Ben Norris


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

The difficult thing for me from this past week was not a surprise. Last week, I shared about starting to track my mood in update #95: Experimenting with discomfort.

Experimenting with discomfort

There was one line in particular that now seems prescient:

I will see how things go with this level of tracking. It does feel like cracking open the door to a known criminal, in the hopes that he will quietly deliver a small package and walk away.

Earlier this week, I shared a full entry from my morning pages notebook where I do free writing to help me process my thoughts and feelings. There are a couple passages that felt particularly relevant.

I realized yesterday as I was writing my update that I was violating my rule for tracking. I was tracking all sorts of things just for the data. I want to stop.

Throughout my writing, I thought about my approach to logging and how it was serving me.

What do I want? Well, the answer is to figure out what I want to do with the data and then determine what data I need in order to do that. [My psychiatrist] wants to see trends—are things better or worse? For that, I actually would benefit from logging less.

The thought that finally tipped me off to the fact that tracking had become an OCD problem was instructive.

There is a strong part of me that wants to ask [my therapist] about this and get instructions or the proper procedure to do this right. I noticed a strong urge for that this morning, driving in.

OCD changes from being a personality or set of quirks to being a disorder when it starts to intrude on your life and relationships. The severity is often measured by the amount of time spent performing compulsions or wrestling with obsessions.

I have spent way too long thinking about this. I am inclined to say that I get to think through it as much as I want right now while I write. Then I get a few minutes to set up the system in a way that makes it easier to do moving forward, and then I’m done. After that, I only get to do a simple log at night. The goal is to use the app as little as possible while still getting the benefit.

My therapist had been out of town the week prior, but this situation occupied a prominent place in our discussion last week. As I recounted the story and my thought process, I told her that at the point when I decide I would go back and adjust all of my entries for the month of August, I knew I was indulging in OCD. She laughed aloud at that.

“Oh really? Everything about this story screams OCD to me, and we’re now getting to the one part that you considered to be OCD? Let’s hear this.”

As I told her where I had landed, she laughed.

“So you’re going to do what what your psychiatrist asked from the beginning?”

“Well, yes.”

Some people asked about the app I am using when I shared screenshots last week. The name is Daylio, and as is common with apps that become an obsession for me, it is extremely well designed.

After some important tweaks, it is now serving me much better. As I identified in my journaling, the app now helps me quickly see trends based on milestones, and information about my symptoms.

Daylio tracking reasonable

Overall, I am please with how this went and where I ended. OCD is always going to be part of my life. Success is not eliminating it, but rather managing its flare-ups well.

Something good

Our kids have participated in Heroic Youth for the past few years, and it has become a favorite activity. It is quickly becoming one of mine as well.

Last year, I found the perfect fit for me and my skills and propensities.

Within the villain corps, they asked for volunteers for additional responsibility. One position, the lieutenant, piqued my interest. They need someone to be responsible for coordinating all the equipment and people and tracking everything down as the battles end.

Essentially, they need someone with OCD.

When I heard them describe that position, I knew it was for me and that I could do even more than they had imagined. I approached the leader during a transition and told him my idea. I pitched having a coordinating lieutenant who would work with all lieutenants across the teams. He listened for a minute and then replied,

We have a new position this year—the coordinating lieutenant. Go talk to the volunteer coordinator and tell him I said that should be you.

I’m still not sure exactly what happened there. Did he like my idea and went with it? Did he hear my idea and make it his own? Or did he really have that position already planned, including the exact name I suggested? Either way, it’s a good fit for me, and I’m excited to help out.

I heard from that same leaders last weekend tell more of his side of the story. He said he still remembers seeing my eyes light up when he described the help they needed. And as I talked with him and discussed more of what I could do, my eyes somehow brightened even further. He told me that he absolutely made up that position on the spot, and he knew it was the perfect fit.

Well, last year I tried to fit into the system as it was already defined. But as we filled out paper forms in triplicate to check out weapons, I knew there was a better way.

This year, I built a digital system using Airtable1. People were able to check in using a QR code, and we were able to issue weapons in a fraction of the time it took us last year. When time came to gather and process and return all the equipment, someone commented that we took maybe 25% of the time we usually take.

One person said the kindest thing. He told me these changes were the most significant he’s ever seen to the weapon issuing process. It made a huge difference for people.

I was so happy. Coming in to the weekend, I was a little nervous about things working properly. But overall, it went really smoothly.

I even got some awesome face paint to look the part.

Heroic Youth Villain Face Paint

Something else

Wrap up

  1. For full disclosure, if you explore Airtable from my link and sign up and verify your email, even if you stay with the free plan, I get a $10 credit. 🥳 

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