possible that you don’t know the difference between what thoughts are even yours anymore or the OCD’s?

That is possible– and sometimes happens to me when I’m in sort of a manic state.

Most often, I can tell the difference. I know that one thing feels a bit ridiculous. And this is a hallmark of OCD (except in very young children): that people with OCD usually have some understanding that what they are obsessing about is not something that most people would worry over.

My ERP therapist taught me to look at these things through the lens of the “community standard.” That is, how would most people react in this situation? Because if my reaction is way off from that, then for ERP, I need to go with the community standard instead, even if it’s scary or hard.

When I am in the throes of an obsession, I sometimes can’t tell what the community standard is. I have literally sat down my friends or coworkers, explained the situation, asked for the standard response, and then BELIEVED IT and DONE IT, no matter how difficult. Because this too is part of exposure therapy, the very best treatment for OCD. (If you’re not familiar, you can read up on ERP at http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD.)

I have thoughts about death and how we will all disappear after this…and if life is meaningless or not I’m diagnosed with OCD and i had HOCD , harm ocd , etc… Is that a new theme or is that something new ?

This sounds like an existential theme of your diagnosed OCD. This was a huge part of my own experience, and what my first novel is about! See http://www.jackieleasommers.com/truest.

With your OCD, do you ever feel that you’re wearing a mask everyday?

Not anymore– but before, YES YES YES.

I used to talk about this with high school students in the midwest, and I would read this poem aloud.

I’ve been struggling with ‘Pure-O OCD’ for a while and because my compulsions are almost exclusively mental, I’m afraid I’ve been automatically engaging the negative sensations associated with the thoughts I get. Although I know the thoughts are very irrational, I can’t seem to be mindful enough to sit with the negative emotions and not have them affect my mood. Little by little, over the years the thoughts are triggered by almost any activity I’m involved in and I feel like I’m running around in a circle and not making much progress. Activities and events that are supposed to be enjoyable are viewed by my brain as hurdles and obstacles to overcome. As far as CBT goes, I tried following the 4-step method by Dr. Schwarz which help a little to put me in the right mind set but I haven’t had much sustainable success. Being a Christian, I feel like I’m wasting time giving in to the negative pull the thoughts I get have on my behavior, which in turn, rob me of valuable time spent acting as a true follower of Christ. Based on your experience with Pure O, what would you say is the best CBT method to effectively manage it? Is it ERP or mindfulness, or a combination of both? Thank you

While I know a lot of OCD sufferers who practice mindfulness, the #1 treatment recommended by all OCD experts is ERP (exposure and response prevention) therapy. Your story sounds so, so, so, so similar to my own. I went around in circles for 20 years before doing ERP. After just 12 weeks of ERP, I have had tremendous freedom, peace, joy, and spiritual growth for the last 9 years. You can do this!

I hope you’ll take the time to read my post about Post-ERP Spiritual Growth. It really summarizes all the healthy changes that came about in my life and faith after treatment. Blessings!

I feel like I might have OCD..maybe ROCD for a while, but that cleared up so I’m unsure about that. I’m 13 years old (a girl) and I think I have been dealing with hocd since the end of 6th grade (11 years old). I have been with my boyfriend for 7, almost 8 months. This hocd is getting better…I think. I always feel like there is another person in my mind telling me that I’m gay. I sometimes don’t feel as disgusted as I usually do when that happens, and that scares me even more. I wish I could tell my boyfriend, but I feel like he would think I actually am gay. Also, Recently i have the tendency to look at girls’ butts and boobs! Is this normal? Is it not hocd? It bugs me so much, and I feel so disgusted and guilty. I’ve never wanted to kiss, date, or do anything sexual with a girl. Whenever I see a girl, I think “she’s pretty.” And then I start questioning myself. And I think “is she attractive? Do u want to do stuff with her?” And soon it calms down. But it comes back as quickly as it goes. It’s so scary. I want it to go away for good. I told my dad two years ago when it wasn’t as bad. So he doesn’t know the full story. My mom knows and I told her recently. She doesn’t understand how horrible it is. I don’t want to tel her everything I question and feel because I don’t want her thinking that I am gay. Even though she would be fine with it. But I’m not. I want that therapy. I’m on medication for anxiety, but it’s not helping too much. This hocd causes me anxiety and depression. I went through a really bad period of this about a month ago, for two weeks. I wanted to die, and I’d use my nails to scratch myself. I don’t know what to do. I wish I could tell my parents, friends and boyfriend, but I don’t know what they would think. Please help me. I want an OCD free life.

Oh sweetheart, please read my answer to the first question above. I think it will help you. Consider sharing this post with your parents. ERP works; it truly does. You are thirteen and have so many exciting things ahead of you– your whole life! The earlier you treat OCD, the sooner you can get to enjoying things again. If you really feel like you can’t tell your parents about your OCD, and if you’re driven, you can treat it yourself at home, using one of the books listed in this post. Don’t give up, honey. Gosh, I can remember being in the same hell that you’ve been living in when I was your age. It feels so horrible and hopeless and exhausting. But you won’t be there forever. ERP will help. Hang in there.

