Question & Dancer: I Promise There is Hope

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.

Ok I am so confused lately. I am a 27 year old male and has had what I consider to be HOCD for at least 4 years now When I was younger people used to ask if I was gay, and that never bothered me until more recently since I started to have this OCD. More recently however I am starting to doubt myself because it is starting to feel realer and realer. Wanna do ERP but I am very anxious about it.
I was so anxious to do ERP too! In fact, I almost bailed partway through– right before everything ended up “clicking” for me. Read up about it beforehand so that you have an idea of what to expect. I always say that you will be ready for ERP when the hell of daily life with OCD is worse than the anxiety over ERP. I will say this: it was one of the greatest things I have ever done for myself. Twelve weeks of ERP vs. twenty years of OCD (with no end in sight)? There’s a clear winner there.
Can HOCD actually begin to feel real? At the start, it caused me loads of anxiety but now I’m starting to believe it and it scary 😦
Hello dear, yes, I think that most people with HOCD get to that point. I’m sorry for all your fear and anxiety. ERP can help.
Hi! I did the harder exposures for HOCD (I’m a girl by the way) and it really terrifies me to the point of tears while doing the exposure of looking at a androgynous female. It bothered me immensely but I stayed with it. However, I felt fearful and anxious at the same time because I actively avoid it because of the fear of attraction. Is that still HOCD?
If you are fearful that you are sexually attracted to females, it’s quite likely HOCD, yes. I remember crying while doing exposures too. Please don’t quit the exposures– but also, please do be kind to yourself. Give yourself a treat: ice cream, a nap, a new pair of shoes. What would you do for your best friend if he or she was going through all this? Treat yourself just as kindly. But don’t give up on the exposures.
Hi Jackie, I’ve had hocd for over a year now and it’s been rough. For the past three months I’ve been using this new medication and I believe I’ve gotten better. But, whenever I get my intrusive thoughts my brain doesn’t spike much of a reaction anymore and I’m not as scared. This is making me worried because I feel like my fear shows I’m not gay but now I’m not so sure. Can medicine do that?
I feel like this is such a nasty paradox with OCD! We get so much torturous anxiety– and we hate it– but then, if the anxiety lessens or goes away, we start to fear there’s a reason behind that. Please remember that the goal is to not have those extreme reactions when you have intrusive thoughts, so you are moving in the right direction! Thoughts are just thoughts. Everyone has weird thoughts, but most people can just let them go, whereas for those of us with OCD, we hold onto them and give them too much meaning and make ourselves sick ruminating. Let the thought just be a thought. It is good that the anxiety lessens in time.
Jackie, is this a compulsion? Every time I get worried about my hocd thoughts, my reaction is to go God and pray that I’m not gay. I know I don’t want to be gay. I just want to be a straight female and have a guy. But I feel like god is my only true hope for getting better although I’ve been doubting him a lot with all of this hocd stuff
Ritualistic prayer was also one of my compulsions. I would pray to “ward off” blasphemous thoughts and curse words that would pop into my head. But I also could tell a difference between my true, heartfelt prayers and the automatic ones that I was using as a compulsion. I kept doing the former, but the latter ones, I stopped. At first, because it was so automatic, it was very hard to stop, but I would actually interrupt myself and think No. I do not need to pray ritualistically. I didn’t think it would work– but it did!
How long did you personally have hocd for?
I had a brief bout with HOCD in junior high. My primary obsessions through the years were religious ones though.
Jackie I feel like my hocd gets MUCH worse when my period roles around. Could this be true? I just feel way more depressed and my intrusive thoughts get more frequent and intense.
I really do believe this can be true, even though I don’t know enough about the science behind it.  But on my period, my hormones are all out of whack, and everything seems more intense and stressful and emotional for me. I feel sadder and lonelier on my period, and sometimes I have bad cramps, so I’m in actual pain and cranky about it. I am definitely not my best on my period or in the days right before it, and I’ve had the same experiences with my OCD being worse then (I’m not sure if it’s worse– or if I’m weaker– during those days!).
Jackie I’ve had hocd for a while now. How did you stay strong? How did you not cave in and truly lose hope by believing you’re gay?
I spent 15 years with OCD before I was finally diagnosed, then another five before I began the exposure therapy that gave me back my life and freedom. How did I stay strong during that time? Honestly, I was not strong a lot of that time. I cried a lot, but I also surrounded myself with the most incredible people: family and friends and mentors and roommates who let me lean on them in my weakness. My Christian faith is also a ballast for me, although OCD went after that pretty hard, and I had to rely on the faith of my friends and family, if that makes any sense. Make sure that you have an incredible support system, one that won’t enable you but that will let you be honest about your struggles and will love you, even in your darkest, weakest, most hopeless moments.
