medical or spiritual?

Discovered a website this weekend that is very disturbing to me as a Christian obsessive-compulsive.

At GreatBibleStudy.com, you can read quotes like the following:

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, commonly referred to as OCD, is not a mental disorder or disease… it is a spiritually rooted bondage in the person’s mind that needs to be uprooted.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is basically demonic torment brought on by a person’s bondages to fear and shame.

These ‘voices’ or compulsive thoughts are NOT caused because of a chemical imbalance (which the secular world cannot explain anyways); they are there because of a spiritual bondage in the person’s life.

Now, don’t get me wrong!  I believe that obsessive-compulsive disorder has entered into this world due to SIN, yes, but to negate that OCD is caused by a chemical imbalance seems ridiculous to me.  As a Christian, I view ALL of life through a spiritual lens, but these quotes seem like the equivalent of saying, “Diabetes is not a problem with the pancreas– it’s a spiritual issue!!!”  To say that diabetes is not connected to the pancreas’s inability to produce insuliin would be silly, just as saying that OCD is not connected to a chemical inbalance (our bodies absorb serotonin too quickly … that’s why we take SSRIs [selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors … they SLOW DOWN the reuptake/reabsorbtion of serotonin]).


All issues are spiritual issues, but that does not mean that they are NOT also medical issues.  God is also the Author of Science and the Creator of our bodies.  To not combine the spiritual with the scientific is short-sighted, I believe.

What are your thoughts on these quotes?  I’d especially love to hear from obsessive-compulsive believers!

compulsions become monsters

“Compulsions are a lousy solution to the problem of having obsessions.”  Fred Penzel

Some of you don’t know just how true this quote is!  I was explaining OCD to a group of student workers in my office the other day, and here’s what I had to say about compulsions:

They start as a way to provide temporary relief to the stress/terror/anxiety/disturbing nature of obsessions, but after a while, the compulsions get out of control and become monsters themselves.

For example, maybe an OC will worry that a room is contaminated and therefore, she is going to get sick herself and die.  So she washes her hands to forestall any illness, and for a moment, it relieves that anxiety.  But after awhile, she is washing her hands all the time to try to keep that anxiety at bay, and now her hands are bleached, raw, bleeding and she can’t stop.

Which is worse– the obsession or the compulsion?  I know different OCs have different answers.  I’d like to hear yours!

YA literature

Young adult literature is probably my favorite kind of book to read.  It’s fun, accessible, and– if you’re a picky reader like I am– it’s incredibly well written.  Here’s a list of some of my all-time favorite YA lit.

1) Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
2) Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
3) The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
4) Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
5) The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
6) Ordinary People by Judith Guest
7) Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
8) Bridge to Terabithia by Kathleen Patterson
9) Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
10) The Pigman by Paul Zindel

… and so many more (Saving Francesca, Finnikin of the Rock, The Sky is Everywhere, Tuck Everlasting, The Secret Garden …)!  Do you like YA lit?  What are your favorites?  Have you tried writing YA lit before?  What are the critical elements to include in any YA story?

try to love the questions themselves

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
Rainer Maria Rilke

OCD in a nutshell: Life holds uncertainty, and obsessive-compulsives can’t stand that.

The natural desire of an OC is to erase uncertainty, but that is an impossible feat.

Instead, cognitive-behavioral therapy teaches an OC to be okay with uncertainty.

And trust me, life is so much better this way.

not only neurotic, but a writer too

If you subscribe to my blog, you know that my posts revolve around obsessive-compulsive disorder and that I sometimes post scenes from the book I’ve been writing about OCD.  Tonight, instead of writing about OCD, I want to write about writing.  Meta-writing … now there’s something an OC can latch onto!  Haha!

Words have been important to me since I was young– summertimes, my mom would have to yell at me to go play outside, since all I wanted to do was lie in my bed and read.  We met halfway: I took my book outdoors.  My sister and I and the neighbor girl would play “library,” setting all our books out on the stairs to the deck, carefully each selecting one, “checking it out,” and retreating to various areas of the yard to read.  They would abandon their books long before I would.

