This update shares the effects of changing medication (not good!), an uplifting chance for sketchnotes, and continuing a couple helpful practices.
These weekly updates share life with OCD as part of my Mental Work Health project to reduce stigma around mental health, especially at work.
I am in the middle of a medication change with my psychiatrist, as I wrote about in update #96: Confronting the criminal.
As my therapist keeps telling me, it’s hard to notice what the medicine is doing for my OCD while everything is normal. But going off it is what really makes me appreciate it.
For the current change, I had to taper off everything I was taking and let it flush out of my system. I’ve been on Prozac all year, which I have found to be the most effective so far at helping with my OCD symptoms to allow me to operate at a livable level. I stopped taking anything during the week of our Disneyland trip a few weeks ago, which I wrote about in update #99: Can’t get in.
There are a few symptoms that I am noticing as I come completely off all medication. First, my mind gets stuck much more often. Usually that looks like my being unable to comprehend something that was said to me, or a situation that I have encountered. Unexpectedness just doesn’t compute.
Second, my body is much more agitated. Loud or sustained noises set me off and are hard to handle. My hands contract like claws or get stuck in loops, such as my fingers rubbing together. My calves clench, sometimes to the point of cramping, and then I’m sore for days. The feeling of being out of control of my body is a difficult one to sit with.
Finally, my overall level of irritability has increased dramatically. My patience is gone. Unfortunately, this shows up most at home with those I am most comfortable with. So there are many more sarcastic replies to my wife, or snapping at my kids if things don’t go exactly as I’m wanting.
I’m kind of an asshole to be around.
These are three of the outward symptoms that have become more prevalent. Internally, much more is going haywire. Every once in a while, my thought loops or internal distress will come out. Fortunately, through years of this, my wife, and even the older kids, know what is going on. My support system is strong and compassionate.
I am confident that I will make it through this period. As I have learned and experienced repeatedly, difficult times such as this are like waves. They will come and go, and I just have to ride them.
Jocko said something to that effect that I find helpful and encouraging. It perfectly matches the dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) skill of “Ride the wave.”
This past weekend was General Conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is always a favorite weekend for our family. We love the peace and uplift that comes from hearing messages about our Savior and reminders to be kind and loving to those around us.
When it works out, I enjoy capturing sketchnotes during conference. Over the years, I have changed my approach to be more compatible with having seven kids. Early on, I would try to capture every talk in detail. But a few years ago, my wife suggested that I try capturing a single idea from each talk, at least while doing them live. Here’s an example of one of the first synopses I created.
That practice has been transformative. I’m able to pause and help with the kids without feeling the distress that I am missing something that I want to be capturing. I am much less irritable, and enjoy the process. As a result, I’m much better to be around, and much more of a help for my wife.
This conference, I was able to take sketchnotes of each session, which was delightful. I collected and shared them in a post earlier this week.
There are a couple practices that have taken hold in my life and continued on past the point of typical discarding. The first is doing the dishes. I wrote about my therapist challenging me to tackle the dishes almost a year ago in update #59: Just say yes.
It has continued to be a good practice for me. One of the ways that it helps me is as a reminder that things are rarely as bad as they seem. When I approach a sink full of dirty dishes, there is a lot of resistance to getting started. But after 15 minutes or so when they are all done, I feel satisfied and a little chagrined at my procrastination.
The other practice that has continued to provide good lessons for me is taking cold showers. I shared about starting those in update #95: Experimenting with discomfort.
This is another thing that almost always seems worse than it actually is in reality. I still don’t quite look forward to those showers, but I know that the horrific discomfort is only going to last a few seconds. Then my body will adjust, and the rest of the shower will be tolerable. But the payoff comes when I get out. I am nearly always invigorated and alert. It’s been a great way to start each day.
So often in our lives, the bad experiences are faster and less terrible than our imagination projects. It’s the fear of the fear that is truly unbearable.
This is certainly the case with panic attacks and extreme anxiety. When I am able to surrender to the moment, and accept the situation as it is, it often passes quickly. When I brace for how bad it will surely be, and indulge the fear of what my emotions will be, the experience extends and worsens.
As much as we can, let’s both try to remain more present in this coming week. Acknowledge the current moment and approach it with curiosity. And as always, let’s remember a healthy dose of compassion.