I like life.

This was a really busy– but ultimately really good– week for me.

Last week, I was (pre?) diagnosed with a sleep disorder– Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome, which sounds totally fake but isn’t. Basically, my circadian rhythm is off, which is why I stay awake so late (even with Ambien!) and then feel impossibly paralyzed in the mornings. I’m meeting with a specialized sleep psychologist next month, and in the meantime, I had blood work done to see if it’s safe for me to go back onto Risperdal. I took that tiny .5 mg (notice that is POINT-FIVE not FIVE mg) pill for eight years, and when I went off of it (maybe six months ago?), I’ve just gone haywire. I know that for most people, mornings are not fun. But, for me, they’ve been impossible. I don’t know how else to explain it.

My favorite kiddos came over on Saturday, and later I found a sweet note from the six year old. Allow me to translate: “Ava loves Jackie’s house.” Jak E with a backward J leaves you with cake. I like cake.

My editor was in the Twin Cities, so we hung out on Monday, brainstorming and discussing Salt Novel as well as writing and publishing in general and all the things we’ve been learning lately. It was wonderful! I left feeling energized to write and excited about my manuscript. Now to find more time …
The rest of the week consisted of therapy (yay), haircut (yay) and dye job (yay? see pics.), getting paid for the German translation of Truest (YAY), and ice cream with my bestie (major yay).

How about you? I can’t believe July is half over. Where is summer going? I’m ready for cooler temps (it’s been in the nineties in Minnesota and miserably humid, though the end of this week was better) but I’m not ready for the ruckus of fall recruitment quite yet.

Think of me as I sort out my sleep/novel/work/life.

therapists

My talk therapist Linda was this kind, gentle, aunt-like sweetheart who loved Jesus and would speak truth over me and pray for me.  I absolutely adored her.

But I was not getting better.

I decided to try out cognitive-behavioral therapy instead.

For those of you who don’t know, this was like stepping from a sweet-smelling meadow into a desolate hell.

My cognitive-behavioral therapist Chris was tough, straightforward, insistent, and unmoved.  And he asked me to do what I thought was essentially impossible.  Idetestedhim.

But this time, I got better.

A year and a half later, I would finally send a thank-you email to Chris Donahue, who had made my life miserable for twelve weeks but to whom I am eternally grateful.  God used him and his no-nonsense ways to unlock my prison.

Now, I am not anti-talk therapy, but I am very pro-CBT.  My feelings in this matter can be summed up best by the title of an Elvis song: “A Little Less Conversation, A Little More Action Please.”

If you suffer from OCD, listen to me: get yourself to a cognitive-behavioral therapist.  Aside from the mighty hand of God, CBT is your quickest ticket to freedom.

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!

“reasonable doubt”

I read an interesting article today called “Casey Anthony, Reasonable Doubt, and OCD” by Stacy Kuhl-Wochner at the OCD Center of Los Angeles — you can read the entire article here.

Just wanted to quote a little bit of it for all you blog readers to consider, especially after having an interesting phone conversation along these same lines with my college roomie Megs.

Being a therapist who specializes in treating those with OCD, I can only imagine what an especially difficult task quantifying reasonable doubt would be for many of my clients.  People with OCD and related OC Spectrum Disorders such as Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), Hypochondria (Health Anxiety), and Social Anxietyare on a constant quest for answers to unanswerable questions.  They seek to quantify that which cannot be quantified, to gain certainty when it is only possible to be “pretty sure.”  These are questions that most people who do not have OCD can accept despite their inevitable doubts.  But for many people who experience OCD or a related spectrum condition, “reasonable” doubt often feels unbearable.

Doubt is such an intrinsic part of OCD that the condition has often been referred to as “the doubting disease. Some common doubts seen in OCD and related OC Spectrum Disorders include:

  • Are my hands clean enough to ensure that I won’t accidentally make someone sick through casual contact?
  • Am I straight enough to to be certain that I am not actually gay?
  • How do I know if I really love my spouse?
  • What level of pain is a enough that I should visit a doctor to see if I have a serious medical condition?
  • What is the right amount of eye contact to avoid being seen as socially inappropriate?
  • How do I know whether I am a good person or a bad person?
  • If I become angry at my child, does this mean that I do not love them enough, and that I am close to mentally snapping and harming them?

