VOICES: Cautious Hope

I am so excited to host today a woman who has changed my life and worldview. I have written before about my friend Whitney, a former coworker at my university, who spent several years slowly chipping away at the crust of my heart just by being exactly who she is and doing so unapologetically and with enthusiasm and passion.

Whitney has since followed her calling to do trauma-based education with refugees in Europe. If what follows stirs your heart, consider donating to the International Association for Refugees by clicking here and choosing “Gerdes” from the drop-down menu.

The numbers she leads with can feel staggering, but please keep reading to hear the heartbreaking story of one man. And if you have questions, please post them in the comments.

Okay, enough of me. Here’s Whitney:


Cautious Hope
written by Whitney Gerdes

refugee childThe term refugee has become a bit of a buzzword these days. Mentioning “refugees” in certain contexts can even create a visceral response or a more-than-you-bargained-for debate! While, the last 3 years has brought the desperation of refugees to the forefront of media there have been refugees way before there was Twitter. For the sake of this discussion we need to clarify a few terms.

A refugee is a subset of a larger category of people called forcibly displaced people (FDP). Currently, there are 65.6 million people that have been forced to flee their homes as a result of persecution, conflict and/or human rights violations. This is the highest number recorded since WW II. That number is only increasing with 10.3 million people uprooted from their homes in 2016, which means that 20,000 plus people have to flee for their lives every minute. Of these FDP’s 40.3 million are consider internally displaced (IDP), which means while they had to leave their home, they there able to find temporary safety and shelter in their country of origin. That leaves 22.5 million that are considered refugees who have had to leave everything familiar and throw themselves on the mercy of a foreign government and people for safety and an opportunity at a better life.

These numbers are ridiculous, and certainly overwhelm me so let’s zoom in and hear a story.

I met Justin in a refugee camp in Italy. He had just arrived by boat a week earlier. He actually came on a coast guard ship after being rescued from the Mediterranean sea. That is because he was on a rubber boat that was overfilled with over 100 people, and was not able to withstand the waves. His boat capsized, and he was one of 7 survivors from that boat of over 100 people. This story alone was enough to destroy me, but Justin’s treacherous journey began two months earlier when he left his home and family in Nigeria with the hope of being able to get a job in Europe and provide for his family who were starving and had no other visible option.

So, he traveled by car, bus, and by foot on his way to Libya. He gained three other travel companions, whom he spoke of fondly. However, all three were shot during a car jacking in Niger. He then was imprisoned multiple times in Libya for being dark skinned before he made enough money to pay a smuggler to get him on one of the rafts to Italy. Justin’s face as he told me his story was almost apathetic, but he wanted me to know what he had gone through. He told me about his dreams and goals for the future that centered around providing for his mom and siblings back in Nigeria, and a wife and children of his own one day. Of course he told me these plans with cautious hope because he knew his chances were slim. He knew that most likely he would not be granted asylum the first, or second time he applied, but he still hoped that he would get it.

I timidly asked him the question that was burning in my head, “After all that you went through, do you still think you made the right decision leaving home? Was it worth it?” He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “I don’t know yet, but I do know that the hope of what could be here in Europe is already better than the reality I knew back home.” How valuable and powerful is this hope, this perseverance, this resilience and faith that Justin and so many others like him have had to develop?

You see, people don’t choose to be refugees, they don’t choose to risk their lives– because there wasn’t a choice. You would only leave everything behind with your children because the threat of death and anhilation is chasing you out.

I don’t know if Justin has been granted asylum yet, but many have both here in Europe and America. While, receiving that positive confirmation is cause for great celebration, the re-building of a life takes some time. This usually means learning a new language, new culture, new climate, new educational system, new job skills, and a new way of life. While organization such as Preemptive Love Coalition, UNHCR, the Red Cross, and Samaritan’s Purse are doing the front lines work, organizations like the one I work with, the International Association for Refugees picks up where they leave off.

