#64: Zen mode

This week’s update is a frank description of how things are going for me right now. Spoiler alert: not great.

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

Even though I try to be open and vulnerable in my updates, I have found myself not wanting to share too much this week. Too often, my description of a struggle is in the past tense. They are typically very recent, so it feels current. But there is a sense of detachment and distance in writing about something that has more or less concluded.

Not this time. I decided I would just write about what is happening right now. Not in an attempt to elicit sympathy, but just to be more raw and honest.

I am not well.

It has been just over four weeks that every single day has included a level of anxiety, agitation, or panic that I had previously never experienced beyond a few days. There are explainable and reasonable causes that are contributing, but that is not what I want to explore today. I just want to reflect on what the experience is like.

As I write this, the agitation has subsided enough that I can hold my Apple Pencil and scrawl on my iPad. That is often not the case. Right now, the physical manifestations are largely localized in my left leg. If I sit with my foot on the ground, the leg bounces up and down uncontrollably. My feet are up on an ottoman, and it is alternating between clenching and somehow still bouncing.

Most days, I am able to fake my way through ordinary social interactions. I can smile and talk and listen and laugh—for a time. Being virtual has been a blessing as I can just turn off my camera when my face starts contorting and avoid inducing discomfort for others.

One of the frustrating things has been getting stuck while talking more often. This is a clear sign that OCD is flaring up and I am becoming symptomatic. I don’t stutter on a sound or a letter, but on a word or a phrase. I might start, “I want, I want, I want, I want, I want, I want” and struggle to spit the rest out. Sometimes I can just push through, and sometimes I give up and try again, or say it a different way.

My wife and I have started joking, “When the CD is scratched, take it out, lick it, and put it back in.” That is a nice way to lighten the mood.

Earlier this week, on a particularly rough day, I let my wife know I would be home late.

I am in a bad way
I don’t think I can drive yet

She checked to make sure I was safe, and I replied:

But shaking and feel like I’m going to vomit
Only dry heaves so far

When I can just think about sudoku I’m ok
But I can’t do that long
It’s bad

Over the past month, I have retreated to my phone for refuge often. As I have written about before, the app Good Sudoku has been wonderful for me. It’s enough to get my mind engaged and distracted without being overly stressful.

Alto’s Odyssey Zen Mode

The other app that has saved me lately is Alto’s Odyssey. I love the beautiful graphics, the simple game play, the relaxing music. They have a zen mode with “No score, no game over, no distractions. Just you and the endless desert.” That has soothed my mind at times when little else will.

I share this experience and these details not to say how hard my life is. We all have our challenges. I know you have yours. I share this because if you spent time with me, you would likely not guess that I spend most of my days these past weeks incapacitated, but I want to be more honest. In the right settings.

It’s easy to accept the façade that most of us put up for society. Everyone conceals silent struggles. And we all want to be seen and feel loved.

Take a minute to check in with those close to you and find out how they are really doing. If you can, try to share how you are doing.

Extend some grace, to yourself and those in your life. A little compassion goes a long way.

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