Energy and Exhaustion

by Matt B. on October 15, 2014

The pace of modern life can be draining; add OCD to the mix, and it can be positively overwhelming. In order to create a schedule that was more manageable for me – including time for OCD management, self-care, and rest – I moved overseas, slashed my expenses, and decided to work much less. It’s led to some surprising results.

Rough Transcript

Hey everybody and welcome to The OCD Podcast. Today, I’d like to talk about energy and exhaustion. For those of you with OCD it will be a familiar trope. OCD is a giant energy suck, it’s the sort of thing that takes all we’ve got just to contend with and that’s before you stuck on all the regular everyday activities that everybody’s got to deal with, work and food and housing and just taking care of ourselves and all the daily ways we need to.

At the moment I’m living in Saigon, Vietnam and the reason I’m here or one of the main reasons I’m here is because I was finding it incredibly difficult to sustain a normal work burden, a normal workload back in the United States. And also deal with my OCD and take good care of myself in the ways that I knew I needed to do.

At that time I decided to move here I was in a student teaching program in Colorado so I was working probably more than – longer than your average day call it eight to ten hours in a classroom and some prep in the evenings. And I was doing my best to integrate self care in to everyday so meditation and exercise a couple of times a week, cooking decent food for myself and keeping the fridge stock with food and on top of that trying to do exposure exercises every day both in vivo exposures and also to deliberate exposures with my scripts.

When I added all of that up there really was no room left, there’s no room to breathe you couldn’t stick a toothpick in that day. It was that chock full. And I was finding that I was running incredibly hard just to stand still. I was doing my very best to cram all of this self-care activities in to a single day. And it began to feel a little ridiculous that part of the problem was precisely how full the day was. And I realize that if was going to do more than just cram these activities in to de facto. I was actually going to take them seriously and give them the time and honour than in the ways that they deserve to be honoured then I couldn’t just stack them against each other chock-a- block on my calendar and kind of rise and run all day long until it was time to fall asleep to fall into bed and collapse into sleep.

So I decided to move back to Vietnam, I’ve live here once before about ten years ago up in Hanoi. And this time decided to move to Saigon in the South where I have a couple of best friends. And my hope was that I’d be able to find a work that would enable me to earn a living and pay the bills with fewer hours per day. And that would leave a lot more time leftover for writing and for self-care and that’s exactly what I found. I was able to find work at a private tutoring centre teaching SAT and English and College Prep in that sort of thing. And thankfully have been able to earn a living working about two hours a day six days a week or so. So doing so earned me just enough to pay the bills, there’s really no buffer but if I spend very little I may be able to make rent every month and pay for motorbike and food and thankfully I have most of the day leftover to dedicate to meditation to reading about OCD to doing a exposure exercises to resting when I need to. That was the big missing piece back in the US there was nominally in any way time for all of my required activities plus there was no rest, it was all go, go, go. And that was one of the big signals as I mentioned. So here I may be able to actually create some time to rest and this has created a really interesting situation for me because now I no longer have a situation where I can blame the intransigence of my OCD on my work situation or my living situation.

I’ve stripped away the structural impediments to good health at least for me. In a way it feels like what’s leftover is the stuff that I have to contend with the sort of nature of state of my brain if you will. Now of course that’s not entirely true because living here presents a tone challenges, I’m a foreigner and I don’t speak the language and there’s plenty both about the culture and every day life in a crowded and chaotic and dirty city that presents lots of opportunities for OCD triggers. So it’s certainly not a neutral situation, I don’t even know what a neutral situation would be. But it is the case that I have all the time I could ask for to use to manage my OCD and take good care of myself. And it’s funny because in doing so in finding myself in this new circumstances I’ve discovered that I’m actually much more interested in devoting time to OCD than I’ve ever have in before.

I’ve been working on collecting the essays I’ve been writing about OCD into book. And writing a book proposal I just launched a podcast, the OCD podcast. And I’m struck because at home when I had so little extra time, the last thing I wanted to do was devote it to OCD management or thinking about OCD and its role in my life or thinking strategically about how to handle my health better. When I had that extra half hour, or that extra Friday night I wanted to be as far away from OCD as I could. I wanted to be out with friends or at the movie or reading a novel and in a way I felt resentful at the prospect of devoting any more of my time to OCD.

