OCD and Memory
As I’ve written many times, my son Dan dealt with obsessive-compulsive disorder so severe he could not even eat. OCD controlled his every move and he could barely function. He was at his worst from 2008-2010. Memories of those dark days are etched in my mind, as well as on paper in my book, Overcoming OCD: A Journey to Recovery. Many details are just as vivid and painful to me now as when they happened, though I would really prefer them not to be.
Dan and I rarely talk about those times now, but I remember on occasion trying to discuss specific events and incidents with him, probably two or three years after he’d made a remarkable recovery. “Dan, remember that week you spent at an acute care psychiatric hospital? Remember that nice nurse you really liked at the clinic? Remember the horrible reaction you had to that one particular medication?” His answer to each one of my queries was the same: “I really don’t remember. It’s all so fuzzy.”
At first I thought this reply was just an excuse not to have to talk about those difficult times, and honestly, I wouldn’t blame Dan if this was the case. But as time went on, and Dan moved on, he still didn’t seem to remember much about the painful times. I’m wondering why, and if this is common in those who have managed to beat OCD.
One theory I have is that Dan’s lack of memory stems from the fact that he was overmedicated for a good part of his ordeal. Once Dan was off all his meds, positive changes were obvious to his family and close friends. His depression lifted and more often than not, he was actually happy.
His OCD, in his own words, was “practically nonexistent” at this time. But when his psychiatrist asked him how he felt once he was off all his meds, Dan replied that he basically felt the same as when he’d been taking the drugs. I was shocked, because the difference was so obvious to everyone aside from Dan. The only explanation I could come up with was that he was in such a fog on all his medications that he wasn’t even aware of how he felt.
It seems as if these memories, eight years later, are still inaccessible to him. A defense mechanism, perhaps? It is known that stress can sometimes have a negative effect on memory. Maybe this is why Dan barely remembers those tormenting times?
As I said, it’s something I wonder about sometimes. But I certainly don’t dwell on it. And that’s because I know Dan remembers what is important. He remembers that while OCD tried to steal his life from him, he did everything in his power to fight back. He remembers that he was brave enough to accept help and embrace exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. He remembers that he was stronger than his OCD, and subsequently defeated it.
If he could do it, others can too.
Now that’s something worth remembering.
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Singer, J. (2018). OCD and Memory. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 4, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/ocd-and-memory/