I was sitting at home and casually looking through a box of get well cards that I had received when I was in the hospital recovering from my brain injury, In addition to all the thoughtful cards, I came across a very worn and ragged piece of paper where I’d messily written down the names of random people. Some of them I knew well, some I barely knew. There was really no rhyme or reason to the names I’d chosen - or at least not one I've figured out yet. I’d also drawn various lines and arrows between the names to indicate who was related to who. When I first saw this interesting piece of artwork, I was confused about what it meant and why I’d drawn it. So I showed it to my wife who informed me of its meaning.
She said that when I was in the hospital I'd become rather "obsessed" with remembering the names of friends, close family members, extended family members, neighbors, co-workers, fellow church members, and other casual acquaintances. I was also very obsessed with how they were all related. She explained to me that after all my visitors had left the hospital for the night, I would lay awake and “compulsively” make these drawings. Although I wasn’t aware it was happening at the time, this must have been when my journey with OCD first began.
OCD, or 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."
Now, I know that OCD is a medical condition that many tend to joke about and often discuss tongue-in-cheek, but it's 100% a real thing and it can greatly affect a person’s quality of life, something that’s now glaringly obvious to me. But before I start complaining about all its negative ramifications, I need to give it some credit.
I actually think my OCD was instrumental in my return to medicine. I wanted to continue being the very best doctor I could be for my patients, and because my memory wasn't nearly as good as it used to be, I became obsessed with remembering every small, minute detail when I was taking care of them. Although this worked for a while, unfortunately, it wasn't a sustainable long-term solution for a busy 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. Because of it, I had a hard time living in the moment, wanted everything planned out, couldn't be flexible in my schedule like I used to, and had an extremely difficult time when anything happened unexpectedly. I made tons of to-do lists, either writing them out or formulating them in my mind, and obsessing over them until everything was completed. When 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 could easily recognize someone when I was out in public but had difficulty putting a name to the face and 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 felt like I needed to be.
I finally admitted I had a legitimate problem with OCD and started getting the help I needed. This included doctors, psychologists, and mental health counselors. They all helped me tremendously by giving me a variety of effective coping mechanisms to deal with my OCD. Oftentimes, though, I still ask myself. Because I still need to remember certain things to be productive and I still need structure and organization to be at my best, do I just need to admit that OCD is a necessary part of my new normal? Are the coping skills I'm using to deal with my OCD too much or have I taken things too far? Are the negative effects of my coping mechanisms starting to outweigh the positive? I realize that learning how to best manage my OCD will be a life-long process and that I will need to regularly consider these questions. Effectively dealing with my OCD will also require a lot of help, support, and understanding from friends and family. But I am hopeful that I can keep figuring this whole OCD thing out and that one day I’ll get close to where I need to be.