Half-Mast, a brief story

I wrote this five years ago. I wish it didn’t feel so real in 2017.

JACKIE LEA SOMMERS

We were thrilled, the whole crowd, as we giggled and whispered and whistled outside the school that day.  It was quarter to noon on Memorial Day, one of the most exciting days of the year. The American flag, with its crowded square of 64 stars, looked as if it housed a universe on that patch of blue.  It flew at half-staff, as usual, though there was not a breath of wind to spread the banner.

Betty was the littlest of our crew.  At only five years old, she couldn’t remember why we celebrated this day—the morning or the afternoon, my favorite part.  She kept taking Mom’s face into her hands and staring into Mom’s eyes, asking wordless questions.

“C’mon, Bets,” Jakey said.  “I’m only nine, and I know why we’re here today.”

“The flag?” she asked, showing she knew more than she was saying.

“Mmm hmmm,” I said, prompting her…

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A Poem for the Weekend

A Crazed Girl

    By William Butler Yeats


That crazed girl improvising her music.
Her poetry, dancing upon the shore,

Her soul in division from itself
Climbing, falling She knew not where,
Hiding amid the cargo of a steamship,
Her knee-cap broken, that girl I declare
A beautiful lofty thing, or a thing
Heroically lost, heroically found.

No matter what disaster occurred
She stood in desperate music wound,
Wound, wound, and she made in her triumph
Where the bales and the baskets lay
No common intelligible sound
But sang, “O sea-starved, hungry sea.’

Question & Dancer: September 2017

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.

Recently I’ve found out a website called This Way Up which offers an online CBT course to help people self-treat OCD. The link is here:
https://thiswayup.org.au/how-we-can-help/courses/obsessive-compulsive-disorder/
Do you think this is helpful? The price is very reasonable, especially for those like me, who live in a developing country that doesn’t have any OCD exert.
Thank you very much!!!Hi friend, hmm … it’s hard to say without being able to access the materials. However, I will say that their description of ERP has a faulty premise. They say, “People with more than one episode of OCD and who are ready to confront their fears very gradually to find out that what they fear does not occur.” That makes it sound like exposure therapy is intended to make you certain, when the reality is that exposure therapy is intended to make you okay with uncertainty. Don’t get me wrong: I know that the first one sounds better, especially to someone with OCD! But certainty (in the way OCD sufferers want it) is not actually possible, and it’s far, far, far better to start moving down the path of accepting that. Ironically, it may actually provide you with more certainty about some things!

That said, I would rather recommend to you the nOCD app, which is FREE and put together by people I trust, people who deeply understand OCD and ERP. Click here for more info.

I wanted to know if hocd can start at 11 years old. Also, can an hocd sufferer fear the social repercussions of coming out. I wanted to know this because I am 13 and I’ve never had a boyfriend and a crush. But I’m not attracted to the same sex either. This causes me great anxiety. Does this sound like hocd or a person in deep denial?

Hi dear, personally, my OCD started when I was about seven years old (and HOCD is one theme of OCD). That said, if you are not feeling attracted to either gender, you might just be too young (it varies SO MUCH from person to person– I have friends who were boy-crazy at age 6 and friends who didn’t care about men until they were in their 20s) or you might just be asexual. Neither of those is wrong, by the way. But if you are suffering from intense anxiety, you should certainly pursue a diagnosis, whether it’s OCD or something like generalized anxiety disorder. Talk to your parents about seeing someone about your anxiety. You don’t even have to tell them what it is about.

I also have another question, what’s the difference between denial, internalized homophobia, and hocd. Its gotten so bad I wonder if its actually hocd.And can hocd cause false attraction and arousal, even though I know I’m not attracted to the same sex. I feel like Iread reassurance so much that I feel like I have everyone else’s symptoms of hocd. It causes intense anxiety. I don’t want to be gay.

I am not an expert on any of these subjects, although of course I know a bit about HOCD simply because I know so much about OCD. What you’re doing– seeking reassurance, checking, etc. to decrease the anxiety– is a textbook description of OCD though. Definitely pursue getting a diagnosis and doing exposure therapy! I know it can be scary (terrifying!!) to talk about this, and for some reason, HOCD feels even more “taboo” to many sufferers than other OCD themes.

Hello, sorry I keep posting, I also wanted to know how do I know I’m not gay. ( I’m a girl.) And do gay people worry about these types of thoughts. I worry so much I get cold sweated, . And when it passes, I feel drained mentally. I fear that at school that I will fall in love with a girl. Which makes me feel frustrated and depressed. My family on both sides have anxiety and ocd. Please answer!

