Memory Hoarding

I am constantly discovering how different habits or aspect of my personality are related to my OCD.  It is both fascinating and unnerving.

For example, as a little girl I used to keep a journal.  When I would write in it I felt a lot of pressure to make sure I recorded every minute detail (after seeing the film I once wrote out the ENTIRE plot to The Princess Diaries…).  I couldn’t really pin down the source of the anxiety but I knew that I wasn’t writing in such excruciating detail because I wanted to, but more because I felt anxiety if I didn’t.

princess diaries

I recently learned about Memory Hoarding, a sub-type of OCD where the sufferer over-attends to memories.  They view memories almost like objects that need to be gathered or collected.  One might spend time replaying a memory, over and over, in order to ensure that it is able to be recalled accurately, and the thought of not being able to revisit that memory at a later time causes a lot of anxiety.  Or one may focus too much on “appreciating the moment” which in and of itself causes someone to not fully appreciate that moment.

For me it works like this; I will be having a good time or sharing a special day, and feeling particularly happy.  Then I have the intrusive thought that it could all be snatched away from me and this time next year I will be aching for this exact moment, unable to accurately recall it.  The compulsion is to look around and take mental pictures, to pay extra close attention to my emotions and my surroundings, and to truly appreciate and savor everything – or else something terrible will happen. For most people taking time to savor the moment is a good thing, a healthy thing. But for someone with OCD this over attention to detail is fueled by anxiety and can have the opposite effect, pulling them out of the moment completely.

It makes sense why this is one of the ways in which my OCD manifests.  My core fear has always been losing someone I love and as a kid I remember hearing people talk about how someone didn’t appreciate something until they lost it, or how you don’t know what you’ve got until its gone.  My OCD brain then decided that if I could just make sure to appreciate things while I have them then I won’t lose them.

As I got older I grew out of the need to write every trivial detail in my journal but it manifested itself in other ways.  For example, if I know it is the last time I am going to be somewhere (such as an apartment I’m moving out of, or a job I’m leaving) I will take an excessive amount of photos with my iphone.  I feel that I must capture everything, from every angle, so that I can later recall exactly what it felt like to be in that room, or sit in that chair, or walk on that floor.  The idea that I will look back and have forgotten details (which I am aware is an inevitable part of life) gives me a lot of anxiety.

If something, maybe a song or a scent for example, triggers a memory from my past I will have to sit and really delve into that memory recalling as much detail as possible.  I can’t stop thinking about it until I really feel like I am back in that moment and can be sure that the memory is still safely stored in my mind.

Another way I experience memory hoarding is when I am walking away from a good moment or a person that I love.  For example if I am standing and happily watching the sunset and it is time to go back to the car I will continue looking over my shoulder, again and again, trying to get the last “perfect” image to tie to those happy emotions.  Once the image feels right, I can’t look at the sunset again or else I’ll have to start over.  I experience this most intensely when saying goodbye to my family at the airport.  I feel like I have to have a perfect mental image of them or something bad will happen, so I look back over my shoulder dozens of times as my family is waving to me.

sunset

But now that I am aware that this is part of my OCD I can work to combat it.  I can purposely looking away from the sunset when it doesn’t feel “right” and just allow the anxiety to be with me.  I can wait as the anxiety slowly dissipates and remind myself that this fear is just a construct of the faulty wiring in my brain and that, as hard as it is, it doesn’t need to control me.

So like…..What’s Your Sign?

When your friend says aspects of your astrological chart don’t line up with aspects of your boyfriend’s astrological chart:

giphy

I have something called Relationship OCD (rOCD).  This particular brand of OCD is barely ever talked about and there is very little research on it, but its a real thing.  rOCD is when your obsessions and compulsions center around a significant other or someone you’re dating. It can take one (or both) of two forms. On the one hand you can obsess over the other person’s flaws and the “rightness” of the relationship and on the other hand you can obsess over if they really love you or their faithfulness to you. My rOCD tends to flip a little bit between both which is confusing for my poor boyfriend.

The compulsions associated with this can be anything of course but some examples are: mentally comparing your relationship with others, “checking” your feelings to see if you feel in love (and any moment where you don’t feel totally in love is a massive trigger), or seeking constant reassurance from your partner about their feelings for you.

