After a couple weeks in which I couldn’t quite muster enough to write an update, I share some experiences I’ve had and lessons I’ve learned.
These weekly updates share life with OCD as part of my Mental Work Health project to reduce stigma around mental health, especially at work.
At times, this feels like a hollow victory, and at others like a monumental achievement. The good thing from the past little while is how I have been able to frame and respond to the hard thing (trying to do life).
OCD has been kicking my ass lately. I have been extremely symptomatic. This often looks like being short and irritated, typically with those who are closest to me. I have a low tolerance for uncertainty, and think in literal, black-and-white terms. My mind gets caught in loops, particularly at changes, surprises, or anything that doesn’t compute (which tends to be most things when I am in this state).
When my mind starts to spiral, if I notice it at all, I get frustrated that I am spiraling and start spiraling about the fact that I am spiraling.
It is exhausting.
A few days ago, partly due to sensory overstimulation, it got bad enough that I was screaming in my closet, having a full-blown panic attack.
As I mentioned, the good part was how I handled it. When I recognized what was going on, I did some high knees and threw myself into a cold shower. Once I had stabilized, I went and apologized and tried to repair things with my wife.
Later that day, I had an emergency phone session with my therapist. After I told her the story of what happened, she validated and probed a bit to see where I was at. She said she was speaking slowly and carefully to help my body calm down. Then she told me,
Hearing that story, I want to murder you.
As anticipated, that made me laugh and helped snap me out of the thinking loops I had been stuck in. She proceeded to point out all of the thinking errors and problems with my behavior. She was able to help keep me out of shame, and see what OCD was doing to me.
After we talked about it for a while, she paused to help me reflect. “An hour ago, you were telling me an angry story of what had happened to you, and now you are able to see your part and challenge OCD. That should give you hope that your choices and desires are going to win out over OCD in the end. The meaner I can be, the faster you are going to heal.”
I was so grateful for that reminder. When a moment of relapse occurs, it can be easy to sink into despair. “How am I still having all these problems? Am I ever going to get any better?”
The truth is, I have (and used!) all sorts of skills. I will continue to improve. It will be messy and imperfect, because that’s how life is. But things are looking up.
When OCD is taking over, all areas of my life are affected. But work has been particularly hit this time. As was the case when things were rough in December, we just had a new colleague start at Factor. I told my friend and boss that surely there will come a time when we hire someone and I am doing fine.
It is often easier for me to be more self-aware in a work context than at home when I am symptomatic. I shared with my team that things are rough right now, and got an outpouring of compassion and support.
One of the ways OCD has shown up at work is to paralyze me when faced with uncertainty. When something changes or is not how I expected, I am completely thrown off.
I was supposed to own an area of our work, and because I felt like I didn’t know all of the details, and wasn’t in control of everything, I had the sense that I didn’t even know what was going on anymore. That led me to act in ways on which I do not reflect with satisfaction. Thankfully my team has been kind and understanding and I’ve been able to repair any injured feelings.
This experience has reinforced for me the power in being honest and vulnerable. That invites compassion in others.
I try to offer information about my condition or my state as explanation, not excuse. I want to be called out when I treat people poorly. I want black-and-white thinking to be challenged. I want to be more flexible. It’s just so damn hard on my own sometimes.
I don’t know how you are doing, but my guess is not great. Life is hard, especially right now. Let’s do all we can to be extra kind and patient, with others and with ourselves. A little compassion goes a long way.