Once FDP have settled to some degree, the emergency services stop and the needs change. Relationships, connection, and empowerment is what they need. There is great power in inviting refugee families into your world, and then in turn being invited into theirs. All of the trauma that so many people have seen and experienced can cripple a gifted mind and strong work-ethic. While professional counseling is most often needed there is great healing power in having your humanity seen and heard through relationship.

To learn more:
IAFR Toolbox
Preemptive Love Coalition
Humans of New York’s Refugee Series

Guest blogger: Broken

If you follow my blog, then you’ve already been introduced to my roommate Desiree.  She is a wonderful woman of God and one of my very favorite people.  Because we have lived together for five years, she is one of the people who has seen me at my very, very worst, OCD-wise.  I asked her to write a guest post about living with an obsessive-compulsive.  Here it is:

by Desiree Wood

I don’t know how to describe what it’s like to live with someone with OCD, but you all know.

I’m sure Jackie told me that she had OCD while I was in college. She told me how hard it was—about thinking friends were demons or that she was destined for Hell, about sharing her struggles at camp the previous summer—but it just didn’t register. She hid it well for the first year or two that we were friends and roommates, an impressive feat.

And then came the day that I realized this was a problem. Jackie had talked through some other obsessions before, but this one was big. We had been on a retreat with the youth group we volunteered with for the weekend, and on the bus ride home, one of the teens dropped a bomb on Jackie about something he had done. I’m a teacher, so it takes a lot for an experience to blow me out of the water, but what this kid shared did just that! I was shocked when Jackie slid into the bus seat next to me and shared the news. And at that moment, I pleaded with God, “Why?” Why would He allow it to be Jackie who had to shoulder this news? Why the one with OCD triggered by thoughts of guilt? It was so much pressure figuring out what to do with this information. As she sobbed and we tried to work through the news at home that night, my heart broke for her. I felt completely lost and helpless.

To be honest, that’s how I’ve felt through most of this journey through OCD—through the changing meds and different reactions, triggers that come out of nowhere and take days or weeks or months to move past, through the CBT techniques that I felt really unsure about—it’s all a bit lost on me whose mind can just let go of thoughts as I choose. Looking back, I kind of like that I was so lost and helpless, because even though OCD has been hard to deal with for me and a million times harder for Jackie, I know that it has ultimately pushed us both closer to Christ. I love that He redeems the brokenness in our lives.

We all know what it’s like to live with someone with OCD because we are all broken people. Whether you live with family, friends, or a spouse, you battle the brokenness. We’ve all got our issues, sickness, and sin to overcome, and the people around us have to be our support. I pray that I continue to learn how to do that for Jackie.

Galatians 6:2 says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”  I am blessed to live with Jackie—to have seen her struggle through OCD with Jesus, to have learned from her, and to have her in my corner as I battle my own issues.

What are your experiences with friends or family with OCD?

Me (bottom right) and Des (beside me) BEFORE we were roommates … she had no idea what she was about to get herself into!

Guest blogger! What If?????

One incredibly common theme for obsessive-compulsives is to obsess about one’s sexual orientation.  A female OC could be attracted to men her whole life and have no real homosexual desires but she could still obsess like mad that she is secretly a lesbian … yes, in spite of having no feelings for women.  Those who suffer from HOCD (homosexual OCD) are tormented by continual questioning of their sexuality.  My blogger friend over at the Pure O Canuck Blog has written very honestly about this struggle.  Thanks for checking out her blog and subscribing!

