3 Things I Want to Say to My College Self

  1. Quit being so damn proud and ask for help.
  2. There is more gray than you would imagine– and it’s a good thing.
  3. Give more grace. 

college

Ask for Help

Look, I know that all your life you have prided yourself on your intelligence– how you can figure things out on your own, how your mind is such a steel trap you don’t need to use a planner, how you don’t take shortcuts in anything (except maybe gym, ha!). But things are gonna get harder and harder and harder, girl, and the sooner you learn how to suck it up, ask for help, and accept that help, the better it will go for you. In fact, you will feel even smarter— which makes sense, since it’s wise people who collect resources and use them. Quit trying to get to the Everest summit without oxygen. Utilize your mentors, the counseling office at your college, the weekend extension given on that writing assignment. One day, you will be so happy to have tools and to use them. One day, you will see that it was always smarter to humble yourself and ask for help. The sooner you learn this, the happier you will be.

Gray isn’t the Enemy

The truth is that you have an undiagnosed anxiety disorder– OCD– which is making you so incredibly uncomfortable with anything that isn’t black or white. And if something is gray, the uncertainty of it makes you wild with panic, enough that you will think yourself in circles until you are able to move that gray along the spectrum, one way other other, to black or to white, so that you can breathe again. But the truth is that the sooner you learn how to sit with the gray, to let it be, to learn how to breathe even in the midst of uncertainty– that is where you will find relief and freedom.

Grace

First of all, you’re a bit of a self-righteous jerk right now, aren’t you, Sommers? Because you don’t accept help from others, and because you force everything in your world to be either black or white, and because you have scrupulosity (sit tight, you’ll learn more about this in a few years), you sometimes act like you have cornered the market on Being a Good Girl. Please stop. It is in your weaknesses that God’s power is made perfect. It’s in your humility and vulnerability that you draw others and help them open up. The mask of perfection that you wear feels so necessary right now, but it’s when you take that off that you will start experiencing deeper friendships. It’s when you show the darkness of your heart and find that you are still beloved that you will taste that richest flavor of being known. Give grace– to yourself and to others. This is the better way.

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

teen me.jpg

Question & Dancer: When OCD Makes You Doubt You Have OCD [& More]

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.

 

Is it normal to become hypersensitive to the looks of your same sex with the onset of HOCD? even if you’ve known and seen the person before they just appear a lot more attractive now? Is that a symptom of a. change in sexuality or another Possible HOCD Symptom?

This is very common. Many (most?) with HOCD will be hypersensitive in this way; some seek out opportunities to “check” their reaction to the same sex (if the person with OCD is straight– obviously, this would be the opposite if the person with OCD identifies as a homosexual person) while some avoid that gender entirely. Both checking and avoidance are compulsions. Follow my HOCD tag here.


I am 54 years old recently my ocd has become worse for last 6 months since i changed my job and because of ocd anxiety i am not able to work at present. My ocd is mostly god related i have to pray and touch god photos everytime i pass through them and think i have not prayed prope rly and become anxious. Also there are lots of thoughts coming and going in my head always about touching god photos etc and i am not satisfied with my praying i tried medicines and they made my condition worst,Please help me Sir

Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy is the very best treatment for ANY form of OCD, including this. My OCD was also related to my faith; I suffered for 20 years before just 12 weeks of ERP gave me back my life (and a growing relationship with my God). Lots of resources available for you at www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD!

Is it normal to feel no attraction or interest in romantic relationships when suffering with HOCD, even when recovering (reduced obsessions and compulsions, but the feeling of not knowing your sexuality and not being attracted to the gender you always have been attracted to?

I hear this all the time!

Hi Jackie, I have been suffering from hocd for a while now. One of my biggest problems besides the intrusive thoughts and fear I can’t shake off is the EXTREME SADNESS I have. I feel like I get sucked into this dark hole where I can’t get rid of feeling hopeless and sad. I lose all motivation to do my homework and just feel angry at god. Have you ever felt this way? If so, what did you do to help yourself?

Hi friend, sounds like you might be dealing with depression in addition to OCD. The same thing happened to me. Sometimes the depression is a result of the OCD– treating the OCD effectively will “remove” the source. But sometimes that’s not the case; in such a case, it can be more important to deal with the depression first in order for the sufferer to gather strength to fight the OCD. An OCD specialist can help you with this. Perhaps this is a personal preference, but I always recommend treating depression with medication. Depression is a chemical issue, so I fight back with chemicals, often an SSRI. For those who can’t afford a prescription, the supplement 5-HTP is the closest natural alternative to an SSRI.

