three obsessive-compulsives walk into a bar

Okay, not quite.

But this past week I did have the blessing of having lunch with two other OCs.  And we met SPECIFICALLY to talk about OCD.

“Harry” suffered most from 8th-11th grade, checking and rechecking the locked door so much that he broke the doorknob at his parents’ home.  His sophomore year of high school, he was terrified that his family would die.  “Hermione” has never struggled with obsessions until last August … when it was like a switch was flipped in her.  First, she worried that she would die young … felt certain it would happen.  Then, last month, her worries for herself transferred to her mom, and now she spends the entire day worrying that her mom will die.

Because of the similarities of their stories, I decided to put them together so they could talk about it.

Needless to say, our lunch was interesting.

Harry told us how one time his sister didn’t come home at the right time, so he naturally assumed she was in an accident … he had so convinced himself that this was the truth that he actually almost told that to his friends, figuring that maybe they could help him grieve.  OCD’s voice is very loud and convincing, friends.

Hermione has been obsessing for five months, and she asked Harry and me (I guess I can be Ron!  Ha!) how to tell when OCD crosses the line into the unbearable territory.  Gosh, what a question!  “It’s terrible right now,” she said.  “I think about my mom dying all day every day.  I really don’t want to take meds or do CBT.  How will I know?”

“You’ll know,” I said.  “You’re not there yet.  There will be a time when you realize that the hell of daily obsessions is so bad that you’re willing to take on the hell of CBT or the hell of side effects just to escape it.”

I hate that it has to get that bad.

black and white … and gray

Today, one of my staff members was really pushing me to set some boundaries/define some things around a particular part of his job.  I pushed back on it, simply because I needed some room to breathe, room to change my mind, room to be a manager.

And then it suddenly occurred to me how strange this was– that I, Jackie Lea Sommers, wanted a little gray working room instead of a black-and-white prison.  Me– the girl who, at one time, wanted a ten-step manual for every minute task of life, who had to ask permission for the silliest of things, who NEEDED boundaries drawn around her just so that she could lessen the daily guilt by a smidgeon.

Watch out, world!!  This obsessive-compulsive’s shackles are off!!

The Last Battle

On this first night of 2012, I am thinking about my favorite book, The Last Battle, written by C.S. (Jack) Lewis.  If you haven’t read The Chronicles of Narnia yet, then 2012 is your year!  These books have been so important in my life that I find myself reading the entire series about 6-8 times a year.  They are well worth the time invested.

In The Last Battle, there is incredible confusion in Narnia– there is an imposter pretending to be Aslan, the great Lion, who is making terrible commandments.  There is one bit of dialogue I’d like to share with you:

You will go to your death, then,” said Jewel.

“Do you think I care if Aslan doomes me to death?” said the King. “That would  be nothing,  nothing at all. Would it not be better to be dead than to have this  horrible fear that Aslan  has come and is not like the Aslan we have believed in  and longed for? It is as if the  sun  rose one day and were a black sun.”

“I know,” said Jewel. “Or if you drank water and it were dry water. You are in the  right,  Sire. This is the end of all things.”

During my darkest OCD moments, this is how I felt– and actually some of my issues I refered to as “black sun obsessions”– obsessions where the ground was taken from beneath my feet, where I felt as if my entire worldview was being dismantled.  Those nights, my soul felt as if there were no place to land.  I was in free-fall.

But, later in the book, the King and Jewel discover the Truth— that an ape is behind this entire masquerade.

But now, as Tirian looked round on the miserable faces of the Narnians, and thought how they would all believe that Aslan and Tash were one and the same, he could bear it no longer.
“Ape,” he cried, “You lie. You lie damnably. You lie like a Calormene. You lie like an Ape.”

What I am trying to say is this: there are no black suns if you love Jesus Christ– only things that appear to be black suns.  He is bigger than our obsessions, and He is the solid ground beneath our feet.  It may feel as though Christianity could crack down the middle like a split log, but God is our gravity.  I was never in free-fall; I was lying in the great palm of my God.

same secrets

“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.” Frederick Buechner

While I think this quote is universally true, right now I’m thinking specifically in the context of obsessive-compulsives.

Alone, we imagine that no one else could think the horrible things we do.

But when we are in community, we realize that our secrets are pretty much all the same.  I know that’s it’s not necessarily an abracadabra moment, but when you start realizing that other people share your secrets, you feel less like a monster and more like the victim of an ugly disorder.  In other words, you start seeing the TRUTH.

The TRUTH is…

You are not the only one who imagines harming a child.

You are not the only one with excessive concerns about contamination.

You are not the only one who fears you’ve done or thought something blasphemous.

You are not the only one who fears you might be homosexual.

