#35: Emotional resilience

This week, I share about sitting with emotions, a link between creativity and mental health, and respect.

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.


Something hard

Recently I have been feeling overwhelmed with life. There are just so many things going on. At work, I am constantly swamped with different responsibilities. In my personal life, I struggle to keep up with the demands of being a husband and father of seven. I have taken on a number of projects outside of work that are pushing me to my limits.

I wanted to pause and reflect on the feelings that come up when I think about the overwhelm in my life. There is fear that I will not be able to do a good enough job at everything. I am afraid that I will forget something important, and it will cause major problems. I feel anxious that I will not be enough.

These feelings are not unique to me. Nearly all of us feel these and so many more regularly in our lives. When we face this kind of distress, we have a choice to make. There are infinite options to how we respond, but two come to mind. We can either seek distraction of some kind, or lean in and experience those feelings fully. Our natural inclination is to run and hide. We try to numb ourselves in order to blunt the sharp edges of those feelings.

Instead, we need to practice mindfulness.

We need to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. It is often as simple as taking a deep breath, relaxing our body, and being present with our emotions. Don’t judge them or try to escape them. Just notice them and allow them to be.

As we are able to be more mindful of our situation and ourselves, we become able to face whatever life throws at us. We gain resilience. We will still be overwhelmed at times, but it will lose some of its formidable intimidation. We know we can handle that, and we push forward.

Something good

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been listening to some audiobooks. I tend to bounce back and forth between books and podcasts in my driving around. On the camping trip I discussed recently, I finished The Dichotomy of Leadership.

Side note: listening to Jocko is some of my most frequently assigned homework from my therapist.

Since then, I have been listening to Austin Klein’s excellent Steal Like an Artist Audio Trilogy, and have been inspired. I want to create more. I want to share more. I want to learn more.

There is something magic about taking the time to create something that you intend to let others see. Or maybe it’s just the act of making something.

When you share what you have made, you have no control over what happens next. It’s easy to tie success to reception in your mind. Often, as is the case with this blog, you hope that what you share can help someone. But there is no guarantee. It is just as likely to offend someone or make them mad. And even more likely to be ignored completely.

The goal with creative work, in my opinion, is the same as with mental health work—to get to the point where your own emotional state comes from within, and is not determined externally. With mental health, things can get confusing, because many of the externalities are internal in some ways.

Your feelings, your thoughts, your behavior—they all seem like parts of you. But they’re not. They’re external to you in the same way that an audience to your creative work is external to you. They are inputs, but they don’t define you. As they come to you, you get to choose how to respond. And that part of you that chooses is very different than the part of you that generates those thoughts or feelings.

As I was beginning my own journey discovering mental health, one of the most helpful things that a good friend told me was something like this:

As you go through treatment, you will begin to learn the parts of your brain that are really you.

At the time, it didn’t make any sense to me. It was a frustrating time when I felt like medical professionals wanted me to use my brain, which was broken, to explain and identify which parts of my brain were broken.

But I have since learned that there is great truth in that statement. The OCD that lives in my brain and feeds me lies is not really me. As I recognize its voice, I can decide whether to believe in or act on what I think. And that’s been a powerful change.

Something else

We’ve been discussing meetings lately at work, and what we can do to make them more infrequent and better uses of time when they do occur. This is something I feel strongly about, as I wrote about recently.

One of the principles we were discussing was to keep anything personal or political out of our meetings. I understood the intent behind this, but disagreed with the phrasing. I think we do ourselves a huge disservice to try to separate our personal and business lives completely, to be someone else at work. We will do our best work if we bring our full selves and share that with others. If we drive out humanity and vulnerability from our work, or from our meetings, everything will suffer. We will operate in a shallow pool, never able to make meaningful connections with those around us.

Instead, the principle I think was behind the intent, and should be the main message, is one of respect. As we allow ourselves to interact with others in honest and vulnerable ways, we need to acknowledge the sensitivities of those around us. Being authentic doesn’t mean being crude, or sharing inappropriate details of our lives. It does mean recognizing and honoring the humanity of others as we honor our own in showing up fully.

Wrap up

Whatever life is throwing at us right now, we would be well served to pause and notice how we are reacting to it. Find ways to be creative and look past ourselves and improve the lives of others. Practice respect and show up fully where you are. There is so much good in our lives amidst the challenges.


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