Hi Jackie, Did you ever feel like your ocd would never end? As a current hocd sufferer, I feel a lot that it’s never going to be over. I question and doubt even the most logic of facts I’ve been told to use in order to help cope with the intrusive thoughts. Everyday it’s a new “what if” question and it makes me terrified and sad.

Yes yes yes yes yes. This was actually one of the biggest horrors of my OCD: the fear that it would always be that way, that it would never end. I’ve written a post specifically about this.

Hi! I have one question: could HOCD bounce to another theme even though I’ve been dealing with it for two months and eventually couple of weeks ago, it wasn’t as severe as it was for the first month? Sometimes I feel like my attraction men is back (I’m a girl) but I still react negatively when HOCD thoughts come up. HOCD targets my insecurities as well.

Theme hopping is pretty normal, at least it was for me. I would spend maybe three or four months obsessing about something until it was basically like my brain would collapse— maybe it was the mental equivalent to the body passing out from pain. It would quickly find something new. It always would. That’s why we don’t treat the theme– we treat OCD.

a week ago I was still dealing with HOCD, but while putting my niece down for a nap, I had a sexual intrusive image of her followed by “should I…?” ever since then my mind has been obsessing about this nonstop. I know what I am capable of and would never harm a child. I can’t stop googling, crying and asking for reassurance. What should I do? Does this sound like POCD?

Indeed it does! And, if you read the answer just above this one, you will see that often OCD hops from theme to theme until it is effectively treated with exposure therapy. ERP is always the best course of action; many more details and resources at

www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD. You are absolutely correct in knowing that you would never harm a child. You wouldn’t. In fact, if you were that kind of person, you would not be “googling, crying and asking for reassurance.” I am not worried about you being a pedophile. I only want you to be treated for OCD, friend. You can do this.

I think I have had HOCD for about 6 months now, and my attraction still hasn’t come back for men. However, before I would get major spikes when reading coming out stories, and reading online forums would say something along the lines of HOCD is just a cover up for those in the closet. I no longer feel major spikes when reading this material though. Is my mind is coming to terms with being gay?

HOCD is a theme of OCD, an anxiety disorder; homosexuality is a sexual orientation. They are not the same thing at all. The first is an illness; treat it with exposure therapy.

In general, are our thoughts representative of our true selves?

Not when someone has OCD.

I’m so scared and tired. I don’t know how long I can take this.

Don’t give up. But do seek treatment. I remember being in your shoes– exactly those shoes. Exhausted, terrified, living either at a fever-pitch of anxiety or else at a low flat-line of depression. But I got rid of those shoes in 2008. I will never walk in them again. 

Is it possible that you can develop mental illness like OCD, even though you might not have issues with OCD in the past? I also have another question: do you think people who second guess whether or not they OCD take longer to seek treatment or even a diagnosis? Plus, could cultural and community surroundings prolong getting help?

I’m not sure if I have any friend with OCD who would say that they have had it from birth– or at least, that it hadn’t manifested itself from birth. For many of us, there is some sort of trigger that kicks into gear at some point. Mine began at age seven.

And yes, statistics estimate that it takes 14-17 years from the onset of OCD symptoms until someone is correctly diagnosed and effectively treated. For me, it took twenty.

I think that number is affected by pride, doubt, how few people (even therapists!) know to direct an OCD sufferer to exposure therapy, and how difficult exposure therapy is. In addition, cultural and familial stigma also prevent people from getting treated.

I know a family– the most incredible, amazing family– in Michigan. When their pre-teen daughter exhibited symptoms (obsessions and compulsions), the parents immediately sought help, learned about OCD and ERP, and got their daughter into an intense ERP program at the Mayo Clinic. I praise God that my beautiful young friend M didn’t have to suffer for 17 years before all that happened. I praise God for parents like R and D.

