This week’s update shares an emotional experience with music, and then wrestling with those emotions.
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.
This past weekend I had a special experience. Our church worship service usually involves some singing and a few talks or sermons. This week was a special musical program and we got to hear a number of musical performances. I was moved.
Music has been important in my life. Growing up, I was required to take piano lessons, as so many children are. I chose to participate in band and orchestra, and learned to play the euphonium, the tuba, and the bass trombone. When I served as a missionary in Romania, I was often the only one in the congregation who could play the piano. I would accompany the church choir as well as the singing in our church services. Many of the meeting houses where we met had an organ, so I learned to play as that is a traditional part of our worship services.
I am not highly skilled at any of the instruments I know, but I have been able to play well enough to enjoy them myself, and share music with others. This has been meaningful for me.
When we are at church with our seven children, I rarely have the chance to listen in peace to the service. This week, my wife intervened with the younger children so that I could close my eyes and enjoy the music. I was swept away by the various performances.
One of the first songs was a duet of the Christian hymn A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief. These lines about an interaction with Jesus Christ were deeply moving to me:
My friendship’s utmost zeal to try,
He asked if I for him would die.
The flesh was weak; my blood ran chill,
But my free spirit cried, “I will!”
Then in a moment to my view
The stranger started from disguise.
The tokens in his hands I knew;
The savior stood before mine eyes.
He spake, and my poor name he named,
“Of me thou hast not been ashamed.
These deeds shall thy memorial be;
Fear not, thou didst them unto me.”
As I listened, I could see myself being so glad for the chance to die in the place of my Savior. It was a special moment.
One of the next songs set me silently weeping, dripping tears into my beard. Homeward Bound by Marta Keen, and arranged by Mack Wilberg, was deeply moving:
When the summer’s ceased its gleaming
When the corn is past its prime
When adventure’s lost its meaning
I’ll be homeward bound in time
Bind me not to the pasture
Chain me not to the plow
Set me free to find my calling
And I’ll return to you somehow
As I listened to that song, I could see myself reaching to God, asking Him to take me back home, and feeling of His peace and love.
When the program was over, I took some time to journal. After writing about what had happened, I reflected on what my heightened emotions might mean. I’ll share some of the thoughts I recorded:
One thing that I wonder about when I have an emotional experience like that is whether I am becoming symptomatic in other ways. When I get in a slightly altered state, one indicator is that my emotions are very close to the surface.
That is worth considering or identifying because other symptoms often come with that altered state. I want to be aware of my level of impatience, and how I am talking to the children. Those are the kinds of symptoms that are more concerning to me.
As I was writing about this, I felt a bit of anger and frustration. I grieve at what just happened. I had a moving experience. and one of my first reactions is to wonder if OCD is starting to take over. I want to be able to just have a special experience and enjoy it. I wish that I didn’t feel like I have to constantly be on my guard to not let OCD peek through or seep into my life and cause problems. Particularly in the relationships that matter most to me, I want to be able to just live in them and not worry about whether they will be soured.
I am just so tired of having OCD. There are so many rules that govern my life and it is oppressive. I know what to do about that—exposures to confront and challenge them. I need to be more diligent about doing them regularly and reporting on them to [my therapist].
Part of what I need to remember is that I am not seeking to conquer OCD, just to continue to improve in my ability to live with it well. I am doing so much better already and just need to keep on that path.
One of the common characteristics of scrupulosity OCD is the fear of being damned. My mind is regularly telling me that what I am doing, or have done, will cause me to be cast off by God. So when I have moments that I can see through that haze, and feel divine love, they are powerful.
But in the moment, I couldn’t see that. All I could see was that I was emotional, and that I was afraid and a little ashamed.
So much of kindness and compassion is seeking to understand. This is important for ourselves and for those around us.
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