A few weeks after being discharged from the hospital, I was looking through a box of get well cards I'd received while there. I came across a scrap piece of paper where I had messily written down a bunch of names of random people. Some of the people I knew well. Some I barely knew. There was no rhyme or reason to who I chose to write down, or at least not one I've figured out yet.
Anyway, I had taken all these names and made notes of how they were related to each other. I was rather confused on what this all meant and then my wife informed me that I'd become rather "obsessed" with remembering names of people and who was related to who while I was in the hospital. So after all my visitors had left for the night, I would lay awake in bed and make these lists. I wasn't aware of it at the time, but I believe this was when my struggle with OCD began.
OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) is "a medical condition where people feel the need to check things repeatedly, perform certain routines repeatedly (called "rituals"), or have certain thoughts repeatedly." I know we tend to joke about this disorder and discuss it tongue-in-cheek, but it's a real thing that can greatly and negatively affect a person's quality of life, something that's become glaringly obvious to me since my traumatic brain injury.
But before I start complaining about all the negative ramifications of this new condition, I also need to give it some credit. I actually think my OCD was instrumental in my return to medicine. Because I knew that my memory wasn't as sharp as it used to me, I became obsessed with remembering every little detail when seeing and taking care of my patients. Although this was effective for awhile, unfortunately, it just wasn't a sustainable long-term solution.
But in addition to its detrimental effects on my work longevity, my OCD also started to negatively affect my life in other ways as well. I couldn't be the kind of husband, father, or friend I wanted to be or thought I needed to be. I couldn't live in the moment. I wanted everything planned out and couldn't be flexible in my schedule like I used to. I had an extremely difficult time when anything happened unexpectedly. I made to-do lists, either writing them out or formulating them in my mind, and obsessing over them until everything was completed. If I lost something, no matter how obscure and pointless the item was, I couldn't think about or do anything else until I found it. I often would recognize faces but had difficulty putting a name to the face. I couldn't do or think of anything else until I remembered it. I worried about forgetting information, both important and unimportant. This led to me being distracted from what was going on around me as I ran things over and over my mind in an attempt to remember them. With all these annoyances continuing to pile up in my life, I finally admitted I had a genuine problem and that I needed to seek medical help (i.e. physicians, psychologists, therapists).
In no way is my OCD a thing of the past since I started getting help, but I'm doing better. But here's the thing, I often times still wonder if I just need to admit that OCD is a necessary part of my new normal? I mean, I still need to remember certain things to be productive. I still need structure and organization to be at my best. On the other hand, are the coping skills I'm using to overcome my new problem too much? Have I taken it too far?
Honestly, I'm still not sure how to best approach my OCD. But I know theres a healthy balance of either too much or too little out there somewhere, and I will keep keep on trying to find it.
*** If you or someone you know is suffering from OCD, I would strongly encourage you/them to talk to a doctor or other medical professional (psychologist, therapist, etc.). There are treatment options, both pharmacological and non-pharmacological, that can help you/them.