In my first weekly update of the new year, I discuss the difficulty of the holidays, the joy of a new project, and missing a week.
These weekly updates share life with OCD as part of my Mental Work Health project to reduce stigma around mental health, especially at work.
Happy New Year! I have always enjoyed this time of year with its feeling of renewal and fresh start. I am less obsessive than I used to be about creating all manner of goals and resolutions, and so I have reduced much of the stress. I hope that the new year brings you and me improvements to our mental health and capacity for compassion.
In some ways, it feels natural that both the hard and the good of this time would be the holidays themselves. As I wrote about following Thanksgiving, often the best approach we can take is one of curiosity. Instead of predetermining how things will go, we can wait and see what experiences come our way.
For the most part, I was successful in this quest for curiosity. There were some definite rough patches to be sure. One of my secret weapons is wearing noise-canceling headphones. I usually don’t even put any music or podcasts on—I just take advantage of the dampening effect of wearing the headphones so that the noise of a busy household doesn’t get so overwhelming.
One skill that my wife suggested to me, which I tried out over this period, was to reframe possibly unpleasant experiences. Instead of feeling the weight of expectations to perform perfectly, I could look at a potentially stressful visit as being an act of kindness or service. In that sense, a couple hours of distress become much more tolerable. I hope that I can remember how this skill helped me and apply it more often.
I am not yet finished, and not quite ready to announce what I have been working on, but one of the things that made the holidays even more enjoyable for me was having a project to tackle. Naturally, it has taken longer than I anticipated, but in some ways that has been a good thing as I have continued to get the boost that comes from feeling productive and doing something that I enjoy.
One of the real challenges for me in picking up a project is trying to not set down the rest of my life. This is how things have tended to go in the past. My focus has been much more of a spotlight than sunlight. Rather than shining on many different areas at once, I would illuminate a single area with great intensity until I was ready to move on and turn the light somewhere else. This is particularly problematic for me with a wife and seven kids. They can easily get neglected if my mind is wholly occupied with thoughts of my project.
I am glad to report that I was able to maintain at least some semblance of balance throughout this project period. Granted, I did watch many, many hours of football while also working away, but I wasn’t as absent from family life as has been the case in the past. Progress!
I have been wondering when I would face the first missed week of writing this regular update. When I started this four months ago, my goal was to try to write weekly without letting that cadence become dictatorial and compulsive. Similar to my experiences with projects that I discussed up above, goals have often taken on a life of their own.
Throughout the months I have been trying this, I have been glad to discover that I have been able to write at different times in the week, and not feel too much distress if the update is not ready to go at the usual time each week. Early in the process, I told my OCD support group that I was trying to find the right balance between regularly accomplishing something, and also not becoming obsessive about it, and that has continued to be the case.
It was beautiful to me that I totally forgot about writing over the holidays for the most part. I remembered the Tuesday after Christmas that I hadn’t written yet, and I thought to myself that I would write that evening if it worked out. I got busy and distracted and it didn’t happen. The fact that I could consider missing a week with so little distress, and come back to it with so little guilt represents such a huge step forward for me.
I like to pause and recognize the moments when doing something in the way that most people would do it are significant accomplishments. We all have those areas of disparity in our lives, where showing up with everyday effort is actually a herculean task. I hope that you and I can be kind enough to ourselves to acknowledge when those happen, and extend compassion when they don’t.
There are so many things that I wanted to get done over the holidays that just did not happen. But this is always going to be the case. I am happy with where I am at right now, and hope that you can be as well. Here’s to a great new year of empathy and compassion. Remember that it’s ok to not be ok.