The only realistic answer to these and similar questions is to accept that nobody has 100% certainty on these issues*, and to stop the mental checking.  The goal is to make decisions based on what is “most likely”, given all the evidence.  For people with OCD, it may feel terrifying** to make that leap and take that chance because their brain is telling them that absolute certainty is required.

*JLS adds: That is why the point of cognitive-behavioral therapy is not to remove uncertainty but to make one okay with uncertainty.

**”Terrifying” doesn’t even touch it.

Thoughts?  What’s the most basic thing you know that you have doubted before?  (I have sometimes wondered if all of life that I’ve “experienced” so far is only a dream.)

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.

today

… was a hard/stressful day and I agreed to see a therapist (but this time NOT for OCD– wow!).

BUT today was also really good in a couple of ways:

1) I re-took the MMPI last week (read here for my past blog about this test), and I went over the results at the doctor’s office today, and they were saying how HEALTHY my results were. I teared up there in his office and said, “You don’t know. I was a MESS. Praise God.” He said, “Good for you for working so hard and coming so far,” which showed me he completely missed my point. It wasn’t me. That’s for sure.

2) My writing group has a write-up on the NWC English department’s blog. Check it out!

One thing that would really be meaningful for me would be for you to post a comment saying that you read my blog.  I can see the analytics, and I know people are stopping by, but it all feels so anonymous, and I need some names and faces please.  I wish I could sit down and have hot cocoa with you blog readers.  With marshmallows.  Lots of them.

bullying my bully, part two

Such an interesting post on this same topic on ocdtalk’s blog!

In my story, Neely discovers this concept through a brochure in her psychiatrist’s office, but in my own life, it came out of NOWHERE.  (God??)  All I’d ever heard of it before was from a friend with an eating disorder who called it “Ed” and talked about it as something separate from herself.  So I randomly started to do something similar, imaginging my OCD as a black dot. 

In real life, people stumble into things, but most of the time in fiction, characters have to be forced.  That’s why I altered my story a little bit as I told Neely’s story.  I mean, how crazy is it to just one day start imagining a little black dot riding in the car’s passenger seat?!

Here’s another scene:

“My OCD wants me to think that thought,” I’d spell out in my head as I continued through the neighborhood, realizing that autumn’s chill had definitely hit Minnesota at full force.  “It’s not actually my thought.  I’m just the messenger.” 

It was an awkward dance, one where I sidled up to the thought and tried to hold its hand.  One foot in front of the other, a stealthy warrior on a tiptoed journey toward freedom. 

“Oh, you’re along?” I said to the black dot that was jogging to keep up with my longer strides.  “Well, keep up, won’t ya?”  I “dressed” it in a child’s train conductor costume and laughed under my breath as it seethed in humiliation.  “Chugga-chugga-choo-chooooo!” I said, pulling a fake train whistle above my head.  “Aren’t you a cute little conductor?”  It glared at me.

Another day, another walk, this time my little black dot in a Scottish kilt and a tiny tam beret.  The day after, a doll-sized sailor suit and white sailor hat.  It had toddled behind me, trying to keep a low profile, which was just fine by me.  By the end of the week I’d landed on an outfit for keeps—a pink tutu with tights and ballet slippers, which my OCD hated worse than all the rest.  I was bullying my bully, and it felt powerful.  Whenever my mind started to race, I said to my OCD in its ballerina getup, “You there!  Start twirling!”  And so it would, even as it boiled with rage.  “Keep on twirling!” I said with a smile.  “I’ll tell you when you can stop … little one.”

I felt an odd sense of control that I’d never had before, not completely free of OCD, but like someone separate from it.  I didn’t need to get my toes wet; I could stand on the dry bank, command my orders, and get back to work.

Isn’t it interesting that something that seems so crazy is actually what’s keeping an obsessive-compulsive from craziness?  I’d love to hear your thoughts on this concept.  Leave a comment!

bullying my bully

This post from Pure O Canuck inspired me to post this excerpt from my novel.

There were new magazines on the table beside me but the same display of brochures.  I skipped the
pamphlet about CBT, feeling I knew more about it than I wanted, and chose one labeled “Narrative Therapy.”  I had intended just to skim it, to amuse myself as I waited, but the heading on the inside flap caught my attention.  “The person is not the problem,” it boldly claimed.  “The problem is the problem.”

