All my life, I have had some strange compulsions. I used to make sure my toilet paper was folded perfectly before use. I am very superstitious and I always have to knock on wood or make sure I apologize to myself over and over if I say something even remotely offensive about someone. I never feel deserving of things and I always feel bad accepting things from others that are given to me (ie., free food, money as gifts, a favor). I think the most prominent symptom of my self-diagnosed OCD is that I always want to save my good memories so I don’t lose them. I am generally VERY nostalgic and emotional which isn’t a terrible attribute but living this way often has negative effects on my life. Sometimes, I look back on good memories in hopes that they mask whatever I am going through. Other times, I convince myself that I need to save my memories because I want to make sure that I have something good to look back on to share with others around me. I am often concerned that I won’t make good memories again and all of the good memories I have must be protected. I feel that memories must be protected and maintained like fragile objects. I do gymnastics full time and I often get upset if I cannot repeat skills the same exact way as I have done them in the past. I am always trying to repeat good memories in hopes that it will make me feel better about myself. Do I sound like a memory hoarder?
Memory hoarding is not a term that can be found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Health Disorders (DSM), the book used by professionals to diagnose mental health disorders. Most of the information about memory hoarding seems to come from blogs or other nonofficial sources. It might be a term that is used informally, among people with OCD, to describe a certain type of mental compulsion in which they attempt to mentally store certain special or important memories. They seem to be focused on attempting to store these memories in a very specific way, exactly how they happened. Perhaps, what they are attempting to achieve is a “perfect memory.”
The problem with memory hoarding is that there is no such thing as a perfect memory. Studies consistently show that our memories are not as infallible as we may believe them to be. In fact, in psychology, there exists a phenomenon called the “forgetting curve.” This idea has been around for more than 100 years and it essentially says that people are unable to retrieve approximately 50% of information one hour after memory is encoded into our synapses. In other words, people are quick to forget details, especially over time. Stress and anxiety even further erode memories. This is contrary to the public perception which essentially believes that memory is akin to a video recording. It most certainly is not.
Anyone who is attempting to have perfect memories will find themselves frustrated by the limitations of human memory. It’s an impossible task.
The symptoms you have described seem consistent with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Obviously, I cannot diagnose anyone based on a short letter over the Internet and thus I would advise consulting an in-person professional to determine if you have OCD. Most importantly, meeting with a mental health professional will allow you to begin treatment. All of the symptoms you have described are distracting and take away from your life. They limit what you can do and the pleasure you have. Thankfully, good treatments exist for OCD.
Another element of your letter is the idea of perfectionism. Perfectionism commonly co-occurs with OCD. Essentially, it’s a tendency to hold excessively high standards to the point where if the standards are not met, it causes significant distress or impairment in an individual’s life. In the context of OCD, research indicates that some individuals hold the opinion that there is a perfect solution to every problem and that the only way to do anything is to do it perfectly and to make no mistakes. Even minor mistakes, in the mind of the person with OCD, will have serious consequences and cannot be accepted.
That type of thinking is problematic because it is not based in reality. Everyone makes mistakes. “To err is human…” as the famous quote says. That’s the nature of humanity. The goal should not be to never make a mistake. A much more realistic goal is to try to make as few mistakes as possible while allowing for the very real probability that mistakes will be made. You can reduce the number of mistakes you make by focusing on reality and by becoming a critical thinker.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is especially effective for OCD. With the right help and commitment to treatment, you can overcome these issues. Thank you for your question and please take care.
Dr. Kristina Randle