I lived with my friend Desiree for seven years, and she saw me through some of the very worst times with my OCD. She wrote this post about it, in case you’re interested!
Jackie, my therapist and my mom both say I try and convince myself that I’m truly gay ( I have hocd). I just can’t help being very doubtful all the time. Even when I like a guy through all of this I still doubt if everything is fake. Advice?
This is what the doubting disease does– it poisons everything! The very best advice I have is to treat it with exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, which can be done with a specialist or on your own with the help of a book from the library. Be sure to check out my posts at for more details and book suggestions!
Hi Jackie I’m a female and I have had hocd for nearly 13 months now. I stare at girls so much! In my head I constantly hear myself saying “wow she’s so pretty” and I can’t stop thinking that. It haunts me later in my day as I keep seeing any girl in my head from school. What should I do?
This is what OCD/HOCD will do until you either switch to another obsession or treat it. I recommend treating it with exposure therapy! Please check out my posts about HOCD and about ERP at It changed my entire life.
I’ve had hocd for a long time now and I know ERP is the right thing but I’m too scared to do it. I just don’t feel mentally mature or ready enough to do it. What do you think? Should I just face it head on?
This is such a good question. I didn’t feel ready for it for a while either. When I felt I had exhausted all my other options, I knew it was time. Most of the time, ERP is not done via “flooding” (which is what I think you mean by “face it head on”) but rather via a strategic hierarchy. You start with the things that make you least anxious and work up to the doozies later on. I think this is probably the best way to go after ERP; it builds confidence early on when you win a few smaller victories, plus your brain begins to change, giving you more tools for attacking the harder things later. I remember on my first day with my ERP therapist, he said we would work up to X, and I thought, “If you think that I will EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER do X, you’ve got another thing coming, mister.” And yet, about 12 weeks later, I was there. Terrified, yes. Anxious, yes. But it had gone from being utterly impossible to being possible-but-scary. And after that, my OCD snapped in half. I’ve had freedom for nine years now.
How do I know if my therapist is good? Upon graduating college, I have developed extreme anxiety and HOCD. I found a therapist who preaches ERP but does not have good reviews online. I met him for the initial consult and liked him but how do I know whether I should trust him.
Do the reviews say that they don’t like him personally or that he doesn’t know his practice? You don’t need to like an ERP therapist for ERP to work. In fact, at the time, I thought my ERP therapist was a monster. (Now he is my hero.) Our personalities did not jive and, of course, he was asking me to do things I didn’t want to do (this is the nature of ERP therapy!). Make sure that you have educated yourself on what ERP should look like, so that you will be able to recognize if he is guiding you correctly. As far as whether or not he’s likable … meh. Not what matters in this situation.
Read about my reunion with my ERP therapist, seven years after I last left his office.
I feel really sad. Some days my hocd is not that intense and I’m sure I’m straight but other days its bad.When I’m convinced I’m gay, I get very depressed. I withdraw and stop doing anything, and spend the majority of my time in bed. They tell you in therapy that if you hate the idea of being gay, that you don’t like the idea of being with the same sex then you’re not gay. Do you agree with this?
I hate to speak in too wide of generalities, but if I am interpreting your question correctly, I would say yes IN GENERAL. Again, I don’t know that it is helpful to speak in such wide-spreading generalities. I did ask some of my friends (both with HOCD and others who are gay) to answer a variety of questions so I could compare them. I thought the results were interesting. Friend, please consider exposure therapy to treat your HOCD. It is the #1 treatment for OCD recommended by all OCD experts, and it changed my life. I know those depressed days spent in bed all too well. You can move past this.
Is there really a light at the end of the tunnel? I feel hopeless. I have hocd and hate my life because I just feel depressed. I want to be better but I can’t bring myself to give effort. I get told, happiness is a choice. But I feel like this doesn’t apply to people who suffer from OCD?
Friend, I promise there is light. And hope. And freedom. Exposure therapy can help you get there.
Ahhh yes, the choose happiness thing. Blah. Let me say first that I agree with you.
Here is my post entitled I Don’t CHOOSE to be Unhappy. Later, post-ERP, I wrote a post where I talked about choosing to be happy. The very next day I posted again and this time included what I called a “thoughtful caveat”:
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.