Want to know more about consequences of years of compulsive behavior and thinking haunting life…even after ocd is gone

This is a really good question, one I’ve not been asked much before.

First things first, OCD is very rarely ever gone. Except in the case of a miracle, OCD is a chronic disorder that a sufferer has until death. That said, ERP therapy can subdue it to the point where it feels gone, which is just about as good as the real thing, right?

I’ve written a pretty detailed post about remission and relapses here. While I think it will answer an aspect of your question, the spirit of your question seems to be: what lingers?

For me, not much. (Thank God!) OCD has little to do with my daily life anymore. That said, there are seasons (and in fact, I’m in one right now) when it is like opening a rarely used door in my life only to find that OCD has actually been chilling out there for years, just waiting for you to reenter that old room. (For me, it’s dating. I haven’t dated in a while, and so I haven’t had to deal with the whole ROCD thing. It’s okay. I’m battling it, and I have all the confidence in the world that I can subdue it because I’ve done it successfully now for nine years.) For me, the 12 weeks of ERP therapy I underwent had a far longer-lasting influence on my thought patterns than the 20 years of obsessions and compulsions that came before. It is that powerful. Learn more about ERP at http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD.

Thanks for all the questions, folks! If you have questions for me about anything (but especially faith, creativity, and mental illness), add yours here.

As I said, I’m an artist not an expert. I will leave you with these, some of my favorite questions in one of my favorite poems, “Questions about Angels.” Click here to hear Billy Collins himself read it. (P.S. It starts with questions, ends with a dancer.)

 

Review [via Insta]: Best Thought, Worst Thought by Don Paterson

This has been on my radar a while. Starting tonight.

A post shared by Jackie Lea Sommers (@jackieleasommers) on

#BestThoughtWorstThought by Don Paterson

A post shared by Jackie Lea Sommers (@jackieleasommers) on

#BestThoughtWorstThought Man, I need a new phone with a better camera. I shouldn't even be allowed on insta.

A post shared by Jackie Lea Sommers (@jackieleasommers) on

#BestThoughtWorstThought

A post shared by Jackie Lea Sommers (@jackieleasommers) on

#BestThoughtWorstThought

A post shared by Jackie Lea Sommers (@jackieleasommers) on

All that to say, read it! Paterson’s aphorisms are a cross between poetry and personal essay, and I gobbled it up.

Dear Diary: Salt, Sickness, & NOT YOU AGAIN

A (not so) little update for you:

Salt Novel

Oh my gosh, I finally finished revising my synopsis and am ready to dive into revisions! This took me a lot longer than I expected, but that was foolish of me: why would completely reorganizing/restructuring a novel, reconfiguring motives, and solving problems of fictional people be considered a weekend project? Ha! While I still have a few things to iron out, the majority of it is sorted out, on paper, color-coded. It looks gorgeous. (Okay, only to me.) I feel so excited about these changes– especially because I haven’t started trying them and failing yet. 🙂

Sickness

I’m getting better! I was down for the count for a stretch, but I’m bouncing back finally. Has anyone else been sick? Sounds like it’s been going around. I got so much extra sleep this past week, and it felt incredible. I even had some of those naps where it feels like you were out for about three years. Mmm!!

Online Dating

… is so weird. And I think, in general, a lot of men are pretty confident (and wrong) about what they think women want. That’s all. For now.

ROCD

One thing that really surprised me with the whole online dating thing: my OCD has come out to play again. Ugh. I have lived as close to OCD-free as is possible since 2008, when I went through exposure therapy to treat it. In a lot of ways, OCD has felt like a part of my past, something I experienced a lifetime ago. Then, guys started talking to me.

It’s crazy how fast OCD/ROCD symptoms blasted back into my life. I was not prepared for it.

But, and maybe this is a little embarrassing to admit … I haven’t really been in the world of dating during my remission. ROCD hasn’t come up because, well, it hasn’t come up. You know? So, now I’m talking to this cute guy, and I’m a WRECK. Thankfully, I was able to recognize it as OCD, and now I’m re-learning how to love the uncertainty. Again.

Sigh.

🙂

Wrists

Months ago, I posted a cry for help in regard to my RSI. One reader (thank you, Ash!!) commented with the name of a book by Pete Egoscue, Pain Free at Your PC.

This is changing everything for me. I’m sooooo grateful. Right away, in reading the book it became apparent that I needed to be symmetrical, and I knew that I wasn’t. (My left leg has been shorter than my right since I was in middle school.) I got a heel lift from my chiropractor, and that was the beginning of the changes. I’ve also been doing Egoscue’s exercises a couple times a week. I feel better than I have in years.

