#30: Creating white space

After a couple weeks off, in this update I share about the difficulty of quitting, an uplifting and enjoyable weekend, and the need for white space.

These weekly updates are an ongoing series in which I share what it is like to live with OCD in an effort to reduce the stigma around mental health, particularly in the workplace.


A couple weeks ago, as a family, we decided to do a screen fast leading up to the General Conference of our church. We wanted to try to eliminate some of the distractions in our life. I felt some distress at not publishing a weekly update, but decided to just let it go. I was surprised at how missing just one week seemed to break the habit a bit in my mind, so that another week went by before I was writing another update. It is healthy for me to not do something perfectly, like publishing a weekly update every week. There is a delicate balance to be found there.

Something hard

One thing that was particularly difficult this past week was quitting. I have a lot of internal rules about not quitting. I know I am not alone in feeling distress at the idea of not finishing something. It’s not quite pathological for most people, but it is still a shared experience.

Part of the reason quitting was so hard for me was that I was deep into compulsions. I started reading Girl Genius, a web comic I first discovered almost eight years ago. For around twenty years, a husband and wife have been publishing a page a day, three days a week, that have been compiled into 17 graphic novel volumes so far. After four days of reading, I had made it through about seventeen years worth of comics.

At first, it was exhilarating. I started from the beginning as it had been long enough for me to forget most of the details. But then as the week progressed, things began to change for me. As I discussed it with my therapist, I realized a number of thoughts I had been having on my own.

I realized that I wasn’t enjoying reading it any more. I felt compelled to finish, and was also terrified of being done and not having more. I had the thought that I knew I would be happy if I was back to reading the James Herriot book sitting on my nightstand.

During my therapy session, I decided to just stop reading the comic. I felt a great amount of distress at the idea of not marking my spot somehow so that I could pick it up easily the next time I want to read. But I faced that head on and stopped cold turkey.

The interesting thing is that I haven’t even missed it since I stopped. As my therapist said, it is fine to dive into things that I truly enjoy, but I need to work on developing the self awareness to realize when it is no longer bringing me any joy, and has become a compulsion.

Something good

The first weekend in April was General Conference for our church. Every six months, we set aside a weekend to listen to sermons from the men and women leading the church. Our family always loves this opportunity to be uplifted and reminded of God’s goodness and the blessings we enjoy in our life. This time was even more special because it occurred on Easter weekend. We spent the holiday thinking about what it means to us that Jesus Christ lived, died, and was resurrected.

One tradition I have with these conferences is to try to sketchnote the talks we hear. For the past few years, I have given up trying to capture all of the points each speaker makes, and instead to do a synopsis of each two hour session, and capture one thing from each speaker. This usually allows me to be more responsive to the needs of my children that invariably come up, while still helping me pay enough attention to get something out of it.

General Conference sketchnotes

Each time that I am able to take sketchnotes, I am reminded of how much I enjoy it. I share the religious sketchnotes I capture at GospelSketcher.org, and the business-y sketchnotes at sketchnotable.com. It feels good to put something out into the world that brought me joy in the creative process without any expectation of something in return. There have been times when I have considered trying to monetize them somehow, but I am much happier just sharing them for free and avoiding the pressure that would come with such an endeavor.

Something else

As I was discussing my obsession with the web comic with my therapist, she asked me why it was an issue. If it’s not actually causing problems in my life, we probably don’t need to work to address it. I told her that it was distancing me somewhat from my wife, as I didn’t take almost any time to talk with her during the week. I also felt like my life was packed to bursting—there was no white space. Every available chunk of time was taken up.

Since I have stopped, I have marveled at the difference it makes to have some time each day to do nothing. To sit, or eat, or exercise without feeling that I have to make it productive. I have a lot of OCD rules about time usage, and I haven’t been able to address most of them yet. But when I find an opportunity like this to consciously take steps to fight against them, I notice great benefits.

Wrap up

I am sure that there are things in your life that bring you joy. It can be all too easy to allow those to morph into a taskmaster that demands so much that they lose all color and become oppressive. I encourage you (and me!) to remember to find and create white space in our lives. Look for opportunities to not be productive. Don’t be afraid to do nothing. I think it will do wonders for us.


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