It’s such a precious little free time and I wanted to feel able to use it, I guess in the ways you might call normal. However, in cities that word can be – here though I’m finding that it was precisely that scarcity that tiny, tiny, tiny slitter of free time that I had that led me to treat it too preciously that led me to hoard it, and really refuse to devote it to good self-care and to OCD management when I had it.

Whereas now that I got this plenty of time I’m much more willing to devote it to OCD management and more than that to understanding OCD’s role in my life and it occurred to me that I no longer have anything better to do than to get better. There was a long time that I thought I did that I could think of lots of things that felt more attractive than taking good care of my self. But now that I’ve sort of stripped away not just the work structure but remove myself from the environment of ambition that I was in at home with all the familiar cultural and environmental cues with all the familiar narratives with all the images and ideas that were floating round and the culture that I’d bought in to for so, so long. I’m now in a place that’s so foreign to me that so many of the reference point’s just have literally no meaning at all because I can’t even read the word or understand the symbols.

I’m kind of cast back on myself in a way that is really, really helpful because it’s just plain it’s just obvious that the biggest obstacle to thriving and flourishing is this little mechanism in my brain and it’s also obvious to me that I have nothing better to do but to address it. Now that’s not to say that I spend all my time dealing with OCD or related stuff or reading, you know reading books about it and writing about it all the time. I live a life and I go out and have relationships and so forth but I don’t feel quite so protective or defensive of the spare minutes that I’ve got.

You might say that what’s happened is that I’ve – through coming here and through giving myself some extra space and time had actually afforded myself a chance to see a little bit more clearly about what my life has been. What it central features really are, what qualities of thought and feeling really do comprise the mainstream of my day and being here and having lots of time by myself.

There is no denying it, there’s no denying OCD’s centrality, there’s no pretending that it’s just a sort of minor nuisance or a marginal annoyance. Especially now reading Dr Schwartz’s book and talking about this couple of episodes “You Are Not Your Brain”. He makes so plain and lays out so clearly, so many of the cognitive and cognitive errors that pervade so many of our minds but particularly the minds of people with OCD.

I find myself walking around and just noting one after the other after the other of these basic mistakes that I’ve began to think of them as onions I supposed or are layers of an onion that I’ll probably have to continue to peel away for some time because every time I peel away some of them, every time I recognize myself falling into patterns of catastrophizing or fortune telling or making faulty comparisons with other people. I think I’ve hit the mud of load I turned I’ve turned my spade that hit rock bottom. I’ve sort of discovered the basic the most fundamental layer of perspective of ways that I see the world and then I keep looking and I keep digging and I keep seeing ever more of those layers underneath. And more and more I may able to see that I’m sort of caught in just a pervasive nine dimensional matrix of confusion but because I thankfully have this chance to just sort of see it all clearly and be with it as supposed to trying to fit in some of those forms of self-awareness in and otherwise extremely busy life, I’m not so troubled by it because I’m not trying to get on with anything else really.

I’m not trying to get anywhere else in particular. Now of course you know can add to see the podcast this is a perfect opportunity for my OCD to manifest. There are a million little technical details to worry about behind the scenes none of which I’m very good at. There are a million quality related considerations and as with my writing there is a million ways to get critical about it. And OCD loves to exploit all of these opportunities but it’s clear that all of this work is in the service of understanding something, understanding how this beast really works and what it really wants and how it ties me in knots. And I know that I’m enormously lucky for given the chance to carve out this kind of space and time. And I’m curious to know for those of you out there who also struggle with OCD, what do you do to create the time and space you need to take good care of yourself to working your exposure exercises, to rest to meditate if that works for you.

If you’ve got a ninety-five or a demanding work life, how do you manage to integrate those practices do you save them until the weekend? Do you work them in to the middle of your work day? Do you carve out time in the mornings or the evenings? Do you call on your friends and family members or co-workers even for support?

I remember reading in Shannon Shy’s memoir of OCD It’ll Be Okay – this was a Marine lawyer who after coming out and into the open with his OCD found a really supportive work space. In which his superiors allowed him to literally lay down at work; and rest and take all the time he needed to fulfil his responsibilities and I don’t imagine that every employer out there’s nearly that hospitable, but I would sure love to hear whatever stories folks have about how they manage to contend with all this. And integrated in to what are enormously busy lives these days. Thanks everybody and I’ll talk to you soon.
























































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