This week, I share the realization I had about what is missing in my life right now. Ironically, it’s something I just removed.
These weekly updates share life with OCD as part of my Mental Work Health project to reduce stigma around mental health, especially at work.
At the end of last week, I had a couple demoralizing stints of unproductivity. I had arranged with my wife to stay late Friday evening and work extra to get ahead on work. Then again, I took some time Saturday afternoon to go in to the office and work a little extra.
But I got almost nothing done.
One of the things I realized Saturday evening is that I wanted to do some journaling. I wrote a couple weeks ago about breaking my journaling streak in Day One in update #77: Breaking streaks. Since then, I had done almost no journaling whatsoever.
But it went back further than that. In early March, I wrote about discussing with my therapist how my nice morning routine had become a compulsion in update #72: Losing my routine.
We talked for a bit about how things that might be good for most people can become dangerous with OCD. The issue is not the routine itself. The problem is in allowing my mind to dictate what I must do in order to be able to function in the day. When that happens, I have to challenge it. I have to lean in to the uncertainty. It’s a great routine, and if I’m able to do those things, that’s fantastic. But they are not a right. If they can’t happen on a particular day, that’s ok. Or at least, it has to become ok.
Since then, I have not been doing much of my morning routine. So I have missed the activities I enjoyed so much.
As a side note, that exact situation illustrates some of the hardest aspects of my OCD. It attacks things that matter to me. The biggest area of life where I struggle with compulsions is with family relationships—the most important things for me. Second, OCD latches on to what is significant in my mind and warps it. Activities that I want to be doing become imbued with mystical importance, and missing them becomes an existential threat.
Another compounding factor is that I have started doing engineering work lately. As I wrote about a few weeks ago in update #74: Playing first base, I realized that I wanted to be doing more of the work in which I have the most experience.
Last week, in update #78: Painful therapy, I processed some of my lack of balance.
I enjoyed myself at work more this past week than I have in a while. I also worked way more than I have been. Instead of starting my day with a nice routine, I’ve been jumping in immediately to solve or create something.
It feels good to be flexible and let go of my “right” view of how my days must go… But I also missed some of the things in my routine that I enjoy…
Working like this is also draining and exhausting. Even though I am energized and love the work, if I am not taking time to think and process, I run myself ragged. This is a good moment to take stock and realize the extreme I am swinging to, and take steps to find some middle ground.
As I read back the words I wrote last week, I was reminded of how I realized that truth from writing it.
Austin Kleon has written a bunch about this as well. One of his recent newsletters shared about how writing and drawing are a form of thinking on the page:
One of the great leaps I took in my work was when I internalized the idea that writing and drawing, at their best, are about thinking on the page.
The mistake I used to make was thinking that I had to have an idea in my head before I started making marks on the page. More often than not, it’s the other way around: making marks on the page gives me an idea, which I then follow by making more marks, which gives me more ideas, and so forth.
And again, in “Writing to find out what you don’t want to know”:
“Write what you know,” goes the adage, but you don’t really know what you know until you write about it.
Through my writing last week, I learned that I need more balance. I miss some of the activities I enjoy doing. And right now, I have a need for journaling in order to process my emotions.
I commented to my wife that I am so tired of living at 0 or 100. It is exhausting to do everything either completely or not at all. My natural instinct is either to be journaling obsessively every day, or not doing it for days or weeks.
There is a part of me that would like to be more measured. I would like to be able to do some things in my life partway.
There’s another part of me that wants to just accept how my brain is and learn to work with that. I just need to ride the wave of each phase as it comes.
Where I’d like to be is a middle path between those two extremes. I am working on getting in touch better with what I actually feel, need, and want in a given moment.
That’s a difficult process of self-discovery that I know will take a lifetime, but is a skill I want to develop.
Over this coming week, the challenge I extend to myself, and to you if you’ll accept it, is to increase in mindfulness. Instead of coasting through on routine and habit, try to pause and assess what is actually needed in a day.
Hopefully as we do this more often, it will become easier and more instinctual.
We are always changing, as are our needs, so this will be a never-ending process. We can do this.