A Portrait of Uncertainty, Before & After

SONY DSCUncertainty, Before ERP: intolerable agony. Even a sliver of uncertainty would collapse my entire self. It was torture, hell on earth. I didn’t think I could stand it for one more minute. And, in fact, because of that intense pressing need to erase the uncertainty, I’d usually do something to alleviate the ugly anxiety … but compulsions prevent you from realizing that you can live one more minute. And then another. And as the minutes stack up, you start to get used to the cold water. In fact, it stops feeling icy.

Uncertainty After ERP: uncomfortable still, but necessary. These days uncertainty feels like a built-in, expected part of life. It’s no one’s favorite thing to experience, but I experience it much the same way as the general population. It’s not an emergency; it’s just an inconvenience. And because I learned that I could survive– and even thrive– by embracing uncertainty, I actually love it more than most people.

Uncertainty isn’t the enemy. ERP can set you free.
Go to www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD-help for more details.

 

Image credit: Mark Turnauckas

The [Beautiful] Paradox of ERP

paradox of ERP2Exposure and response prevention therapy. ERP.

The hardest thing I have ever chosen to do in my life.

And one of the best.

But that’s not actually the paradox I’m talking about. The paradox of ERP that fascinates me most centers around uncertainty.

The whole point of ERP therapy is to teach someone to learn to live with, accept, even embrace uncertainty. ERP actually re-wires the brain to help the OCD sufferer with this. Before I went through ERP, I wanted to know everything with 100% certainty. Anything less would cause intense havoc in my mind, heart, and body. Because of this intense desire to know everything with certainty, I so often felt gobsmacked by uncertainty. I lived as if, without total certainty, I could barely know anything. Doubt pummeled me like a linebacker. My life was ravaged by uncertainty.

But once I went through ERP therapy and learned to accept uncertainty, the bizarre thing is that my confidence returned. I suddenly felt surety and certainty again– after I realized I didn’t need it.

When I demanded 100% certainty, what I ended up with was often something in the 25-40% range. Or lower.

When I abandoned the need for 100% certainty, I ended up in the 90-99% range. Sometimes less, but usually way, way up there.

That’s weird math. Backward logic. A paradox.

One I love.

99% sure,
Post-ERP Jackie

P.S. If the need to know for sure is ruining your life, you need ERP. Read more about it at jackieleasommers.com/OCD.

P.P.S. I’m a follower of Jesus Christ, and I can’t help but be struck by the similarity of this to “Lose your life to gain it.”

Image credit: Nicu Buculei, modified by me

Uncertainty is the Key

uncertainty2

One of my friends has had her obsessions flare up again (she is worried that her brother will die on his spring break trip), and she emailed me for prayer and advice.  I asked her, “Do you want tough love?”

Her response:  “Yes, okay, just hold on a second I have to prepare myself.”
A minute later: “I am ready.  Go.”

I wrote back:

I’m not going to reassure you about this because LIFE IS FULL OF UNCERTAINTY, and we have to learn to live with it.  I’m not saying this to be mean, but the truth of the matter is that he could slip on the Minnesota ice outside and hurt himself that way just as easily as a trip to California.  We DON’T KNOW.  We CAN’T know.  All we can do is make decisions based on the evidence available.  The evidence available suggests he will be fine.  Whether you worry about him or not won’t change anything except for how YOU cope with his spring break.

The best thing that you can do for yourself to keep from spiraling is to repeat to yourself, “I can’t know if he’ll be okay.  He might be.  He might NOT be.  Either way, he knows God, and I have to just live my life with uncertainty.”

want to reassure you.  But that would be just silly—who am I (who is any mere human) to reassure you of something like this?  Our lives ARE like a vapor!  We have no way of knowing.

The evidence available suggests that most healthy young people live till their 70s, so that’s what I’m going to plan for.

***

My friend thanked me for the tough love; I think I’m allowed to dole it out because she knows about how cognitive-behavioral therapy changed my life.  CBT is really just a giant act of tough love, isn’t it?  We’re put through torture so that we can barrel through the hell of daily life with OCD.  I know I am so glad to have gone through it myself, and that is why I am not willing to reassure someone of something we can’t know.

