This week I share about speaking in church, having conversations out loud, and standing up to bees.
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 an article that resonated with many. Since I posted outside of my regular updates, I thought to mention it here. It is the story of learning to swear.
This past week, I was asked to speak in church. Because The Church of Jesus Christ does not have a paid ministry, individuals are invited to give a short sermon in our worship services. This is the third or fourth time in recent years that I have been asked to speak on Mother’s or Father’s Day.
An assignment like that is difficult for me. Mother’s Day is a wonderful day of celebration and remembrance for many. But for many others, it can be a painful day. Trying to be sensitive to all of the emotions that people might have in hearing a message about mother’s feels like a significant responsibility.
But that’s not what was hard about it. The real struggle for me was that I forgot about the assignment. My wife reminded me on Friday night, and I was thrown. It may come as no surprise that I often think and plan too much when asked to give such a talk.
The thing is, I like to be ready well ahead of time. I do not enjoy the stress of preparing something at the last minute. I would much rather have the talk done earlier in the week and have time to just think about and refine it.
Instead, I spent much of Saturday thinking about it, even as we enjoyed a family outing to This Is The Place park in Salt Lake City. As I put the babies to bed and sat by them for a while that night, I wrote out some of my thoughts. And then Sunday morning, I took another couple hours to try and pull things together.
I felt so guilty taking time away from my wife and kids on Mother’s Day. It was worse when I thought about how frustrated I was that I hadn’t finished my preparation earlier in the week. The more I thought about how much time I was spending away from the family, the longer I was bound to take because I wasn’t making progress on my talk.
Finally, I had a few quotes and scripture passages pulled together, and I decided I would just have to figure out how to tie them together on the spot. I told my wife I was frustrated that I hadn’t had time to practice it or finalize it as much as I wanted.
Looking back, I see that most of the distress was in seeking certainty. I was asked to speak for 15 minutes, and I wanted to run through it a few times and make sure that I would take the proper amount of time.
When I actually gave the talk, it went fine. I had a timer going, and stayed right on time. I was able to tie together the different examples and funny comments from my kids. I truly enjoy public speaking, and have given many talks over the years.
I wasn’t actually worried about how well I would do. I just felt distress that I hadn’t followed the procedure that I wanted to. I hadn’t spent as much time preparing as I like to spend. I hadn’t run through it as many times as I like to. I didn’t know that everything was going to be all right.
How often we do this to ourselves! Even with something that we have done many times before and are likely to do well at, we stress over following the proper protocol. There is a “right” way to prepare or to complete the project and we spend more time thinking about following that way than actually doing it. Or maybe it’s just me!
As I mentioned last week in update #80: Uncertainty training, I am now in a period of uncertainty at work. I am moving into doing contracting work, which is something I have never done full-time. I continue to be pleased with the way in which I have been able to approach the uncertainty.
One of the wins from this past week was to recognize where I had been having extensive conversations in my mind, but not in actuality. I was surprised by my wife commenting about something that we hadn’t discussed together almost at all. I took some time to think about it and realized that I had only been talking to her in my mind.
My therapist said that part of OCD is that I spend so much time up in my head, it can be hard to realize where I have not actually had the conversations that I need to.
The thing I was proud of was that I was able to recognize that and have the conversation with my wife, without even having to have it pointed out to me by my therapist. Instead, I was able to tell her about the experience of realizing that I hadn’t talked with my wife, and then talking and getting on the same page.
Part of what has been particularly helpful for me is to be aware of and honest about what I am actually feeling. It’s easy to project what I think I would be feeling, or what I “should” be feeling. Instead, I have been able to get in touch with how I am feeling, and make decisions with that information.
I know this doesn’t mean that all my concerns are over, and I am recovered from OCD. But I am thrilled with my progress.
OCD often has a strong genetic component to it. This has helped me have compassion and empathy for my parents and family before me that struggled in their own ways. And it also has informed my parenting as I realized that my children are likely to struggle as well.
My four-year-old son has exhibited many OCD symptoms. He cried the other day in the car, asking my wife to turn the radio from 100.3 down to “just 100”. I wrote a few months ago about an experience we had with him not getting the kind of milk that he wanted in update #60: “I feel calm”.
A few days ago, a friend and our two-year-old wanted to go jump on the trampoline in the backyard, but the four-year-old said he couldn’t go. He was afraid because he had seen some bees flying around.
I tried to encourage him to go out anyway. “Even if you’re afraid, you can still walk outside.”
“No! They will sting me!”
I tried again. “Let’s go bud. Show your brain who is in charge.”
I laughed, albeit ruefully. I know exactly how he feels. There are time when my brain tells me that something is impossible, and I truly feel like I am not in charge.
I was so proud of him later when I heard that he went outside on a walk, even though he was afraid.
That’s the key—to do things that we want to, even when we are scared. Hopefully knowing what I know, I can help him navigate the ways in which his brain is going to lie to him.
Life is overwhelming for so many of us right now. We must take the time and steps required to recognize and address our needs. And create safe places for the people around us to do the same.
When you start to feel hopeless and trapped, remember this:
The bees are not in charge.