The brochure shared how narrative therapy assumes that stories shape a person’s identity and has an emphasis on externalizing the problem.  “Name the problem—allow it to have its own identity—so that you can assess and evaluate its presence and ultimately choose your relationship to it.”  I thought briefly about Ellen’s story and the scene she’d written the other night about tricking the wizard into revealing his name.  Name something and steal its power.

On the back of the pamphlet was a photo of a young lady with thin white-blonde hair, and beneath her photograph, there was a quotation: “When I started thinking of my anorexia as separate from myself, the real healing began.  I named my problem Ed (for ‘eating disorder’), and I continually reminded myself that Ed was a liar and started to take back control.”

It all resonated with me.  In fact, it was exactly what I had been doing this last week—employing
Dr. Foster’s strategy, making observations: I am the messenger.  OCD has the message.  We are
not the same. 
“The person is not the
problem; the problem is the problem.”

“Neely,” said that familiar accent, and I looked up to see Dr. Lee, nodding at me before tearing down the hall like a shot.  I tucked the pamphlet in my purse and made my way, alone, down the hallway to his office.  I knew the next words before he spoke them, and I mouthed them along with him: “Come in.  Close door please.”

            This time he decided to reduce the Prozac, dropping me from thirty milligrams to twenty. 
He typed it into his computer and murmured, “Looking good … looking good …” as he did so.  Dr. Lee swiveled his chair to look at me.  “As we lower your dosages, you’ll have to double your behavioral therapy efforts.  You will do okay though.  This is good.  We reduce medicine side of things.  We are almost there with meds, agreed?”

“Agreed.”

“Almost there,” he said again, looking at me as if my potential were dancing atop my head like a little flame.

 

I noticed the brochure when I searched through my purse for my keys.  I sat in the driver’s seat of
my car, looking at it, re-reading it, thinking about it.  “Name the problem—allow it to have its own
identity—so that you can assess and evaluate its presence and ultimately choose your relationship to it.”  I didn’t know if Dr. Foster would approve, but as I turned the key in the ignition, I imagined my OCD as a little black dot sitting on the passenger’s seat beside me. 

It was the size of a large fist, perfectly round, and it had attitude.  Even sitting in the passenger’s seat, I could feel the way it tried to masquerade as my smarter, oppressive friend.  Its condescending
grin showed it didn’t think much of me, especially in this moment as I left the hospital, the gathering place of the weak.

As I drove, I felt the dot exuding confidence.  It actually annoyed me to the point where I said aloud, “You know what?  You think you’re sooo cool, but you’re a dot.”  Then I realized that I was talking outloud in my car and laughed a little bit.  This couldn’t possibly be what the brochure was talking about, could it? I thought.  Then with only the slightest glance at the passenger’s seat out of the
corner of my eye, I visualized a change in the black dot as I dressed it in baby clothes—a tight little blue onesie and a binky in its mouth.  It was enraged by this turning of the tables.  “Now who looks dumb?” I muttered with a smile on my lips.

CBT prep …

  I looked at the back cover of Freedom for Today’s Obsessive-Compulsive.  Apparently Steve Jewett and James Nash were some big names in the OCD world.  “Open this book,” the back cover read, “and unlock the doors of your mind’s prison.  What lies ahead of you is freedom.”  The goal was appealing, and I liked the confident wording.  Just straight to the point: “What lies ahead of you is freedom.”  Well, okay.

            I opened to a random page and read, If I were to say to you, ‘Don’t think about a red unicorn,’ what would happen next?  Why, immediately, you’d begin to think of a red unicorn!  In fact, I’m sure that’s what’s in your mind’s eye right now as you continue to read this page.  That is what we’re dealing with as we fight OCD.  An obsessive-compulsive experiences an intrusive, unwanted thought, and because it is intrusive, he feels disgusted by it, wants to stop thinking that particular thought.  But just as my telling you, ‘Don’t think about a red unicorn’ results in your immediately doing so, the obsessive-compulsive’s panic and desire to stop thinking the intrusive thought actually drive him to continue thinking about that very thing.”

            Well, that was certainly true enough.  When my worst thoughts arose in my mind and I tried to stamp them out, it was a battle of escalation.  The harder I fought, the harder I needed to fight. 

            “In cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT),” the book continued, “we encourage the obsessive-compulsive to give in to those intrusive thoughts, to stop fighting them.  Time and time again, CBT experts have found that it is when an obsessive-compulsive stops fighting the intrusive thoughts and actually embraces them that he finds freedom from them.”