When I was in third grade, I remember creating a whole made-up family of characters so that I could write stories about them.  In junior high, I started to mess around with poetry.  In high school, I wrote an episodic soap opera and passed it around for friends to read.  When the notebook made its way back to me, I wrote some new scenes.  In college, I studied creative writing and finally discovered a true family of other writers, who– let’s be honest– are all a little strange.  It’s not mean.  We just are.

In 2008, I began chicken-scratching some thoughts about my latest Paxil-induced obsession, which turned into a four year novel-writing project that I’m pretty proud of.

Well.  That is, until I read some fantastic new book.  Then I feel like I will never be more than mediocre.

Readers love books.  Writers do too.  But sometimes writers kind of hate them as well.  Take, for example, last night when I read The Fault in Our Stars, the latest by John Green, and found myself simultaneously DELIGHTED by it and MORTIFIED as it revealed my own weaknesses.  One of my greatest desires in life is to be a good writer, and so, reading great writing from others is wonderful/horrible, an honor/shameful, a gift/a rebuke.  I would never “forfeit” the opportunities to have read The Book Thief,  Jellicoe Road, The Last Unicorn, For the Time Being, Peace Like a River, and absolutely anything by Billy Collins.  Doesn’t mean I didn’t seethe with envy while I read.

I complained to my friend Kyle, who wrote me You can trust a good giver that He’s given you what you need. So, take heart, and write.

And my friend Erica patiently encouraged Remember you are part of the body of Christ and have greater purpose.  I totally believe in your writing.

Both were needed reminders for this neurotic writer.

diagnosis

Eve Ensler writes, “I believe in the power and mystery of naming things. Language has the capacity to transform our cells, rearrange our learned patterns of behavior and redirect our thinking. I believe in naming what’s right in front of us because that is often what is most invisible. I believe freedom begins with naming things. Humanity is preserved by it.”

And I agree.

To me, naming an enemy steals away some of that enemy’s power, and that is why I believe diagnosis is so important.

For years, I didn’t know what was wrong with me– only that I thought and worried more than anyone I knew– enough to think myself into panicked circles from which escape was nearly impossible. I couldn’t see this behavior in any of my friends, this dizzying chasing-of-my-own-tail beginning the moment I woke up. I was the odd man out, always stressed to the max, always teetering on the edge of something HUGE– heresy, atheism, a change in direction or pursuit, a redefining of my entire worldview.

But how can you fight against an invisible enemy? Since you can’t see the enemy standing between you and the mirror, instead you see yourself and the fight becomes personal. All the while, the real culprit is standing right there … only it is unnamed.

And then, the diagnosis arrives. OCD is named. There is a transfer of power, even if only minute. And the real war begins.

Anonymous, you feasted on me like a silent maggot,
until I was weary of the ugly business of waking up.
You fed on my tears, licking the salt off of
your fingertips in a greedy appetite for sorrow that
backed me into a boxy corner of paranoia
where I first learned your name.
My move.

what it feels like

I just had an OCD dream.  Is that even possible?

In it, my mom was talking about Halloween and beseeching me to guard myself against dark powers on that day (my mom is not generally a nut about these kinds of things, but she was very passionate in my dream), and I was telling her that I was protected because I have Christ … when I began to doubt my salvation.  In my dream. 

Weird.  Never have done that before.

And I woke up to those same old feelings of terror that dominated me for so long.

I was reading OCDTalk blog and read a post about what OCD felt like (the link will take you there).  She wrote:

* You have that feeling you get after swerving to avoid a potentially fatal car accident.

* You have that feeling you get when you take your eyes off of your child in a store for one minute, and then he/she is gone.

