Happy 2 year anniversary since I published my realistic fiction novel about obsessive compulsive disorder, “In Touch“! In honor of the anniversary I read an excerpt from the novel on my YouTube channel.
Book Summary: “Undergraduate physics student, Jef Sterling, has done enough textbook reading to know that the universe is home to countless mind-blowing discoveries. But Jef never expected one of those discoveries to be the mind of an obsessive compulsive writer sharing the same campus as him. After reading a poem by Lacey Parker about her personal struggle with OCD, Jef’s highly rational brain fixates on uncovering the mysteries held captive in Lacey’s highly irrational brain. Throughout the course of a school year these two students exchange ideas that merge science with art, reality with fantasy, and physical phenomena with mental phenomena. While learning from one another Jef makes it his mission to make sense of Lacey’s nonsensical disorder and all of its incredible ironies; how she lives by the notion of feeling everything emotionally but dreads feeling anything physically, how her mind lives to protect as it gradually wreaks destruction, and most paradoxically how both Lacey’s most rewarding qualities and most detrimental flaws manifest from the same brain. In Touch by Valerie Parente is a realistic fiction novel alive with intellectual discussion, mental strife, heartache, and anecdotal insight into the cognitive confines of obsessive compulsive disorder.”
For anyone interested in supporting my mission to find beauty in darknes, I just made a Patreon account. No pressure to join, I just figured I should make the option available as an artist in this day and age. http://www.patreon.com/valerieparente
The overarching theme to all my artwork- whether it is poetry, prose, stories, drawings, paintings, or photography- is finding beautiful darkness. I love finding the positive in dark moods, situations, and imagery. This is evident in my written work on my website, valerieparente.wordpress.com, and in my novels available on Amazon (“The Artist, The Muse”, “In Touch”, and “Rather Be Haunted”. I draw inspiration from a lifelong and personal struggle with very severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and anorexia. Each body of work I create centers around mental illness. The Artist, The Muse : a poetry and prose collection about what it is like to have a mental disorder that influences your art. In Touch : a fiction novel about a female with OCD, based on my real-life struggle with OCD, through the eyes of a male without the disorder. Rather Be Haunted : a poetry and prose collection that explores love, heartache, and death from the perspective of a girl with OCD that feels “haunted” by the motifs in life that define her humanity, including my signature Mannequin Art (used as a commentary on what it means to learn how to be a “normal” human).
Thank you from the bottom of my heart if you are interested in my journey to discover beauty in darkness.
The concept of “real” and “realistic” are two ideas that I struggle with as someone with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I don’t think many people would expect that having obsessionive thought patterns and performing compulsions would have anything to do with the credibility of what I perceive to be reality, but it does. This is something I’ve recently realized at age 25, after an 11 year diagnosis of OCD. When I feel a “germ” on my skin, I truly believe that the invisible stain is there until I wash it away. Once thoughts like this get in my head, which is pretty much immediate, I can either carry out the compulsion of washing my hands or question if that “germ” feeling is real or not (for a more in in depth explanation of this OCD phenomenon you can check out my novel, “In Touch”, as well). In more recent years I’ve had an easier time pushing away the thought and carrying on with my day without washing my hands immediately upon feeling the germ, though the Coronavirus pandemic certainly set me back a few steps in these past few months. But alas, for the most part, I could tell myself that this feeling was not real, you can not feel a germ on your skin, and my ability to not only question if the feeling was legitimate or a fabrication of my OCD brain but also ignore it is a perfect example of how OCD brings into question what is real or not.