Hello dear, again, what you’re describing sounds a lot like HOCD, but you would need a psychiatrist or psychologist to diagnose you officially. Consider these posts, okay?

HOCD: Letter to Loved Ones
Doing ERP On Your Own
nOCD, an ERP App/Hero

My HOCD left shortly but came back and now I’m scared. My thoughts seem to be so real when I know they’re not. I only want to be with men but I can’t help but look at clues that lead to what if all along I’ve been gay unknowingly. I’m trying to seek help but I’m only 16 and am too scared to ask my parents for help bc they never believe me when I say something’s wrong. 

Hi dear one, firstly, as hard as it is, I recommend not thinking about these things as “leaving” and “coming back.” If you have OCD (which is sounds like you do), it doesn’t come or go– although various obsessions can!– but OCD can be subdued and maintained through something called Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy. Please read all three of these posts, which I think will be helpful for someone in your situation:

HOCD: Letter to Loved Ones
Doing ERP On Your Own
nOCD, an ERP App/Hero

Hi Jackie! I’ve been doing self-directed ERP for HOCD and taking an SSRI and i am feeling much better right now. However,  I was wondering if you could give me some insight on using the ‘community standard’ as a therapy tool? I think it could be helpful to me (as you too have pointed out to me in a reply to one of my questions). Some examples of applying it maybe?

Yes! This is a great question. Here is an example from my own life. When I bought my new house, I thought briefly about scraping off the popcorn ceiling in the living room and even tried it on a small spot. When someone mentioned “asbestos,” I started freaking out that with that small spot I’d cleared, I had somehow released all this hazardous material into the air in my home. I was worried that every time a friend came over to my new home, I’d be exposing them to this– and what caused me even MORE fear was thinking that I really wouldn’t KNOW if I was slowly killing my visitors until they actually died. I could tell that this was my OCD, though– taking something tiny and making it into a HUGE DEAL. So– the deal with the “community standard” is to basically ask “Would the majority of people in my community (excluding those with anxiety disorders) agree with me that this was a huge deal?” I suspected the answer was no. The next day, I lined up three of my dear friends, laid out the situation to them, and asked what they suggested I should do. All of them said, “Meh, move on. No big deal.” So, you see, the community standard was that this was not something to worry about … and so I was not permitted to worry either. (This might sound impossible at first, but with practice, it honestly gets easier. Sometimes I literally assemble a “community” and go with the majority– but usually I can tell on my own what the standard would be. If I know that anyone without an anxiety disorder is going to say “Um, that’s weird. Why are you worried about that?” then I already know the community standard.)

Does that make sense?

Jackie, Imma about to die. I started with HOCD, Harm OCD, now its trasgender Stuff, the deal is, i was sexually abused, bullied, so hard that i wanted to be a guy as a young kid cause being a woman was hard, have had attracion for women, it all leads as i am a butch lesbian woman. Where is god?

Oh my dear, dear, dear one! I am so sorry for the pain you’re in. I know that OCD is tormenting, and to deal with that alongside the other trauma you have experienced, … it’s just too much. Are you in therapy, friend? I would make this a priority. If money is tight, look into walk-in therapy clinics in your area. There is a lot to unpack in your life. As to your question of where is God … that is a question I myself asked for years and years and years as I felt so alone and so abandoned. It wasn’t until much later that I felt I could answer that question. For me, God was there all along, sustaining me in my unsustainable years and quietly guiding me toward the freedom I found through exposure therapy and in remembering just how much Jesus suffered and how much he could relate to my agony. That answer might not feel useful to you, and I wouldn’t blame you if that was true. Please don’t give up. In addition, take a look around and try to keep your heart open to people you sense you can trust. God works through people like this too– people who are full of compassion, patience, joy, and wisdom. Keep your eyes wide open, friend.

I am also a Christian struggling with OCD. My OCD takes many forms.  Currently the worst is obsessing over the safety of the entire world. Coughs-what if someone is choking? Small items like change on ground-child could choke? People not driving perfect-could be a accident.  List goes on!  Recently began ERP. Feeling so anxious and sick all the time.  How’d you handle this during treatment? 

Hello! I have a book character who has the same OCD themes– in fact, in one scene, he is systematically chipping away at the ice on the Minneapolis sidewalks, scared someone would slip and fall. In another scene, he is thinking about a guy at a bus stop who was smoking, wishing he had said something about the dangers of smoking, and wondering if there was a way to find that person again. Of course, I think that you and I (even with our OCD!) theoretically realize those are a bit much, yes? And yet, I have been where you are, feeling the weight of the world on my own shoulders. It’s exhausting. You are doing the right thing by pursuing ERP. In ERP, your anxiety will likely flare up and get a bit worse before it improves. But please hang in there. Try for 12 weeks straight and see how you feel. For me, 12 weeks later, I was living an entirely different life.

