In public, people often mask their emotions. They smile and say they are fine. They chat and then walk away.

Heather, Ellen and Tom do this.

And they always look to be the same. Steady ships sailing on the river of life.


The Heather I see at the grocery store is not the real Heather.

The real Heather’s boyfriend is becoming abusive. He hasn’t hit her yet, but he has jerked her arm so hard it hurt and shoved away from his car.

Heather fears she may be pregnant again. She can’t have this baby.

I would be a lousy mother, she thinks.

Heather cries and says, “I swore my first abortion would be my last one, but what else can I do?”

The Ellen I smile at during church is not the real Ellen.

The real Ellen is a cancer survivor. She lives every day fearing the disease will return.

Ellen’s husband has checked out. He comes home from work, eats dinner, and then falls asleep in his recliner watching reruns of NCIS.

The two of them exchange only four or five sentences a day.

Ellen cries and vows, “One day I’ll get the courage to leave him. I’ll find a man who understands my fear.”

The Tom I view standing on the sidewalk is not the real Tom.

The real Tom is seeing his psychiatrist later today to ask her to change his medications. He takes antidepressant and antianxiety pills, but they aren’t working.

Every morning, Tom’s first thought is to kill himself.

His job stinks and his wife has moved out. He lives in squalor. Trash litters the floors and furniture. The grass in his yard is eight inches tall but cutting the grass requires energy he does not have.

Tom cries and says, “Tomorrow I will clean the house and mow the grass. I’ll look for a better job. I’ll call my wife and ask her to meet me to talk.”

But when he wakes up the next morning, his first temptation is to kill himself.

Few people see the real Debbie. Everyone else sees my mask.

These few people know the intensity of my struggle with OCD.

An unstoppable, continuous loop of repetitive thoughts plays and replays inside my mind.

These thoughts push me to perform, organize, and count.

This morning, obeying my OCD urgings, I set out to wash both sides of every door inside the house.

My bed sat unmade and two piles of dirty clothes lay on the bathroom floor. My kitchen needed attention.

I cry and tell myself, “Only a stupid person washes doors when her housework and laundry are out of control. I am stupid.”

This sad thought drives me to the kitchen where I finish the last of the graham crackers.

My sister calls.

“How are you?” she asks.

“Awful,” I say.

“What are you doing?” she asks.

“I’m standing in the kitchen eating my 16th graham cracker.”

“Sixteen graham crackers will never be enough,” she says.

She is right.

Food, no matter how much of it I eat, cannot fix what is wrong with me.


Food is not the solution to my problem.

An abortion is not the solution to Heather’s problem.

Leaving her husband and finding a new mate is not the solution to Ellen’s problem.

Suicide is not the solution to Tom’s problem.

I am thankful my sister cares about me.

She and other family members and  friends encourage me. They check often to see how I am doing.

I am stronger because they care.

I wonder.

Who cares about Heather, Ellen and Tom?






  1. How incredible! This wonderful essay is published on National Mental Health Day (and during National Mental Health Awareness Week). We are all stronger together. How beautifully you pointed this out. Thanks.

  2. Absolutely beautiful. Thank you for having the courage to share this. Life can too often be a struggle without us realizing what someone else is suffering through. May we all keep reaching out and trying to help those around us. God Bless!

  3. Debbie, you are not stupid. You are my friend, and I love you. OCD or not. 🙂

    Now, as to your piece. . . First, you nailed the title! Second, I LOVE what you did here! Your repeated introduction of each person, “The I see . . .is not the real ,” is very effective. It invites the reader to imagine inserting his/her name and to consider his/her true inner story, maybe even to wonder if he/she could dare to share that truth.

    I love that you brought the piece back to yourself. Your authenticity really came through, particularly in the part where you revealed your inner dialogue. And then again, in the part where you record your dialogue with your sister. Two things moved me in that dialogue: 1.) That you actually told your sister you were on your 16th graham cracker. You were honest; and 2.) Your sister’s gentle and equally honest reply of 16 graham crackers never being enough. The way you wrote that section really captures your genuine bond of love and acceptance. You are deeply known by her; you have allowed it.

    What a truly wonderful piece, Debbie! 🙂

    1. Wow, Mary Kay! Thank you for such a detailed comment. My sisters and I DO know each other well, and usually we share our feelings honestly.

      When you grow up sleeping with your siblings, you become well acquainted. My sister Pam used to call Mom into our bedroom and say, “Make Debbie stop breathing! Her breathing noise bothers me!”

      I hope you are continuing to write, M.K.

      Ever think about starting a blog (in your spare time)? 🙂

  4. Debbie, thank you for sharing this beautiful piece of writing with all of us. Have you ever read the children’s picture book, The Rag Coat, by Lauren Mills? The father tells his young daughter, ” People only need people, and nothing else.” And his message continues to resonate with his young daughter even after he passes away. We all need to care about one another, we all need one another. We can all help one another.

    1. I will look on Amazon for that book today, Becky. Thank you for the recommendation.

      You should have a blog, Becky. You have many good things to say and you write them so well!

  5. Your writing talent is powerful. You led us along, thinking of those other people, then you hit the target by making it personal. You and I are also hurting. Some of us are hurting so much that we feel like a raw wound walking around. You challenged us to support others with compassion, friendship, love and prayers. You challenged us to keep our eyes open to ministry opportunities. God is blessing you with a message and the words to spur us on. Thank you for passing that blessing on.

    1. Terri, your response brought tears to my eyes. “Raw, walking, wounded people” we all are. I am glad if I spur you on. You have done the same thing for me MANY times. You’re one of my dearest friends.

  6. Dearest Debbie,

    I am just now catching up on some of my unread emails and was touched by this post 16 Graham Crackers. It is an intriguing title!

    You are brave to drop the mask and share a piece of the authentic you. You are not alone! And I like you! I can relate. It’s all too easy to tell myself lies. A truth I’m learning to internationalize (probably for the rest of my life lol) is that I’m never called to be amazing – that’s His job.

    So when I’m standing in the middle of my closet a half an hour later…when I’ve wasted time I’d set aside to be productive…when I’m in the middle of berating myself for being lazy, selfish, and who-knows-what-else…I’m learning to interrupt myself and say, “Actually, God says…” And I’m not even responsible for the completion of my sanctification. Thank God!

    Debbie, you’re all kinds of amazing, do you know that? Thank you for being you and for sharing a piece of yourself to encourage the rest of us. 💛🌻

    Looking up sometimes,
    Pearl Allard

    1. Pearl, I love this line:

      “Actually, God says…”

      If only that truth guided all our thoughts, words and actions.

      You’re awesome for bringing this to our attention! (Not because God demands that you be awesome, but because He put that awesomeness into you and allows you to share it!)

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