I've always been slightly more than casually OCD. Not the flip-the-light-switch-seven-times-then-tap-dance-thru-three-choruses-of-I-Could've-Danced-All-Night-before-leaving-the-house kind, but more like the picks-stray-hairs-from-my-pillow-before-laying-down-and-always-on-the-lookout-for-dead-bodies kind. I can't explain away the hair thing, but you try working for the body pickup service contracted to the medical examiner's office of a major metropolitan city for a year and *not* look for corpses on the side of every road and behind every hydrangea. They're there, people.
Now, this has always been sort of quirky and cute to most that know me, and those that may have thought otherwise have largely been kind enough to at least refrain from open mockery. "Oh, that TheUnluckyPath, she sure is hilarious, over there picking microscopic lint fragments off of her dinosaur print Boden top". But let me tell you, shit got real when Punky arrived four weeks early. I had what turned out to be straight up post-partum OCD/anxiety that might blow your mind. I had no idea that this was even a thing. You learn some (but not near enough) about post-partum depression in med school. But I swear I had no idea that you could get heightened OCD associated with the perinatal and/or post-partum period. It was absolutely heinous. I've never been so terrified in my whole life. I spent the first eight weeks of my daughter's life expecting to find her dead, in any and all manner of common and/or obscure/tragic/horrifying/violent ways, every single time I left her for a snooze. And, presumably because I've seen some serious things in my life, I could picture in excruciating detail every single aspect of the fictional scene. I became nearly-paralyzed by stairs, where I would clutch her to my body and get an iron-grip on the banister like I was free-climbing Half Dome every time I walked out to the garage (down four steps.....just four). I would imagine that she, at four weeks old, had somehow freakishly developed musculature, climbed out of her crib, and rolled underneath only to suffocate on a blanket that she had carelessly wrapped herself in. I visualized her tiny electrocuted body lying next to a wall outlet, no joke. My heart was repeatedly broken day in, day out, every time that I left her and cautiously returned to see what I would find. Because, even though she was perfectly fine every time I came back(if not sometimes poopy), I imagined her dead in more ways than anyone could ever believe, and it felt so real to me each and every time. And a little bit of me mourned her faux death, so many times a day.
But that actually wasn't the worst of it. The worst of it was that, in the majority of instances, when I imagined her death, it was me inflicting it. It was me hurting her in all of those ways every time. In the bath tub. In the kitchen. In her nursery. It was so, so shocking and terrifying to have these scenes playing through my fractured, sleep-deprived mind. The shred of myself that I was still clinging on to still knew that I did not ever want to hurt a single tiny spiky hair on my perfect little peanut's head, but it was so, so hard to reconcile this with the visions that I was constantly having. I was beyond terrified. I was so afraid to tell my husband about any of these things, for I didn't know if he would be afraid to leave me alone with her. A few weeks in to this guilt-and-shame-filled struggle, I remembered an episode of the podcast Invisibilia that I had listened to the year prior. It was called The Secret History of Thoughts, and it had made quite an impression on me at the time, especially the story about a young, just-married couple. They had a relatively carefree and easygoing life, until one day out of the blue the guy started having obsessive thoughts of his wife being stabbed to death in their kitchen. And he was the one doing it. On one hand, he just *knew* that he had no desire to harm his wife in the least. But on the other hand he was terrified that he must want to kill her, on some subconscious level, else why would he have such terrible visions?
Turns out, he had a specific subtype of OCD called Harm OCD, in which "an individual experiences intrusive, unwanted, or distressing thoughts of causing harm, and this is inconsistent with the individual's values, beliefs and sense of self. These obsessions typically center around the belief that one must be absolutely certain that they are in control at all times in order to ensure that they are not responsible for a violent or otherwise fatal act." (that's a nice definition provided by the website of the OCD Center of LA)
So, I went back and listened to the episode again, and I felt an immediate sense of relief. I remembered identifying with it to some degree the first time around, and feeling so deeply sorry for the poor bastard experiencing this terrifying thing.......but now I was was reasonably sure that I had become that poor bastard. However, at least I had some hope that perhaps I could fix this somehow. So I committed right then and there to myself that I would admit that I was having these thoughts to my lovely, compassionate therapist at my next appointment. And, I did. And doing so was the first step in my journey toward recovery from my post-partum Harm OCD. And now that Punky is 2.5 years old, I'm back to my slightly more than casual OCD, right where I'm comfortable.