 What if?????
by Pure O Canuck

 I’m back from my vacation, and amazingly – OCD gave me some much-needed reprieve.  The hardest parts from an anxiety perspective were “getting there” and “getting back”.  Don’t ask me why.
I was in Palm Springs with three friends.  One of them was my closest girlfriend who I’ve known for over 25 years.  We don’t live in the same city anymore, and she is married with kids, so it was a fantastic chance to re-connect, re-live old funny memories (we laughed so much!) and just relax.  The weather was fantastic, and I had a wonderful time.
While we were visiting Palm Springs one of the large events taking place was an event called The White Party, which is a HUGE gay party.  I laughed with my therapist that this would be a fantastic exposure for some of his male HOCD clients.  For me, not so much.  It was just a bunch of great looking athletic men walking around town.  I did have a few triggers while on holiday though.  One of them was reading one of the local tourist magazines – I read that Palm Springs has a large gay and lesbian population.  Estimates are that at least 40% of the population is gay or lesbian.  My mind said to me “With that large of population what are the odds that you’re not going to run into a lesbian???”  Amazingly though, it wasn’t on my mind continuously.  Another trigger was while we were at a restaurant.  I was just people watching, and I saw two women walking out of the restaurant with their arms around each other.  Then one of the women proceeded to grab the other’s bum.  A small surge of anxiety, but nothing much.
I’m struggling with my exposure.  And when I returned from my holiday, my therapist slammed me with reality.  He was pretty hard on me (well, as hard as he can be on me…..he’s really a very kind guy).  But he was realistic.  You see, my latest BIG fear is that someday, given my history (horrible father relationship, unsuccessful relationships with men), I will meet a lesbian woman, become friends with her, and then fall in love.  It’s along the same lines of my ROCD fear that I have when I’m in a relationship.  I avoid other men because I’m afraid that I’ll fall in love with someone else and have to leave my partner etc etc.  My therapists response to this was: “Would that be so horrible if for some reason you found yourself in love with a woman?”  (Of course then my OCD says “your therapist really thinks you’re bi-sexual and he’s now trying to help you come to terms with that”.)
I just really want to be able to let go of this fear.  And my OCD wants me to figure out WHY I have this fear.  Does it mean that I’m really afraid of my true self?  Does it mean that I won’t ever truly be able to be happy until I figure this out?  It’s so hard to find love these days, am I sacrificing my whole happiness by not opening myself up to being with a woman? Maybe I’m really bi-sexual?  All of these crazy thoughts go through my head.  It’s horrible.
(Just writing this blog post is an exposure for me, because my OCD is saying “These people are going to read this and think that I really DO sound like I might be bi-sexual.”)
Why can’t I just be like anyone else and live my life until something actually happens????
This theme is rampant in the lesbian community too.  I’ve watched three movies with this theme.  It goes something like this:  The woman is living happily with her male partner, thinking, feeling straight, and along comes a lesbian woman who woos her into her web and their life is perfect, and wonderful and fantastic forever more.  Learning to accept the fact that this might happen to me, and not avoiding is one BIG hurdle I have in order to overcome my OCD.  It scares the crap outta me.
Another big theme we’re working on at the moment is the wonderful “groinal” response and arousal etc.  For any of you who suffer from any kind of sexual obsession, you will understand the distress that this causes.  I watched one of those aforementioned lesbian movies a few weeks ago, and I actually thought the movie was pretty good!  (It was practically impossible for me to actually allow myself to like a lesbian movie by the way.)  And watching some of those sex scenes were pretty darn sensual.  Was I sexually aroused?  I don’t know.  Maybe?  My therapist explains to me that people can get aroused from watching many types of sex scenes.  But then my OCD says “You don’t get turned on when you watch heterosexual sex scenes.”.  Some times I feel like my OCD wants me to just throw my arms up in the air and say “I’m gay!”.  And be done with it all.  Anyway, this “groinal response” is another big hurdle for me to overcome in my recovery.  My therapist wants me to try and become sexually aroused while watching these lesbian movies.  And live with the consequences.  Right now I’m just trying not to figure it out one way or the other.

At the end of the day I have to accept that I COULD find myself falling in love with a woman someday.  I have to accept that watching lesbian porn MIGHT turn me on sexually.  But at this point COULD = WILL, and MIGHT = DOES.  My therapist says that I have to want to overcome my OCD more than avoiding this possibility.  When he puts it that way I find it SO HARD to commit.  It’s days/times like these that I feel like I haven’t made any progress AT ALL.