I realized one of my compulsions is ruminating, but its so hard to catch myself ruminating until Ive ruminated for a good hour. Ive tried to catch myself early but I’m wondering if you have any tricks to stop it from happening? Its hard because rumination just happens immediately after a scary thought&I dont even realize I’m doing it until its too late (rumination also decreases my anxiety)

I had some compulsions that were auto-responses, and the trick my ERP therapist offered to me to stop it didn’t seem like it would work. Except it did work. When I realized what I was doing I would say, “NO!”– interrupt my thoughts this way– “I don’t need to do XYZ right now.” Sometimes I would have to do that multiples times just in the course of a minute. But it worked. My auto-responses eventually stopped.

I feel so alone in this (HOCD), i feel like i’ve lost all identity and sense of self. I’m getting treatment- its not the best, (I am a student so i cant afford much) but i don’t feel much better. I don’t know what to do, i feel so lost

I am so sorry you feel this way, but you are still fighting. You are looking out for yourself and keep seeking help, and I am proud of you. When you say you’re getting treatment, are you referring to exposure therapy (ERP)? If not, that is what you need to do. Talk therapy is not helpful in treating OCD. ERP, on the other hand, can be done on your own.

I believe I am suffering from HOCD but I am terrified to go to a therapist for them to tell me I am gay. I have a wonderful girlfriend that I do not want to leave and do not want to do anything sexual with men. However I’m scared that I am somehow lying to myself although I’ve been perfectly straight my whole life. Any advice for me?

Yes, read one of these books and see if you can identify yourself. If so, then do the exercises. Listen to yourself: you love your girlfriend and don’t want to do anything sexual with men … yet you are concerned. That is HOCD, friend. (And yes, you will feel a short flood of relief from my saying so … but you will begin to doubt it again soon. That will continue to happen until you treat it with ERP.)

Stop Obsessing by Edna Foa

Amazon | B&N | Fishpond

Freedom from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder by Jonathan Grayson

Amazon | B&N | Fishpond

The OCD Workbook by Bruce Hyman and Cherlene Pedrick

Amazon | B&N | Fishpond

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders: A Complete Guide to Getting Well and Staying Well by Fred Penzel

Amazon | B&N | Fishpond

Hey, I have a question for you, Jackie (I love your website, by the way; it’s insightful and it’s helped me a lot in recent months). Is this guy a charlatan, or is this actually good advice for someone suffering with HOCD looking to use ERP as treatment? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJ7RfcRrXS8 I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thank you!! 🙂

Not a charlatan. His steps were basically think about your fear (Exposure) and feel the discomfort (Response Prevention). This is what ERP therapy is. His later steps talk about doing this again and again until it no longer is so upsetting. This is how ERP happens. You can see all these details in the story of my own experience with ERP. Even more details here.

This is regarding HOCD. I was wondering if it is possible to have wondered if you are gay in your childhood. I started freaking out about my sexuality around 8th grade. I am 20 now… still freaking out and still unsure of what I am. I’m scared to be gay and I was wondering if HOCD makes you looks into your past for evidence of being gay and actually believing it?

This can and does happen with HOCD. This happened to Hannah, who has been interviewed on my blog several times. Her HOCD kicked in in junior high as well.

Interview with a Former HOCD Sufferer
Another Interview with a Former HOCD Sufferer
A Third Interview with a Former HOCD Sufferer
A Fourth Interview with a Former HOCD Sufferer
Q&A with Former HOCD Sufferer

I have had Hocd in and off for three years and I often doubt that i have it. I often find that I have fairly bad spikes and want reassurance… what is the best way to stop yourself from compulsively confessing or seeking reassurance?

I am assuming that you have read all the other responses above and so you will now know about ERP therapy. I recommend finding a group of supporters who will help hold you accountable– my friends knew exactly what my main compulsions were (mine also were confession and seeking reassurance), and they knew that they should not “aid and abet.” Remember that when you perform compulsions, you are actually siding with OCD and against yourself.

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.)

Guest Post: My ERP Experience

With her permission, I am sharing a comment from ashley1234567890, one I found particularly insightful.

And here she is …

I went through ERP and had fantastic results. It was a huge blessing for me, and I thank God that he gave me the courage to try it.

I am no expert, but i did have a really bad case of OCD, which got a lot better after ERP, so here are my recomendations, that in hindsight, were key to my success.

NOTE: my ocd did not get worse with ERP (it got so much better) even though the treatment was very intense!

