Christmas: Rescue Plan GO

sadchristmasThere is an image of me on Christmas Eve that we still have somewhere at my parents’ house– me, hovering somewhere around 17-20 years old, with this look at the camera.  I can remember exactly what I was thinking in it.  I was looking at the camera and asking my future self, Are you okay yet?  I hope you don’t feel this way still.

I am SO happy I can tell that girl: I am okay. I haven’t felt that way in almost ten years now. Hold on. Help is coming. 

Tonight I’m thinking about people who spend their holidays the way I did– filled with doubt (laced with the tiniest bit of hope), depression, confusion, and sickness– and all while feeling that instead, they really ought to be happy.

This prayer is for you:

Jesus, I celebrate You– I celebrate Your marvelous incarnation, the Word becoming flesh.  Tonight, Lord, I lift up to You all those who are burdened with heavy, laboring hearts this season– whether from depression, anxiety, mental illness, or internal crisis.  YOU ARE STRONG ENOUGH TO HOLD US ALL.  Just as that first Christmas was the initiation of Your inexplicably great rescue plan, I pray that this Christmas will be the start of Your new rescue mission in the lives of these sufferers.  You are Love.  You are Truth.  You are the mighty redeemer.  I entrust my heart to You and ask that You would hold those for whom I’m praying– in a way that is felt.  Amen.

OCD & Depression Book Recs

A blog reader asked:

Hi Jackie. I’m recovering from OCD and depression right now and i am looking for a few book recommendation(fiction and non-fiction) about themes related to these mental illnesses? Something inspirational and perhaps even educational?

Well, I’m so glad you asked!

book recs_1.png

Fiction:
Kissing Doorknobs by Terri Spencer Hesser
The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta
Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
Truest by Jackie Lea Sommers (hey, she sounds familiar …)

Non-Fiction:
Overcoming OCD by Janet Singer
Stop Obsessing by Edna Foa
Being Me with OCD by Alison Dotson
The Imp of the Mind by Lee Baer

More resources:
My friend Shannon does a really cool feature on her blog called #ShatteringStigmas, which you definitely need to check out. I even wrote one. 😉
All the #ShatteringStigma posts
My #ShatteringStigma post

 

 

 

 

Today’s Surprise: the Anxiety/Depression Test Scores of the Blogger

So, this is interesting.

My therapist switched to a new practice, so even though I’ve been meeting with her for around a year, I had to fill out all new intake forms for the new place, including taking the Burns Anxiety Inventory and the Burns Depression Checklist.

How’d I score?

Anxiety: 41. This puts me in the “severe anxiety” category (31-50), which surprised me. I definitely thought I’d be lower than that since I’m handling anxiety about a hundred times better than this time last year. That said, last year, I would have certainly fallen into the “extreme anxiety or panic” category (51-99). Do you remember when I was having multiple panic attacks* a week? I’m so grateful to have moved on from that. I should be getting my revision feedback from my editor on book #2 any day now, and I pray it won’t spike! I’ve learned a lot of good tools in the past year!

*I never knew if this was strictly what they were, but panic is what I was feeling, and it manifested itself in very physical ways. Is that a panic attack?

anxiety scores

Depression: 21. This puts me just barely into the “moderate depression” category (21-30), one point away from “mild depression.” I was kind of surprised this wasn’t lower too! I can’t tell you how much mentally healthier I am than during the days when OCD ruled the roost.

Themes that emerged were my fears of criticism and disapproval, concerns about inadequacy and inferiority.

My co-worker said she was fascinated. “Here you have done so much– written a book— and yet you worry so much about inadequacy!” It’s true. It’s a thorn in my side. I need to learn to compete against myself and not others (cough, cough, my writer’s envy), but I don’t know how. Something to talk about with my therapist, once I start meeting with at the new place, I guess!

My co-worker also said, “You have these fears, but you don’t let them stop you.”

“Most of the time,” I stipulated.

It’s true. I am scared a lot, but courage is fear that keeps showing up to work.

So, while the test scores were surprising to me, I can work with them. God can work with them. He has and will.

The Darkest Days

artwork  in retro style,  woman and cup of teaThere is a little Caribou Coffee in Long Lake, Minnesota, where I sat one morning since I’d arrived too early to my visit to Orono High School. I stared at my steaming hot cocoa and repeated to myself: You are going to hell. 

Swallow that down, I told myself. You are going to hell, and there is nothing you can do to change it. This realization is your eternal reality.

In the car, I’d been listening to “Spirit” by Switchfoot on repeat: I’ve found all that I want, all that I long for, in You.

It was true then. It’s true now. But in those days, it was a truth that I imagined fell on deaf ears. Spirit, come be my joy.  It was the cry of my heart, but I knew I was damned and that joy would be forever inaccessible to me.

