The Shame That Drowns, an Honest Post

It’s so much easier for me to write about a hard experience after I’ve “conquered” it. I can come to this space and talk all I want about OCD because I’ve had ten years of freedom from and victory over it. It’s exponentially harder to talk about current struggles because there’s no distance from them. It’s not looking back on that time you were in quicksand and boasting how your quick thinking and hard work got you out of the mess. It’s being in the actual quicksand. It’s being up to your chin in the quagmire, having no assurance that you will survive.

Last week, my therapist asked me how I felt around my writing career, and something like a dam broke in me, and the words and tears and shame wouldn’t stop.

Shame?

I usually use the word fear, but there was no confusing my rush of emotions: fear and sadness and stress may have been in the parade, but shame was the grand marshal.

It felt amazing to talk about it and awful too, and even as it was all spilling out of me, I knew that I needed to write about it on my blog. Not because I’ve found any victory, but because healing for me has almost always come about via vulnerability.

I was a high achieving kid, top of my class, Most Likely to Succeed, summa cum laude, hard worker, strong leader, a go-after-it-hard kind of girl. I approached publishing that way too. I spent four years on a novel that never got an agent, and I barely blinked before I started a new story, which ultimately became Truest. I wrote every day for years, threw my time, money, and heart toward writing. I was relentless and driven. I finished the story, then got an agent and a book deal in the course of just four months.

And that’s when the panic came. I was very familiar with anxiety after a lifetime of dealing with OCD, but this was so different. The stress was high, there were deadlines, I wasn’t always on the same page with the revisions expected of me. I battled through it though, and I published a book that I’m still so damn proud of. September 1st, 2015, was like this incredible dream: a hardcover with my name on it, all my friends celebrating with me.

It was only three weeks later that I had one of the hardest and worst conversations of my life– one of the major distributors had not placed a large order for the book, and it was unlikely that sales would be able to make up for it. My book was only three weeks old, and I was being told it was essentially dead in the water. Get ’em with the next book.

Don’t get me wrong: there were so many amazing things that have come from publishing Truest. I’ve heard from the most incredible readers, people whose encouragement will live with me for the rest of my life (shout-out to Kristen!); I’ve met authors, some of my favorites (talking about you, Huntley!); I’ve been able to talk about creativity and mental illness and freedom and stories all over. I have loved connecting with readers, with young writers, with the English majors at my university. I have contributed to discussions and given advice, and I’ve taught classes and workshops and so, so, so many amazing things.

And yet.

I have so much shame around it all.

Like I’m some sort of fraud because the book was never a bestseller. When my friends tell others “she’s an author!” I feel like such a fake. My awareness of my (beautiful, beloved) book’s short reach stings. I let the panic and anxiety and stress get to me. I let myself get ill from it all. I couldn’t get on the same page as the editor I was working with and suggested that we go our separate ways. I can’t seem to follow my own advice and get my butt in the seat and hands on the keyboard. My body went into revolt and it’s been hard and scary to even open my manuscript.

Theoretically I understand that this is not failure. I published a book. Not that many people read it. I will write another and see what happens. Health problems have slowed it all down, but nothing has yet made me STOP. That’s not failure.

But it sure feels like it sometimes. A lot of the times.

Even though I’m no longer under a deadline or signed to a contract, my body seems to not have gotten the memo. It still reacts like I’m under all this pressure. I’ve been told the body keeps the score, and that’s proving very true in my life.

My therapist asked what more positive way I could frame this. I said, “I am at the beginning of a long writing career that got off to a rough start, but someday I will tell stories about these days and encourage other writers.”

I hope that’s true. I want it to be true.

Lately, the desire to write has become more insistent. I want to tell stories. I want to create worlds. I open my manuscript and tiptoe into it for a few pages. I know my characters have important things to say.

I’m still in the quicksand, trying to get on top of the shame and fear and stress. They are like ghosts from a different season, but ghosts can still drown you.

One day at a time. Today I’m tackling the shame head-on by sharing about it. Thank you for listening.

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All the Updates

I started seeing a new doctor, a neurologist, and … I feel SO excited, nervous, and hopeful! I may start a little side blog to chronicle and process my journey to health because, well, I’m a writer and this is how I process life. To make a long story short: I was going to invent my own little trigger point mat but decided to see if what was in my mind already existed … and it did … and the inventor of it was a neurologist known for FIXING (note: FIXING, not just TREATING) fibromyalgia pains AND HE WAS LOCATED 20 MINUTES FROM WHERE I LIVE.

Needless to say, I made an appointment with him right away. He has an entire wall of testimonies of people who found health and relief after years of pain. People come from other states– and other countries– to see this doctor. And here he was in my backyard.

As he said to me, “You’re too young to feel this bad.” YES! I AGREE!