If you qualify for ERP therapy, and you are considering it, then do not let fear keep you from going. The only caveat is to make sure you find an expert who treats ERP because it is specialized therapy. For example, my therapist was willing to meet me outside of their office for exposures, because my ocd spiked at a particular place. I also recommend finding someone who has experience with whatever ocd you are facing. For example, my therapist had experience with germ ocd, harm ocd, religious ocd, sexual oreintation ocd, etc… so i knew they were highly qualified. they should also give you exercises so you can do your own exposures.

As for ERP, It seems counterintuitive at first, since the patient will go through exercises and narrations that are asking them to run towards their fears (instead of running away from them), which in turn causes anxiety to spike, and while super anxious the patient will be asked to temporaily stay in that state while resisting compulsions that are normally used to reduce the anxiety. If you face the obsession and not give in to the compulsion, then the cycle breaks, which in turn makes you less anxious. That is where “exposure and response prevention” comes from.

My treatment was gradual at first (small fears first then you move onto bigger ones) also, my initial exposures were designed so that anxiety was moderate so I could handle it, and then over additional sessions, they were changed to more intense ones.

For me, it took me about 12 sessions to complete treatment. I noticed some big gains after the first couple of sessions so i knew it was helping. After treatment i am a new person. I still have the ocd, triggers, and the spikes, but it does not cause much distress anymore. Before ERP my distress level was a 10 and it was constant. My life sucked.

So heres an example of what what ERP might look like. let’s say you have germ OCD. You may be asked to touch a door knob and not wash your hands afterwards for 5 minutes. As the sessions go on, and you grow stronger, you may be asked to do the same excercise, then refrain from washing for 15 minutes. Eventually, beloeve it or not, you will be able to do the excercise then not wash at all! Or, one exposure may be a narrative, where you write a short story, and in this story you get a little dirty, or exposed to germs, etc… over the treatments, the story may get more and more disgusting and intense, so you will be in a situation that gets really dirty, and theres no place to wash up etc…

As the sessions and exposures go on, the anxiety for each trigger gets weaker, which in turn makes the spikes less intense. Consequently for me, the ocd got better over time.

Again, the key is to find a qualified expert who has a lot of experience in OCD and ERP, because you will be asked to do things that will make you feel temporarily uncomfortable and the therapist will need to work with you at the right pace so that you are not overwhelmed. They should be willing to leave their office to do an exposure where you need it. So for example, if you are afraid of heights they should be up for going with you to a balcony etc… to face that fear.

Like some of the previous comments, I was anxious before starting too, and I was scared that it would make my condition worse. But i was wrong! that’s just the ocd trying to keep you in the bad place.

In fact thats how i first came across this blog. Jackie had wrote some content on ERP and it gave me the confidence to try it. Thank you jackie you are such a blessing from the Lord! Hopefully this post will do the same for someone else!

Question & Dancer: What is “Normal” with OCD?

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.

My question is this.. I have hocd but whatever I do it just seems like I get afraid or concerned when a guy comes around me.. it’s like sometimes I look just to check if im attracted to them.. and it’s annoying because the action is becoming involuntary and it’s scary because people read what you send them .. and people are starting to think that I’m gay! And thats very false! What should I do to combat that?

Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, which I’ve written about extensively on this blog: check out http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD, friend. Educate yourself on ERP; then seek out an ERP specialist or track down one of the books I recommend so that you can do ERP on your own. Either way, ERP is the solution.

Please read here about Self-Directed ERP.

i’ve met we a psychologist- but she doest seem to have any experience with HOCD and thus has not really been catching it’s symptoms/mentioned it, she does think i have an anxiety disorder and excessive worry- but not specifically anything on OCD. Note she is relatively inexperienced psychologist, as i’m a student and needed to find someone low cost. Not the psychologist has little experience as i’m a student and need a low cost specialist. She has mentioned CBT and ERP as helping methods though. so, what i wanted to ask is form what i have described do i sound like i have HOCD or an i in denial. I am not trying to seek reassurance but guidance, I don’t have anyone to turn to (from a very backwards society in asia) – should i be looking for an OCD specialist or a general psychologist to help me come to term with who i am?

