OCD and Memory Lapses

3 min readApr 1

Do you have a notoriously bad memory? Do you get lost trying to find where you parked your car? My whole life, my memory problems and poor sense of direction were the butt of family jokes. I did hypothesize that perhaps my bad memory was a defense against remembering situations and thoughts that could trigger more OCD, and there could be some truth to that, but I think the nature of my OCD made it extremely unlikely that I could have a great functional memory.

I spent nearly every waking minute thinking through rituals and lists while trying to function as a normal person. If you are not plagued by this form of OCD, I want you to imagine having a conversation about, say, your wedding plans, while simultaneously silently reciting the names of the actors from Star Trek and mentally correcting every grammatical mistake you hear with an elaborate thought ritual that you must repeat 144 times in various rigidly determined permutations. And just as your fiancé is telling you where to pick up the flowers, you hear somebody cough, initiating a different set of mental rituals, all the while keeping track of where you are in your repetitive list of Star Trek actors. On your way to pick up the flowers, or whatever it was she told you to get — it’s hard to remember — you have to name eight people from summer camp from when you were 10 years old, in a specific order, repeating the list of names until it feels just right, or something terrible is sure to happen. Then a car honks and you have to spend 10 minutes thinking a ritualized thought pattern about that, and you realize that you have to drive back to where you left your fiancé, because you need to touch the curb again with your right foot…. No wonder you can’t remember things! And no wonder you get lost while driving.

OCD is the opposite of mindfulness, and mindfulness is what you need in order to be involved enough in your life to remember what you are doing and what you did a year ago. My childhood is pretty much a blank to me. I used to conjecture that perhaps I experienced a trauma that made me forget what happened from ages two to, well, last Wednesday. But now I know that it was simply the constant distraction of my OCD.

It may be that your bad memory is not a personality trait, that its’s not an inevitability. It may be that your OCD is interfering in your ability to keep track of the details of your life, and that is certainly understandable. This implies that once you shed your OCD that your memory will improve. And guess what? Mine has.

Click here for the very first post I wrote about how I rid myself of my OCD.


Essays, stories & poetry about OCD, culture and society, by Eric. OCD-Free the book: https://shorturl.at/nGR59