🧠 #2: Rebecoming a novice

🧠 #2: Rebecoming a novice

In my second weekly update, I share about missing medication, blacksmithing, and role-playing as a thuggish henchman.

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

This week has given me the opportunity to act in a few different roles than I typically do, and has helped me to reflect on how these different experiences can inform the rest of my life. Grappling with a mental health condition can feel like a constant battle, and acknowledging and facing that completely can be helpful and healing.

Something hard

Starting this past week, we are hosting a few homeschool speech and debate classes at our house every week. My oldest daughter is now in the advanced class, and she is thrilled to be a T.A. for the intermediate and beginner classes. It was really fun to see her be happy and proud to have people over to our house.

In preparation for the classes, we decided to do the spring cleaning that we had ample time and insufficient motivation to do throughout our sheltering in place. It was a lot of work, and felt really nice to get things organized and cleaned well.

One of the aspects of preparing for all those teenagers to be in our house was moving my medication out of the bathroom closest to our bedroom, as that was the prime spot to let the kids use. As a result, my routine was all thrown off. I realized yesterday that I was feeling more agitated than usual without any apparent reason, and remembered that I had missed a number of days taking my medication. Different treatments work for different people, and I feel fortunate that the medication we have found has such a positive effect on me to allow me to be more of myself and use my brain to make my own decisions instead of having my thoughts hijacked and jumbled into endless loops.

Part of the nature of my diagnosis with scrupulously OCD is that berating myself for mistakes that I make, particularly those that negative affect my wife and children, is always a force waiting in the wings to pounce on me. Not only was I struggling with the challenge of feeling physically thrown by missing my medication, but I also had to deal with the mental work of standing up to myself and not allowing the coach with a whip to be my inner dialogue.

Something good

Throughout this summer, my family has had the opportunity to volunteer at the Provo Pioneer Village.

Experience the life of the pioneers as you walk back into the early days of Provo when the settlers of 1849 had to survive in isolation. The Pioneer Village contains the original structures built by some of these pioneers, including the Turner Cabin, the Haws Cabin, the Loveless Home, a Granary, Schoolhouse, Wood shop, Corn Crib, and Outhouse. The Village also contains an Ox Shoeing Stock, various pioneer wagons, a working Blacksmith Shop, authentic General Store, pioneer games for the children, and a wide variety of rare artifacts and tools.

We all dress up in period clothes, and my wife is a gatekeeper with some of the babies to welcome guests to the village. I have been able to work as a blacksmith’s apprentice for the second summer, and it has been such a delight. I have loved the opportunity to work with my hands and create small works of art at the same time that I am helping to provide a meaningful and authentic experience to visitors. I have continued to improve every week to get faster and more confident in my ability to form metal into the shape I want.

One of the best parts of the experience, both for my kids and for myself, has been the chance to be a beginner again. In most areas of my life right now, I am fairly comfortable, and am performing tasks and filling roles that are not new to me. Inevitably, part of increasing in mastery of a skill is losing the feeling of being a novice. Recapturing that in a fun and unique area of my life has been a great way to rekindle my curiosity and be reminded of the benefits of incremental improvement over time. I have also loved the chance to have my kids see me fumble at something and get corrected and learn and improve. That is something I want them to be comfortable with, and do not have many opportunities to model for them.

Something else

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to participate in a simulation exercise designed to help participating children and youth learn to think critically, gain confidence, and connect with God. The activity is called Heroic Youth, and this is our second year to participate in it. I get to dress up as a villainous thug, focused on intimidating and pretending to protect the children and youth.

In many ways, this is an opportunity to help my children, and many others, live through some of the experiences they can read about in Narnia or Middle Earth. They have the chance to face enemies that instill real fear and learn how to face that in their lives.

Especially in the context of mental health, I think these kinds of organizations and experiences are so valuable for our rising generation. They deserve to know that life will be hard at times, and that they have the power to make it through, especially as they learn to look to a higher power in their lives. As part of my own recovery, I have occasionally attended twelve step program meetings. One of the first principles we learn there is to realize that we are powerless by ourselves to change and need to rely on a higher power. I have found this to be true over and over in my life, and hope it is a lesson I can pass on to my children, as well as many others.

Wrap up

One of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis, said something about children that I think applies to us all:

Since it is so likely that [children] will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.

So many of us struggling with mental health challenges meet those cruel enemies in the quiet moments and dark recesses of our own minds. It is vital for all of us to know that we can persevere, and help is available.

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