I have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), and GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder). The last, generalized anxiety disorder is defined as:
Of the three, the GAD sounds the least debilitating and most understandable. After all, everyone has anxiety at times, so it is more understandable, but the thing is, out of those three diagnosis, it’s actually the most debilitating for me much of the time. If you have something that might be a symptom of a mental illness, but it doesn’t really affect daily life, then it isn’t a part of a mental illness. If it is a mental illness, it, by definition, has an impact on your daily life. A serious impact.
Constant worry about how an action might work out can make doing that thing change from a molehill to a mountain. How can you start when the specter of disaster looms over you, telling you what the worst outcome is, how horrible that outcome is, and that the worst is what’s probably going to happen?
When I was in my teens and twenties, I did almost all of my own auto repair work. Nothing was too big, I was ambitious and rebuilt engines, did body work, and painted cars. I enjoyed it too. It didn’t worry me that something might go wrong, if it did, I’d just solve the problem when I came to it. As I got into my mid thirties, about 20 years ago, things started to change. My anxiety in general was getting worse, I was worrying about almost everything in life. This carried over into auto work. Starting each job became harder and harder as I pictured everything that could go wrong. The small parts dropped into places that couldn’t be reached. The parts that didn’t fit, discovered after the car was in pieces, The stripped threads. The parts that wouldn’t come off. The parts that might be damaged while working on something else. The fact that when the job was done, it might not work, and the job would have to be started over again.
In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig called these situations “Gumption Traps” and discussed them somewhat. (Despite the title of the book, it’s actually mostly about philosophy and recovery from mental illness)
Because of potential gumption traps, it got harder and harder to do my own work, until, about ten years ago, I stopped doing my own auto work.
Recently we started getting auto work done by a young friend of the family. Watching him work brought back memories of how much satisfaction I used to get from mechanical work.
I decided o do something about it. The blower fan motor in my truck was rattling badly and only worked at high speed. I knew that the motor and the resistor pack that was part of the speed control needed to be changed. Could I do it myself? Yes. Would anxiety let me even start? Not so sure about that. So many things could go wrong. Thinking about it, I tried to reframe the situation. Sure something might go wrong. That happens. But could I solve that problem when the time came? Yes, I could! I’d change the motor and resistor pack!
To help build my confidence, I watched YouTube videos of the procedure while waiting for the parts to come from Amazon. Back in my 20s, we didn’t have YouTube or Amazon, they really helped. I changed that blower motor and resistor pack (with a friend’s help). It worked the first try.
Guess what! Something did go wrong though. Two things even. A stud was in the way of getting the motor out and back in again. That didn’t happen in the videos. I solved that problem. Then the new motor worked fine until the next day, and then stopped working, with a nice burning rubber smell to help make it clear that there was a real problem. I’ll have to repeat the job. But I know I can do it, and all will be well.
What went wrong that killed the motor the next day? It was one of the gumption traps that I mentioned above. I’d dropped a small rubber part and couldn’t find it. Did it fall into the new motor or did it fall behind the fender well? Who knew? Since the now-missing part was going to be discarded in any case, I just finished the job, figuring that even if it did fall into the motor where I couldn’t find it, it would probably just sit there and cause no problem. No such luck, it got pulled into the commutator and brush assembly and caused much havoc and a nasty smell. An interesting noise as well…
Did this failure mean that me effort to overcome anxiety failed? No! I felt a little dumb (only a little), but I can put another new blower motor in in about 90 minutes and about $35.00. Not a bad price for a mental health victory!
Will our young friend still get work from us? Yes, I’m sure of that, but my confidence has really grown doing this job myself!
As usual, this blog entry is mirrored at: buchanan1.net