Life is full of uncertainty, and each obsessive-compulsive wants to eliminate it– which is just not possible.  Still, we go to great lengths to attempt this impossible feat.  Really, our rescue is in learning to embrace the uncertainty.

If it boggles your mind a little, that’s okay.  It still does mine too, and I’m a success story!

For those of you with OCD, is it hard for you to receive tough love from people?  For those of you who love an OC, is it hard for you to dole it out?

uncertainty

I spent last weekend with my incredible friend Cindy, whom I know from Northwestern.  Cindy went to law school at Georgetown and now lives and works in Washington, DC, and she was kind enough to take the Amtrak to Boston to spend the weekend with me.  So, so good.

We did lots of fun stuff, but to be honest, some of the best parts of the weekend were just all the wonderful conversations.  You have to understand that Cindy is 100% brilliant, and you can talk to her about absolutely anything, and she has all this valuable insight.  One night, we ate a late dinner at the Cactus Club (where, btw, I had the most incredible chicken and avocado quesadillas), and we got to talking about Rene Descartes (since I had begun his book Meditations on the flight out to Boston and because he is playing quite a significant role in my YA book) and about his dream argument and the way he was establishing universal doubt.  It led to a great conversation on uncertainty and how healthy it actually is (in fact, it was the key to my therapy!).

Cindy and I talked about how certain statements and discussions used to jar us in regard to faith, but how as we got older, we both reached a point where we decided, “Look, I am committed to this Christianity thing.  I think it is true, even though I can’t really know that.  But I’m not going to be swayed by every new scientist and fact and detail and argument that arises.  I’ve made a choice and I’m sticking with Christ regardless.”

I’d like to hear what you think about this.  My assumption is that different ages will have different reactions.

Not to go all Narnia-nerd on you (but let’s be honest, I can’t always help it), but I told Cindy it reminded me a lot of Puddleglum the Marshwiggle in The Silver Chair.  Are you familiar?  Let me set the scene for you.

Puddleglum and friends are in the Underworld, and the evil Queen of Underworld is strumming her magical guitar and has tossed some sweet-smelling something-or-another into the fire, and the marshwiggle and his friends are falling under her spell as she tries to convince them that there is no Overworld.

“But we’ve seen the sun!” they argue.  The queen asks what a sun is, and they describe it as very large, very bright lamp.

“You’ve seen my lamp,” she contradicts, “and so you imagine a bigger and better one and call it a sun.”  The same argument is repeated when they bring up Aslan.  “You’ve seen a cat,” she said, “and you imagine a bigger and better one and call it a lion.”

But Puddleglum puts his foot into the fire, shocking him into clarity, and he essentially says, “It’s sad that if you’re right, we’ve still managed to make a play, fake world that licks your real world hollow.”  Then he goes on to say, “I’m going to live like a Narnian, even if there isn’t any Narnia.  I’m going to serve Aslan, even if there isn’t any Aslan.”

Cindy and I feel the same way about Christianity.  Now, don’t get me wrong: I believe Christianity is real, and I believe Christ is real and is alive today and is working in my life.  But I will allow for doubt.  Uncertainty in certain dosages can be very healthy, and I have made a choice to serve Jesus Christ, no matter what.

Thoughts?

 

 

more thoughts on solipsism syndrome

Solipsism syndrome is a psychological state wherein a person feels that the world is not “real.”  It is only marginally related to the philosophical idea of solipsism (only knowing that you yourself exist and having no way to know with certainty that anyone else does).

All of this intrigues me because I myself went through a period of time where I was very detached from real life.  In fact, for a time, I honestly wondered if people were really demons who wanted to somehow trick me into hell.  There was a part of me that knew it was completely ludicrous.  But I couldn’t let go of the idea that I was somehow stuck in my own personal Truman Show hell.  I was withdrawn from everyone, living in fear and distrust, sadness and loneliness.

In my completely unprofessional and completely personal opinion, solipsism syndrome has a large connection to Pure O OCD.  I am writing a story about a young lady with solipsism syndrome, and to me, it just SCREAMS, “Pure O!” over and over.

To me, the key to putting both OCD and solipsism syndrome under one’s foot is learning to embrace uncertainty. 

It sounds so simple, but it’s incredibly hard to do.  Cognitive-behavioral therapy was the tool in my life that helped me to do this.