I can’t detail exactly how creepy it is become a cardboard person.

To ride the rollercoaster to the deepest depths and then to climb off there.

A reader asked me if I’d ever felt like God wasn’t with me through the storms of my life.  Have I felt that way? Yes, intensely.

But I was wrong.

Praise God I was wrong.

All these years later, God has stormed in, torn off my blindfold, wrapped me in his arms, and repeated truth to me till I came to believe it.

Do I still have moments where I doubt? Yes.

But my anchor holds.

I wrote this to remind myself of the truth– the truth that no disorder or devil can withhold from me because my God is stronger:

anchor manifesto

Co-Morbidity

comorbidDo you know the term?

Co-morbidity is the presence of one or more other disorders co-occuring along with the primary one. For those of us with OCD, our OCD is often co-morbid with depression. The depression seems to usually be a result of the OCD (as opposed to the other way around).

On their website, the Stanford School of Medicine writes:

Patients with OCD are at high risk of having comorbid (co-existing) major depression and other anxiety disorders. In a series of 100 OCD patients who were evaluated by means of a structured psychiatric interview, the most common concurrent disorders were: major depression (31%), social phobia (11%), eating disorder (8%), simple phobia (7%), panic disorder (6%), and Tourette’s syndrome (5%).

They also say:

In Koran et al.’s 1998 Kaiser Health Plan study, 26% of patients had no comorbid psychiatric condition diagnosed during the one year study period — 37% had one and 38% had two or more comorbid conditions. These proportions did not differ substantially between men and women. The most commonly diagnosed comorbid conditions were major depression, which affected more than one-half, other anxiety disorders, affecting one-quarter, and personality disorders, diagnosed in a little more than 10%.

OCD is enough of a beast on its own, but the truth of the matter is that many who struggle with OCD are fighting other demons too.

In my experience, OCD and depression teamed up against me, though, as I wrote before, the depression was secondary to the OCD (in that it was caused by the OCD). Some days I would be full of intense, manic fear caused by OCD, and other days all my sharp edges would be dulled by depression and a feeling that nothing in the world sounded exciting or worthwhile.

I’m so grateful that when ERP helped me steal power away from OCD, the upshot was that depression was defeated too.

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

 

Image credit: Gerald Gabernig

 

The Long Journey … to the Starting Line

"Cross That Line" by xLadyDaisyx on deviantArt

“Cross That Line” by xLadyDaisyx on deviantArt

It is SO HARD for OCD sufferers to be correctly diagnosed and then find the right treatment and a good cognitive-behavioral therapist.  In fact, it takes an average of 14-17 years for someone to access effective treatment.

That stat stings my heart.  I feel it deeply because of my own personal struggle.

I developed a sudden onset of OCD at the age of 7.  I wasn’t diagnosed with OCD until I was 22.  I started ERP (exposure and response prevention) therapy at 27.  That’s twenty years, folks– fifteen just till diagnosis alone.

Growing up, I just assumed that I “thought too much”– was an “overthinker” and especially sensitive to issues of morality. I didn’t understand that other people were also undergoing the same doubts as I was but were able to move past them with ease.  I, on the other hand, would get trapped.  The exit door to my brain was stuck shut, so all my thoughts just milled and churned and generated intense anxiety.  I didn’t know that others even had the same thoughts as I did, nor did I realize how it would be possible to let such thoughts come and go.

In childhood, I cried all the time.  In fact, I cried every single night for three years in a row.  I never told my parents about this.  I was so scared that they wouldn’t be able to “fix” me that I preferred to just rest in my own sadness, still clinging to the hope that *someday* I could be fixed.  As long as no one told me it was impossible, it still felt possible, and even thought I was terrifically sad, I kept that hope as my lifeline.

High school was a beast.  I got straight A’s (OCD drove me to perfectionism) and graduated at the top of my class.  I was a class clown, and I had some amazing friends.  But I battled intense spiritual doubts and lived in great fear.  My tenth grade year was one of the hardest of my whole life.  Only those closest to me knew it.

My doubts intensified in college.  They escalated to a whole new level.  Thankfully, I had a solid support system in my new friends (people who remain my support system to this day!).  And though they couldn’t understand what I was going through, they loved me.

After undergrad, things fell apart.  In a nutshell, I lost my grip on reality– my doubts had grown so large and out of control that I no longer knew if I could trust my friends or my own human experience.  Finally, for the first time in my lifesomeone used the words mental illness with me.  It felt shocking.

I was encouraged to meet with a therapist (unfortunately, a talk therapist– not effective for OCD), who also got me in to meet with a psychiatrist, and I was finally diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder.  A diagnosis fifteen years in the making.

