Dear 16-Year-Old Me

Dear sophomore-in-high-school Jackie, who just spent Thanksgiving sobbing on Grandma’s bathroom floor,

I promise you: it won’t always be like this.

It’s hard to imagine that now, I know. Doubt has been clawing at your mind for nearly a decade already, and now, this holiday, it seems like it’s finally captured you, a relentless grip you can never escape from. Everyone else is upstairs eating turkey and playing dominoes. Soon you’ll have to gather yourself together—thank goodness you don’t wear mascara yet—and head back upstairs to fake it. All you know is that something is wrong with you—your mind is in slavery, and you fear you’ll never find freedom. It’s not true. Oh, it’ll be a while still, about twelve more years, but you’ll find freedom. Believe me.

Here’s the truth. It’s OCD. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. You always thought it meant someone who washed their hands too much, someone who was a neat freak—and that was absolutely not you (I hate to tell you this, but even in your thirties, you still can’t keep your room clean), so you never gave it a moment’s thought. And now, in 10th grade, you’re only starting to learn how to use this wild thing called the internet. I know it’s not going to occur to you to Google “I think bad thoughts.” Scratch that. Google won’t even exist until next year.

Unfortunately, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. You’re going to wander down so many ugly alleys, obsessing over hell and your identity and the nature of reality. You’re going to believe that you’ve literally gone crazy, and no one on earth can keep record of the tears you’ll cry. But you’re going to write about it—all of it—and it’s going to be such lovely therapy for you in the interim. (Minus, of course, those months when that bastard OCD made you wonder if fiction was sinful like lying and you couldn’t go near your poetry or prose without feeling sick over it.)

You’re going to fill notebooks in high school with dramatic diary entries and over-the-top poetry. You’re going to go to college and study writing and pour your heart and energy into the creative work you’ll encounter there. You’ll even center your senior project—a memoir piece—around your battle with OCD, only you won’t have a name for it yet. But when the bottom drops out of your life in those years after college, you’ll finally be diagnosed, and it’s then that you’ll turn to writing novels.

Exposure therapy will save your life. And so will writing. So will Mom and Tracy and Megan and Cindy and Erica and Desiree and Ashley and God.

This holy amalgam will make you free. You won’t even know what to do with all the freedom, a surfeit of it, washing over you like a baptism, swilling out the pain, leaving behind … writing.

And so you’ll write. You’ll write stories that are raw and painful but hopeful. You won’t be able to write the ending to your first novel without having gone through the hell of OCD first. You’ll look back and say, Now I see. Same with your second novel.

So, for right now, teenage me, hold on. Find hope wherever you can, especially in others—they will keep you alive. And write. In every moment, good and bad, write. Let writing be your refuge and rescue. Give up the stupid show of pride. You’re going to need so much help; learn to ask for it. Find a place in your life for gray; throw your arms open wide to uncertainty. This will save you.

Love,

Jackie, now 35, free and writing

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THE PULL: Author Jackie Lea Sommers

I was interviewed by a lovely group of young journalists at a local university. Here were some of the things I said that stood out to them.

By Arts & Culture Staff | Edited by Kellie Lawless | Photos by Carlo Holmberg

Logo_ThePull_HudallaJackie Lea Sommers graduated from the University of Northwestern-St. Paul with a degree in creative writing. After working in the UNW Admissions office on the weekdays, she would spend her evenings and weekends writing what would become her debut novel, Truest. Her novel deals with issues of faith and mental illness, something that Sommers struggled with for over 20 years until she found treatment.

Sommers lives in Minneapolis and is working on her second novel that is expected to be published in fall 2018. She visited Bethel University’s ENW360 Topics: Art and Culture Reporting class to tell stories about her struggle with OCD, her journey to publishing her first novel, and how they are closely intertwined.

Look for more about Sommers on a future episode of Witty Ranter, The Clarion’s podcast. But for now, read…

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Warm Thoughts about the End of the World

I’m re-reading through the New Testament and today I read from Matthew 24– wars, rumors of wars, nation against nation, famine, earthquakes– and it’s kind of felt familiar for a while, hasn’t it? And yet these are the beginning of birth pains.

What struck me was verse 12: “And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.”

Please, God, don’t let my love grow cold.

I am so grateful to be surrounded by the best friends in the world, friends whose love is scorching in the best way, friends on fire for love and justice and mercy and grace and faithfulness, no matter the cost.

Thank you, friends. Thank you for keeping me from letting my love grow cold.

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What’s Next for Me

Reblogging my post from one year ago today. I am so happy and so grateful to be in such a different place: sleeping great with no sleep aid needed; feeling healthier; having crossed off so many items on my long-term to-do list. Am I still working on the same novel? Yes. But these things take time to grow. And so do I. 🙂

JACKIE LEA SOMMERS

Hey friends. I’m typing this on my phone because I feel stressed out by my computer.

To be honest, I’m stressed out by just about everything right now.

I’m starting EMDR therapy next week because I’m reacting to emails with the symptoms of PTSD. It’s not ok and I’m not ok. But I WILL be ok.

Some mornings I can barely get out of bed. Some mornings I can’t. It’s so hard to explain to someone who has never been in such a situation, but when it feels impossible to take five steps to the shower, it’s UNFATHOMABLE to consider the drive into work.

I have a stack of mail that all requires action. I have book events coming up that I’m not prepared for. I need to write a synopsis of Salt Novel for my editor and I’m putting it off because I need to talk to God about…

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