This week I share the challenges of a single-hobby lifestyle, owning the dishes, and an exciting announcement.
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.
Hobbies are challenging for me. As I mentioned last week, I typically only have one at a time. And more often than not, it takes over my life for a time. It starts out fun, but if I lose insight, there is a good chance it will lose its appeal and become a chore. My mind insists on doing more, and thinking about it even more, until the enjoyment evaporates.
I wrote about having a “phasic personality” long before I knew about OCD and its effect in my life (4 years ago!). This is not a new experience for me. Because I have been writing regularly on this blog, I have a catalog of the various activities. This year, I have gone through the following phases:
- Star Wars Legos
- Coding an app
- Leather notebooks
- Girl Genius web comic
- Two Dots game
- Cross stitching
- Coding another app
- Marvel comics
There are a couple interesting parts to going through these phases, and to sharing about them. The first is that people connect over them. I have had delightful conversations with people sharing their Lego projects. Many people are passionate about those and excited to be able to discuss them, especially in a work setting. I have seen some amazing cross stitch projects, often spanning months or even years. That kind of longevity blows my mind a bit.
These conversations are wonderful, but they also become awkward. Someone will ask me about my latest Lego set, and I just stare blankly for a minute before remembering that was a phase from a few months ago. The thought that comes to me is something like this:
Legos? That was like three hobbies ago. I have no interest in Legos these days.
Knowing how to answer in those moments is challenging for me. Some of the most connective conversations have been when I am honest with the person and tell them about this side of me and that the particular hobby we were discussing has faded completely from my life.
The other interesting part of this phenomenon is its arbitrary nature. My wife and I will joke sometimes about picking what the next obsession will be. As my therapist reminds me, that is not how this works. But it would be so nice if I could choose to become obsessed with staying on top of the family budget, or getting all the house work done we need, or figuring out the children.
But I can’t choose.
Oh, I could choose to do those things, and I try to do so often. But they remain difficult. There is a layer of resistance I have to push through in order to make those happen, whereas an obsession takes no effort. The hard part is stopping.
Even though we joke about this, it is also painful. I feel a great amount of shame at times around these obsessions, and even more around the activities that don’t become obsessions. I beat myself up that it takes so much effort and energy to do the family things I want to do. I am ashamed that I don’t want to do them more—often I just want to want to do them.
In my more healthy moments, I can recognize and sit in that shame instead of pushing it away. When I do that, I can allow myself to exercise some self compassion. Those are difficult emotions to feel. Then I can remember the folly in demanding particular emotions of myself. The issue is not whether I feel a certain way about the things I wish to be doing more. I just need to do them, allow myself some grace, and celebrate that I am choosing them.
As Albus Dumbledore wisely said:
It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.
A few months ago, while discussing mess in the house, my therapist challenged me to say yes to the dishes. And keep saying yes. I thought about it a bit before committing, but then told my wife and kids that I was taking over the dishes.
Since then, I have mostly kept it up. Not perfect, and not abandoned. In between. (Funny how often it happens for real life to not be 0 or 100. That keeps surprising my brain.) After it came up a few weeks ago, my therapist said she wasn’t sure whether to ask about it in case I had dropped off. In the past, that kind of thing would have brought an immense amount of shame around being an imperfect husband.
Part of my reason for including this is to celebrate a win. Finding small changes I can make in the area that often triggers my OCD the most is empowering and encouraging.
I also wanted to reflect on other opportunities to apply this behavior. It seems like a transferable skill, and I would like to find more opportunities in my life to put this into practice. Work life is almost debilitatingly overwhelming these days, and I think I can find things to say yes to. Find those small jobs that I instinctively recoil from, and just jump in for a minute. I don’t have to commit to doing it perfectly, or completing all of it. Just start chipping away at it.
I’ve witnessed how great it can feel.
Earlier this week, my interview with Mike was released as an episode of the Sketchnote Army podcast. As we chatted together, the idea of using sketchnotes as a form of meditation or mindfulness emerged. I wrote about how that practice had helped me a couple months ago, and we have been discussing it since.
We are opening registration today for a free event on November 18 to discuss and practice sketchnotes as a meditative practice.
I am really excited about this and hope that it can be helpful for others as it has been for me.
I hope you are staying above water this week. My emotional legs are getting heavy from treading water for so long, and I know that many other feel similarly. There is hope and compassion to be found, even if we have to just give it to ourselves. We deserve love and kindness, just as we are.
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