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.)

Happy Bday, Dad: A Legacy of Breath Mints

I have long wanted to write a thoughtful blog post about my dad, but I never seem to have the time that I think it will take to make the post what I really want it to be. And now, tomorrow– June 23– is his birthday, and I am still fumbling over whether to just say, “HBD, Dad!” or to write some eloquent tribute.

Maybe it will just be a little in-between thing.

How about a story? About breath mints and a legacy.

certsThe story actually starts with my Uncle Bob. To this day, I’ve never met someone with so much joy and mischief and love in his eyes, and I doubt I ever will. Uncle Bob, my dad’s older brother, was an incredible backbone of the Sommers family– hilarious, kind, joyful, talented, one of those special souls that, if you are lucky enough to encounter one, you will never be the same, and you will always seek out that spark for the rest of your life. Uncle Bob has been gone for many years now, and one of the things I remember so well about him was that he always had Certs in his pocket.

The Certs (to me, at least) were a part of his identity.

Later, my dad picked up this habit.

tic tacsIt started with Certs and eventually morphed into Tic Tacs. My dad always made sure to have them with him on Sunday mornings, and all the church kids knew it. One, when she was very, very young, started calling him “Tic Tac Tom,” and for Christmas, Dad brought this little girl her very own packet of Tic Tacs. Then he took another out of his pocket. Then another out of his other pocket, always acting like he was surprised to find yet another one. I remember her, her little hands not even able to hold all 10 or 12 packs at once, looking so overwhelmed but also happy.

My dad is something else. So special. The king of both quiet generosity and of vociferous attention. A man everyone wants to be around. He has been, for me and for many, a bridge to solid ground and the solid ground. Smart and funny, joyful and the life of the party, he’s a storyteller, which he passed onto his daughter. Like Uncle Bob, my dad also has incredible eyes; dad’s tell of happiness, hard work, and hope. He has unique passions– the Indy 500, Disney World, Secretariat, his card collection– and he loves them with such a diehard enthusiasm that I can’t help but love them too. Dad draws people into his world, and everyone wants to stay.

And, of course, the Tic Tacs.

When my dear friend started having children of her own and my heart fell so desperately, hopelessly in love with them … I started buying Tic Tacs. It is one of the first things they ask me whenever they see me; they dig around in my purse for them. I have grown accustomed to the sound of clacking as my purse bounces on my hip. My kiddos and I explore new flavors (big, big fans of Strawberry Fields and cherry cola; less so of spearmint). I had no idea that there would come a time in my life when I would go to different stores based off of which color and flavor of Tic Tacs they kept in stock, but … there you have it.

It’s a weird legacy, right? But it’s mine.

I miss you, Uncle Bob. Happy birthday, Dad. You are the best men I know.

nOCD, an ERP App/Hero

If you’ve spent time around this blog, you know that I wrestled my life and freedom back from the clutches of obsessive-compulsive disorder in 2008. (Read more about my story at

From the onset of my symptoms to my diagnosis: 15 years.
From my diagnosis to appropriate treatment (ERP): 5 years.
From treatment to freedom: 12 weeks. (<–Read that again please.)

Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy is powerful, friends.

On average, it takes OCD sufferers 14-17 years to get the correct diagnosis and treatment. This is not okay. 

So many OCD sufferers cannot afford treatment. In some countries, ERP therapy is simply not available. In fact, in some countries, the stigma associated with having a brain disorder like OCD is so strong that sufferers would not dare admit to needing help. This is not okay. 

The creators of the nOCD app felt the same way. One contacted me and said, “Our goal is to reduce the time it takes for people with OCD to get effective treatment (from decades to minutes).” He said, “One thing advocacy has shown me is the need for OCD treatment in other countries! There are people in Bangladesh, India, etc that have literally nobody! My team is actually building a 24/7 support community within nOCD to combat this issue.”

The app is FREE and, I-hope-I-hope-I-hope, going to change the world.

Some of the very best things about this app:


Right now it’s available for iPhones, but this fall, the Android version will come out. Please check it out here. And be sure to tell me what you think!

xoxo Jackie


I have exciting news for you, friends.

Firstly, if you’ve hung around this blog for any time at all, you know that Australian author Melina Marchetta is my QUEEN. (See here, here, here.)

