#86: Mental toll

#86: Mental toll

In this update, I share the exhausting role of single parenting for a few days, success with timeblocking, and publicly announcing my professional transition to being independent.

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


Something hard

Last week, I shared my experience being on a sailing trip in update #85: I’m a sailor.

I’m a sailor

When I returned from that trip, I helped my wife get ready for her own trip. She had been asked to be the cook for the three-day girls camp our 15-year-old was attending. Preparing food for the thirty or so people was about the same as getting family dinner together on a Sunday with her parents and siblings and their families, so it seemed manageable.

I tried to help as best I could in the preparations, which was mostly by creating space and taking care of the children while she got ready. When she left, her mom took the kids during the day so that I could get some work done.

Objectively, as I looked at the situation, it appeared fairly easy. I would get the kids up in the morning, feed them, get them ready, and drop them off at 9:00. Then I would work for the day, and pick them up around 4:00. We would figure out dinner, spend time together, and I would put the littles to bed and manage the middles for a couple hours. No big deal.

It was exhausting.

The logistics played out roughly as I had imagined. But I had grossly underestimated the mental toll that being solely responsible would take on me. I even knew that my mother-in-law could, and would, manage things and compensate for whatever I forgot in the morning. But I felt such a weight to arrange everything and make sure they were taken care of.

The few days I had gave me a renewed respect and appreciation for all that my wife does. I have told her before that her job is hard, and I don’t know if I could do it. I felt that during this week. I gained a fresh perspective for all of the unpaid labor that she does every day that makes it possible for me to work in a field I love to provide for the family. And it grew even more my compassion and admiration for the many people who raise children as single parents.

Something good

A couple weeks ago, I signed up for the Accelerator program at The Focus Course. I have long followed Shawn Blanc and his work, and attended and sketchnoted one of his webinars last November: How to Plan Your Year.

Sweet Setup Sketchnote

One technique that I have learned and started to implement has been wonderful—timeblocking. They have a course explaining it on The Sweet Setup. The essence is to assign each hour a task, whether a scheduled appointment or work to be done.

This immediately resonated with me and also sent up red flags. My OCD is particularly prone to latching on to rules and plans and becoming very rigid and inflexible. I could easily see myself getting very irritated if the day didn’t go how I planned, or if I didn’t plan out a particular day.

But I wanted to try it.

In some ways, I deemed the practice a good exposure1 for me. Would I be able to adopt a prescriptive practice without OCD running rampant and taking over?

It’s too early to tell definitively (and that’s never truly possible!), but so far it’s been a great experience. I am encouraged by the days I have missed and how little distress I felt. I noticed that when I plan ahead of time, I feel more focused and productive during the day. When I don’t, tasks seem to take longer and I get distracted more easily. But I’m not paralyzed or plagued by thoughts of inadequacy and worthlessness.

A solid win.

Something else

Readers of these updates already knew about my professional transition, but this week I announced it more publicly: Open for business.

Yes, I’m open

Close readers may even notice that I cheated a little and just made some small tweaks to my illustration a few weeks ago in update #82: Yes, we’re open.

As I tell people about this move, I’m reminded of some of the risks and pitfalls. As I wrote in my announcement, there were some damn good reasons holding me back from doing this before. Things like supporting a wife and seven kids, and having a sometimes-crippling mental health condition.

But in many other ways, this feels like the perfect time to try something audacious. My OCD is better managed than ever before. I am in a position to make choices and take risks and learn and grow from them.

We’ll see where the future goes, but so far, it looks bright.

Wrap up

Wherever you are at this week, I send you compassion. Things are undoubtedly hard. And good. Allowing both to coexist can be a challenge. We can do this.

  1. Exposures are a core part of my OCD recovery. The full term is exposure response prevention therapy. Basically, it consists of repeatedly forcing your mind to confront claimed-but-not-real emergencies to habituate and calm your alarm system. Important to have a trained professional helping.