Creative Goals

Salt Novel, coming together.
Book a week, check!
Blog every week, done.
Learn something new every day? I am, but I have sadly not been recording everything.
Yes Novel … it’ll come.

And you?

Drop me a line– I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

Sick Sith

I’ve been sick as a dog and moping around the house in a black hoodie that makes me look like Darth Sommers. Cold/cough/migraine that spreads to my jaw/sore, achy muscles throughout my lower back.

I haven’t had much energy for anything, but I’m still trying to do what I can from bed or the couch. I read a book of poetry yesterday, which helped me feel productive. 🙂

I’ll post a more robust update soon. Send prayers and good thoughts and chocolate!!

8 Things That Surprised Me about Publishing My First Book

publishing surprises.jpg1. How long it would be before I’d sign the actual contract

I figured once the offer had been made, the business side of things would speed along so that we all made everything official. But I didn’t even see the contract till four months after my book deal.

2. That I’d be allowed to announce it to the public before signing the contract

I come from a place where you don’t share something until it’s set in stone. But I was able to talk about my book deal immediately, and it was even reported in Publisher’s Weekly months before I signed the contract.

3. That I’d need to learn to navigate my partnership with my editor

Thus far in my life, I had had two critique relationship experiences: in college, where if my professor suggested something, it was in my best interest to make those changes; and with my writing group of peers, where I collected ideas and feedback, but it was fully my decision whether to implement them or not. Working with my editor at HarperCollins was different– she was not my professor, though she did have more experience with writing and with story than I did; and she was not my peer, though she treated me with respect and genuine warmth. It was just a new scenario. We were partners in this project, and I had no idea what that was supposed to look like.

Ultimately, I learned to try everything she suggested. Usually I ended up loving it. If I didn’t, I would talk to her about why it wasn’t working, and we’d scrap it. There were very few things that we completely disagreed on, and in those 2-3 things, she let me win.

4. How much the book would change from the time of the book deal until the time it was published.

I swear HarperCollins purchased my book based on its potential. My editor’s first request was to rewrite the entire ending, beef up a handful of characters, and completely change the chronology of the book. In six weeks. 🙂

5. How fun release day would be!

I’d gotten so used to reading authors tell stories about how “it was just another day”– I knew I didn’t want that. It was a time to celebrate. I took the day off and drove around to local bookstores to capture my novel in the wild and sign copies; that evening, I had a giant book release party where I read passages, had door prizes, answered questions, and sold and signed books. It was a BLAST. Seriously one of the most fun days of my life. Definitely not “just another day.” Thank you to everyone who joined in on the fun!

6. How soon after publication the book would be declared a success or failure

Honestly, this was the hardest surprise. Not even a month in, people at Harper were already saying, “There, there. You’ll get ’em with book two.” Just a reminder about how important pre-orders and those first couple weeks of sales are!!

7. How much I would talk about OCD at book events … and how much it would resonate with audience members

When you’re a debut novelist like me, most of the people at your events haven’t read your book yet. So you’re talking more about yourself, your writing process, etc. than about the actual novel. I end up talking about OCD at nearly every event– and that’s because it’s such a huge part of my story. How can I talk about myself without mentioning one of my greatest challenges and greatest victories?

This has actually really helped me connect with audiences. A lot.

8. How special it is to hear from readers … and how important it is to generally avoid reviews

Some writers read all their reviews. I only read the good ones. There’s usually little actual constructive feedback to take from a negative review, and so often a reader doesn’t like your book simply because it’s just not their kind of book, you know? If someone loves vampire erotica, it’s very unlikely they will love Truest. But that doesn’t mean I need to go write vampire erotica. So, I read the good reviews. Usually if someone tags you on Twitter or Instagram, it’s because they liked your book and want you to read what they said about it.

It’s hard to explain just how special it is to hear words of praise about your book. To hear that you’ve made someone rethink things or that your book changed their life or became a new favorite or that they connected with a character or that it gave them hope during a particularly hard experience … it makes it all worthwhile. Please tell authors when you love their work. It’s like fuel. I have an Instagram comment that has lived in my heart for over a year now, ringing like a little bell.

Review: When You are Happy by Eileen Spinelli

when you are happy.jpgEveryone needs a copy of this book in his or her home.

I’m a fan of Eileen’s husband Jerry (Stargirl; Love, Stargirl; Maniac Magee, among many others). In a recent interview with Shelf Awareness, Jerry answered one question like this:

Book you are an evangelist for:

When You Are Happy by Eileen Spinelli. Yeah, I know, she’s my wife. But this 32-page picture book hits my trifecta: language, illustrations, message. Never before has so much humanity been packed into so few pages.

I thought, I need that.

I was right. This is what I posted on Instagram in the moments after finishing it.

insta