I spent about a year with that first talk therapist, and it was more damaging than anything else.  I finally “escaped” and never again set foot in that clinic.  Meanwhile, I was an SSRI lab rat, trying out a slew of various medications to treat my OCD.  I eventually went back to talk therapy– this time to a much better therapist, who was a true blessing, although she still didn’t truly understand OCD, and so my therapy included a lot of reassurances.  In other words, this kind, amazing woman who loved me was just reinforcing my compulsions.  Not good.  I also took a break from trying out medications after one stole all my energy and made me rapidly gain weight.  I was overweight for the first time in my life– all due to a medication– and have struggled with my weight ever since.

Five years after that initial diagnosis, my psychiatrist was out of ideas.  Literally.  She asked me what I thought we should do next.  I, of course, had no clue.  She referred me to an OCD specialist.

This incredible man– Dr. Suck Won Kim– changed my life.  He got me onto the right medication (almost immediately) and essentially required that I begin ERP, even giving me the name and contact information for the therapist who would ultimately allow me to bottle up my OCD and put a stopper in it.  Dr. Chris Donahue, to whom I’m forever indebted.

Twelve weeks was all it took.  In one sense.  In another, it took twenty years.

My life was a mix of depression, anxiety, compulsions, “bad” thoughts, and wrongness, and then twelve weeks later, I felt the burden of OCD lift from my shoulders.  I was giddy with freedom.  Five years later, I still am.

I hear from OCD sufferers every week who are in their 50’s, 60’s, or even older, who are still seeking appropriate treatment.  This absolutely breaks my heart.

On the flip side, I’ve had the incredible experience of meeting Maddie, 11, and her incredible parents, who leapt into action almost immediately and got her into ERP within months of her OCD onset.  In the same year, she developed OCD, was diagnosed, and was treated.  Marvelous!

That’s one of the reasons I blog about OCD.  To help people to understand earlier what they are dealing with and to encourage them to seek appropriate treatment (ERP, with or without medication).  It still just boggles my mind that in 2013, mental health practitioners still don’t know that ERP is the answer.  People get passed around from talk therapist to talk therapist, when the solution should be so ready, so available.

Surprise Visit from Depression

I woke up this morning with clouds in my head.

Nothing had happened.  Nothing was/is wrong.  But I feel like I’m in a fog.

My friend Cindy reminded me that it’s a lie.  It feels good to know that.

I went back to sleep until 1 PM.  When I got up, I got ready right away, knowing that staying in my pajamas would only make things worse.

I took the longest shower known to man, asking God to bring life back into me.

Now it’s 2:30 PM, and I haven’t eaten yet.  Feeling too numb to exert effort, I poured myself a bowl of cereal.  Then realized I had no milk.  Then started to cry.

I can’t nail this down.  It helps to know my body is just lying to me.  I really am excited about life (as a pre-scheduled post later today will share), eager for the new year and all it holds.  I just feel horrible right now.  I don’t want to complain to all my friends because I feel like that’s all I ever do.  So I decided to share with my blog readers.

Sometimes I forget what depression is like.  It’s been so long.  Now that I’m reminded, I want to go back into my acquired ignorance.

My best friend Erica is coming over in a little bit.  That will be good.  Even though all I want to do right now is crawl back into bed and sleep until 2014 is underway, I know that it is better that I ignore the lies and do my best to celebrate with Eir.

I don’t know what could have possibly happened overnight.  Sorry to everyone else who is feeling this way.  It’s a lie.  Life is good.  There is much to look forward to.  God bless.

Christmas and Depression

sad christmasI have friends and family who absolutely cannot understand me when I say that I do not love Christmastime.  I love what it stands for, but most years, it felt like a season to simply survive.

In Minnesota, it’s cold and snowy and dark before you even leave work.  There’s this strange pressure to be joyful that somehow results in a meta-awareness of not fitting the mold.  In the light generated by the holidays, the darkness of depression becomes even more obvious.

Thankfully, so, SO much in my life has been redeemed in the last five years since ERP.  But I can still remember when the holidays were the very hardest time of the year for me (I suppose it would be true to say that they still are the hardest time).  I know that there are many of you out there who cannot wait until the calendar flips to the new year and normalcy will return (even if normalcy leaves much to be desired).

I get it.

I am thinking of you this season.  Jesus Christ, whose birth we are celebrating, is big enough to hold such heavy hearts.

Related posts:
Christmas isn’t fun for everyone.
Holidays are hard for some of us.

It could be the smiling person next to you.

depressed

Only my closest friends and family ever really knew what I was dealing with.  I smiled a lot, was the class clown, told great stories, graduated summa cum laude.  No one would have looked at me and guessed that I was drowning in depression, a slave to OCD, driven to certainty in unhealthy ways.

Try to hear what people aren’t saying.  And have more discussions.

Related posts:
My Darkest, Lowest Days
The Sons of Korah Get It