Hi dear! You need an OCD specialist, specifically an ERP specialist. If you can’t afford to meet with one in person, then definitely track down a book (I list four on my website) that will guide you through doing ERP on your own! And kudos to you for being ultra-aware of seeking reassurance. That is one of the primary compulsions for many who suffer from HOCD– the more you are aware of it and resist it, the better! Click here to read more about the Problem with Reassurance.

Hi Jackie. I was wondering if you have any strategies to just letting the thoughts be thoughts in your head. On the web (when I looking for reassurance yes I know its sooooo bad but I can’t help it), people say to let those intrusive thoughts wonder in your mind, but do I just sit there and think nothing as those thoughts wreak havoc on my emotions? Do I just try to calmly breathe through it when my heart is beating super hard? It’s also so hard to not check for reassurance online! How did you have the strength to not reassure yourself? What did you say or think to yourself to prevent it? (I can’t afford a diagnosis, much less ERP so I’m scared that my HOCD may be actually be in denial, but I do know that I’ve had many obessions and compulsions in the past and when the professor talked about OCD, my first thought was THATS ME but then it’s also never been severe to the point where it has disrupted too much of my life. I would just cry myself to sleep most of the time when I’m obsessing)

When I read questions like this, it takes me back to specific memories– horrible, manic ones where I could not calm down, could not do much of anything except to cry and ask for reassurance. It feels so helpless and hopeless in those moments, but I promise it’s not! First of all, since you can’t afford an ERP therapist, please track down one of the books I recommend on my site so that it can guide you through ERP at home. For me, I had a set amount of time when I was intentionally practicing ERP– for me, it was about 40 minutes, twice a day (total of 80 minutes). In the grand scheme of the day, that’s under an hour and a half of putting myself through these exercises (which sometimes felt like torture). Although I did try to avoid compulsions throughout the day, it was only during these 80 minutes that I was specifically triggering myself (exposure) and resisting compulsions (response prevention). It is hard. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. It’s hard and exhausting and feels masochistic. But for me– and for many others– it worked. And it was worth 80 minutes a day for 12 weeks in order to experience this freedom– I’m coming up on nine years of it.

Hi! I’ve been having what I (hope)think is HOCD for two months now and it’s been an intense hell for me. I’ve always been confident that I’m straight and I’ve even intensely championed for gay rights and everything. I used to read articles about gay people and watch videos about people coming out and be fine. But now I avoid all of those and even romance novels because I’m basically terrified of being aroused for the wrong reasons (like if I read a love scene from a guy’s point of view that means I want to do that to a woman when I dont!??!?!?!?). I’ve been trying to do self-ERP and I’ve read that I’m suppose to embrace those “you are gay” “you are turned on because you actually want to do that to a woman” thoughts and the arousal that comes with it. My question is, if I embrace these thoughts for 10-12 weeks, will I really be healed? I JUST WANT THIS HOCD THING TO END.

I don’t think I or anyone can guarantee that 12 weeks of ERP will work for you. But it is an evidence-based treatment, meaning that the statistics of ERP working are in your favor. One thing I can almost for sure guarantee is that if you don’t do ERP, then your OCD will not go away on its own. I suppose it’s possible; miracles do happen. But, for 99% of us in the OCD community, we had to do the hard work of ERP.

Hi Jackie! I’m doing self-ERP for my HOCD right now and although I feel like it would be best with a therapist, I can’t afford it 😦 (maybe one day!) But anyways, my question is that I know when I’m doing ERP, I’m suppose to accept and AGREE with those thoughts of “Yes, you’re probably a lesbian” (gosh it was hard to even type that), but when I’m not doing ERP, do I still have to agree with my intrusive thoughts or should I just let it float around in my head? I know for my past OCD fears (earthquake, breast cancer, blackholes, intersex, death, etc) I would just stop checking and doing my compulsions and would let the thought float around in my head (never did ERP for those things) and a couple hellish months later it would disappear, but HOCD is taking my anxiety to another level (especially since I’m 20 and never been in a relationship with a guy because I’m soooooo shy so now my HOCD is using it as ammunition). Also when I have those OCD-free moments, can I go back to thinking about my crush and the imaginary life we may have one day (wow I’m so weird, I can’t believe I confessed this on the internet) or is that counter-productive to my ERP?

