A few weeks after getting out of the hospital, I was looking through a box of cards I'd received while I was there. In the box, I came across a scrap piece of paper. On the piece of paper, I’d messily written down a bunch of people’s names. Some I knew well. Some I barely knew. There was really no rhyme or reason to the names I’d chosen to write down, or at least not one I've figured out yet. I also noticed how I’d made notes and drew arrows on the paper to indicate how the people were related to each other.
I was rather confused on what this all meant and why I’d done it. But then my wife informed me that when I was in the hospital recovering from my traumatic brain injury, I'd become rather "obsessed" with remembering names of people and who was related to who. She said that after all my visitors had left every night, I would lay awake in bed and “compulsively” make these sketches.
I believe this must have been when my new-found struggle with OCD began, although I wasn’t aware of it at the time!
OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) is defined as "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 it’s something many of us tend to joke about and often discuss tongue-in-cheek, but it's a real condition that can truly affect a person's quality of life, something that's now glaringly obvious to me.
However, before I start complaining about all the negative ramifications of my OCD, I need to give it some credit. I actually think it was instrumental in my return to medicine. Because I knew that my memory wasn't nearly as good as it used to me, I became obsessed with remembering every small, minute detail while taking care of my patients.
Although this may have worked for a while, unfortunately, it wasn't a sustainable long-term solution for a practicing family physician. In addition to the detrimental effects it had on my work longevity, my OCD also started to negatively affect my life in many other ways as well:
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 would recognize faces but had difficulty putting a name to the face and I couldn't do or think of anything else until I remembered it.
I worried about forgetting information, both important and unimportant, and would be 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, I couldn't be the kind of husband, father, or friend I wanted to be or thought I needed to be. This was when I finally admitted I had a legitimate problem with OCD and knew that I needed to get some help.
Now, in no way has my OCD become a thing of the past since I started getting treated by the appropriate medical providers and therapists, but I do think I'm doing better. Here's the thing, though. Because I still need to remember certain things to be productive and I still need structure and organization to be at my best, I wonder sometimes if I just need to admit that OCD is a necessary part of my new normal.
I also wonder when the coping skills I'm using to deal with my OCD are too much and when I’ve taken it way too far. When are the negatives of my coping mechanisms starting to outweigh the positive?
I know that learning how to best manage my OCD will be a life-long process and will require a lot of help and understanding from many other people, but I’m very hopeful that one day I’ll get close to where I need to be.
*** If you’re suffering from OCD, I would strongly encourage you to talk to a doctor or other medical professional (psychologist, therapist, etc.). There are treatment options, both pharmacological and non-pharmacological, that can help.