This week I share about struggling to come home, the joy of sketching, and finding fun.
These weekly updates are an ongoing series in which I share what it is like to live with OCD in an effort to reduce the stigma around mental health, particularly in the workplace.
Last week, I had the opportunity to take two of my children (#2 and #3) on a camping trip with their school group. We went to Snow Canyon State Park in Southern Utah, and it was gorgeous. Most of my thoughts in this week’s update come from that trip.
One of the challenging things about our campout was the weather. We pulled in on Monday to a light rain, which let up enough for us to pitch our tents. It poured throughout the night, and my daughter’s tent leaked and filled with water, soaking her, her sleeping bag, her pillow, and everything she had in there. She spent the rest of the trip sleeping in the back of our van. The second and third nights were full of strong winds. We lost three tents due to collapses and snapped poles, and only a few of us lasted until the final planned day.
Despite these physical hardships, the trip was a great experience. We were able to hike on petrified sand dunes, explore lava caves, fish and swim in a reservoir, and just relax. I had decided for myself and the kids that we would not use any electronic devices except for reading on a Kindle. There was no cell signal at our campsite, so I couldn’t even receive text messages unless we drove out of the canyon. We enjoyed such a nice break.
As I will write about more in the next section, I did some drawing on the trip. One of the difficulties for me with this, and the trip in general, was coming back and facing work. As often happens with OCD, I found myself in thought loops on the drive back. Do I really want to be working at a large company building enterprise software? Do I have enough outlets for creative expression? Am I happy with where my life is going?
As I discussed these thoughts with my therapist after the trip, she pointed out that many of them are natural reactions to a vacation. We almost always feel a longing for the vacation to be our daily life. Because we experience a reprieve from responsibilities, and are able to spend our time relaxing, we struggle to adjust to normal life.
Sometimes the best way to counter obsessive thoughts is to realize that they are common to everyone. They are not a sign that the universe needs to move in a different direction. They do not mean that the course of my life needs to change. I just need to sit in the moment and mindfully digest the emotions.
One of my favorite activities on our camping trip was sketching the scenery in a few places. A treasured hobby of mine is sketchnoting both business and religious events. My style of drawing is not hyper-realistic—I lack the natural skill for that, and have not been willing to put in the time to practice it enough. I do draw excellent stick figures though.
The act of drawing the landscape was a form of meditation for me. It helped me to be present in the moment, and discard any judgment of what I was seeing or feeling. I sat by my son as he fished for hours and tried to capture what I was seeing. I started by outlining the horizon and some of the main contours, and then filled in the different sections according to what I was seeing. The thought crossed my mind as I added individual dots for the sagebrush that an OCD mind is almost necessary for the approach I took. Without that drive to compulsively finish a repetitive and lengthy task, I couldn’t have done this sketch.
I told my son one of the most interesting effects of sketching a particular piece of the land was that I developed a sense of ownership. We returned to the same location the day after I had sketched it, and not only did I recognize the place, but I felt a sense of nostalgia for it. Not quite a yearning, but rather a feeling of friendly familiarity. I had spent so much time intensely connected with that portion of the landscape that I had developed something of a relationship with it. Just as with relationships with people, if you spend enough time focused on understanding someone completely, you can’t help but come to love them as they love themselves.
The first question my therapist asked at the beginning of my last session was about fun.
When was the last time you did something just for the joy of it?
Most weeks, I would have struggled to answer that question. This week, however, I had a ready answer in the sketching I had done. We talked for a while about the value and necessity of taking regular time to do activities that feed your soul and bring true happiness.
Those activities are going to be different for everyone, but I know that it is extremely important for us to figure out what they are and commit to regularly engage in them. If we allow daily living to push out the delight from our lives, our mental health will suffer. This is true in our work lives as well as our personal lives. No matter our profession, we can find opportunities to do something that we enjoy, and fill ourselves so that we can continue in the required daily grind.
It is always a challenge to return to normal life after a break. This break can be a vacation, a good book, a moving show, or any number of things. As we find ourselves struggling to adjust, my hope is that we will have compassion for ourselves. And be kind with those around you, for you never know what adjustments they may be struggling with.
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