🧠 #7: An experienced beginner

🧠 #7: An experienced beginner

This week brings some thoughts on a surprise struggle, a parenting win, and pragmatic sketching.

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 heard from a friend who had a difficult time this weekend that the season changing and family frustration and some self-pity all combined to bring her down a bit. We all have those times. I hope we are watching out for each other and noticing when someone is struggling and doing what we can to lift each other up. I know I have been the beneficiary of such support and it makes a huge difference.

Something hard

This weekend turned out to be unexpectedly rough for me. Saturday was a good family day—lots of hard work together cleaning the house and putting away laundry. By that evening, I was wiped out. As we lay down, I noticed a surge of adrenaline in my chest and some thought spirals starting. I told my wife I was going for a drive and got in the van and headed south. I put on some podcasts and just drove. Unsurprisingly, my decision-making ability was not at my best, and when I realized I was ready to be done, I was still 45 minutes away from home. I made it home safely, but decided that is not a course of action I want to pursue often.

Sunday morning, when I woke up, I found that I was more agitated than I have been in a long time. My wife suggested I join her outside on a walk. Getting ready to leave took the longest it has ever taken as I was slowed down by a series of physical tics. I have learned that this is a common symptom with OCD—a physical motion, such as wiping my hands dry, or adjusting the hem of my shirt, or rubbing my freshly shaved head, gets stuck on repeat. It is a difficult sensation to sit with, and can be hard for my children to watch. My three-year-old asked, “What is Daddy doing?”

My wife and I decided that the best thing to do would be for me to leave for a bit to get some rest and try to recover. I booked a hotel near our house and watched LeBron James and the Lakers win the NBA championship and went to bed early. I am lucky that my team and boss are supportive and understanding, and my job is flexible enough to take a day off with no notice. Instead of forcing my way through a frustrating and unproductive work day, I spent the day in bed napping and reading and enjoyed a nice long walk outside. While not how I anticipated starting this week, it has been what I needed.

Something good

Since I shared a bit of my thoughts on parenting last week, I thought it was appropriate to share a win from this week, even though this site is more focused on mental health in the workplace. My wife and I had a chance to go to lunch with our oldest, who is 15. Our daughter commented that it was nice to be alone with the two of us, as that rarely happens for her. Typically, she is helping with the younger kids if we are getting some alone time.

We enjoyed such a nice time together. I followed up her observation by telling her this was her chance to ask us anything she wanted. I loved her response, which was that she gets plenty of time to ask my wife whatever she wants as they drive around to various events. She did ask some insightful questions, such as what was our favorite year of life, and what it was like to be fifteen.

Her question about what it was like to be her age took us into some mental health territory. I told her that, looking back with more insight now, I realize that my life was largely defined by severe OCD. As a teenager, I lived with a constant feeling of disappointing people, and not being good enough. I often felt like a failure when I could not achieve perfection. Her comment showed maturity and compassion, “I’m really glad you’ve been able to get some help and figure more of that out.” So am I, dear girl, so am I!

Something else

As I shared a few weeks ago, I have been wanting to do more sketching lately. This week, I started a Pragmatic Sketching Masterclass with Eva-Lotta Lamm, and loved the first session. If you see this in time, I highly recommend that you sign up for part or all of it, whether you are already interested in sketching or not. Years ago, Eva-Lotta was the person through whom I was introduced to sketchnoting, which has become a big part of my life.

To be honest, signing up for a sketching class was a bit of pride swallowing for me. I have taught classes on sketching and sketchnoting, and part of me balked at being lumped in with all the other students in a class on a subject where I feel a certain level of competence. What a laugh! After just a few minutes into the class, I realized that I have so far to grow in my abilities and skill, even at some of the most basic things about sketching. I loved that we started with a healthy mix of theory and practice, and I was immediately able to see where I needed some work in my fundamentals.

One of the nice things about the revelation that I can improve drastically in the basics of a skill that I enjoy was the lack of a feeling of failure. I know that I am capable already. In the past, when I saw everything in more of a black-and-white way, I would have struggled to hold in my mind both that I had immense room for improvement and that I was already talented and competent. I have a clear vision of how I can practice to improve the fundamentals to make an immediate impact in one of my most enjoyed hobbies, without turning that hobby into an area of shame.

Wrap up

Take care of yourself out there. Life is stressful these days and we are all going to have times when we need an extra dose of support to get back up and keep going. And when you can be that for someone else, rather than worry if you will do it right or say the right thing, just reach out and try. The effort matters and your desire to help comes through.

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