She is a master of characters, and my favorite crew of hers first appears in Saving Francesca: Frankie, Will, Siobhan, Justine, Tara, Tom, and Jimmy. After Saving Francesca, the crew reunites in The Piper’s Son, which is Tom’s story, set five years later. Everyone has been begging for years for Jimmy’s story.

Back in April 2013, in a Goodreads-sponsored discussion, Melina made my heart go BOOM when she teased:

Jimmy’s not going anywhere, but it’s just not his time yet. All I know about him is that he is the first of Frankie gang to start breeding (accidently).

In the four years since, she has posted on her blog about Jim from time to time. Earlier this month, she posted there was a forthcoming short story:

My short story is called When Rosie met Jim. It’s about a young woman who finds herself stranded in a Queensland town during a flood, where she meets a guy named Jim. (the title is quite literal, and yes, it’s him for those who know my previous work).

A couple days ago, she added this:

It will be a novel primarily about one house, four characters, five lives, and told through three points of view.

Jimmy is 23 years old in When Rosie met Jim.  In the novel, he’ll be about 25 because it takes place in Sydney about two years after the events of the short story. It’s not  YA, but regardless, I’m predictable. It’s a generational story and it’s character driven, relationship driven and pretty much about community, solace and the ties that bind. (and netball).


mm jim 2

Peeps, I read it last night, and it was everything I wanted it to be. More.

First, you don’t have to have read her other books in order to read this story. It’s brilliant even on its own, and of course, it has added meaning for fans who miss the Sydney crew.

Next, it works as a short story– yes, it is an excerpt (or something like it) from what will eventually be a full-length novel (PRAISE GOD), but it works on its own too as a short story. What I mean is that it’s got its own narrative arc; you won’t feel dissatisfied at the end (though you will feel so desperate for more).

Lastly, I don’t know how on earth she does it, but there is not one word extra in this, nor one word missing. It’s perfect and has the right amount of action and vulnerability to enamor you in so few pages. (Frankly, I re-read Marchetta’s books over and over, hoping that I will somehow take on her writing capabilities– and yet, every time, I’m reminded she is the master.) There is foreshadowing and the ideal amount of backstory to offer both grounding and intrigue. The characters are multi-dimensional, and … OMGOSH, I don’t know how to wait for the entire book. I guess if I survived the wait for Quintana, I will survive this too, right? Right?? (P.S. I bought the Australian edition of Quintana, since it came out 6 months before the American version. I am not excellent at patience.)

This issue of Review of Australian Fiction comes out tomorrow (er, um, maybe today actually, since Australia is ahead of the USA) and is available for only $2.99 at this link:

Go. Buy. Be delighted (readers) and envious (writers). While you’re at it, buy all her books. I promise you they are the best.


Quick whatever-this-is: I want you to know this is not sponsored. I don’t get anything when you purchase this … except for the satisfaction of knowing I’ve introduced you to your new favorite author. Enjoy!

The Art of Avoidance

Work on novel.

A girl has gotta eat, right? Better make some lunch.

And you can’t write while you eat, so maybe just one episode of New Girl. Ok, two episodes.

Speaking of food, I need to get groceries. I should make a grocery list.

Man, I love lists. What else do I need to do this weekend?

I really need to dedicate time to brainstorming. Add that to the list. Brainstorm about marking, book research, and blog.

Wow, the blog. I should blog. Yes, and that will get me warmed up to work on the novel.

Book research. I should read those library books before they’re due.

And then take notes.

And then brainstorm over the notes.

Maybe I should actually write a little bit about what I learned from the library books. That’s still progress, right? Short assignments?

I just need to run to pick up my prescription, and then it will be time to write.

Except Target exhausts me. Just a tiny nap. A short one. Well, okay, an hour. Two hours.

Crap. I napped three hours. Now I feel like a bum. And I still haven’t written. I should write.

And I will. I just have to wake up a little bit. Let me just eat some dinner, and then I’ll attack the novel.

Chipotle was not a good choice. I can’t write with my stomach hurting like this. Plus I have a headache. I’ll take some Ibuprofen, drink some water, wait till I can focus. I can’t focus when I feel like crap. No way. No one would expect me to.

Know what? ENOUGH. I HAVE TO WRITE. Write for one hour.

Writes for three.

That felt good. Tomorrow I should start writing earlier.