And that brings me to watching my daughter drink hotel bathwater in a borderline sketchy extended stay motel during our cross-country move a few months ago. Having a toddler is a long-haul treatment course of exposure therapy for OCD, which turns out to be very effective for me in dealing with my issues. Identify the intrusive thought, analyze it and decide if it's valid and why/why not, then accept it or dismiss it as it's happening. Gives me the sense of control that I need to feel comfortable and safe. And then I can go about my quirky day.
Watching a toddler eat peanut butter off the floor of an airport. Standing idly by while my daughter puts her hand in the toilet to retrieve a toy that needed a quick and refreshing swim. Suppressing a scream as the kid covers the wall in crayon, grinning and singing with unabashed joy. It's a constant barrage of borderline-horrifying acts of depravity, packaged in an adorable little bundle of cuteness and light. And on that day a few months back, as I sat back on the yellowed and cracked tiles of that supposedly clean bathroom, I forced myself to let her be a toddler, feeling her way through the world around her and delighting in the new experience. It was a super gross experience, but she thoroughly enjoyed it nonetheless. And the reason that I finally got around to writing this five months after the fact is that it dawned on me a couple of nights ago that I haven't checked my pillow for stray hairs before falling (mostly happy and always exhausted) into bed at night since we moved to this new job and house. There are tons of other stressors in life, including some new ones about kind of hating this new city, but overall life is pretty damn good. And the older I get, the better of a handle that I have on my weird brain. It's actually pretty interesting in here most of the time......... :0)
Thursday, December 21, 2017
Monday, July 3, 2017
Hi, I’m new here. And very honored to be here, at that. I’m a pathologist, in private practice for > 5 years (settling in to the flatter portion at the top of the exponential career curve of knowledge/abject terror), but < 10 years (I suspect, the point on that curve at which cynicism overrides all other basal functions and drives one towards a retirement countdown sticker chart).
Over a period of years, I had somehow found myself struggling to get through the work day, doing twice as much work as is safe to do, getting paid a quarter of the money being made off of my back. I had become everything to everyone in my office and to the clinicians in the hospital, and nothing to myself professionally. I hated every minute of it. And my marriage was suffering for the long hours, which I finally figured out after hearing myself in every conversation trying to justify my absences. It just didn't sound authentic to me. Working 60+ hours a week as a pathologist is not particularly normal. But it took a while for me to figure this out -- Stockholm syndrome is real, ya'll. And then, nearly exactly two years ago I had a gorgeous baby girl, induced at 36+1 weeks for oligohydramnios, weighing in at a whopping 4 lbs 15 oz. And my placenta was just as small as that tiny girl, 5th percentile. Everything was "fine" until it wasn't. I've since learned that many of the births to female docs in similar situations to myself are premature for various reasons, commonly for oligo……………can’t help but think there is a link there.
I’ve worked with some wonderful people over the years while doing this job. Most of the ones who have stayed for longer than a year are the type that persevere long past the expiration date, and they just keep on going. Each seems to have his or her own reason for doing so: 'finish what you start', 'I cannot be defeated', 'everyone will like me eventually', 'it’s not really that bad', 'I deserve this pain', 'it is too hard to change'. What is my reason? I’ve already made too many mistakes. This can’t be another one. I can make this work. My family is depending on me.
Life is too short to stay in a job that is soul-crushing. No job is perfect certainly, but no job should harm your psychic core or fizzle your spark. If you don’t recognize the person that you were, that idealistic nerdling resident, marveling at those exquisite enterocytes mingling with those gorgeous goblet cells, and you can’t find her deep down in there somewhere………..it’s time to make a change. And preferably before that gal has packed up her shit and moved to the outer recesses of the universe, never to be seen or heard from again. Mistakes will always be made, some big and some small, but they can always be corrected. Be the change, as they say (whoever they may be). You always have the power to make things better. I have become a path beast during my time here, and now I’m doing my best not to become a pathological beast. Put yourself into the situation that you want to be in, whatever that may be. It could take awhile, sometimes may even take eight years and some major life changes. Remove yourself from the people and entities who take everything from you and give nothing back in return. I’m doing just that in short order. Even though it’s a move to a more backward state than the one in which I currently reside, but that’s yet another story for another day………
Take care of yourself first, the rest will follow.
Progress and peace to my fellow burnout warriors :0)
Take care of yourself first, the rest will follow.
Progress and peace to my fellow burnout warriors :0)