In this update, I share challenges with psychiatric medication, family struggles, and work changes. I might not have handled things in the best way, but it definitely could have been worse.
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 was a rough week. Many things came together to make it so, and the effects were brutal. As a lot of them were intimately connected to my mental health, I thought it might be helpful to share.
The first challenge was psychiatric. We continue the joyride of chemical experimentation. The latest detour has been exploring the possibility of ADHD co-morbid with my OCD. It hasn’t looked like the stereotype, but the more we learn about hyper-fixation and the need for stimulation, the more it seems like a possible fit. The first medication we tried has been a bit of a bust. Too small of a dose and it didn’t seem to do anything. Too large of a dose and my anxiety was spiking such that I couldn’t work. I stopped taking it and found myself looking for something, anything to occupy my mind. I met with the psychiatrist and we are trying something new.
Next was some of the normal stress at home of living with nine people. And trying to figure out how best to parent teenagers. Maybe it’s a bit above normal stress as mental health challenges are often passed on between generations. We’re doing our best, but there are definitely dark and difficult days. Which, really, is true in all families.
Finally, work stress piled up a bit. There are four of us on the team right now, two senior developers, a test engineer, and me. As the manager, I have struggled a bit to stay on top of everything and keep us humming along. One of my developers let me know this week that he had received an offer to join a startup, and he was accepting it. I was, and am, personally excited for him and his family. It is a great opportunity. As a manager, I am devastated and a little afraid. My biggest fear is the risk of losing the rest of my team. We have been a close-knit group, and when that is broken up, it can be difficult or painful to try to rebuild into something new. I feel confident that we will succeed, but there will be challenges to wade through. I am also naturally afraid of our ability to deliver what is needed. True to my Balsamiq heritage, as a leader I believe in pace, not deadlines. I just hope our pace will be enough.
Before discussing the challenges this created, I want to celebrate. As my manager rightfully pointed out, a couple of years ago, I would not have been able to handle this situation, especially at work. But I was able to be calm and collected as I navigated the changes, and did not get overwhelmed. This was a win.
None of these circumstances alone was enough to cause major concern. But together, they conspired to push me under water. As I mentioned recently, I am volunteering as a blacksmith, and thankfully, the peak of my despair coincided with my night at the forge. I was glad for the chance to hit metal really hard for a few hours. On a side note, it was interesting to me that the steel could feel my rage, and refused to move in the ways I wanted.
I quit blacksmithing early that night and drove away. I just didn’t care any more. About anything. As I was driving, I had the thought that I would enjoy going up in the canyon nearby. The next thought was that I should just turn the wheel and drive into the cement barrier. I realized that driving up the canyon was a horrible idea, and pulled over to the side of the road instead.
I called my brother, who thankfully felt like he should step out of his friend’s house and answer. He was so helpful. He asked if I was safe, and I told him I wasn’t going to do anything because it would be such a hassle for my wife. He reminded me that there were also many other reasons to keep living, that I am needed. There was a part of me that knew he was right, but also a large part of me that just didn’t care. We talked for a bit until I was able to laugh again and felt better and started driving home. I had to stop one more time to collect myself and calm the urges of harm. Eventually I made it home safely, took a rescue med, and went to bed.
As I met with my therapist and shared about my week, she helped me reframe my experience. She said it would benefit me in the future to be more accurate. It’s not that I wanted to die. I just wanted everything in my life to be different. There was so much fear and pain that my mind and body were coping by masking it all with numbness or deadness. I realized she was exactly right. I had, and have, no actual desire to be dead. I can hold on, knowing that emotions will do what emotions do–pass. Change is constant. The way I am feeling now is not how I will always feel.
We spent most of the session discussing the scariest and most painful experience of the week–challenges at home with family. She gave me perspective and insight into what was happening and how I can process my emotions better.
The best thing my therapist did was to bring me back to the present. All of my fears for the future, whether about medication or family or work, are uncertain. Maybe things will be hard. Maybe they won’t. But right then, I was fine. I was sitting on a couch talking about my feelings. I was safe.
At any time, I can drop into that moment and just be present. And so can you.
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