#74: Playing first base

#74: Playing first base

In this up-and-down week, I share about needing an extra therapy session, being flexible at work, and the power of free writing.

These weekly updates share life with OCD as part of my Mental Work Health project to reduce stigma around mental health, especially at work.


Something hard

Last week’s therapy session was difficult. But I didn’t know that until a few days had passed—at the time, our discussion last week felt helpful and relevant.

The warning signs that it was too much to handle started Sunday. I did a mindful sketch exercise and realized that I was carrying some strong emotions.

Mindful Sketch

I was taken aback when doing the exercise because I had not yet noticed the emotions in my body.

My body first exhibited signs of those strong emotions during church later that day. I found myself scratching my finger incessentantly for a few minutes. Rather, my wife noticed and leaned over to hold my hand and break the cycle. One thing about OCD is that your mind gets stuck in loops—sometimes about thoughts and sometimes about physical actions. Tics are often a symptom of OCD.

Throughout the rest of Sunday, I did what I could. I took a few minutes alone in my room to prepare for guests. After we got the babies to bed, I retreated back to my room and watched basketball.

The agitation level was high, and I was on the verge of a panic attack all evening.

Monday morning was more of the same. I got up and went to my office, dressed and ready to work out, but ended up shaking in my chair for a couple hours. I was finally able to get up and do a quick workout and shower and felt better enough to go about my day.

In the afternoon, I did another mindful sketch exercise and realized that I was feeling a lot of fear.

Mindful Sketch

Tuesday was rough. I was again stuck in my chair at my office, shaking and spiking in anxiety. Sometimes I will have an acute panic attack where my body is completely overwhelmed for a few minutes, and then I am left exhausted. More common for me is this type that lingers for a few days.

Thankfully, I was able to get an extra session with my therapist Tuesday afternoon. When I went in, I couldn’t even speak. She told me to close my eyes and listen to some music. After a few minutes, the songs had connected with the strong emotions welling inside of me, and my body had relaxed enough to start talking.

My therapist said I looked like I needed to scream and hadn’t allowed myself.

That session was just what I needed. She had anticipated that our last session had stirred up some painful emotions that might be hard for me to sit with. We were able to talk through them, and by the end I was laughing and relaxed.

It’s easy to forget when my body feels out of control that acknowledging my feelings and creating space for them is often all that is needed.

Something good

My new job has been fantastic. It has also been a source of significant stress. Navigating the change and uncertainty of an early stage startup is challenging. But overall, I have loved it.

There have been a few times when I have checked in with my friend, our founder, to see if I was working on the right thing. He had been building our website and tech needed to run our events, which I owned. I told him I felt like I was letting him down as he was doing what he had hired me to do. He assured me that he was enjoying it and felt good about where we were at.

After my rough day on Tuesday, I was doing better on Wednesday, but still not able to do a lot. I found myself working on some automation and an hour and a half flew by. It was a good reminder to me of what I love to do—software engineering.

The next day, I chatted with my friend and boss and told him that I wanted to explore the idea of focusing on solving our tech needs and turn over the in-person events to someone else. He had been preparing to hire some contractor help for our engineering needs, and was excited about my interest.

As we talked, a childhood memory come to mind. I played baseball for a single season. I did well enough on first base to make the all-star team. When I showed up for the first practice, I said that I wanted to try being catcher. It sounded fun. They talked with me, and helped me see that I made the all-star team as a first baseman. That’s what I was good at, and that’s where I should play.

Baseball player

In the same way, I’ve enjoyed jumping in on something new and learning how to run events. But what I’m experienced at is engineering. It feels good to go back to that.

As I told my therapist the story, she pointed out how much of a win this was for me. OCD destroys flexibility. But to be able to reflect, question, and adjust the primary focus of my job is remarkable.

Something else

Another reminder I had this week was of the value of free writing. As with many things in my life, I go in waves with this. There will be weeks, or even months when I am writing for hours and hours. And then months will pass in which I do none.

Free writing is one of the best forms of journaling for me when I am feeling strong emotions, but am not in touch with what they are. As I force myself to just keep writing, without thinking about what I will write, I often make discoveries.

This is something I have shared about in the past, and I’m sure I will write about again. Somehow I keep forgetting what an important process this is for me, and so I regularly have the opportunity to relearn that lesson.

Wrap up

What a roller coaster of a week for me. From despondent and suicidal on Tuesday, to dancing around the house singing Friday. This was the perfect illustration of a key principle about emotions that my therapist had on her whiteboard for a long time:

Allow emotions to do what emotions do…pass