I’ve been writing again! It’s wild to me how much the past couple of years have absolutely BLASTED the confidence right out of me. I’ve been a hard worker, high achiever, intelligent girl for basically my whole life, and that led me to feel pretty confident about anything I undertook. You wouldn’t think that publishing a book (a lifelong dream of mine) would actually lead to having all of that confidence vanish … but it’s true. I am rebuilding slowly.

Online dating still sucks. Basically, all the advice everyone gave me that I chose to ignore came back to bite me. Of course. “The One That Got Away“? I’ve spent the last month feeling lonelier than ever before. But great friends and family and a fantastic therapist and a marvelous God have been softening my heart. I started following Brene Brown on Instagram, and she says that “It’s not fear that gets in the way of our daring leadership. It’s our armor.” So even when fear assaults me, or loneliness, or whatever it may be, I really want to keep myself from the armor.

I want to stay tender and exposed to life.jernej-graj-656657-unsplash.jpg

The Truth About Being Single

All of this.

The Mild Millennial

Well ok, there are so many truths.

This is another post on the cycle we all go through. Remember the one ? This one

Being single doesn’t mean blissfully shrugging off everything that doesn’t go your way. As much as we want to do that, we can’t. Thats the mood I find myself in at the moment.  As fun as singleness is, sometimes its just a downer and there’s no way around it.

You know what I miss about a relationship?

I miss waking up to heartfelt good morning texts.

I miss the “I love you”s. The stiffled moments before confessing it, where you think it escapes you with every breath.

I miss someone anxiously waiting to call or facetime me.

I miss sharing things and laughing at them with someone who completely understands.

I miss being wanted in simple, small innocent ways.

I miss being chosen over other things.

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Weddings & Wilderness

My best friend married the love of her life last weekend, and it was the most beautiful ceremony– the bride and groom were glowing with joy, the other bridesmaids and I spent the whole weekend laughing, and the vows were the best I’ve ever heard. I openly weeped into a Kleenex hidden in my bouquet.

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I was stressed leading up to the wedding, worried about how I would look. As the woman who did my dress alterations had pointed out: “That dress is the same color as you are! You need to get a tan!” (Thanks a lot.) I was worried about my weight, the shape of my body, how pale I was, and how lonely.

The week before, I had gone to my psychiatrist– this is a new guy, since my previous one retired in December. Because my meds have been nailed down for over 10 years now, I mostly just need a signature to keep my prescriptions filled. The hardest work was done years ago. But I think that bothers the new psychiatrist, who tried to push me into sharing more with him about my life and how I was doing and feeling. When I started to tear up about the upcoming wedding, he looked horrified, like OH GOSH NOW WHAT. 🙂

This man is very handsome, very fit, and very married. So when I tried to share my fears over how I’d look in the wedding and how weddings sometimes exacerbate the loneliness of a girl who very much wishes to be in love, he really could not connect. “Don’t worry about that!” he said. “You’re beautiful!” Then, realizing that was perhaps awkward and maybe inappropriate of him to say, he followed it up with, “Everyone in the world is beautiful!”

(My friends and co-workers have been dying laughing over that! Now, if someone offers a compliment, we follow it up quickly: “You’re so smart! I mean … everyone in the world is smart … in their own way!” Ha!)

Anyway, it’s just quite the tightrope to walk to be 36 and single, wanting to be 36 and in love, to simultaneously have tremendous confidence and none, to let my friend’s romance both delight me and remind me of what I hope to have someday.

 

 

How Jackie Got Her Sleep Back

So. I spent over two years with almost NO quality sleep.

leslie sick

Finally, I was diagnosed with sleep apnea, and using a CPAP changed everything for me. It took a while to become accustomed to the CPAP, but now I actually prefer using it!

The next step was getting a new mattress.

I had never had a brand-new mattress in my life, so I wasn’t really even sure where to start. I started researching mattresses online, and a couple friends told me about the Sleep Sherpa. The website has reviews, coupons, and more– and better yet, Sleep Sherpa has the ONLY showroom of online mattresses in the country … and it’s in Minneapolis.

Score!

It was SO WORTH IT to spend an hour there, just lying on the various mattresses. There was NO pressure, NO hard sales, and yet when I asked Ravi, an employee, a barrage of questions, he answered them ALL. Ravi even gave me a really, really great coupon code for the mattress I ultimately chose (Yaasa, a brand I’d never heard of, even in all my research), answered financing questions for me, and even gave me great advice about how to dispose of my old/current mattress. (Told you I was clueless!) When I found a pillow that I loved but that was no longer being made, Ravi gave me the one I tried– FOR FREE– in exchange for a review on my blog.

Do I sound like a raving fan of the Sleep Sherpa? Good, because I am.

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With this inexpensive but ahh-may-zing mattress topper, a Berkshire extra-fluffy blanket, and some unicorn sheets, I have had probably six of my best nights of sleep IN MY ADULT LIFE, all within the last two weeks.