With the above examples, your physical and mental distress dissipates once the blackboard scratching stops, you avoid the accident, or you’ve located your child. But try to imagine having those feelings of intense anxiety repeatedly, perhaps hundreds of times a day. That is what some sufferers say life with severe OCD feels like.

Those were the two examples that resonated most with me– I wrote a couple things over the past three years trying to describe what OCD felt like.  Here’s a poem that reminds me of how I just woke up from my dream– the feeling that I’m trying to let drain out of me right now as I blog:

TERROR

 I remember in junior high when for Christmas I received
an old-fashioned alarm clock, two bells like golden mushrooms
and the tiny hammer that trilled between them. 
The alarm was like crashing through four levels of reality
in mere seconds, like being doused with water from the Atlantic,
like defibrillator plates on my chest, shocking me into the morning,
like frozen hands slapping my brain.  These days,
it is as though the golden clock of my childhood has taken up residence
inside my chest, where it is continuously ringing, jolting me back to the
Issue at Hand whenever I forget, for a moment, to be scared.

Here’s another line from my book:

I worked myself into hysterics by that evening, an amusement park ride spinning out of control.  Terror licked at my heart and felt permanent: I just knew that nothing would ever be right again. 

And here’s one last one.  I hope it helps you to understand.

It reminded me of my later years of high school, when Charlotte’s and my friend Terri started to go to parties in our classmates’ cornfields, where she would steal cigarettes from boys’ mouths to take her own drag.  Jeremy Mason’s back forty was the preferred party spot for our small class, although from time to time, the melee would move over to Madison Prewett’s pasture pond.  And sometimes, as if they were begging to be stereotyped, the group would convene for indiscretion at the railroad trestle just outside of the Collins Falls city limits.

At the time, I was stuck in my own paradoxical world—worrying that God wasn’t real, and that because I thought so, He would send me to hell—and so had no time for petty crimes like underaged drinking, which would only muddy my already-soiled “record.” 

            The one time I made it out to the trestle was on a Sunday afternoon, the day after a party where half of my class had gotten minors.  Terri had shirked the police but dropped her cell phone while fleeing the scene, so the next day, she asked me and Charlotte to help her look.  Charlotte, who had just gotten both her license and the Voyager, drove us to the scene in a reckless fashion she’d never outgrow.

            The site had an abandoned, makeshift fire pit and empty cans of Coors Light scattered all around like eggs at an Easter hunt.  The fire pit had a few hay bales around it that someone or another had brought out in his pickup truck, and all this was at the base of the western hill.  From the top of that hill, the trestle bridge ran out straight to the eastern bank, at least 120 feet high in the center of
the bridge and about a quarter of a mile from one end to the other.  It looked rickety and ominous, like the oldest rollercoaster at the amusement park.

            “Call my number,” demanded Terri, as we started to climb the western hill.  “I ran this way, trying to get into the trees.” 

            We were nearly at the top when we heard the old Nokia ring.  Terri located it and wiped it off on her jeans.  “Good as new,” she pronounced.

            The three of us turned around and looked down the hill, then across the long stretch of tracks with the support frames branching out beneath them like Tim Burton’s grotesque version of gothic
giraffe legs or the Imperial walkers on planet Hoth.  “Let’s go across it,” said Terri, her eyes shining.

            “Oh gosh,” said Charlotte.  “Really?”

            “I’ve done it before,” said Terri.  “It’s really not that big of a deal.”

            “What if a train comes?” I asked.

            “That’s the point,” said Terri.  “It’s scary because you don’t know if a train could be coming just around the corner.  I mean, it probably won’t, but you don’t know that.  If a train comes, then you
have to run for it.”

            “Okay,” I said, and the words shocked me as they left my mouth.  I felt as if someone had bumped into me and I’d accidentally burped them out. 

            “Really?” asked Terri.

            “Yeah, really?” asked Charlotte.

