#32: Designing indulgently

This week I discuss impulse control, the gift of OCD, and change and growth.

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.


Something hard

Two dots montage

At the end of last week, I rediscovered Two Dots, a game that I had played a number of years ago, but had forgotten about. In some ways, this game seems designed specifically for people with OCD, or perhaps to exaggerate OCD-like tendencies that exist in all people.

One of the funny parts of getting hooked on this game was discussing it in my therapy session. When I mentioned the specific game that was dominating my thoughts, she cried, “That’s my game!” We spent the next five minutes gushing over the design and mechanics of the game and all the things that we enjoyed about it.

Most of the rest of the session was spent discussing how to deal with poor impulse control that is natural with OCD. One important point we discussed is setting boundaries with yourself, including setting up support systems to keep you in check and provide aid as needed. These skills are useful to all, and essential to those struggling with mental health challenges.

Something good

In my job as an engineering manager, I wear many hats. The most recent hat thrust upon me, through the departure of a friend, is that of designer. Fortunately, in a previous life I was a user experience designer, so this is not completely uncharted territory for me. And I have a great foundation of the design system created by the designer who left.

But when he left, and I was given his license to our design software, I started making changes. Not substantive changes, but organizational ones. The software we use allows for creating reusable components that can be updated in one place and reflected across all screens where it is used. I dove in to make sure that we had components created for virtually every interaction in our app, and that they were clearly organized. Once I was done with that, I set out to build out every screen in our app using those reusable components.

This. took. hours.

I hadn’t even started to work on any new designs, or to tweak the existing designs. I was essentially recreating everything that was in the design files, but done my way. Work that may have been mind-numbing to some was pure indulgence for me. This was an area that I could drop the reins and allow my OCD to run rampant. In many ways, this was bliss.

One of the most satisfying feelings is being able to take a part of your life that causes incredible challenge and struggle, and harness it for good.

Something else

Spring is a time of change. It is natural for many of us to be thinking of how things could be different, and what else we could be doing with our time. There is a temptation to think that a path of ease and comfort exists, and if we seek hard enough, we will discover it.

There is no such path.

Life is meant to be challenging so that we can continue to grow. We need to have obstacles to overcome in order to progress in our lives. When we find ourselves confronted by those moments that tempt us to despair, instead of breaking down, we should rejoice. Here is another opportunity to become more capable than we previously imagined.

When we can develop the capacity to sit with uncertainty and distress, we prove ourselves trustworthy to our own minds. We demonstrate a flexibility that will empower us to face down any problem that comes our way.

We often think that we have to practice a specific skill in order to utilize that skill. But in reality, there are many skills that apply much more broadly than we could have anticipated. Distress tolerance is one of those skills. This equips us to live our lives freed from the fear of fear. We will always face fear in some form in our lives. But when we learn that we can overcome fear, we gain the courage to press forward.

Wrap up

As we move throughout our lives, all of us will find moments when our impulse control is not what we would wish. We are always going to see areas to improve. My hope, for you and for me, is that we can be kind through that journey. Find and express compassion and watch it transform the world.


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