            Oh gosh.  I set the book down, my heart beginning to race.  It wasn’t new information to me—Ruth’s brochure had given me the basics of behavior therapy—but the way it was worded gave me a chill.  “Give in to those intrusive thoughts.” 

             “So I’m reading this book for Dr. Foster, right?” I said a couple nights later at Rosie’s Place to Stella before she opened her laptop.  “It’s like reading my own biography.”

            “Yeah?” she asked, taking a sip of something foamy.  “What do you mean?”

            “Well,” I said, “you know how all my ‘issues’ seem so bizarre?  Some of them are not bizarre at all, I mean in the world of OCD.  I’m textbook.  It’s crazy really.” 

            “Like?”  Stella began to sort through the tangled mess of beads she was wearing—black, red, maroon, picasso jasper.  These, in addition to a floral chambray shirt and hiking shorts.

            “Okay,” I said, “so there are all these made-up scenarios, and the book circles back to revisit these same examples.  One of them is a dad who’s sure he’s going to kill his baby girl, so he won’t even hold her.  He gets all these images in his head of suffocating her, stabbing her in her little chest, shaking her, drowning her.”

            “Ew,” she said, still fussing with her beads.

            “Yeah, but these thought make him completely sick,” I explained.  “It’s clear to everyone else, including his wife and therapist, that he would never ever hurt his daughter.  I mean, they’re not freaking out.  He’s the one avoiding alone time with his daughter.

            “And there’s this lady who thinks she might be a lesbian even though she isn’t attracted to women.  Every woman she walks by, she thinks, ‘Am I attracted to her?  Do I want to kiss her?’ then she imagines herself kissing that woman.  She’s just sick over it, but instead of thinking, ‘Oh, I guess not.  That’s not a pleasing image to me,’ she thinks, ‘I must be gay.  Why else would I be thinking so much about kissing women?’  This is called HOCD—homosexual OCD.

“But then get this.  One of the example scenarios is about this girl who has these blasphemous images attack her mind.  She … she pictures herself having sex with Jesus.”  Stella looked bemused, but I continued.  “She doesn’t want to think about that, but there are all these triggers in her normal day—when she sees someone praying, or a cross around someone’s neck, or a kissing scene in a movie or on TV.  And whenever there’s nothing else to think about, that’s where her thoughts go.  She believes that her thoughts are blasphemous, so she believes that she will go to hell.  She thinks about hell all the time.  The book even said that she confessed to her priest, and even he said she was fine, but she couldn’t believe it.  Whenever the image of having sex with Christ came into her head, she said a Hail Mary to alleviate her guilt and drive the image away.  Eventually she had to quit her job because she was too distracted saying her Hail Marys to get work done.”

            Stella’s eyebrows furrowed.  “Gosh, that does sound like you!”  She abandoned the necklaces she’d been working on and clasped her hands together on the table between us, leaning forward as she listened.

            “I know!  I mean, elements are different, for sure, but the basic idea is the same.”

            Stella sighed.  “I used to think that OCD meant that people were super clean.”  She chewed on the inside of her cheek.  I knew what she was thinking, even though she didn’t say it aloud: It’s so much worse than that.

            “Yeah,” I said, agreeing both with what was said and unsaid.  “Even the people who are really clean, or who wash their hands all the time—they’re driven to it.  They think something horrible is going to happen if they don’t do it. It’s so much bigger than just being a neat freak.  It kinda drives me nuts when people with quirks say, ‘I’m a little OCD myself.’”

Stella nodded violently.  “Remember that receptionist job I took at that plastic surgeon’s?  One day this nose-job lady came in, right?  She sat beside a burn survivor, pointed at his dressings, then at her own protective shell covering the bridge of her nose, and said, ‘I know how you feel.  Hang in there.’”

“I don’t believe you,” I said, jaw dropped.  “You’re joking.”

“I’m not,” she said.  “I’ve never been so pissed at a job site before.  I’d take the call center perverts over those rich bastards any day.”  She shook her head in disbelief.  “So … therapy?”

            “Therapy,” I said.  “I guess it’s like a pyramid, and you climb to the top, step by step—if you don’t reach the pinnacle event, CBT probably won’t work.  In the book examples, the dad had to write down all the ways he was going to murder his daughter—graphically!—and then record himself reading it, and he had to listen to it over and over.” 

Stella looked disgusted.