Hello, I have been diagnosed with HOCD twice. It is causing me so so so much anxiety. I have lost all attraction to men and now worry I was never attracted to men in the first place. I’m now worrying that I’m not coming out because of what my boyfriends friends would think, which I know is a coming out tendency. I’m worried that I’m thinking this as it’s not an hocd tendency. I want my old life bk

It’s not an HOCD tendency? I think just about every person I’ve ever known with HOCD has had those same thoughts actually. Everything that you describe sounds like textbook HOCD … in fact, you’ve been diagnosed with it. Twice. Next step: ERP!

I’m an 18 yr old male suffering from (I’m under the impression that it is) HOCD for a couple of weeks, now. I’ve managed to mostly calm anxiety/panic attacks, but I still get uncomfortable feelings, thoughts, and groinal responses when looking at guys (especially my friends.) I’m scared that this means that I actually am attracted and am just hiding it. Does it? If not, what can I do to stop it? 

Hi friend, the anxiety and panic attached to this makes it far more likely that you’re dealing with HOCD than anything else. The best treatment for HOCD (or any type of OCD) is exposure therapy, which you can do with a therapist OR on your own, with the help of a book, OR by using an app. Check out these links:

HOCD: Letter to Loved Ones
Doing ERP On Your Own
nOCD, an ERP App/Hero

I don’t have access to any OCD therapists so I’m unable to know for sure if I have HOCD or not. Over time I’ve been doing small things to stop my anxiety over gay thoughts (and it seems to be working.) But no matter what they keep interrupting everything I do, and now I’m beginning to worry that my lack of anxiety means I secretly want to be gay. I’m even starting to doubt that I even have HOCD.

“Unable to know for sure” … this is the core of OCD, friend: having intense anxiety over uncertainty. And since OCD is the doubting disease, it might not surprise you that almost everyone who has it has doubted at one point or another if they really did have OCD. 🙂 Have you done your research? Here are a few places to start:

HOCD: Letter to Loved Ones
Doing ERP On Your Own
nOCD, an ERP App/Hero
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
HOCD Story: Meet Mae, Part One
HOCD Story: Meet Mae, Part Two

Thanks for all the questions, folks! If you have questions for me about anything, ask here.

As always, I 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.

Closer 

Did a bunch of doctory stuff this week and feel like I am getting closer to some answers about why I’ve been feeling so fatigued and achy. Might be fibromyalgia. I am overwhelmed. 

Getting closer on this draft.

Getting closer on some work stuff.

Getting closer on figuring out some new routines. 

Getting closer to a cleared to-do list and an empty inbox. 

… but days like today (full of sleep and aches) make everything close feel far. 

Objectivity, yes? 

Sorry if this post makes no sense. 

Fourth Quarter Comeback

I’ve been a bit quiet about progress on my goals for 2017.

As for my creative goals …

Finish Salt Novel.
Find the soul of Yes Novel.
Read a book a week.
Blog once a week.
Learn something new every day.

I’m actually on track to finish Salt Novel by the end of the year! It has been just an outright battle for me this year, and I will probably cross the finish line by collapsing on top of it. Short assignments and butt-in-seat. The only way I know to write a novel is to not stop until it looks like one.

I am exploring the soul of Yes Novel, which has been fun. I actually have a video series at home right now about Zero to Infinity, plus a book about math + Plato. If that sounds lame to you … well, it’s not. Ha!

I haven’t been able to keep up with a book each week, but I wouldn’t say I’m too far off from that. I’ve been trying to constantly be reading through something, but I just can’t seem to find more than 24 hours in a day, no matter how hard I search. Help?

I have blogged at least once a week!

Also, I’ve probably learned something new every day– but I haven’t been able to record it in my little Kate Spade journal the way I intended. That said, it’s been an awesome year of learning. Whenever someone has a difference experience from me, I try to ask questions. This year, I have become dear friends with a Muslim man and we’ve had such deep conversations about religion and culture. I’ve become friends with a BDSM Dom; lots more questions! I have a new friend from Scotland, a friend who has taught me about his experience of CP, friends in addiction recovery, friends who are homeless. I continue to learn about a variety of things from people all over the world via Quora. I’ve learned about scars, Portuguese, how to grow marigolds from seeds, the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, naming conventions, and a ton about antiques. I’m gonna call this one a win.

