When I think of words to describe myself, brave is not one that comes quickly to mind.  In fact, I think I’m actually kind of a wimp.  A chicken.  I read books about crazy adventures because quite often I’m too scared to tackle them myself.

If I’d have gotten my letter for Hogwarts, I’d so desperately have wanted the Sorting Hat to put me into Gryffindor House.  But, let’s be honest, I’d have probably been in Ravenclaw.  Or Hufflepuff (gasp!).


Movies scare me … sometimes even when they’re not supposed to be scary.  Change scares me.  Public speaking scares me (although not as much as it used to!).  I’m scared of needles, writing criticism, driving in the snow, and going to parties alone.

But last week I was emailing my friend Kyle about various opportunities in my life, and he wrote to me: “It will be a brave decision to stay, or a brave one to go, and for different reasons. You’re a brave person.”


But I thought about it more.  I am scared of change … but I am willing to take risks I feel called to take.  I am scared of public speaking … but I force myself to accept opportunities to share with crowds (and have really honed my skills!).  I’m scared of needles, but I get shots.  Of writing criticism, but I invite it, ask for feedback all the time.  Of going places alone, but I suck it up, paste on a smile, and meet new people.

Driving in the snow … yeah, okay, I avoid that and just stay in. 🙂

But even more than all of this, I lived for over fifteen years under the tyranny of obsessive-compulsive disorder, and I stood up to it.  I tackled cognitive-behavioral therapy, which was the hardest thing I have ever had to do, and came out with OCD under my foot instead of the other way around.

Know how I feel?



dare to take off your mask

Here is an article I recently wrote for the student newspaper at the university where I work …

I have obsessive-compulsive disorder.

It is my distinct pleasure to share this with others because I have learned how much freedom there is to gain by sharing my real self.

Years ago, I harbored my secret, held it tight in my fists, knowing that if I released it to the world, I could never go back to “the way things were.”  It would create an unalterable “before” and “after,” and I wasn’t sure I was ready for people’s avoidance (at best) or condescension (at worst).

Instead, what happened was that a long-time friend told me that he too struggled with OCD.  He was so ashamed of it that he hadn’t even told his own family.  Then someone else told me about her struggles with an eating disorder.  Left and right, people started removing their masks.  The more vulnerable I made myself, the more vulnerable others were willing to be with me, and this honesty worked as a glue between our hearts.

Honest sharing from one person draws out honest sharing from others.  In other words, freedom begets freedom.

Frederick Buechner has this amazing quote, which reads, I have come to believe that by and large the human family all has the same secrets, which are both very telling and very important to tell.  They are telling in the sense that they tell what is perhaps the central paradox of our condition—that what we hunger for perhaps more than anything else is to be known in our full humanness, and yet that is often just what we also fear more than anything else.”

For years, I thought I was some kind of anomaly.  I’m not.  I’m just a girl living in a fallen world, and I stand alongside a world of brothers and sisters in Christ who share my same hunger to be fully known and fully loved.

Community matters.  Northwestern, open up your hearts and lives to one another this year.  These early weeks of the semester are exciting ones; I am thrilled when I think of all the possibilities and opportunities stretching out before the student body this year.  Be the kind of grace-filled community that welcomes vulnerability with open arms.  Love each other with the wild love of Jesus Christ, a love that encourages freedom, a self-sacrificing love.

OCD.  These days, I drop those three little letters into conversation pretty much any chance I get.  I am not ashamed of it or nervous to tell people I am an obsessive-compulsive.  I am only hoping that my newfound freedom will beget freedom.

feels like another life

Date: Wed, 27 September 2007
From: Jackie
To: Eir

please pray for me, honey.

i’m nervous again that i’m not saved. or that i did something in the wrong order.

it feels silly to me, but also serious, if that makes sense.

i need to relax.  any Truth you want to speak to me would be great and welcomed.

love you muchly,
jackie lea


From: Eir
Sent: Wed 3/28/2007 12:13 AM
To: Sommers, Jackie L

honey,   “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”   LORD GOD! I thank You that You are a God who is DETERMINED and that salvation is YOUR doing, not ours. Please help Jackie to rest in Your character, God! We can NOT do anything to make you not look at us and still want us to belong to You.   I love you, jls! I see SO MUCH spiritual fruit in your life! I believe FOR you that you are saved and belong to a God who has chosen you as HIS and transformed you.   GOODNIGHT!

trusting the creative process

Trusting the whatta?

