🧠 #5: Mac and cheese and syrup

🧠 #5: Mac and cheese and syrup

My update from this week includes a nonsensical meal, an uplifting 1:1, and an evening of sports.

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

Naturally, following a wonderful week, this past week was more challenging for me. Nothing was terribly difficult or noteworthy—it was a decent week. I struggled at times with focus and motivation, and at other times got in the zone. It was a great reminder to me that things will go all right—not every moment will be amazing or awful.

Something hard

Our youngest son is turning three, and we celebrated his birthday with family on Sunday. My mother-in-law decided to make a brunch of pancakes and all sorts of yummy toppings. She also made ham, and my wife cooked delicious homemade mac and cheese.

I heard the menu for the first time as my wife was telling some of the kids. She laughed at my visible reaction, and said, “I immediately thought of you when my mom said what we were having. I thought it would be a great exposure for you.”

When I served my plate, I could not quite face it, so I started with a plate of savory items. I caught myself as I went to get seconds of the mac and cheese and told my wife I had not had any pancakes. She knows that breakfast food is my favorite, and asked with kind concern if I was too full already. When she saw my slightly guilty look, she realized I was having an OCD moment. She voiced the thoughts going through my head, “If you’re not doing it because you feel like you can’t, you’d probably better just do it.”

I dished up a pancake and scooped some mac and cheese on the side, stopping myself from separating them too much. I even poured syrup on the pancake, which inevitably soaked into the noodles. My wife saw that and commented that I did not need to throw everything at myself all at once—it was ok to take smaller steps.

While mixing types of food was not a huge deal, it definitely caused some distress. I hope it might be helpful for some to see how mental health challenges sometimes come in small and simple daily life.

Something good

One of my favorite parts of my job is having 1:1s. I meet with everyone on my team every other week, and with the other engineering managers monthly1. I also meet regularly with my boss and his boss.

This week, a 1:1 started like this:

“Ben, I’ve been having a hard day and kept looking at the calendar, and knowing I was going to end on a high note because I got to talk with you.”

What a glorious way to begin. I have always enjoyed these opportunities to talk and connect, and I was glad to hear that someone else felt similarly. I was struck by the thought that these meetings could easily have been so much less. But by both of us showing up fully and engaging completely with each other, we have created a space that we both look forward to.

So much of our lives, whether at work or outside, can be made richer by focusing on human connection. This feeds us in ways that nothing else can. And if we are struggling with a mental health condition, it is imperative that we find those activities that enrich us and build us up. Challenges and struggles are never far away, so we need to fill our lives with as much as possible that lifts us.

Something else

On Saturday, we cleaned our garage for about five hours. We recently had some mice living in the garage and so we took everything out and pressure-washed it all down. It was an exhausting and rewarding day.

In the evening, I decided to relax a bit and turned on the NBA Western Conference Finals. Although I wanted the Denver Nuggets to lose to the Utah Jazz, at this point, I was cheering for them to repeat their 1-3 game comeback for a third series in a row. It was not to be. LeBron James and the L.A. Lakers are headed to the Finals again. As that game wrapped up, I turned to watch BYU demolish Troy in college football. I also caught the second overtime of the NHL Playoffs and saw Dallas force a game six against Tampa Bay.

Among other things, watching sports represents actual self care for me. It is an activity I do, not because I feel like I should, or because I expect to get something out of it, but rather just because I enjoy it. We all need to find activities in our lives that bring us joy, and make opportunities to enjoy them.

Wrap up

I know that all of us face our own moments of mixing mac and cheese and pancakes in the same meal. To some, an issue may seem trivial, inconsequential, or even ridiculous. To others, that same issue can cause great distress, and if not handled with skill, can devolve into incapacitation. I send you compassion as you face those moments in your own life, and encourage us all to be kind with each other. We never know what someone else is facing.

  1. Ok, technically, I meet with one person on my team monthly, and one of the other engineering managers I meet with biweekly. But that level of accuracy was more complicated than required to convey my point. 

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