Guest Blogger! Checking OCD: Never Quite Sure

Happy Monday, friends!  I wanted to introduce you to some other types of OCD, outside of the Pure-O that I have suffered from.  Today’s post about checking OCD comes from Tina Fariss Barbour of the Bringing Along OCD Blog.  I encourage you all to visit her blog and subscribe to her!  Thank you, Tina, for today’s insightful post!

Checking OCD: Never quite sure
By Tina Fariss Barbour

I’m cooking a simple meal of pasta and sauce. I can heat the sauce in the microwave. But I need to use the electric stove to boil the pasta.

The water boils and I cook the pasta until it’s done.

Then I reach over to turn off the stove.

I carefully and slowly turn the knob towards the off label. Slowly, slowly. I’m waiting for the click that tells me I’ve reached my destination.

I hear the click and stop turning. It’s off.

Or is it?

I squint at the off label. Does the line on the knob match up with it enough? Is it supposed to be exactly in the middle of the label, or can it be off-center?

And did I really hear the click? Was it the right click? Was it something else in the kitchen that made a clicking sound?

I reach over and turn the knob so that the stove is back on. The pan with the pasta is still on the stovetop.

I turn the knob off again. But I turn it too fast, I think. The click sounded different, and I didn’t feel the slight vibration under my fingers that the click usually makes.

Even though the line on the knob looks like it’s right under the off label, the click didn’t sound right.

I turn the knob again. The stove is on. I say that out loud.

“The stove is on.”

I turn the knob carefully, concentrating. I hear the click.

It’s off. I say that out loud.

“The stove is off.”

I’ll just look at the off label one more time.

Looking straight at the label, it looks like it’s lined up with the knob. But when I look from an angle, it doesn’t appear to be right under it. Which perspective is correct?

And the knob moved a tiny bit once I took my hand off of it. Does that mean it moved back into an on position?

I turn the knob on again. On. Turn. Listen. Off. Stare. Turn. On. Turn. Listen. Off. Stare.

Two hours later, I drain the water from the pasta.

That scene depicts a ritual that I have carried out, in different places, with different foods on the stove, for different lengths of time, many times.

The scenery may have changed over time, but the underlying fear has been the same: if I don’t properly turn off the stove, it will ignite something, there will be a fire, and people will die.

That fear of harming others is the basis for my checking. It makes checking one of the most challenging of my symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Before I was diagnosed with OCD at age 26, I didn’t know there was a name for the actions I felt compelled to perform everyday. I thought of the actions as a way to “just make sure everything’s all right.”

Besides my obsessions with stoves, I’ve checked to make sure lights are turned off, the water faucets have been turned off, there are no clothes dropped behind the dryer, the dryer filter is properly free of lint, soap is completely rinsed from dishes I’m washing, and on and on.

Checking takes up a lot of time. And when I stand and stare at a light bulb, trying to convince myself that it is dark, not lit, I can feel the anxiety invade my body: I get hyper, my legs and arms feel numb, and I want to scream and run away.

When I started taking medication for my OCD, my checking compulsions lessened quite a bit. But I still find that the compulsion to check comes around, especially when I’m particularly stressed.

Lately, I’ve been using a form of the therapy that Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz writes about in his book “Brain Lock.” My therapist has modified it a bit.

Basically, when I turn off the light, or turn off the faucet, and feel the urge to check it, I tell myself, it’s the OCD that wants me to check. My brain is different because of OCD.

Then I refocus on something else, which many times, means walking away from the light fixture, shower faucet, or whatever it is that I want to check.

My goal is to accept that I will have anxiety during these times, but I will not give in to the compulsive urge to check. Every time I resist the urge, it makes it a little easier the next time.

Checking is all about looking for certainty, certainty that nothing bad will happen because I haven’t done something dangerous like leave the stove on.

But none of us—those of us with OCD and those without—can ever truly know certainty as long as we live as humans here on earth. We must learn to accept and even embrace the uncertainty and live life anyway.