The Invisible Fight

There’s a scene in C.S. Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader where Lucy, Edmund, Eustace, and Caspian land on an island inhabited by invisible people who seem to be enemies.  The group talked over their best options for escape and realized they would likely need to fight:

“Surely,” said Lucy, “if Rhince and the others on the Dawn Treader see us fighting on the shore they’ll be able to do something.”

“But they won’t see us fighting if they can’t see any enemy,” said Eustace miserably. “They’ll think we’re just swinging our swords in the air for fun.”

Couldn't find the owner of this awesome pic, but I love how many stories it tells.

Couldn’t find the owner of this awesome pic, but I love how many stories it tells.

It makes me think of OCD. Not only of OCD but other mental illnesses too.

People often cannot see the evidence of a mental illness, and so they think we’re just “swinging our swords in the air for fun.”  It’s difficult– because the enemy is so very, very real, and the stakes are high (sometimes it’s literally life-or-death), but since mental illness is invisible, the fight doesn’t always warrant the respect it’s due.

For some of us, we look perfectly “normal.” We go to work, we smile often, laugh at our friends or co-workers.  And for some of us, the battle against intrusive thoughts is almost entirely internal (especially for those of us with Pure-O, whose compulsions are usually also invisible).

I am not at all trying to pit visible illnesses against invisible ones; every individual struggle matters.  My point is just to say this: you don’t know what the person next to you is fighting. Be kind to all people.


For (lots!) more about OCD and ERP, go to

Obsessing vs. Brainstorming

I’ve had a very, very active brain for pretty much my entire life.  I’m the girl people always described as “the one who thinks too much.”  I have thoughts and ideas rush me like little hurricanes, and this is just as true after ERP therapy as it was before.

But there’s a huge difference too: productivity.

Before ERP, my thoughts were often OCD-induced intrusive thoughts that led me down dark avenues over and over again.  My thinking was circular, and I could re-visit the same ideas an uncountable number of times each day.  I was a hamster on a treadmill or a dog chasing its tail– that is, expending a lot of energy but going nowhere.

After ERP, my thoughts are much more welcome to me.  I can choose to focus on the ones I want.  I may still be lying awake at night, but it’s productive, and I end up jotting tons of notes and ideas down in my phone.  I start in one place, but an hour later, I’ve traveled some distance and often have huge realizations about my fictional characters and storylines.

Believe me, the latter is much more fulfilling.


For more about the ERP therapy that set me free, go to

I'm SO over this.

I’m SO over this.

OCD: Unwelcome but not Unexpected

How many times do I have to say that OCD is a joy-thief before I should realize: Oh.  Hmm.  You’re pretty happy right now.  OCD will be along shortly to steal that away?

I should learn to brace myself.

On Friday, November 22, I announced on Facebook and on my blog that Harper Collins offered me a two-book deal.  Shortly thereafter, amidst all the “likes” and congratulatory comments and joyful sharing, OCD came calling.

I spent the majority of the evening obsessing over future revisions.  

not you again

I practiced ERP, walking myself through that lovely mantra of “it’s POSSIBLE, but it’s not LIKELY,” then discussing with a friend (asking for no reassurance), and also spending time in prayer.

Life, as I continue to learn, is risky, and the more I learn to embrace risk and uncertainty, the happier I am.

Which is why I flat-out refuse to flat-out refuse any revision suggestions.  I will consider everything my wonderful editor suggests, knowing that God is in control and that Jill loves my characters too.

In this sense, I’m growing as an obsessive-compulsive in remission, an author, and as a person.

Jackie 1

Related posts:
Uncertainty is the Key
Taking Risks

I think and think and think and …



And no, for an obsessive-compulsive, it’s not pretty.

Related posts:
When Thinking Hurts
OCD Torture
A Metaphor for Obsessive-Compulsives

Christian Culture’s (Sad) Response to Mental Illness

It’s in the Title: Mental Illness is an Illness

Salads and sandwiches and a shared mental illness, all of it on the tiny table between us.

