This week is all about the experience and fallout of an intense therapy session—extreme agitation, the pleasure of a strong support system, and the clarity that came through journaling.
These weekly updates share life with OCD as part of my Mental Work Health project to reduce stigma around mental health, especially at work.
One of these weeks will surely come and go as a boring series of terrestrial rotations. This was not.
I was a little surprised after the weekend I had last week that things got pretty rough for me again this past weekend. I will write more later about the therapy session I had on Friday that I suspect led to some of my struggles. The odd thing was that I was fine for most of Friday, until the evening. Saturday morning, I woke up extremely agitated. I decided to go on a walk to try and burn off some of the excess adrenaline and cortisol.
Throughout the summer, I had been walking almost every day. I decided to take my usual route, and walked from my house along a nearby river for a couple miles and then turned around. Everything was fine until I got close to mile four. I hit a proverbial wall, and slowed way down. I messaged my wife and let her know that I was not doing well, and then had her come pick me up. By the time I made it to her, I was barely shuffling my feet to move forward. It was an odd sensation.
I arrived home and rested for the remainder of the day, took a melatonin, and went to bed early. Sunday morning I found out that I had kept my wife up much of the night with my agitation. My muscles would contract repeatedly and I was kicking her or hitting her through most of the night. Sunday continued to be a challenge for me, and I stayed home while the rest of the family went to visit my wife’s parents to enjoy dinner there. By the time everyone came home, I had recovered enough to help put the kids to bed, and I was able to start the work week with no one the wiser.
I mentioned at the beginning that I had an intense therapy session on Friday that likely led to my slight breakdown. The irony of the situation was that I enjoyed the session so much, in large part because my wife was there with me. She has occasionally accompanied me in the past, and her visits nearly always lead to a more intense experience, as we are able to get into details of my situation and its effects. Living with OCD can be exhausting at times, but it is usually only a problem in my life when it encroaches on my relationships.
Having my wife participate in therapy with me has been a wonderful experience. Not only is she able to help provide my therapist with deeper insights that we can work through in subsequent visits, but it is an extremely connective experience for us. She is my greatest support, and engaging in this difficult process gives her greater insight and compassion into my struggle, and equips us to better handle together the bumpy patches that arrive.
In all of the intense recovery work I have experienced, a strong support system is vital to success. For those who deal with mental health challenges, the more we can invite those in our support structure into the process, the more we can be allies working toward a common goal.
One of my favorite activities is journaling. There have been times in my life when I have become obsessive (surprise!) about diligently writing consistently. And there are other times when I have been able to use journaling to process my emotions and help face everyday life. Since starting therapy, I have learned about a different kind of journaling in which I examine some of my thoughts and identify the cognitive distortions, or thinking errors, and introduce some logic and alternate pathways to my mind.
One of the most helpful treatments of journaling I read lately came from an article on the excellent blog, The Art of Manliness, titled Why I Stopped Journaling. In a recent podcast episode, the topic was explored further in the context of How to Develop Greater Self-Awareness:
We then discuss how two of the most common methods for gaining self-knowledge — introspection and journaling — can in fact backfire and how to do them more effectively by asking yourself what instead of why
Many of the points raised were running through my mind over the weekend. I have often found in these types of pseudo-emergency situations that journaling is a helpful outlet, both for triage and preliminary mental first-aid. On Friday evening, as I noticed the onset of increased symptoms, I tried some journaling. It started like this:
I’m feeling pretty agitated right now, and don’t really know why. Of course, it doesn’t matter a ton why I am feeling that way. But I just want to sit with it a bit and try to process things.
After trying for a few minutes, I finally abandoned the attempt as unhelpful. However, a couple days later, I decided to try again. I think it significant that I first tried typing on my iPad, which did not work, and later moved to pen and paper, which proved more helpful. I intentionally chose a loose sheet of paper, and also wrote on top of my own words to further cement the impermanent nature of the writing.
Through this act of tactile journaling, I realized some important points about my weekend of agitation. One of the biggest lessons was that my agitation came from fear, which is unsurprising. The insight was this:
It is a classic example of anxiety and depression coming together. Depression brings up everything from the past, and colors it much more darkly to convince me that it was even scarier and more painful than it was. And then anxiety kicks in to convince me that it is going to be just that bad or even worse for me. The key to combat both is mindfulness and being present. It is good to acknowledge the pain that has been the result because I want it to stop. But I don’t need to project or catastrophize that things are going to be worse than they are. Just approach the situation with curiosity and see what actually happens.
I want to end with one more excerpt from my therapeutic journaling exercise.
One thought I had is that a regular process of mindfulness would be helpful for me to keep in practice with these skills. It could take the form of meditation but possibly even better for me would be journaling. That is a way for me to work to be present with the current moment.
My hope is that you and I both can find a practice that works and remember to continue in it.