You are not the only one who needs symmetry.

You are not the only one with counting compulsions, who makes lists excessively, who feels a NEED to confess, who is driven to accumulate useless things, who counts, who has unwanted sexual thoughts, who needs to check “one last time” a hundred times.

You’re not a freak– you’re just a textbook case of OCD.  One amongst an entire community of people whose lives have been affected by this thief.  I love the online OCD blogging community– I love that people are sharing their secrets and learning that all our secrets are pretty much the same.

 

Christmas isn’t fun for everyone

My roommate is a Christmas fanatic– every year, she chooses one day after Thanksgiving where we pause everything else to put on some Christmas music, drink hot cocoa, and decorate our apartment.  Every Christmas decoration in the entire apartment belongs to her.  Well, time out, I guess we each paid half for our little four-foot tree.

Desiree has this entire Willow Tree nativity set, as seen below.

Can you picture her as a senior in high school, eagerly opening up each element of the scene?  It makes me laugh– but in a good way!  Des is the sweetest girl ever, and this is a great metaphor of each of us.  Des is “steady eddie”– not that she doesn’t have her own issues to deal with– but she is strong and caring and clean and a good cook.  And then there’s me, a tornado who is still learning how to take care of herself.

Christmas is an interesting time for me– to be honest, I am learning to enjoy it.  Growing up, it was a very difficult time of the year for me.  Picture Minnesota in the winter: it gets dark so early, there’s usually piles of snow, and the temperature is below freezing– sometimes dangerously below.  It’s like a dream location for seasonal depression.

And then, with OCD stacked on top of it, pretty much everything about Christmas was a trigger: my mind would race with thoughts of whether I believed in God, and if He was real, if He had saved me.

There is an image of me that we still have somewhere at my parents’ house– me, hovering somewhere around 17-20 years old, with this look at the camera.  I can remember exactly what I was thinking in it.  I was looking at the camera and asking my future self, Are you okay yet?  I hope you don’t feel this way still.

These days, I can answer my past self, I am better.  I am healthier.  And no, most days I do not feel that way.

Praise GOD!  Thank You, Jesus, for cognitive-behavioral therapy.

So tonight I’m thinking about different kinds of folks– I know there are some– actually, MANY– who are like Des, yearly filled with holiday cheer, basking in the glow of the Christmas lights, huddled comfortably around the tree and the nativity scene.  But there are others who spend their holidays the way I did– filled with doubt (laced with the tiniest bit of hope), depression, confusion, and sickness– and all while feeling that instead, they really ought to be happy.

If you are in the second camp, I hear you.  I’ve been there.  This prayer is for you:

Jesus, I celebrate You– I celebrate Your marvelous incarnation, the Word becoming flesh.  Tonight, Lord, I lift up to You all those who are burdened with heavy, laboring hearts this season– whether from depression, anxiety, mental illness, or internal crisis.  YOU ARE STRONG ENOUGH TO HOLD US ALL.  Just as that first Christmas was the initiation of Your inexplicably great rescue plan, I pray that this Christmas will be the start of Your new rescue mission in the lives of these sufferers.  You are Love.  You are Truth.  You are the mighty redeemer.  I entrust my heart to You and ask that You would hold those for whom I’m praying– in a way that is felt.  Amen.

I boast in the cross.

I give the credit for my rescue from OCD to Jesus Christ alone, and I believe that CBT and medicine and doctors were the tools He used.

Tonight I listened to a sermon online given by John Piper of Bethlehem Baptist Church, right here in Minneapolis.  He was talking about something that won’t make sense to some:

“[F]or redeemed sinners, every good thing–[and] indeed every bad thing that God turns for good–was obtained for us by the cross of Christ. Apart from the death of Christ, sinners get nothing but judgment. Apart from the cross of Christ, there is only condemnation. Therefore, everything that you enjoy in Christ–everything you boast in, everything you exult in–is owing to the death of Christ. And all your exultation in other things is to be an exultation in the cross where all your blessings were purchased for you at the cost of Christ’s life.”

Essentially, if I follow the path of blessings back to its source, there I will find the cross–the death–of Jesus Christ.  Because the death of Christ was an act of grace, an act of rescue.

I am grateful and blessed and pleased to be free from the clutches of obsessive-compulsive disorder.  In doing so, I am exulting in the cross of Jesus.

