In this update, I share some good news about turning the page and starting a new chapter, and the therapy session that helped me do it.
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 week I think I finally turned the corner. The metaphorical fever broke. I started to feel like myself again.
Over the weekend, it went from 75° on Friday to snowing on Sunday. When I went in to my office Monday morning, it was 55° inside and the air conditioning was still blowing. I turned the heat on, wrapped myself in my blanket, and took a nap in my chair while the building warmed up.
I struggled the rest of the day to be productive. When I got in my car to drive home, I started shaking and had a panic attack. I texted my wife that I wasn’t going to be able to go home yet and went back in.
After holding some ice and taking a rescue med, I settled down and read for a little bit and then went home and went to bed.
The next day was rough as well. I struggled through some basic tasks during the day, meeting with my accountant and getting some work done. Thankfully, I had the presence of mind to text my therapist for an extra session, and she had some availability that evening.
When I met with my therapist, she asked me hard questions about what had been going on. She forced me to examine how I was spending my time and how I was using my skills to cope. Newsflash: I wasn’t.
She knew that I had been changing medication, as I’ve written about before in update #101: Tapering off everything.
She also knew that by now, I was back on my medication that has worked before, and it should be kicking in. So I was physically equipped to start handling things better than I had thus far that week.
I mentioned that she and I were both struggling in my previous update, #104: Distress tolerance homework.
She said that since our discussion, she had been doing so much better. She deleted the game off her phone that was pulling at her mind, and got back to basic OCD skills. I realized that I needed to do the same thing.
I shared a couple weeks ago about getting back into sudoku in update #103: Pipes and puzzles.
As my therapist brought up the changes she had made, I knew that sudoku had become a compulsion for me. I deleted it from my phone right then. At first, I felt a rush of distress and panic that I was going to lose my streak for solving the daily puzzles, and then I was awash with relief.
We discussed further, and my therapist challenged me to get out everything I needed to close the chapter on this past period and start a new one. She asked what the next chapter would be called. Immediately, I answered, “Back to work.”
I just wanted to get back to the fundamentals of showing up and expending effort. She said I need to be running to the distress and not away from it. I wanted to just do the simple things at my job to make progress and deliver.
My therapist also gave me a challenge that my mastermind group had just given me the day before. When I was done with work for the day, and no longer being productive, just go home and be with the family.
At first, I resisted. “What if that makes me worse? When I’m struggling, spending extra time and home seems like it would just cause more problems.”
She almost laughed. That’s classic OCD talk. Of course there is fear of the uncertainty. Going home and engaging with everything there has become a threat, and my mind was trying to stop me from encountering it.
“It might make things worse. Let’s just try it and see.”
The next day, Wednesday, I got up and went in to work and just started plugging away. I didn’t get anything amazing accomplished, but was able to work solidly for most of the day. I usually leave around 4:00-4:30, but just after 3:00, I came to a natural stopping point. I finished up the project I was working on and decided I would just go home.
As soon as I decided to leave, I immediately felt distress. At least three different things came in to my mind that I needed to stop and do before I left. I was able to recognize those as urges to avoid, or compulsions, and just got in my car and drove home.
When I got home, my wife was glad, and said I had come just in time to be with the littles while she picked up our oldest from work. So we wrote my five-year-old’s Christmas list (a Paw Patrol truck set and the Walmart symbol from the catalog he’d found it in), and read some books.
Before I went to bed that night, I realized in my mood tracker that it had felt like the best day I’d had in months. It was such a turnaround from the previous two days, and from the rest of the month.
When I told my therapist about the win in my regular session on Friday, she was blown away. She said she hadn’t expected that I would really be able to leave and go home early yet, but that I would have to work up to it.
Life has not been perfect since then, but I feel so much better. In many ways, I’m back to myself again. I hope I can remember this new chapter that I’m in, and keep doing the little things that make such a difference.