This emotion-filled week brought some￼ ￼￼imposter syndrome, beard balm, and crying in a movie.
These weekly updates share life with OCD as part of my Mental Work Health project to reduce stigma around mental health, especially at work.
Last Monday evening, I had a panic attack. As these things go, it was a mild one, for which I was grateful. It seemed to come out of the blue, which is never actually the case. As I thought through what led up to it, and then discussed with my therapist, it was clear. The previous weekend was General Conference, as I wrote about last week. While it was a delightful time, it was also stressful. Trying to keep all seven kids getting along while being in close proximity, or at least quiet enough that the rest of us could hear what was going on, was a challenge.
But that was not really what led up to the panic attack. Earlier that day, I had a work meeting with my team. We were discussing tackling a problem that I felt inadequate to handle. I recognized during the meeting that I was feeling imposter syndrome. I spoke up and told my team, and others voiced similar concerns. But of course, I didn’t quite believe them. Oh, I believed they had feelings of inadequacy—I didn’t think they were lying. I just didn’t believe they were inadequate. It seemed to me that everyone else knew what was going on, or how to tackle the problem, in ways that I could not live up to.
The next morning, while getting ready, it hit me. I remember clearly the moment. I was in my closet, reaching down for a pair of socks. I realized that the issue was that I felt like I couldn’t do everything. It wasn’t just a lack of capacity, it was a lack of capability.
I wasn’t enough.
As soon as I recognized what was underneath my feelings, I simultaneously realized that I don’t have to do everything. That is exactly why we have a team. We complement each other, and work together to solve the problem. All of us are going to have strengths and weaknesses, and we can, and must, rely on each other to contribute where we are able.
I was struck by the parallels to living with mental health challenges. Often, we feel inadequate for daily life. There are things that we want to do, but are unable. We can easily get discouraged and allow those feelings of inadequacy to push us down until it seems we are drowning in our emotions. But all of us have support around us. Many of us have a solid support system in the people that know us and care about us. Where we are weak, we can find strength in others. We just have to willing to reach out and then accept help.
For years, I had an uneasy relationship with my beard. Growing one felt like a small act of rebellion. I would often grow it for a few months and then shave it off completely. The difference is drastic—people legitimately would not recognize me.
One of the times I shaved it off was during the nap of one of our kids when he was a baby. After waking, he just stared at me for a while, and when I went to pick him up, he turned and ran to my wife. He did that probably three times before he would let me hold him.
A friend at work asked me once why I went between completely clean-shaven and the “Moses” look. Why couldn’t I stay somewhere in the middle? At the time, I didn’t really have an answer, but I understand it much more now. A large part of my OCD is black-or-white thinking—I am either all in or not at all.
I finally embraced my beard as part of me. It’s now been nearly six years since I’ve been clean shaven.
Ironically, even though I would detest taking care of my hair (which is probably why I just shaved it all off), caring for my beard has never bothered me. I regularly shampoo it, and comb it out daily with a wooden comb. I have used various beard oils over the years. But my favorite beard product is Honest Amish Beard Balm.
For the past year or two, I’ve had beard oils that I received as gifts or in other ways, and I felt an obligation to use them. I didn’t want to waste what I had. But in the back of head, I still wanted to use my beard balm.
Finally, I realized that if I wanted to use it, I could choose that. This thought came as something of an epiphany to me.
I have struggled with identifying how I actually feel and validating that. My OCD has led me to live under a sense of obligation. In many ways, it didn’t matter how I felt about something, or what I wanted. There was a right way to do things and I had to find it and follow it. My own thoughts and feeling be damned. Part of my journey has been to step back, check in, and make a decision myself.
While buying beard balm didn’t seem like a big deal, it represented a win for me.
Our oldest daughter wanted to take my wife and me to see Dear Evan Hansen. Finding a time for the three of us was difficult, so she and I went together. All I knew about it was the blurb I saw when buying tickets—it was adapted from a Broadway musical, and had something to do with social anxiety.
I was not prepared.
The crying started ten or fifteen minutes into the show and lasted until long after it was done and we were home. I often cry at sad or sappy or touching things, but this was on a different level.
My daughter and my wife laughed a little when we came home because I was so emotional about it. They felt like they should have warned me about the emotional nature of the show. And if I was just crying over the plot and characters (which would have been plenty to cry about), it would have been kind of funny.
But there were two additional reasons I was so affected by the movie. The first was as a father, and the second was as a hurt little boy growing up and trying to heal.
As I watched a story of kids in high school learning about mental health, reaching out and showing up for each other, and starting conversations, I was touched and encouraged. That is so important, and I love that people like my daughter are seeing that and hopefully hearing the message that mental health is ok and good to talk about.
But my heart hurt for my daughter. I think every parent worries about their children feeling loved and accepted. The teenage years can be brutal, and I hope that she does not feel alone. I was so grateful that the show created space that I could tell my daughter how much we love her, just the way she is, and have her hear me. There is no way to know if it sank in, but at least she listened.
The other source of pain was recognizing myself in so many of the difficult emotions and experiences in the movie. As I went home and wept, I felt that pain overwhelming me. I took a few minutes to write in my journal and process my feelings. As I described the experience to my therapist, she commented that peace often comes through the pain. I got to a good place through that journaling:
I am happy for the pain I feel. It comes with some perspective as well. I know that I am loved now. I have a God who knows and loves me. I have a wonderful wife who is kind and loving. I have a great family who also love me. I am so blessed.
We all go through so many hard things. You’re probably in the middle of one right now. Be kind to yourself. Reach out to others. And remember the timeless advice given to Link: It’s dangerous to go alone!