As Piper said, “[Being dead to the world] means that every legitimate pleasure in the world becomes a blood-bought evidence of Christ’s Calvary love and an occasion of boasting in the cross.”

how CBT helps me to see clearly

OCD-related blogs I have been reading:

http://www.pureocanuck.blogspot.com/
http://www.lollyshope.com/
http://ocdtalk.wordpress.com/

The other day, there was a post on Lolly’s Hope that seriously could have been written by me, only a couple years ago.  It told how she was nervous that she’d been rude to the secretary at the doctor’s office and was wondering if she should call back and apologize.  OCD induces such confessions and apologies that are not necessary, simply because the obsession causes such PANIC, and the confession/apology temporarily alleviates that panic.  Your heart will be racing, as well as your mind, believing that things must be solved NOW and that you are going to feel this terrible panicky sensation UNTIL things are solved.  That’s why most of us give in right away.  Heck, I’m the girl who emailed Caribou corporate because my barista gave me a 10-cent discount and I felt guilty as all get-out.  Ridiculous, right?

Yes.

I’ve been reading things from people at all different stages– people who have never heard of CBT/ERP (cognitive-behavioral therapy/exposure and response prevention), people who are undergoing it now, and people like myself– who have gone through that hell, survived it, and are HAPPY on the other side!

I can see clearly now that I’ve undergone CBT.  I am a huge proponent of it as THE BEST TREATMENT THERE IS FOR OCD.  Yes, it is one of the most difficult things I have ever done, but God has given me my life back through it.  It was all worth it.  And the eyesight of my head and heart is 20/20 again!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image credit: See Clearly

I am thankful for …

Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection

chocolate               internet       dear friends                                 

                 mom, dad, sister, brother                      Risperdal

             goals               Northwestern College        Harry Potter

C.S. Lewis           cognitive-behavioral therapy          

           freedom in its various forms            life            hope

the joy of writing     hilarious co-workers      YouTube             

NARNIA                     laughter        inside jokes                        

        attractive men who love Jesus            

soundtracks           cologne               Minnesota         

                                       small towns and big cities           

spring                     summer               fall            (gulp) winter

         awkwardness             youth ministry        babies            

sarcasm                Trinity City Church                   etsy              

conversation              silliness         dorkiness             

books                     audiobooks          

God’s rescuing me from hell and OCD

 

I’m a Christian and I take MEDS!!!

After I wrote an article for the college newspaper, one of my former professors asked me if next year I would speak to his biblical counseling class.  Apparently, the day after the paper came out, the class had had a whole discussion on whether believers should use medications.  This professor said that in general the class seemed to think that therapy should be “enough.”

And it may be.  For some people.

I’m not going to preach, but I will do a little copy-and-paste job here and share an old story:

A man who couldn’t swim very well was stranded in the middle of the lake. He prayed to God, asking Him to save him from drowning. Shortly after, a man on a boat came by.

“Do you need some help?” He asked, slowing his boat to a stop next to the man.

“No thank you,” The man replied. “God will save me.” The man with the boat shrugged his shoulders and kept going.

Next, a man with a canoe paddled next to him, slowing to a stop and asking, “Do you need some help?”

“No thank you. God will save me.” The man replied, smiling. The man on the canoe shrugged, and paddled on.

Next, a man in a tiny paddle boat came by, stopping next to the man and asking, “Do you need some help?”

The drowning man replied, “No thank you, God will save me.” The man in the paddle boat shrugged, and paddled away.

The drowning man did indeed drown, and when he reached heaven, he asked God “Why didn’t you save me?”

God replied “I gave you three boats. What more did you want?”

lately

I was on the phone with my mom yesterday; she called because she read my last blog post about re-taking the MMPI, so we were discussing that.  I’ve been stressed lately, and struggling with some different things, but the truth of the matter is, I feel lots of freedom and very healthy.  I think it’s because I can compare everything to OCD.

I said to my mom, “Compared to the hell I went through in the throes of OCD, I don’t believe that anything could be worse than hell itself.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That surprised her.  She said, “You always seemed to be so well put together, seemed to cope so well.”

It made me laugh.  Facades can be so strong.  I was an absolute, total, complete wreck during that time.  I said to her, “I think what happens is that, with OCD, feeling awful just becomes the new norm, so it appears that way.”  Sad but so true.

Hillsong was in the Twin Cities, and Erica and I went to their concert/worship experience last evening.  The last time I went to a concert at Grace Church was in college … Audio Adrenaline and MercyMe … and last night we sat near where I sat all those years ago (would have been 2003).  I can remember that night, eight and a half years ago, and how I felt I was on such shaky ground with God.  Last night, I felt redeemed and free and grateful and healthy.

It just gives me so much hope for others who are in a bad place.  Please, Jesus, free those who are held captive by their own minds.  Work mightily through the means of Your choosing– miracles, medicines, therapies– to restore Your incredible freedom to obsessive-compulsives, and please draw all these rescued people’s eyes to You, to clearly see that You are, even now in 2011, in the business of redemption.