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Remembering 9/11

Taking the time today to remember the horror and fear of 17 years ago … but also the heroism, courage, and sacrifice of so many honorable people. My prayers today are for the families of those heroes. I honor your loved ones, and I grieve alongside you.

It’s hard: now, in 2018, the country feels so divided. It’s heartbreaking. I pray for unity, grace, and bravery for the USA. God bless you all.

JACKIE LEA SOMMERS

My second year of college, I lived in a suite with seven other girls whom I laughed with and fought with and loved.  That Tuesday morning, one of my quadmates Tracy and I had a class together, and I was getting annoyed because she was dawdling because she didn’t feel well and was probably going to make me late.

Another quadmate Megan, pre-med, had an early lab that morning and returned to our place, breathless as she reached for the remote.  She clicked on the news, saying, “A plane crashed into the World Trade Center!”

My first image was of some podunk, rogue new pilot who had accidentally somehow managed to bump into the building.

But the people on the news seemed serious, and Tracy sat down on the couch next to Megs to watch.  “We need to go,” I told her.

She waved me off, still watching the screen. …

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Dear Diary: Red-Yellow-Green

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Reading. I’ve been in a reading slump. I mean, I’ve been re-reading old favorites like Potter and Narnia but nothing new. This often happens to me when I’m in a fragile state creatively. I tend to compare and get envious. Anyone read anything amazing lately that I just MUST read?

Cleaning. It’s taking me one billion years to get my room clean. I’m legit so messy. Ugh. My friend posted this on Insta the other day, and it is so apt:

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YELLOW

Men. I’m crazy about a boy who is less crazy about me. I’m not naive here, and even though he is the sweetest, most fun guy, he is also flaky and has a lot of baggage. (I mean, don’t we all??) It’s hard to explain without giving away secrets that aren’t mine. I have enough self awareness to know that I should probably move on– but also know myself well enough to know that I’m not ready to do that. (Yes, he’s the boy referred to in the One That Got Away poem. I even showed it to him.) He makes me happy.

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Writing. It’s still in the yellow zone for me. It’s a combo of fear and lack of time and energy. I will get there. Yellow means slow, right? 🙂

GREEN

PT. I started physical therapy, and even though I’m only a couple days in, I love it! I’m really excited about it– and hopeful!

Sleep. I love my new mattress! Review of the mattress and of the Sleep Sherpa showroom coming soon! I’m also really jiving with my CPAP. It’s just a totally different world when you get quality sleep for the first time in years. 🙂

Growth. I’m trying to become the woman I want to be. It’s good. Hard. But good.

 

First Draft Manifesto

I am going to write an absolutely terrible first draft, and I’m not going to apologize for it.

The characters will be inconsistent, the exposition will be bare-faced, the details will be absent, and the climax will be boring.

I won’t care.

I will neglect the setting.  I will force the dialogue.  I will let the characters do whatever the hell they want.

It doesn’t matter.

I will use cliches.  I will info-dump.  I will rely on stereotypes.

It’s all right.

Because it’s a first draft.

All that matters is that I put words onto pages.  Every day.  Bad ones.  Lots of adverbs.  And the word nice.  The phrase “nicely nice.”  All of it in passive tense.

I will be kind to myself and to my first draft.  I will let it get its way.  I will baby it and baby myself.

But you’d better believe that once I have this first draft done, I will wring it out and make it surrender.  

Shrinking the Viewfinder

I was writing the other day and remembered– for the first time in a long while– why I loved it so much.

The joy of creation.

Having everything and anything be possible.

Being responsible for selecting the exact right word to make something powerful.

The wonder.

So many things have been stealing the wonder in recent years: deadlines and contracts, envy, comparing myself to other writers, everything to do with Twitter, anxiety, pressure, loss of confidence.

Somehow I had convinced myself that I needed to write a perfect book. I’m not even sure such a thing exists.

Instead of working on the next sentence or the next paragraph, I’d gotten consumed thinking of the big picture, which is enough to collapse almost anyone.

Anne Lamott always talks about “small assignments,” but I couldn’t shrink my viewfinder to that. She keeps an empty picture frame at her writing desk– I think it’s one inch by one inch. She tells herself to focus only on what can be seen in that frame.

I’ve never known how to write a book besides emptying myself of sentences until the right sentences end up on the page. Then rearranging the sentences until they are in the right order. If there is a wrong way, I will take it first. I will take 400 wrong ways before I find myself and my story pointed in the right direction, and then I’m shocked and amazed.

And yet, I’ve somehow been telling myself not to move until I’m sure it’s the right direction.

That might work for some people, but it’s never been my M.O.

Time stressed me out. Comparison made me miserable. I took all the things that I know work for me and decided they weren’t “right” … and all that happened was that I became paralyzed.

I want to pretend like I’m writing a first draft– where there are no rules and nothing matters except having fun with the story.

I’m gonna re-post my First Draft Manifesto, then cling to it like a life preserver.life preserver.jpg