            “The HOCD person had to rate women’s butts and record everything in a notebook, and she had to read a couple LGBT novels.  And the one with religious obsessions had to write a story about having sex with Jesus Christ and then read it over and over again without saying any Hail Mary prayers.”

            Stella made a face but nodded slowly.  “So what will you have to do?”

            I shrugged.  “All I know is that it will be terrible.”

            And for once, I appreciated it when Stella didn’t reassure me.  There was more strength in knowing she agreed.  “I don’t know what to do,” I confessed. 

            “Write about it,” she said.  So I did.


OCD

There he is, that scarlet beast,
black horn like a railway spike.
I check myself against the blood-red giant,
close my eyes, cover my ears,
two-thirds of the famous monkey trio
where I sit cross-legged between cloven hooves.
Do not think of a red unicorn.  Do not do it.
But I can feel his wet, warm breaths like humid whispers

as he lowers his nostrils to my neck, crimson ears at salute
like a maddening accusation.

CBT intake

“This will be different from other kinds of therapy, Neely,” said Dr. Foster, as if he could read my mind and there see my image of Ruth.  “You’ll have homework and be expected to go through various exposures when we meet together.”  He picked up the top coaster off a stack of them on the coffee table between us and set his coffee mug on it.  It had had writing on it.  I looked at what was now the top coaster on the stack.  It read, “Uncertainty and mystery are energies of life. R.I. Fitzhenry.”

For the next hour Dr. Foster tuned in carefully for any mention of rituals, anxiety, and triggers.  I knew that he was combing through my words for his options, already working on his plan of attack for how he would prompt anxiety in me like a gun’s trigger, asking over and over, “If you couldn’t do that, would you have a lot of anxiety?” I blathered, but he was only seeking one thing: what would stress me out to the max.

“When I hear words that start with the f sound, I start praying over and over again in my head,” I revealed.  

“How would you feel if you were prevented from repeating the prayer at those times?”

My heart clenched a little in my chest.  My prayer was the key to counteracting the whole chain of ugliness that lead to blasphemy and hell.  “Um, anxious, nervous, crazy.”

“Mmm hmmm.”  Dr. Foster was jotting notes furiously.

“It’s because of hell,” I shared, explaining how curse words and the sound of the letter f  made me think of cursing the Holy Spirit, which I believed to be unforgivable.  “I’m always scared of hell—only sometimes it’s in the background, like elevator music.”

 He continued to write and encouraged me to keep talking.  “When you’re nervous about going to hell, how do you calm yourself down?”

 “I can’t calm myself down,” I admitted.  “But I ask my friends and family what they think.  Even though it doesn’t convince me, I still like to hear them say I’m okay.”

 “Hmm,” said Dr. Foster in recognition.  “Seeking reassurance is another of your compulsions, another thing you do to ease your anxiety.  Pay attention this week—I bet sometimes you do this passively, like mentioning that you’re a bad person.  Watch for it.”

 We continued on this way, Dr. Foster asking the questions and me providing the answers, feeling ridiculous and unhelpful and as if I were maybe wasting Dr. Foster’s time. 

 “Do you have any questions?” he asked as we were wrapping things up.

 “My faith plays a huge role in my OCD,” I said.  “Do you … ”                                  

 “I believe in God, yes,” he interrupted.  The way he spoke made me certain that he did not feel about God the way that I did.  I gulped.

 “Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of people are skeptical going into this,” he told me, his face like a stone.  I wondered if he ever smiled, even at home.

 “Okay, because I am,” I said.  It felt appropriate to tell him this, even though I was intimidated by his seriousness.  “I think I understand how this works,” I said, “but I’m a little confused.  Like, for example, a washer would be prevented from washing, and then they’d realize that nothing bad happened when they didn’t wash—they still lived.  So how will that work for me?”

 “You’re misunderstanding a fundamental part of cognitive-behavioral therapy,” said Dr. Foster, folding his hands across his stomach.  “The point is not to take away the person’s uncertainty.  The point is to make him or her okay with uncertainty.”

Well.  That didn’t sound so good.

He continued, “Just because a washer doesn’t get contaminated after being prevented from washing one time doesn’t mean that the person won’t still fear a deadly disease the next time.  Each time is a new adventure.”  He raised his eyebrows.  “And with you, well, we can’t fast-forward to the end of your life and see whether you’re going to heaven or hell.  CBT will teach you how to live with uncertainty.”  He tapped on the top coaster in the pile.  “Energies of life.”