This is hard for me to write about because even when I tell people about my OCD I usually leave this aspect of it out. I am aware that to the untrained eye it just appears that I’m your stereotypical CRAZY girlfriend. For example, when I studied abroad in college my roommates simply did not understand why I couldn’t enjoy my time abroad because I was bombarded with nearly constant obsessive, unwanted thoughts about my boyfriend cheating on me while I was gone. He didn’t understand it either. I didn’t even understand it. It would be another 3 years (and a period of us being broken up) before I would be able to put a name to what was going on in my head.

Luckily now we both understand it better and he knows to only give me reassurance once or twice before refusing to be an enabler in my compulsions. I understand what is happening now when a friend tells me that some aspects of our astrology don’t line up and it seems like the world screeches to a halt. I understand what is happening when I can’t focus on anything around me after that. I understand what is happening when I then feel the need to spend the next week compulsively learning about astrology to make sure our relationship isn’t “wrong”. I understand what is happening and so I will not be spending my week reading about astrology, but instead use my time to do things that will move me toward positive things in my life : )

To Be or Not To Be….That Is The Question

Making decisions can be hard for anyone, but for someone with OCD and anxiety decisions can be an agonizing ordeal. It took me awhile to connect my difficulty making decisions with my OCD, I just figured it was a part of my personality (which I suppose it is). But one day I wondered if it might be connected to my anxiety disorder so I tried to observe my thought process when making decisions. I realized that I approach decisions with the same cyclical thinking process that I do my other obsessions.

I can’t simply make a decision.  If it is something seemingly unimportant, such as which box of cereal should I grab from the shelf at the store (no not which brand…literally which box…these are the things I worry about *sigh*), I go back and forth weighing my decision on the thoughts that might pop into my head or how “right” it feels.  Then if it is something very important, such as wondering if I should make a career change or not, I:

Compulsion 1: Spend hours Googling

Compulsion 2: Ask Mom/Dad/Boyfriend/Person-I-Just-Met for reassurance (multiple times)

Compulsion 3: Play out every possible outcome all the way to the end (multiple times)

Compulsion 4: Check my feelings as I think about options to see what feels “right”

On the surface these might not initially seem like compulsions, but they fit the definition. Things that I feel I must do in order to get rid of the anxiety I am having about the decision. I talked a little about the Googling compulsion in my previous post so I’ll talk briefly about the others I’ve mentioned.

Reassurance-seeking is a pretty common compulsion.  Again, most people like some reassurance about things that are making them anxious but the difference between someone without OCD and someone with OCD is that the person without OCD usually only needs to hear that reassurance once or twice. Then, even though they may still have anxiety about the decision they will not continue to ask for reassurance. Someone with OCD however will not only ask for the same reassurance over and over but possibly even the exact same words over and over. Its not that they forgot but more that the reassurance did not shut off the doubting thoughts replaying in their head so they will need to keep hearing it until it does.

Playing out possible outcomes over and over is another unhealthy anxiety-resolving behavior. The way it works for me is I have a bad thought such as “If I choose to go back to school for Psychology I will be miserable AND in debt”. So then I must picture myself and how it would feel to go through the entire process of going back to school and starting over in a career etc. This might be something anyone would do briefly but for me it feels like something I have to do in order to feel like I’m making the most informed decision and I cannot focus on anything else until I finish thinking through the whole process. I will do this one day and then the next day have the thought again and have to do it all over again.

Lastly, checking for that “right” feeling. Another pretty common compulsion that can be applied to anything from choosing the box of cereal or putting on a shirt in the morning to making big life decisions. It is something that is hard to explain to someone that doesn’t have OCD but this is the best way I can describe it: That feeling you get when you cross the last thing off your to-do list and you sit down on the couch to chill. It is when there are no negative thoughts or feelings tied to something. If you were to plop down on the couch while you still had things on your to-do list you might not feel quite right, you wouldn’t feel settled. Someone with OCD might put a shirt on in the morning and randomly have the thought that they will die in a car accident that day (because their brain knows it’ll get a strong reaction out of that one, so it likes to throw it out at random times throughout the day). They will then not feel quite right, not settled, and take the shirt off and put it on again (and possibly again and again and again until they can get one without any negative thoughts), rather than deal with that not-right feeling. For big decisions it is more anticipating and “checking” for that right feeling when thinking about different options.

Once I realized difficulty making decisions was another part of my OCD it became easier to notice when I was following those OCD patterns and try my best to break them.  Sometimes simply being and observer of your thoughts can do wonders for helping you overcome things (even if it is small steps at a time).