The creative process.  I don’t know anyone (except for maybe Addie Zierman) who writes lovely first drafts, and that is just fine.  Freewrite, feedback, re-write, repeat: for me at least, this is the model of the creative process.  And every time I get to the “repeat” part, the draft is better.  If you can boil writing into a formula, that’s what mine looks like.  And then one magical day, the “feedback” part says, “Um, I like it as is,” and you’re done (until some agent tells you otherwise).

It’s bizarre.  Writing– this strange, mystical, spiritual experience– is somehow, for me, whittled into show up and write and then do it again.  After enough times, this clunky, staggering, unrealistic, forced, ridiculous draft turns into a piece of art.  I’m amazed by it.

I have not been writing fiction for long.  Fewer than five years actually.  So I am still in the dating stage with the creative process, still a little unsure that it will really work, uncertain that this formula really does add up.  I’ve spent the last four and half years watching it work (consistently!), and yet I still find myself doubting it.

Then I write another draft, and it is that much better than the last one, and I think in wonder, “It really is working!”

Just like any other relationship, I am learning to trust the creative process.  Show up, put in the effort, don’t get too attached, receive criticism, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit … and it will work.

I am posting this reminder TO MYSELF:

Jackie, KEEP GOING.  Write and keep an open dialogue with those who care about your project.  It will come together.  If it has come this far in 8 months, think of where it will be a year from now!  The creative process WORKS.  It can handle your doubt as long as you keep showing up.

Will you please leave me an encouraging comment?  I could sure use one right now.

not alone

One of my OCD friends just sent me a message that said: “I have also been reading your blog… ha almost like looking at my own biography.”

It reminded me so much that although OCD tries to make us feel like freaks– like we are the only ones who could think such thoughts– like we are unique in our horrors– it’s not true.  All obsessive-compulsives are telling the same story, just with different details.  We are wearing the same outfits but have put on different accessories.  We are not alone.

OCD wears many masks: scrupulosity, checking, ordering, washing, etc.– but in the end it is a neurological disorder that makes us think unwanted thoughts and then perform actions to give ourselves temporary relief.  We are all in the same boat together.

I as a Pure-O can sit with a washer and empathize.  We have a common enemy.

For years, I thought I was some kind of anomaly.  I’m not.  I’m just a girl whose mind has a glitch, and I stand alongside many others who experience the same thing.

Community is important.  I felt validated when I discovered that there were others like myself.  I remember reading Kissing Doorknobs for the first time.  I remember my first conversation with another OC.  I remember reading Stop Obsessing! and seeing myself in the pages, just the way my friend is seeing himself in my blog posts.  Community matters.  And that is one reason that I shout from the rooftops that I have OCD, just in case any other OCs are listening, in case they recognize themselves in me.  Then we can sit down, talk, share stories, and realize that ours are both the same.


Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy gave me back my life

Some of you probably think that I am being dramatic.  If you do, I can almost guarantee that you have never suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder, because those with OCD know that it essentially steals life and joy right out from under you.

I was in a dark place.  My thoughts felt uncontrollable and blasphemous.  I could not take long car rides or fall asleep at night without audiobooks because I needed to give my racing mind something to focus on.  I felt deeply guilty nearly all of the time– and even about small or ridiculous things.  I had an unreasonable weight of responsibility on my shoulders, as if I were somehow the one keeping the world functioning.  I entertained silly and/or terrifying idea of reality.  I felt hellbound and cut off from God’s love and forgiveness.  I was without hope and utterly exhausted.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy was one of the hardest things that I have ever undergone– but those 12 weeks of intense therapy were what God used to set me free from the clutches of OCD.  CBT is a strange concept– give in to your obsessive thoughts in order to gain control over them– but IT WORKS.  I am living proof.

I cannot recommend CBT enough.  It is my mantra to anyone who suffers from OCD: get CBT, get CBT, get CBT.  I feel so much happiness, joy, security, normality now that I want to plead with OCs to come join me on the other side.

Listen up.  If you have OCD and are living in darkness, I know the way out.  I would be happy to sit down with you and tell you all about CBT, answer any questions that you might have, and encourage you as best as I can.  Go to and find a cognitive-behavioral therapist in your area.  There is a light ahead.


After we watched the Blue Like Jazz screening, my former writing professor Judy and I went to the St. Clair Broiler for some late-night breakfast and conversation.

A few things you should know about Judy: she is brilliant, a gifted writer and teacher, and she loves Jesus very much and connects with him in lovely and unique ways like Taizé and lectio divina.