“There is help for OCD,” I told her.  “The most effective treatment is cognitive-behavioral therapy.  Between that and my medication, I got my life back.  I know you can too.”  (The evangelical zeal I have for this particular therapy reminds me of the way I love Jesus: both took me from darkness into light, both make me want to throw parades in their honor.)

“Oh, I don’t know,” said my friend, poking at her salad with a fork, sounding hesitant.  “I think before I take any extreme methods, I want to just pray about it more.  I know that God can bring me through this.”

I wanted to say, But you have been praying about this for years!  I also believe God can bring you through this—and I am telling you how.

There is a pervasive and unhealthy attitude in the Christian culture toward mental illness.  Many believe that one should be able to “pray away” a disorder.  Some think that mental illness is, quite simply, spiritual warfare; some think it’s the result of unresolved sin issues.  One of my friends has said before that a real Christian can’t be clinically depressed.  I saw a Facebook status once that read, “Depression is a choice.”

These sentiments light a fire in me, especially for the way that they marginalize a group of people that are often already more susceptible to guilt.  I know that in my OCD hey-day, I felt continual guilt and severe shame; for someone to intimate to me that these feelings were the appropriate ones would only mean that my Christian brothers and sisters were siding with my disorder—and against me.

Mental illnesses are just that: illnesses. 

friendsGod and Satan can work through them just the same way as they could through, say, cancer or diabetes.  All issues are spiritual issues, simply because we are spiritual beings, but it is not helpful to label a chemical issue with a giant term like spiritual warfare.  To say that a Christian cannot be depressed is like saying a real Christian can’t get the flu.  To say that depression is a choice is like saying strep throat is a choice.

If you break a bone, do you get it set in a cast?  If you learn you’re diabetic, do you take insulin?  If cancer steps into your body, do you pursue chemotherapy?

The answer is usually yes.  Yes—and pray.  (Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for prayer!  And for medical innovation!)

That is why I am unashamed of my OCD, my depression.  Instead, I am proud of my God for seeing me through a therapy as difficult as CBT and for being my strength through five years of side effects in the search for the right medication.

Unfortunately, my friend left the sandwich shop that evening feeling obligated to “pray away” a spiritual flaw instead of feeling empowered to fight illness, in spite of my best efforts.  My voice is being drowned out by the multitude of louder voices of the Christian culture, a culture that should be supporting this demographic, not alienating it.

OCD, ERP, and Christianity

ocd and christianityI often hear from obsessive-compulsive Christians asking, “If my OCD is centered around my faith, will ERP still work even if my therapist is not a Christian?”

I’ve written elsewhere about how OCD is an arsonist, setting fires (obsessions) in our minds and how our compulsions are like shortsidedly trying to put out the fires instead of going for the arsonist directly.  You don’t need a Christian cognitive-behavioral therapist.  You just need someone who knows ERP and knows it well.  In other words, you need an OCD assassin.

If you are obsessing about the unforgivable sin or something else faith-related, you don’t need a great theologian to dialogue with you about it.  (In fact, chances are that you’ve already discussed this with all your Christian friends and maybe even a respected pastor.)  After that conversation with the theologian, you’re probably just going to start obsessing again, either about the same thing or something else.  You need someone who can take out the OCD, and yes, I mean “take out” in a sniper kind of way.

“But I’m worried that ERP is just going to cover up my real issues.  I don’t want to just forget about these things.  I want to solve them.”

First of all, you’re misunderstanding ERP.  It doesn’t sweep issues under a rug.  It’s not like you’re brainwashed into believing that life is now perfect.  Not at all!  It rewires your brain so that you can think the way “normal” people do– less circularly.

Secondly, you’re misunderstanding life and faith.  These things aren’t “solvable”– at least, not generally.  Sure, you might be the one person in a million who has God audibly speak to you one day– but probably not.  Life is full of uncertainty.  It’s a FACT.  And faith is about TRUSTING God even in uncertainty.

You need to get it out of your head that you will ever be rid of uncertainty in this life.

Back to the original question …

Your ERP therapist is not going to talk you through theological issues.  That’s not his/her job, and actually, it would be counterproductive to what ERP is all about.