What is “real” is a very simple yes or no question that can be answered, so it’s been easier to deal with than the question “is what I’m feeling realistic?” “Real” pertains to physical reality. It’s objective. It’s fact or fiction. “Realistic” pertains to my inner emotional reality, and that’s where things go from black and white to very gray. In my adult life the question of what feelings are realistic or not has been very complicated and a source of a lot of pain. When unrealistic feelings carry along for too long, that’s when things get catastrophic and my entire world-view comes into question. For example, when I am afraid of doing something like going on an airplane, it isn’t necessarily based in reality. What are the odds of a plane crash? Pretty low. But what are my emotions about going on a plane? Pretty damn scared despite the unrealistic-ness of the possible event. Here’s an exmaple that’s more abstract- catching feelings for a person. Is it realistic for me to have high-stake emotions tied to somebody, even if they don’t blatantly reciprocate that same level of caring? No, it’s not. And for a normal person I think that realization takes .2 seconds to accept and then nip in the bud right away. For me? No, I elongate those feelings for years at a time because I got caught up entertaining an emotion that was not realistic in the first place. Sure, my hunch about where I stand with someone could have been “real” and maybe I did read the situation correctly, but that doesn’t ultimately matter. At the end of the day it’s my time I’m either wasting or utilizing with what’s “realistic” or not. If I want to take my best interest into account and not the hypothetical interest of someone else, then you have to go by the question of what’s “realistic”, not “real”. I really can’t tell what is worth wearing my heart on my sleeve for and what I’m better off ignoring and eventually falling out of feelings with, because my judgement gets so clouded with an emotion that plays on repeat. My obsessive brain becomes a broken record, constantly replaying the same line over and over. The line that “I like this person” is stuck on repeat and I have an extremely hard, near impossible, time seeing any inconsistences between how I’m treated and how I perceive that treatment. This goes for basic positive feelings towards people that you consider a friend or trustworthy confidant. Somebody that I have made my mind up as “good” could hurt me horribly and my obsession conditioned brain is inclined to brush it off. Life becomes harder to manage and make sense of. This is what it’s like to have feelings that aren’t realistic. My brain keeps on telling me someone is “good” over and over and over and I just don’t believe the reality that maybe the positive connotation I associate with them or certain memories doesn’t match up with the reality of the situation. And I know my close friends and family can see me doing this, see me getting emotionally attached to things that are not good for me, but I have a very hard time seeing that on my own. It takes a lot for me to question the realistic nature of my emotions. After all, who grows up assuming how they feel is based on a false reality? Nobody, unless they’ve got a therapist coaching them through their thoughts.
I always tell myself, “You’re allowed to feel what ever you feel, whether its realistic or not”, which is definitely true; you are entitled to feel whatever and don’t have to explain it… but there comes a time when accepting your feelings and actively trying to understand your feelings become two seperate endeavors. The latter is when my OCD nature becomes evident. When I try to understand my feelings about people or events that’s when I start to see the obsessive patterns clouding my judgement. It takes a lot of mental strength to fight the natural OCD inclination to just continue on with the emotion I inadvertantly attached to this person, place, or event in my mind. It takes a serious call to action that needs to be practiced countless times a day, every day, before I can see reality for what it is. I struggle with this every single day. And it’s certainly not the end of the world to have unrealistic thoughts, we all do now and then, but it’s something that can easily stunt my personal spiritual growth and social growth as I continue on learning how to be a high functioning adult with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
I can’t speak for every person with OCD, but from my experience as a writer and an overly sensitive young woman, questioning not only what is “real” but also “realistic” is definitely an unexpected quirk and challenge to having this disorder that I don’t think a lot of people would initially recognize. I love uncovering weird little OCD thought patterns and consequences to compulsions that are not often talked about in media or even high school health class when you learn about mental disorders. As a writer and a sufferer of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder I dissect a lot of misconceptions about the mental illness here on my blog through poetry and prose. For a more detailed dissection of OCD that also plays alongside a plot with rich character development you can check out my book “In Touch” available on Amazon.com. The book is based on my life with OCD against the backdrop of a fictional story. The story makes learning about the disorder a little more interesting than reading a simple autobiography!
I keep on wishing
someone will listen
as I try to make sense
of my mental illness
so I put it in print
then decided to distance
spent time with my best friend
then she went to heaven
but the world keeps spinning
so I keep on living
trying to make a difference
while I feel her within
I hope my story transcends.