One thing she said to me over pancakes and French toast was this: “Some people hold their brokenness at arm’s length.  Some people embrace their brokenness.  And some people celebrate their brokenness.”

That’s what I want to do– celebrate my brokenness.  I am not ashamed of my obsessive-compulsive disorder.  The Lord’s power is perfected in my weakness.  His grace is sufficient.

“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9b).

How about you?

Did God give me OCD?

Q: But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” — Romans 9:20 (ESV)

A: Thanks for asking.  I’m Jackie Sommers.  I guess you could call me a sass-pot. 

Why do we get OCD?  Is it a punishment from God?  Is it a result of the fall of mankind?  Is it completely arbitrary?  Bad karma?  Simply genetic?  Strep throat gone awry?

I believe that my OCD is indeed from God, given to me for three reasons:
1) To drive me to Him.  The times that I have known most intensely my desperate need for Christ have been some of my most OCD-riddled seasons of life.  When I am given something impossible to handle, then I have to turn to Someone bigger who can take it from my weak hands.
2) So that I would use it to glorify Him.  I wrote a novel about an obsessive-compulsive, a book written for the Lord, to use my talents to honor Him.  I think it’s a beautiful picture of redemption to see the way God allowed me to turn my history of OCD into a creative and beautiful result.
2) To help others who are suffering.  Simply put, I would not be able to sympathize with other sufferers in the same way had I not crawled out of those same trenches.  God was with me every step of the way, and I know that it was He who guided me to cognitive-behavioral therapy, of which I am now a strong advocate.

So, what do you think?  Is OCD from God– or is it something else?  Would love to hear your thoughts!

medication is scary, part two

It took me approximately five years to get on the right medication.

Over the course of the five years, I experienced the following:

* rapid weight gain (30 pounds in one month)

* deep lethargy, during which air felt stale and I had to nap for 2+ hours every day after work

* mind vomit (a phrase I coined, meaning that taking the medication exacerbated my OCD, sending me into frenetic, panicked obsessions)

* a visible tremor

* drymouth, as stanch as if I were eating Saltines and peanut butter

* dizziness and vision loss, usually paired together (One time I had a whole conversation with someone without telling him I couldn’t actually see him … I hope I appeared to be looking him in the eyes.  The dizziness/vision loss combo happened so often that I actually got used to it, could continue walking across my apartment without even slowing my step.)

* Jello-legs, so terrible that I had to lean against the stairwell wall as I descended from my second-floor apartment

* excessive sweating

* lactation (you think I’m kidding, but I’m not)

* a spasm of pain in my back that once DROPPED me to the floor like I’d been tackled from behind

* an allergic reaction that nearly killed me (please, PLEASE do not take new meds unless you have Benadryl in your home!)

And then along came Dr. Suck-Won Kim, my sweet, wonderful expert psychiatrist, who got me onto my perfect dosage of Prozac, Effexor XR, and Risperdal.

And want to know what?

It was all worth it.

freedom begets freedom

When I first decided to “go public” with my OCD, I was sincerely terrified.  I think it was 2006, and I was asked to share my testimony with the campers at a week of 9th and 10th grade Bible camp.  My family and closest friends knew about my OCD, but it was hush-hush among everyone else.  The night I publicly told a group of people about my OCD, I was so scared that I thought I was going to throw up or fall apart.  There is no going back.  Once you tell people this, you can’t make them forget you’ve said it.  They will always treat you differently, look at you differently.  You will lose friends tonight.

Instead, what happened was that a long-time friend ended up sharing with me that he too struggled with obsessive-compulsive disorder.  He was so ashamed of it that he hadn’t even told his own family.

Honest sharing from one person draws out honest sharing from others.

In other words, freedom begets freedom.

I have seen the truth of this over the last six years.  The more vocal I am about OCD, the more people seem to come out of the woodwork: I struggle with that too; my friend is an OC and I don’t know what to say; I never knew that it was OCD until you described it that way.  They want to know the next step, they want to know there is hope, that they are not alone.

And they are certainly not alone.

“OCD is the fourth most common mental disorder, and is diagnosed nearly as often as asthma and diabetes mellitus. In the United States, one in 50 adults suffers from OCD.” (Wikipedia)

But we find one another by saying it outloud.  OCD.  I have OCD.

And then there is the response: I have it too.

And we begin to steal back power and control.

These days, I drop those three little letters into conversation pretty much any chance I get.  I am not ashamed of it or nervous to tell people I am an OC.  I am only hoping that my freedom will beget freedom.

I have OCD.  What about you?