In this past week, I dealt with the pain and upside of surgery, and wrestled with an existential question.
These weekly updates share life with OCD as part of my Mental Work Health project to reduce stigma around mental health, especially at work.
As happens so often, I have been anticipating this past weekend for a while, and built up expectations that turned out to be inaccurate. At some point, one might think that I would come to expect that, but it has not happened yet.
This last Friday, I had surgery to repair a ventral hernia. It was a simple and quick surgery and I was home before evening. Ironically, I had almost the same surgery exactly one year ago, but then developed another hernia is the same general area.
One of the biggest challenges for me with a procedure like this is that I really do not like pain. I do not know how high my pain tolerance is because I seek relief as soon as the pain starts. My wife is so tough that during our sixth child’s birth, the doctor commented to an observing student that a natural birth is not typically so calm and quiet. I have long since given up any thought that I need to be the strong one in our relationship. She knows that I do not dig pain and thinks no less of me for it.
Most of the weekend has consisted of me sitting in my armchair downstairs watching TV1, reading, or sleeping. I have enjoyed seeing the compassion and care my children all have for me as they know I am in pain. The younger kids keep bringing me little gifts and the older ones have been checking on me periodically. Overall, despite the pain, it was a relaxing weekend.
One of the aspects of surgery that I have been looking forward to, as well as dreading, is my reaction to anesthesia and pain medication. As I mentioned earlier, I had almost this exact surgery a year ago, and my behavior in post-op recovery and at home over the next few days has entered into family legend. Leading up to this surgery, the anticipation had been mixed. My boys have been wanting to stay far away from me. They are happy to hear the stories, but uncomfortable to be around me in an altered state. My girls were so excited they could barely wait.
I discussed my past reactions with my therapist, and she said they make a lot of sense. Because of my OCD, my brain is keeping tight control all the time, and when something happens to loosen that grip, it is often spectacular. The nurses and anesthesiologist were understanding as I described what usually happens and assured me that I am not the only person to get loopy.
As I woke up in post-op, I was greeted by my nurse, Katie. I asked all sorts of personal questions about her and her life, including whether she swears. When she said that she does, I asked if she would swear with me, which she said would not be appropriate at work. Apparently I tried to convince her to do it five or six times and complained to my wife when she arrived of my failure.
I started taking videos of myself to document my experience and told my wife on the way home that I am starting a new career as a vlogger. When I came in the house, I filmed the reactions of each of the kids, making it clear this was for “my peeps.” My oldest daughter fell off the couch she was laughing so hard.
The interesting thing was that my delirium2 was much less pronounced and much shorter this time. So much so that my kids felt a little let down. And to be honest, so did I. The prospect of being free from the tight, rigid control of my mind for a weekend was the part of this experience I had been looking forward to.
As I thought more about the situation, I have my own speculation about my muted response. I think it is a good thing. I think that as I have continued to grow and develop in my ability to live with my OCD on a daily basis, there was less of an urgent need for a full release of control. Of course, I have no scientific evidence to back up my hypothesis, but it makes me feel better and more grateful for where I am in life right now. And that helps offset a bit of the disappointment.
I have mentioned before that I am a spiritual and religious person. As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, my faith is an important part of my life. I was reading a church publication over the weekend, and it talked about the time that Jesus Christ was on the earth. As is recorded in many places, one of the hallmarks of His ministry was healing people. This question was posed for pondering:
What would you ask the Savior to heal?
That question set me to start thinking whether I would ask to have my OCD taken away. It has certainly been the cause of much struggle and pain in my life. It affects my relationships with others, particularly my wife and children. It is unrelenting and exhausting.
And yet there is so much good that has come from it as well. With a mind geared for rules, I was able to quickly become a competent programmer. In my two years as a missionary in Romania, I became fluent in Romanian and translate church conferences for ten years after returning home. Since the great breakdown of 2018, and my subsequent journey to learn about mental health, my level of empathy and ability to connect with others has increased dramatically. These are just some of the gold nuggets that have come from having OCD.
After more consideration, my answer is no. I would not ask to be healed of my OCD and have it taken away. I think I would ask to be healed of some of the trauma that led to my developing OCD. That would go a long way in improving my relationship skills, which would help with my wife and kids. And so with that realization, I know where I want to focus my efforts. I realize that I will always have OCD, and it will always intrude in my life somewhat. But I can make friends with it and learn how to live with it. The work that I need to do is to heal the raw spots that cause issues in the most important relationships in my life.
I mentioned last week that I keep hoping to have a boring week, and keep not doing so. My surgery went well and recovery is progressing. The reminder that I am coming to peace with my OCD was a welcome surprise. I hope that whatever struggles you are facing, you are able to find the gold nuggets and come to peace with your situation.
Forged in Fire and football ↩
That was the diagnosis of my psychiatrist when I described my reactions to him after the surgery last year. ↩