If you can find an incredible cognitive-behavioral therapist who is also a follower of Christ, then yes, by all means, go to that person!  But if healing and health are your goals, then your first order of business is finding someone who knows how to do Exposure and Response Prevention.  You are looking for an OCD assassin, not someone to have tea and Bible study with.

Thoughts?  Further questions?


Satan is the accuser; Christ is our defender.

Recently, one of my blog readers asked me how I could tell when a thought came from OCD or from God, especially because one of my formerly intrusive thoughts was of a Bible verse that seemed to condemn me.  She wrote, “I keep reading that Bible verses spontaneously popping into one’s head is a prime way God speaks to people.”

What a great question.  One I’m not entirely sure I’m qualified to tackle, although I do know that the more I learn about and understand my OCD, the easier and easier it is for me to spot it.  I can recognize its tell-tale voice from a mile away now.  And while I don’t think that OCD = Satan (at all), they are both my enemies and they are both accusers.

Here is the (in flux) conclusion (is that an oxymoron?) I’ve come to:

I guess the big thing is this: when OCD would bring up that Bible verse, it worked like an intrusive thought and brought deep anxiety to me, but with God … his kindness leads us to repentance, not to shame.  The voice of God showers me with kindness, grace, conviction that leads to change … but I don’t think God’s voice is one of shame and accusation. In fact, scripture even tells us that SATAN is the accuser and CHRIST is the one who defends us.

Remember, Satan used and twisted scripture when Christ was going through his temptations, so we know that it’s part of the devil’s arsenal.

frustration4My friend Erica told me something fascinating she’d once heard: “The Holy Spirit does not motivate with guilt.”  Likewise, my incredibly wise writing professor Judy said, “I know the voice of God because that voice invites me to move closer without shame while the voice of Satan fills me with an electric dread that makes me want to hide.”

As always, I encouraged this blog reader to explore Exposure and Response Prevention therapy.  In the four years since my ERP, the voice of OCD has become so easy to recognize.  I finally know my enemy’s voice.

And better yet, I know my savior’s.


There’s so much more to OCD than hand-washing …

washing handsIf you use Google Images and search “OCD,” what you end up with is a lot of photos of lame OCD jokes and of soapy hands.  It reminds me just how little the world really knows and understands obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Heck, before my own diagnosis, I myself pretty much thought of it as “that disease where you wash your hands a lot or have to tap the doorknob over and over.”  Insightful, Jackie.

While it’s true that contamination obsessions are a prevalent theme among OCD sufferers (I read somewhere that about 60% of OCD cases deal in this arena), that’s not the only obsessive theme.*  And even hand-washing is often misunderstood.  People just don’t understand that there are persistent, unwanted, intrusive thoughts that are driving the hand-washing or other compulsions.  Compulsions are a response to what I personally think is the darker half of the disorder: the obsessions.

* Other common obsessive-compulsive themes include a need for order or symmetry, hoarding, checking, sexual obsessions (including HOCD, in which a straight person obsesses about being gay, or a gay person obsesses about being straight), religion/morality/scrupulosity (my OCD world!), and aggressive thoughts around harming others or one’s self.  OCD is probably bigger, wider, and scarier than most people ever imagined.


Dark Promises

One of the worst bouts of intrusive thoughts I’ve had occurred for me in high school.  For a time, my intrusive thoughts were “God, I promise that I will …”

It could be something stupid.  Touch this lamp.  Not eat toast.  

But more often, it was something more difficult, a much bigger deal.  The one that kept forcing its way into my mind was, “God, I promise that I will go to hell.”

Well, that was a conundrum, eh?

I was a wreck.  I kept picturing myself getting to heaven’s gate and once I stepped inside those pearly gates– well, just doing so would then be breaking a promise to God (i.e., sinning), and then, wouldn’t I then get thrown out of heaven for my sin?

I was screwed either way.

Or so I thought.

But you can’t believe everything you think.  AMEN.

Has anyone else had intrusive thoughts similar to these?

dark promise