🧠 #106: Building people again

It has been so long since I have written a weekly update that I almost don’t know where to start. Ironically, my last update was titled “Back to work”, after which I immediately stopped working on writing these updates.

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

Just over a month ago, I paused to reflect on what was happening, and why I was struggling to do the things I wanted to. I thought it might be helpful to share some of my free writing.

I want to explore mentally what happened last month. It’s interesting to see that when anxiety was taking over, often there was a drive to be doing something, but the agitation prevented me from doing most of the things I wanted. I would sometimes watch a show to get the time to pass and put my brain in some kind of suspended animation. I was able to write, and to do some work at times, especially if it was clear what to do. But uncertainty overwhelmed my system and broke my ability to do what I wanted.

And then one month ago, the first Monday of November, I did my design retreat. It was two days of jam-packed productivity. Planned out, intentional, focused productivity. I ran in pomodoro sessions, taking 5 minute breaks to read every half hour, and planning out what to tackle in each session. It was exhausting and rewarding. And because it was planned and sanctioned, it was guilt-free. It didn’t even feel like obsessing over something because there was none of the guilt and remorse that comes from losing control.

But then the crash. The rest of the week I struggled to do much of anything. I did enough client work to not feel horrible about myself and try to provide honest value to my clients. But my motivation was shot. For the next few weeks, I continued to limp along. I would have occasional sparks of work, and I was able to really work for my clients, but above the bare minimum I couldn’t do hardly anything. I just wanted to sleep all the time. I went to bed early, slept in late, took long naps during the day. I had good days and mediocre ones. Mostly, I just didn’t care about much.

As I look back on it, I can draw a simple analogy. In September and October, it’s like my mind was injured. I was doing what I could to play through the pain, but had to do mostly recovery work. Then I was pretty well recovered by November, so I went all out and worked my guts out for two days. But I hadn’t built my strength and stamina up, and it was too much. I ran myself ragged and paid for it over the next month.

Now that I can recognize this, I want to start building back up my mental strength and endurance. I want to be wise and not push myself to do more than I am capable of sustaining, but I do want to keep pushing myself. I want to take conscious and deliberate rest time, not just collapse incapacitated. I want to make regular progress and keep moving forward on my goals. I need to take consistent time to assess and plan to make sure I am working on the most important things.

I know I can do this. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Let’s find a pace that I can sustain and just plug away consistently.

Throughout the rest of December, I continued to pace myself and make improvements and made progress with my client work. And then I was hit with three major life disruptions at the same time: I was asked to accept a significant volunteer assignment at church, I got a new job, and found out about a major change to my family of origin.

A few years ago, it was three simultaneous life changes that kicked off the great breakdown of 2018. Now, here I was in a similar situation, and we would have to see how I could cope. Throughout the changes, I have been able to lean on my skills and stay calm and measured with my approach. I have recognized when I start to become rigid or irritable and take steps to recenter myself.

Interestingly, the job change has taken me back to O.C. Tanner, where I worked for nearly seven years before leaving at the beginning of January 2022. The timing felt divinely orchestrated. I got a couple calls from friends asking me to consider coming back on a Tuesday morning. At first, I didn’t seriously considering leaving my freelancing to return to a corporate job, but I started to consider it. Then two days later, I was asked to accept an intensive position at church. It felt like God was saying, “I’d like you to do this, and to make it easier, here’s a more stable job with less uncertainty for you and your family.”

In the end, I realized that for the past year, I have been focused on building things, and my heart is really in building people. That’s where I want to be right now.

As I come to the end of my second week back, I know I’ve made the right choice. The work is exhausting and draining, especially as I adjust to a 2000% increase in my number of meetings. But I am also more fulfilled with my work than I have felt for months.

The freedom I have given up as a freelancer has been replaced with the satisfaction of making a tangible difference in the lives of many more people.

During some of these changes, someone asked how my mental health was doing. I thought about it for a few seconds, and then replied, “Pretty rock solid right now.” I told someone close to me what I had said, and she laughed a little.

“You mean it’s been a few weeks since you’ve been incapacitated by panic and anxiety?”

Something I have learned through my mental health journey is that no matter the current situation, my brain has a hard time remembering or imagining anything different. So in the dark times, all hope seems lost. And when life is good, it’s easy to forget how far I’ve come. Even in a short time.

I am excited to get back to writing these updates. This is a helpful way for me to reflect on my progress and process the ups and downs that come with having OCD.

Hopefully these can be helpful as you navigate the personal challenges that come your way.

We’re all in this together.

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