People don’t read my work And it kills me inside I want to be loved But even more I want to be recognized I’ve been lonely for so long That’s why I started to write But what is the point When no one wants to read my mind.
Why is it so much easier for me to write from the point of view of a male? In Touch, being the third story I’ve completed, was by far the most effortless piece I’ve written to date. One could claim this is because the themes of In Touch were purely an autobiographical experience against the backdrop of a fiction story. The odd but magical part of writing this book, though, laid in the fact that I was writing about obsessive compulsive disorder from an outsider’s point of view… a male’s point of view. Sitting in this Starbucks, for the second Sunday in a row, now writing scenes for another story through a male narrator, I find myself asking the question- why is writing from a male’s perspective so much easier for me? My guess is that it has something to do with the prisons we call ego and expectations.
If you’ve read any of my poetry and prose work then you’ll quickly realize it is no secret that I am extremely tied to my female identity. So you would think I would write more effortlessly from the female point of view, but from a personal standpoint that just doesn’t feel like the case.
In Touch was honestly the easiest book I’ve written to date. Was it the “best”? I don’t know. But it was certainly less difficult. Most notably, it was effortless. The words flowed from my brain with no hesitation. I barely had to think. I just wrote. I remember lying in bed scribbling dialogues between the main characters, Jef and Lacey, with no interruption of thought. I remember phrases and comments popping in my head when I was working my retail job and jotting them down on scrap pieces of paper. Many brief but key comments unraveled into beautiful chapters and concepts that I genuinely do not feel took any brain power. They just popped into existence and my mind acted as the translator between wherever art spawns and where it is destined to be recorded. Bringing my daily thoughts and imaginary conversations alive on paper was as easy watching TV.
Writing as a person who is so obviously not me, that being a young man, brings no pressure. There’s no ego conflicts or stress to “get it right”. Any expectations I have on the identity I project to the world is irrelevant. All that matters is writing meaningful passages. The ego that haunts “Valerie” is no longer in control. It really is freeing. I imagine this kind of disconnect from the self but connection to the collective consciousness that is the rest of the world is what it is like to feel free. And for this reason I think I not only have a more effortless experience purging the words on paper through a male narrator’s voice. The idea that it is easier to write as somebody who is not me is rich with irony, and that fascinates me more and more every day.
When I have writer’s block I look at that 488 page novel and wonder how the heck I did that. Then at moments like today when I started writing from another male narrator’s perspective new words flowed instantly and I remembered what it was like to be inspired.
Yes, I identify with all my narrators to some extent. We do share the same brain after all. But there’s something flawless and liberating about writing without Val’s ego and Val’s expectations breathing down my throat. No interruptions. It’s easier to write and write and write until the thoughts dry out. I feel more “natural” writing as a different gender and identity, and I think that’s why In Touch came out exactly as I dreamed it would.
“Undergraduate physics student, Jef Sterling, has done enough textbook reading to know that the universe is home to countless mind-blowing discoveries. But Jef never expected one of those discoveries to be the mind of an obsessive compulsive writer sharing the same campus as him. After reading a poem by Lacey Parker about her personal struggle with OCD, Jef’s highly rational brain fixates on uncovering the mysteries held captive in Lacey’s highly irrational brain. Throughout the course of a school year these two students exchange ideas that merge science with art, reality with fantasy, and physical phenomena with mental phenomena. While learning from one another Jef makes it his mission to make sense of Lacey’s nonsensical disorder and all of its incredible ironies; how she lives by the notion of feeling everything emotionally but dreads feeling anything physically, how her mind lives to protect as it gradually wreaks destruction, and most paradoxically how both Lacey’s most rewarding qualities and most detrimental flaws manifest from the same brain. In Touch by Valerie Parente is a realistic fiction novel alive with intellectual discussion, mental strife, heartache, and anecdotal insight into the cognitive confines of obsessive compulsive disorder.”