#50: Meditative sketchnoting

#50: Meditative sketchnoting

In a return to my original format of these updates, I share about getting stuck, sketchnoting as mindfulness, and finding new music.

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

One summer activity I eagerly anticipate each week is volunteering as a blacksmith at the Provo Pioneer Village. I have arranged my work schedule so that I start and end earlier on Wednesdays so that I can set up before visitors arrive.

Last week, however, when I wrapped up work, I had the thought to do some tweaks to my website. I am in the process of consolidating all of my websites into this one, bennorris.org. I’ve gone back and forth on what to do with the content I produce, and over my recent birthday retreat, I had the thought that I could bring everything together, but still organize it in a way that people could find what they might care about. I was helped in this decision by remembering the luxury of launching into obscurity that I enjoy. This is true for almost all of us—we spend so much time agonizing over the impact we are going to have on other people without realizing that most people won’t notice, or care, or be affected by many of our choices.

As is often the case with my OCD, I got a bit stuck. I recognized that the time had come for me to leave to get to the Village early. And then to be on time. And then to be just a little late. And then to be a lot late. I wanted to stop and leave. I even got up and started getting ready a few times. But then I would think of something and sit back down to do just a little more.

The distress of not finishing overcame me.

When I finally left, I felt terrible. I knew that it was my second to last week at the Village, as it is only open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. I didn’t want to miss my time. Even more, I felt incredibly guilty that I wasn’t there. I wasn’t doing what I said I would do. I wasn’t providing the visitors with the experience of seeing a blacksmith. I wasn’t, I wasn’t, I wasn’t.

I felt some panic rise, which worried me because I had recently had a panic attack while driving on the freeway. I called my wife. She suggested that I get some dinner and reassess, which turned out to be just what I needed. She sent me some encouragement:

Sending a big hug of support. There are no requirements for winning tonight.

When I arrived and started, the panic and distress subsided and I settled in. After I finished, I felt the desire to escape. I wanted to get a huge drink at Swig, and while driving there decided to just drink the jug of water sitting next to me. Then I wanted to drive for a while and avoid going home, and decided to not get off the freeway early and just went home. Those small wins felt big that day.

Something good

On Sunday of last week, our family went to church, as we do nearly every week. My daughter had been asked to speak, and I was looking forward to hearing her. There were a number of small things that led to mounting distress as we sat down in our worship service. I wanted to leave and walk home and sit in quiet.

And then I remembered sketchnotes.

A couple months ago, I was interviewed for the excellent Sketchnote Army podcast by my friend Mike Rohde. As we discussing sketchnoting, I turned the conversation to mental health. I reflected aloud that sketchnoting is an act of mindfulness—you become completely present and focus on the content. As we finished the interview, Mike and I discussed the idea of sketchnoting as a form of meditation, particularly for people who struggle to sit quietly and settle their thoughts.

That conversation came to my mind, and I pulled out my notebook and started sketching some of the things that had led to my feelings of my distress. I sketched what was happening in that moment. By the time our worship service ended, I felt grounded again. I could move forward.

Something else

Someone close to me introduced me to Lewis Capaldi this past week, particularly the song “Before You Go”. That song was inspired by the suicide of his aunt when he was young, and he tried to understand the effects on the people left behind.

So, before you go
Was there something I could’ve said
To make your heart beat better?
If only I’d have known you had a storm to weather

So, before you go
Was there something I could’ve said
To make it all stop hurting?
It kills me how your mind can make you feel so worthless

So, before you go

In sharing the song and the story behind it, my friend quickly assured me that it was not the suicide aspect that made her think of me, but rather the focus on mental health.

September is Suicide Prevention Month, and I feel strongly about opening the conversation with those close to you. The more we can normalize discussing mental health and our struggles, the safer an environment we can create for those around us.

For many people, just as it was for me, suicidal ideation is not so much the desire to be dead as it is to escape pain and distress.

It’s not that I wanted to die. I just wanted everything in my life to be different.

Wrap up

This is a great time to ask those around you about the pain they are feeling. We can find a way that allows for people to not share those intimate details, but creates a safe place for them when ready. A simple example could be, “That sounds really hard. Have you had thoughts of harming yourself? I’m here for you.”

We all feel distress. We all feel pain. We all feel grief and loss and despair. But we don’t have to feel them alone. Give yourself some compassion, reach out when you need it, and be there for the people in your life. We’re all in this together.


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