Wake up and avoid all over again.

exhausted writer


Guest blogger: Broken

Was re-reading this tonight and once again feeling such overwhelming gratitude for the seven years I got to live with Desiree. This woman witnessed some of my darkest moments and NEVER abandoned me, not ever. She prayerfully and thoughtfully supported me, sometimes that meant talking through things, sometimes that meant just sitting there while I cried. My hope is for everyone– and especially those with a brain disorder like OCD– to have a friend like her. She is my angel.


If you follow my blog, then you’ve already been introduced to my roommate Desiree.  She is a wonderful woman of God and one of my very favorite people.  Because we have lived together for five years, she is one of the people who has seen me at my very, very worst, OCD-wise.  I asked her to write a guest post about living with an obsessive-compulsive.  Here it is:

by Desiree Wood

I don’t know how to describe what it’s like to live with someone with OCD, but you all know.

I’m sure Jackie told me that she had OCD while I was in college. She told me how hard it was—about thinking friends were demons or that she was destined for Hell, about sharing her struggles at camp the previous summer—but it just didn’t register. She hid it well for the first year or two that we were…

View original post 444 more words

Bird by Bird, Buddy

I’ve been actually scared of writing, fearful of my manuscript, avoiding it at all costs. Some days it’s hard for me to understand how this could have happened: that I have learned to fear that which I once loved.

But deep inside, I know that I still love writing. It is all the other things that have added fear into the mix: deadlines, critique, even– in some ways– being paid for it.

Again and again, I have had to return to the advice of writing guru Anne Lamott: bird by bird, short assignments, shitty first drafts.

Bird by Bird

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

Short Assignments

“Say to yourself in the kindest possible way, Look, honey, all we’re going to do for now is to write a description of the river at sunrise, or the young child swimming in the pool at the club, or the first time the man sees the woman he will marry. That is all we are going to do for now. We are just going to take this bird by bird. But we are going to finish this one short assignment.”

Shitty First Drafts

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper. What I’ve learned to do when I sit down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head.”

And with that said– or remembered– I’m off to work on my novel. Think of me.


P.S. If you haven’t read Bird by Bird, man, are you missing out: get it here.

guts over fear.jpg

Seen: Beer-Lahai-Roi

I have been slowly re-reading through the New Testament, and today it struck me that I kept reading the phrase “Jesus looked at [him/her].” I searched it online, and indeed, it’s found in all four gospels. We read of Jesus looking at his disciples with lessons, at Zacchaeus with an unexpected greeting, at Peter with a christening of a new name, at a rich young man, the story recorded as “Jesus, looking at him, loved him.”

I can only speak for myself, but: I want to be seen. 

It made me think of another story, this from the Old Testament. Hagar, an Egyptian servant, is used and abused and, pregnant, she flees. But an angel of the Lord finds her near a spring in the wilderness, where she is told the Lord has listened to her affliction.

seenSo she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.” Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; it lies between Kadesh and Bered.

Beer-lahai-roi means “the well of the Living One who sees me.”

I want to be seen. And I am.

Pep Talk for Myself

This whole online dating thing has reminded me so much of Who I Am.

A girl woman who feels deeply, isn’t wired to be surface-level or casual, who tries to balance strength and vulnerability. Who likes herself.

Isn’t that so great? I LIKE MYSELF.

I feel like I have sort of been on the outs with myself for a few years now. I am recovering a friendship with ME. I sound like I’m about to grab a microphone and give a motivational speech, and I know it sounds so cheesy, but I don’t care. I like myself. I like myself!

I am this imperfect, dorky, confident, intelligent, playful, fun, opinionated, powerful woman, and I like myself. I have so much to learn, so many ways to grow, and that is exciting to me too.

May was a tornado. But I am still standing.



Ways to Be Rescued

Yesterday, my friend rush-mailed me TEN POUNDS of junk food, no joke. And four of my favorite kiddos on earth performed an impromptu variety show, replete with dances, songs (including an on-the-spot, patriotic diddy about the American flag), and magic tricks that may have included stipulations like “okay, close your eyes now”).

I cannot begin to say how grateful I am for all the lovely people in my life who just surround me with love and grace and encouragement and scaffolding. Friends who are willing to lift me from the pit … or to just crawl into it with me. Friends who I know would literally take on my burdens if it was possible, who would opt to suffer themselves instead of having me go through it.

I am reminded how alone I am NOT. Thank you.

I see the sun has come out today. That’s nice. That’s good.

sun out.jpg