This week brought panic attacks, witnessing a tender moment of support, and reflections on last week’s 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.
Last week, I wrote about the different phases of hobby I’ve been through this year. One other phase that goes up and down is less of a hobby, and more of a coping mechanism, or even a wellness practice—journaling. Writing these weekly updates is a form of journaling and reflection, and has been a helpful and healthy thing for me.
But there are times when I do much more journaling as well. Some I save into Day One, and some are just for the process of writing and emotion-vomiting, and I don’t want to save or reference them again. In some ways, the amount I am journaling is a barometer of how rough things are.
Last week, I wrote a lot.
One of the hard things was that my therapist was gone on vacation￼￼ the previous week, and I declined the offer of a phone session. “I’m doing fine,” I said. “I’ll be ok skipping a week,” I said. And at the time, it seemed that there would be no problem. Looking back, that definitely contributed to a difficult week.
The biggest piece of my stress and anxiety last week was challenges at home that I won’t go into. It was a good reminder to me of the private struggles that everyone has. Even when people are open about much of what is hard, there is always more that we are not able to see or share.
All of that piled up to trigger some panic attacks over the weekend. I woke up Sunday morning, thinking things were going pretty well, but within a few minutes realized that I was in for a rough day.
One of the worst parts of panic attacks at home for me is the accompanying guilt and shame. I know those only make it even worse, but it is so hard to fight them off. It becomes a spiral of doom. The key seems so clear when reflecting on it after the fact—just stop fighting it. But in the moment, that seems impossible.
Some guilt is natural in a situation like that. Recognizing that my struggles make things harder for my wife and kids is natural and logical. Of course I feel bad about that. The shame is the real problem. When I start turning on myself and ripping myself apart, the anxiety heightens. The shoulds pile up to became a suffocating mountain crushing me.
As is so often the case, self-compassion seems to be the answer. To he honest, I’m still not out of this one as I’m writing. So this is mostly a reminder to myself. There are three parts to self-compassion, as defined by Dr. Kristin Neff:
- Common humanity
I think it would be helpful to write about each one more, but that is for another day. Right now, it’s enough to bring them to mind and try to sit with all this. It won’t last forever.
We have suspected as of late that dairy is causing problems for child #6, our four-year-old son. I’ve learned that dairy messes me up a bit, and as annoying as it is, I definitely feel better when I don’t have any. So for the two of us, we have tried some almond milk and oat milk.
At breakfast the other morning, we were all out of the kind he likes. He doesn’t seem to have a preference when he actually eats them, but in his mind he does. When he found out that he couldn’t have the kind he wanted, he had a meltdown. A full-blown OCD-style meltdown.
I am very familiar with what he was feeling. Plan changes are so damn hard, and any rational logic goes out the window in the face of overwhelming emotions.
He was sobbing, “Mom, just give me the other one!” We tried explaining that we didn’t have the other one. We tried empathizing. We tried offering other options.
I was still riding the panic attack wave a bit, and was struggling to hear this. On the one hand, the raw sensory input was hard. I was wearing my noise-canceling headphones, but it still hurt. On the other hand, my heart ached for him. I know how hard that is.
I was about to retreat upstairs to my room when I watched a magical moment. My wife put her arm around him (again!), and said:
This is really hard for you. I feel calm. You can come be by me.
That was so touching to me. It took our son a few more minutes to feel calm himself, and then he asked for the milk we did have. Then he ate his cereal just fine.
Partly because I was feeling so anxious myself, I was really affected by what my wife said. It was so validating, compassionate, and healing. I thought how much I would have loved to hear something like that as a child in pain myself. And I let myself hear it in that moment as an adult in pain.
Trying to support someone who is struggling can be daunting. We worry we won’t know what to say, or that we will say the wrong thing. We think we don’t understand everything and thus can’t actually help.
But that three-part statement felt magical and perfect in the moment.
I want to memorize what she said and use it when I want to help and support, but don’t know what to do. It will be important for me to be honest about how I feel, but my hope is to be calm myself even when someone I care about is suffering.
This is really hard. I feel calm. You can be by me.
The response to our announcement last week of a meditative sketchnote workshop with Mike Rohde and me was overwhelming. It was full within 24 hours and people were asking how to get the content if they weren’t able to attend. We are going to record the workshop and share the video for free, and plan to do another session.
I feel a mix of emotions around the workshop. Top of the list is excitement. These ideas have helped me a great deal, and I am hopeful that they will help others as well. Assuming that they do, I am thrilled that people wanted to participate.
Next emotion is fear. I worry that I won’t be able to prepare as much as I think I need to. I worry that I won’t do a good enough job at explaining things, and as a result people won’t get the help or benefit that they could get. And because I think the content is so important and powerful, that amplifies these fears that I will somehow ruin it for people. I’m afraid I’m not enough.
Following that is compassion. Maybe the response was so quick and resounding to this because people are suffering and need some relief.
Mixed in there is some jealously. Maybe the only real reason people signed up is because it is with the great Mike Rohde, and they will be disappointed when they come and I am presenting as well. I feel inadequate.
I also feel some healthy pride and contentment. What a great opportunity to be part of something that I think is important. I feel grateful that my experience and skills have prepared me to contribute in a way that I feel really good about.
It is helpful to be honest and vulnerable with what I am feeling, especially to myself. Once I have identified some of those emotions, then I can choose how I am going to act. I am going to prepare for this without overpreparing. I am going to share authentically without worrying about how it will be received. I am going to try to show up completely and not hold back. I will be me.
I hope that you and I can unlock some self-compassion in this coming week. Find opportunities to reach outside yourself, see someone else, and connect with them. Sit in how you are feeling without judgment, and then choose how to act while taking into account your emotions, and not trying to deny, escape, or be ruled by them.
You and I, we deserve love and kindness. And when we allow ourselves to feel it, we can more easily share it with those in our lives. We’re in this together.
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