No, I don’t think that’s counter-productive to your ERP. That’s the goal! But during the moments where you are doing your ERP exercises, then yes– you will want to be all in: experiencing the anxiety completely, resisting the compulsions as completely as you’re able. One thing that you wrote specifically interests me: “I would just stop checking and doing my compulsions and would let the thought float around in my head (never did ERP for those things)” … this sounds like it was ERP, friend. Letting thoughts come and not doing compulsions to alleviate the anxiety … that is what ERP is. You can do this.

Hi Jackie, I’ve recently stumbled upon your blog because I am suffering from hocd. I’ve been dealing with it for around 9 months now. I feel so lost because it’s the worst time to really be dealing with all of this. I am a sophomore in high school and all around me people are questioning their sexualites or coming out etc. I line up with all hocd symptoms and anxiety runs in my family. The intrusive thoughts just popped out of no where one afternoon. All my life I’ve liked boys! I talked to my therapist about ERP but she’s not a specialist and I’m scared to even try it. My psychiatrist prescribed medicine that ended up making me worse. Like you I am an avid Christian, but I have always been doubtful and indecisive with everything. I FEEL SO LOST. I’ve lost my hope and feel like nothing is gonna work. I have a hard time believing this could be a disorder. I feel like I should just accept my intrusive thoughts are real but that just depresses me further. What do you think?

Hi honey. If your intrusive thoughts were real, I don’t think they would be intrusive or cause this intense anxiety. For a short time, just suspend your concern that you are dealing with anything other than OCD and tell yourself, “Yes, it IS OCD, and I will treat it.” There is no harm to doing ERP even if you didn’t actually have OCD. Be kind to yourself: accept your self-diagnosis at least for three months while you do ERP on your own with a book to guide you. “Doubtful,” “indecisive,” “so lost,” “lost my hope and feel like nothing is gonna work” … all of these described ME. For nearly 20 years, this is how I would have categorized myself. And, for whatever it’s worth, my sophomore year of high school was HELL, one of the worst and hardest years of my entire life, as I dealt with all of this while undiagnosed. When I was your age, I still faced another 12 years of clawing my way through this alone before I found and did ERP. Please don’t wait as long as I did.

These three questions all reminded me of each other:

1. I have been diagnosed with OCD (HOCD) and have been doing CBT and ERP. I feel as though I am getting better and the intensity of my obsessions and compulsions has reduced but I have this strange feeling of sowmhing not being right and as whole as it use to be? My attraction and desire for relationships and such seems very reduced. It just doesn’t seem to feel or come authentically – is that normal?

2. Is it normal to feel no attraction or interest in romantic relationships when suffering with HOCD, even when recovering (reduced obsessions and compulsions, but the feeling of not knowing your sexuality and not being attracted to the gender you always have been attracted to?

3. Is it normal to become hypersensitive to the looks of your same sex with the onset of HOCD? even if you’ve known and seen the person before they just appear a lot more attractive now? Is that a symptom of a change in sexuality or another Possible HOCD Symptom?

Yes, my dear ones, all of this is normal for someone with HOCD. Please don’t give up. ERP can help.

Hi Jackie, Did you ever feel like your hocd would never end? As a current hocd sufferer, I feel a lot that it’s never going to be over. I question and doubt even the most logic of facts I’ve been told to use in order to help cope with the intrusive thoughts. Everyday it’s a new “what if” question and it makes me terrified and sad.

Hello sweetie, YES. I felt that way about all of my OCD themes … that things would always be this way and that, to me, was probably the scariest thing about it. We can go through any pain so long as we see an end in sight, don’t you think? But OCD lies to us, makes us believe there is no end in sight, and that robs us of hope and joy. Please read this blog post I wrote back in 2014: THINGS WILL NEVER BE OKAY AGAIN [& other lies I sometimes still believe].

I am 54 years old recently my ocd has become worse for last 6 months since i changed my job and because of ocd anxiety i am not able to work at present. My ocd is mostly god related i have to pray and touch god photos everytime i pass through them and think i have not prayed properly and become anxious. Also there are lots of thoughts coming and going in my head always about touching god photos etc and i am not satisfied with my praying i tried medicines and they made my condition worst,Please help me Sir

Hello friend, have you heard of ERP therapy? My OCD was also based primarily around religious obsessions; I battled this for 20 years before undergoing ERP, and just 12 weeks of ERP therapy snapped my OCD in half. The last nine years have been so peaceful, so free. Here are a few posts that might help:

OCD & Christianity
(or other religious scrupulosity)
OCD, ERP, and Christianity
I’m a Christian and Take Meds!
Unashamed of my OCD
Is the thought from OCD … or God?