And my one word

Sacrifice.

To offer to God and friends and the marginalized something that costs me.

Am I inviting discomfort into my year? Well, yes.

Did I invite discomfort into my year? YOU BET I DID.

So. Quick disclaimer. I understand that as I talk about sacrifice here, there are two things I should address: 1) I’m in a position of privilege. I’m a single woman with two careers and a global network of dear friends who act as a safety net for me always; 2) I’m not writing about this to “toot my own horn”– I just want to talk honestly and briefly about my experience with this goal. I promise.

As I first posted back on January 4th:

But I do know that I have been given much. And I know that I am selfish and don’t want to be. There is a story in the Old Testament in which King David wants to build an altar to God on land that is not his. The man who own the land offers it to him for free, and not only that, but also the oxen for the offering as well as threshing sledges and yokes for the wood.

But the king said to Araunah, “No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing.”

This year, I set out to basically give until it hurts.

To give without expectations of repayment,

to give without needing to know how the money would be used (for example, I made the conscious decision to give, when I could, to people with signs at street corners– no questions asked, no hesitations. My job was and is to give– not to judge who is “worthy” of a gift. I tried to keep a Target  gift card in my car to make it simple. Or if someone was asking for money near a particular restaurant, to go to that restaurant for a gift card.),

and also– when I questioned, “Can I do this? Can I ‘afford’ this?” to say, “Yes” and try to give even more,

and when I absolutely could not meet the need, to use my time and connections to fund the need through my network of friends and family.

This has been the first year of my life where I haven’t been able to pay off my credit card every month (again, trust me, I know that is the reality for MANY people– I know I’ve had so much privilege in order to be able to do that!), but whenever I have gotten stressed about money, I remembered:

This was the goal. Give till it hurts. Give something that costs me. 

And then I’d experience joy. I had, after all, invited this discomfort into my year back on January 4th. This was what I was working toward. I feel like I’ve learned so much– not even things that I can necessarily put into words– although I will say that I have truly learned that I have the most incredible group of friends, family, and coworkers. I knew that before, but now I have empirical evidence.

So, that’s the update on my year as I head into the final quarter.

It’s been a wild, wonderful, hard, amazing, stressful, blessed year.

P.S. …

[I’m actually nervous to post this because I fear that maybe it’s been insensitive in some way. I promise that if I have been insensitive at all, it was done out of ignorance– and I welcome your correction, honestly. I know that I am in a pretty outstanding place where I even have the option to sacrifice. Some do not; there is just no margin. I also know that sacrifice can look like so many other things than giving financially. Those things were also on my mind this year– most specifically, sacrificing my time and also sacrificing my first choice (letting someone else choose the activity or event or what they’d like to do– on a very practical level, this has looked like this picky, picky eater trying new foods for the first time … and often loving them! Curry! Ecuadorian! Thai! haha). I talk more about this in an earlier blog post where I reflect on sacrifice looks like from a biblical perspective.]

The Magic of Saturn

Fifteen years ago, in college astronomy, I saw Saturn through a giant telescope. It looked like this: http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2016/01/04/12/2FC7F6CF00000578-3383727-The_picture_of_Saturn_taken_by_the_15_year_old_schoolboy_clearly-m-18_1451908993404.jpg

This teensy little yellow circle the size of a pencil eraser, with a little ring around it. And it was powerful for me actually. So powerful that, 10 years later, I included the experience in my debut novel.

So, just imagine the thrill I get from the Cassini images. Check out this NYT article: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/09/14/science/cassini-saturn-images.html

Stunning. Absolutely incredible.

Farewell, Cassini! Thank you!!!!

JACKIE LEA SOMMERS

baptism with website

What’s your favorite star-gazing memory? In college, I took astronomy and got to see Saturn through a powerful telescope. That experience worked its way into my novel. To learn more about Truest, click here.

Pin it:
https://www.pinterest.com/pin/404057397794922456/

Click to tweet: How author @jackieleawrites’s favorite night of college astronomy worked its way into her novel #Truest https://wordpress.com/post/26594688/7199

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Untethered: Revisiting Solipsism Syndrome

Gorgeous Romantic Girl Outdoors,If you’ve read Truest, you know it deals with a (fairly rare) dissociative disorder that sometimes readers accuse me of making up. (I guess they don’t have Google.) Even though I myself have struggled with a form of it, it is still VERY rare for me to find anyone else who talks about it. I do have people who come to my blog and discuss their experience with it in the comments, but other than that, I don’t hear too much.

