The story of an unexpected gift, and the intense emotions it stirred up.
These weekly updates share life with OCD as part of my Mental Work Health project to reduce stigma around mental health, especially at work.
A couple weeks ago, I went on a sailing trip with my daughter. I wrote about this in update #85: I’m a sailor.
We had signed up a few months back, and part of the reason we got in is our 12-passenger van. I could help transport the kids from Utah to Los Angeles.
I love road trips, but I don’t particularly enjoy driving. I much prefer to passenge. Part of the appeal is the feeling of freedom from just reading while we drive, or writing, or coding, or sleeping, or listening to something. These are all solitary activities, and are really a carryover from growing up. Road trips were one of the few times I didn’t feel crushing responsibility and could just be a child.
Now, as a father of seven, I can rarely indulge in solitary activities when we are all together, particularly in the car.
But as a chauffeur of a group of teenagers, I knew that I would most likely be able to put in headphones and listen to podcasts or audiobooks and ignore everyone. Which is exactly what I ended up doing for most of the drive. My daughter did ask for a couple hours of Disney songs that they could sing along to, but overall, it was many blissful hours of solitude.
Back at Thanksgiving time, my grandfather passed away. He was one month shy of 90, and had been in declining health, and his passing brought more relief than grief. As a family, we drove down to his funeral in Arizona. That was a rough time for me, as I shared about in update #63: Limping along.
One highlight of that trip for me was stopping in Beaver, Utah at The Creamery. I found amazing lemon-flavored buttermints that melted in my mouth.
For weeks after that trip, I could not get the thought of the buttermints out of my mind. I was almost ready to make the multi-hour drive to get some more. Kids, this is what is known as OCD.
When we signed up for the sailing trip, one of the first thoughts that went through my mind was, “Finally! I’ll be able to stop in Beaver at the Creamery and get some more buttermints.”
But it was not to be.
We met at 5:00am to drive to California and drove straight with only two gas & food stops. The efficiency-monger in my brain was ecstatic. But another part of me was crushed. We went through Beaver around 7:00am, and The Creamery didn’t open until 9:00am.
“No problem,” I thought to myself. “I can be patient. It will be better to stop on the way home anyway. Then I can stock up and take a bunch home.”
On the return trip home, as we caravanned out of California and into Nevada, I suggested we make our next stop at Beaver for dinner. According to GPS, we would arrive just before closing time at 8:00pm.
I was hesitant to suggest (demand?) that we stop there as a group. I decided that if the others didn’t want to stop there, that was fine. We didn’t have to all eat together anyway. I would just stop.
There was some construction, or maybe an accident ahead that was going to delay us. I started to feel more and more anxious that we might miss closing time. I plugged in the address to my phone to get the fastest route, and it showed we would get there at 9:00pm.
How could that be? The delay wasn’t that long. Something else was conspiring to frustrate me.
As I drove and thought through the situation, the truth hit me. We were about to lose an hour crossing state lines into another time zone. There was no possible way to make it to Beaver in time.
I had a text exchange with my wife:
Me: I am so irrationally upset that we are going through Beaver too early on Monday and too late today to get butter mints at The Creamery. 🤬😆
Wife: Oh I bet that is a disappointment
Me: Months I have been wanting to come down here for those. I’ve been telling myself it would be fine since we planned on this trip.
Me: One of these days I’m just going to drive down here
Wife: Uhmmmm maybe lol. But I can tell that’s a big bummer. I’m sorry.
Fast forward a couple weeks, and it was almost Father’s Day. My wife ordered me a gift, and she and the kids were excited to give it to me. I opened it and laughed in joy.
It was a box of buttermints.
She said she was sorry that I hadn’t been able to get them on my trip, and she hoped these would still be yummy, even though they weren’t the same ones.
I was so touched. She knew how emotionally impactful that was for me. With my OCD, when I make a plan or look forward to something, I can be disproportionately devastated when it doesn’t work out. This gift felt like such a gesture of love.
I opened the bag and tried one, and it was delightful. Creamy and decadent, it melted right in my mouth. I offered one to the kids who were there, and was thrilled to find out that they all hated them and spit them back out. (Yes, I ate them. Of course.)
As I admired the bag, I was reading the back and noticed where they were manufactured and distributed. “Hey, these are from Utah. Wait—they’re from Beaver!” Those buttermints were the exact same ones sold at the Creamery that I had been craving for half a year.
My emotions were already soaring with love and gratitude for the thoughtfulness of the gift, but now there was even more. My OCD had closure. I had scaled the summit, reached the peak, slain the dragon. I was victorious.
Those moments of euphoria don’t come often, but when they do…
All was right with the world for one fleeting moment. Tomorrow, the crushing weight of near-constant distress. But today, bliss. I smiled, and ate another mint.
There are a couple takeaways from this story for me.
First, it’s ok to mourn disappointment. Even when it’s something as trivial as not getting to buy buttermints. Those emotions are real, and invalidating them helps no one. I need to acknowledge, honor, process, and then move through them.
Second, the joy I felt at the gesture of love shown to me was much greater than the distress I felt when things didn’t work out. That moment was created by my being authentic and sharing my actual feelings with my wife. And by her compassion.
The fact that the surprise turned out to be exactly the right ones was an added bonus.
Over the coming week, you and I will experience many emotions. The challenge I give to myself, and to you if you’ll accept it, is to be open to those emotions. Notice when they come and make space for them. Get curious about how they feel and where they show up in the body.
Then, if we’re ready to push ourselves, share those emotions with someone in our lives. Be vulnerable and open. Risk having those emotions trivialized and invalidated. If that happens, start the process all over again with whatever new feelings come up.
This is a skill and a habit we all need to develop. If it helps, you can try out my Mindful Sketch template.
However you do it, let’s be honest with ourselves about what we are feeling. Emotions aren’t good or bad, right or wrong. They just are. We need to accept them. And help those in our lives do the same.