            Now my stomach was reeling as I looked down the side of the hill we’d come up.  It was a long way down.  I moved over to the tracks and stood in the middle of them, facing the bridge.  It was so far across, and so terribly narrow.  I wondered briefly if we could somehow climb down the support beams if the worst came to the worst.  “Let’s just do it,” I said.  “Let’s get going.  It’s going to be fine.”

            And so we walked across the trestle then, a quarter mile from safety to safety, and the whole time we marched across those wooden slats, none of us spoke but Terri, who said, “Whoa,” in the
middle of the bridge, when she looked over the edge.  She said, “It’s actually worse in daylight,” and then we continued on, a silent march, ears tuned for any shrieking whistle just around the bend.  I felt bent over with tension, as if my shoulders were knotting up the way water boils in a pot.  My stomach felt hollow and greasy. 

            It’s nothing, I told myself.  Nothing is coming.   But it didn’t calm me. My heart beat like a steady roll on a snare.  It was one of the most terrible and memorable experiences of my young life, and my mind was ravaged with images of three bodies lying still in the rushes below.  Every step felt like sheer panic flowing up from my toes to my chest, rattling my heart then moving like a laser beam to my head, where I manufactured nightmares.

            And now, all these years later, this memory was like putting a finger on the pulse of that evening: absolute terror, only this time, there was no safety in sight.  Just the feel of walking on an endless, narrow railroad trestle, listening, straining for the sound of destruction on its way to meet me.

Christians and medication

First, I’d love for you to read the following by John Piper:

Should Christians use anti-depressants? (by JOHN PIPER … not Jackie!)

It is a gray area. I don’t preach against anti-depressants, though I have mentioned them before and dealt with a good many people who use them.

In the secular world at large there is a huge reaction these days against the overuse and dangers of anti-depressants. The world itself is recognizing that we may be doping up too quick and too superficially.

But still, if you go to a doctor now, very often you’ll be prescribed a medicine for almost any kind of relational, emotional, or behavioral problem that you’re having. That is happening too quickly I think.

I appreciate the concern people have about the use of anti-depressants among Christians. God had something to teach Job—who didn’t have Prozac—through his pain, and he might have something to teach us too.

Therefore, I encourage slowness to use anti-depressants. God may have a way forward for someone before they start altering their mind with physical substances.

However, on the other side, it seems clear to me that the brain is a physical organ with electrical impulses and chemicals, and that mental illness is therefore not merely spiritual. No man could persuade me that all mental derangement is owing to a spiritual cause that has a purely spiritual solution.

There are physical damages that happen in life or that a person is born with that alter the brain’s functionality. The question then becomes whether we should only pray for it to be healed, or whether we might also use medicine to help it.

Just like you take aspirin to get you through a very serious back-ache, you might, for a season, take some kind of medicine that would enable you to get your bearings mentally so that you can then operate without the medicine.

Near our church there is a place called Andrew home and it houses people who are severely mentally disabled. All of them are on heavy medicines to keep them from killing themselves, killing other people, or being totally unable to work.

A few of them worship with us at Bethlehem, and I believe that through their medication they perceive and know God and that God is in fact using them for good. They are seriously mentally ill. I don’t know all of their circumstances, but I couldn’t rule out the option of medicine for them (or for others struggling with certain forms of serious depression) as a means to try and help them get their bearings.

One way medicine can be helpful is if it gets people to a point where they have enough stability to read the Bible. Then, through being able to read the Scriptures, people are able to be refreshed in the Lord and, in time, come off of the medicine. In that case medicine is a means to an end, and that seems perfectly natural to me.

© Desiring God

Well, hey there.  Jackie again. What are your thoughts on this?  I’d love to generate some discussion in the comments.  I want everyone to weigh in.  I’ll share my thoughts in another post very soon!

thought for today

Quote

A writer — and, I believe, generally all persons — must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art. -Jorge Luis Borges, writer (1899-1986)

Thank You, Lord, for my OCD.  Thank You, Potter, for making this vessel exactly as is.