I have loved the band Counting Crows for some time, and they are mentioned in my WIP, and I’m dreadfully in love with Adam Duritz, the front man, who is a genius and whom I admire for his blatant discussion of mental illness. I had known that he has battled through things, but I never knew precisely what his struggle was. I guess I’d just never dug in deep enough because it wasn’t hard to find: he struggles with the same disorder that Laurel does and that I have. In fact, in this article, he and I/Laurel use the same type of descriptions!

Adam: “I have a form of dissociative disorder that makes the world seem like it’s not real, as if things aren’t taking place. It’s hard to explain, but you feel untethered.”

Laurel: “Gravity wasn’t working right. I felt like I was going to fly off into space.”

Adam: “And because nothing seems real, it’s hard to connect with the world or the people in it because they’re not there. You’re not there. That’s why I rarely saw my family back then: It’s hard to care when everything feels as if it’s taking place in your imagination. And if you’re distant with people … they eventually leave.

West/Laurel: “Laurel,” I said quietly but with force, “Silas is your real sibling. The only one you’ve got. And you’re pushing him away.”
“Yeah, sometimes I seem to know that,” she said, “but I can’t … can’t hold onto it.”

To read other things I have posted about solipsism syndrome, follow the tag.

Remembering 9/11

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.  “I’m not going to go.  You can leave.”

I stomped off to Nazareth Hall, upset and annoyed that I would be late now without a partner in crime.  When I got to the fourth floor, someone in my class had turned on the TV in the room, and now the news was reporting on the crash at the Pentagon.  Everyone was transfixed.  I clearly remember thinking, Is this the end of the world?

Our teacher made us turn off the TV.  I don’t think anyone quite realized yet that this would be one of our nation’s biggest tragedies.  We talked in class about leadership.  I don’t remember anything specific about it.

At Northwestern College, we had chapel every morning at 10:30 am (CST).  As the student body was making its way to Maranatha Auditorium from all areas of campus, everyone was buzzing about the news.  I was in the Totino stairwell talking animatedly about the towers being hit when John, a friend from freshman year, said, “I think the bigger deal is that it has collapsed.”

Wait, what?

I remember being in complete shock– how could a small plane collapse a skyscraper?  It wasn’t until a week or so later when I saw in a magazine an illustrated cross-section of the tower with an overlaid plane, as if seen from above.  Then it made more sense.

In chapel, they had a live news feed playing over the giant screen above the stage.  The student body watched, cried, prayed.  They let the feed play all day, and students came in and out to watch and pray.

I was shell-shocked, since my sister Kristin and my dad had been in New York City only two weeks earlier.  They had pictures of themselves from the roof of the WTC.  Even though I knew they were safe and in Minnesota, I kept picturing them on top of that building, knowing that someone else’s sister and dad had to be in the building that day, my heart breaking for them and so relieved that my family had escaped tragedy by fewer than 14 days.

Everyone at my (rather Calvinistic) school kept saying, “This did not surprise God; this did not surprise God,” and I knew that Northwestern was the very best place for me to sort through the tragedy.  It was incredible to grieve with a community that both loved and trusted God’s sovereignty in spite of the destruction and sadness.

What a day.  Sometimes it is hard to believe that it has been over a decade since then.  Sometimes it feels like it’s been even longer.  My dad says he always remembers what he was doing when he found out JFK was shot.  I suppose this is my generation’s event.  It makes me sad even to write about it today, all these years later.

One thing I know: September 11, 2001, did not surprise my good and perfect God.  I continue to trust Him.

This post was originally written on September 11, 2012. 

Have More Discussions.

Was talking today to a new friend about vulnerability and authenticity, and it made me circle back to this post. I will say that I feel very lucky– my transparency has resulted, over and over, in favor. I know that’s not true for everyone, and I feel very grateful.

XO Jackie

JACKIE LEA SOMMERS

I’m participating in an HR initiative at Northwestern in which I’ve been paired up with a mentor, and together we’re going through the book True North by Bill George, the former CEO of Medtronic.  It’s all about “discovering your authentic leadership,” and in addition to reading the book, I’m doing all the exercises found in the accompanying workbook.  The workbook exercises are deep and thought-provoking and quite fascinating.

I had to draw a timeline of my life up till this point, including the ups and downs, and then I had to split it up into five chapters and give each a name.  Here are mine:

1. “She Thinks Too Much”: early childhood

2. “She Smiles on the Outside”: my school years, in which I was well-liked, very smart, and excelling at most things, except that my spiritual life and mental health were in shambles, though most people weren’t…

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