God’s Sovereignty, OCD, the Cross, & His Purposes
Is Mental Illness a Spiritual Issue?
Is ERP Sinful?
OCD & Faith (or Lack Thereof): a Double Interview

Hi Jackie, I have been suffering from hocd for a while now. One of my biggest problems besides the intrusive thoughts and fear I can’t shake off is the EXTREME SADNESS I have. I feel like I get sucked into this dark hole where I can’t get rid of feeling hopeless and sad. I lose all motivation to do my homework and just feel angry at god. Have you ever felt this way? If so, what did you do to help yourself?

My gosh, YES. 100% yes. I am guessing that you have depression comorbid (alongside) OCD, as I did. For me, the OCD was the root issue and what was causing the depression, so when I treated the OCD, the depression alleviated as well. I talk about my anger at God a little bit in this post. Ultimately, I got so sad and felt so lost that I hit rock bottom– and God was there. He looked like a Korean psychiatrist who gave me hope, a prescription, and a phone number for a local ERP therapist.

Hi Jackie, I finally realized my problem is OCD. My question is, do people with this “doubting disease” have the capacity to have faith? I’m so worried I might lose faith altogether, because of what’s wrong with me.

Yes, absolutely! In Yes Novel (my work in progress that has been temporarily set aside), the main character has this interaction with his professor:

He nodded, headed toward the door. But before he left, he turned around and asked, “What you teach us in class, do you really believe it?”

Dr. Morgant pursed his lips thoughtfully. “On my worst days and my best days, yes. But not every day. There’s only one thing in I believe every day.”

“Doubt,” said Asa, as his teacher said, “Faith.”

“Same thing,” said Dr. Morgant with a smile.

Anne Lamott has said it best:

I have a lot of faith. But I am also afraid a lot, and have no real certainty about anything. I remembered something Father Tom had told me–that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.

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.)

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.)

 

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!

 

 

If you have a question …

and would like to ask me … you can do that now.

If you’re on my actual website (www.jackieleasommers.com), just click the blue doors in the sidebar that subtly read ASK ME ANYTHING.

Otherwise you can always click here too.

It’s anonymous or not, up to you.

Why did I add this?

  1. NOT because I’m some sort of guru.
  2. But people do have lots of questions about OCD and writing and faith and stuff, and they often email me. Especially about OCD.
  3. That can be a little overwhelming, and I’d prefer a more public platform to respond.
  4. This.
  5. Also, this way we all learn together. (P.S. I can totally do the dance below.) (No joke.)

Thanks, Wildcats! I hope you’ll use this! It will really help me know what readers want to hear about! 🙂

Perfectionism & Writing [& OCD Too]

messyYou’d think being a perfectionist would be beneficial for an artist, but I really don’t think that’s true.

(Neither, apparently, does Google: search “artists are perfectionists” and you’ll get the following:

 

For me, being a perfectionist means that writing a book can be a slow form of torture. You see, it takes a long time for a book to even begin to resemble perfection. You have to spend months, even years, sitting uncomfortably in the middle of a mess, working through sloppy drafts and chasing rabbit trails into very disorganized forests.

Or maybe that’s just me.

In any case, it’s a continual lesson in learning to enjoy the process and not just the product. If I only enjoy the product, I will get to be happy about 24 hours out of every three years. This is a journey of embracing uncertainty, letting myself wait in the cold water till I begin to adjust.

And that’s the story of my life with OCD too. Heck, the story of my life, period.

I– a perfectionist, an OCD survivor– want pretty things in pretty boxes with pretty bows on top. I– an artist, an OCD survivor– know that’s not what life looks like. Life is full of doubt and wrong directions, wasted time and imperfect choices. Life is full of discomfort and years and years and years of tolerating discomfort … with the hope there is a pretty thing in a pretty box with a pretty bow at the end. But it is not guaranteed.

So, is art in general– or writing specifically– a difficult career choice for a perfectionist? Heck yes. But it’s fulfilling, worthwhile, hard, dirty, beautiful work– and it is helping me appreciate this fulfilling, worthwhile, hard, dirty, beautiful world.