“I’m convinced OCD is one of the worst kinds of mental hell. Holding my boyfriend in my arms, feeling his normally strong chest shake uncontrollably with giant, heart wrenching sobs, I don’t know what to say. There’s really nothing I can say. I’ve tried. ‘You’re not a bad person. You haven’t done anything you need to worry about. Those fears are irrational.’ But he won’t believe my reassurances. He’ll think I’m naive or just telling him what he wants to hear. To see someone who is normally so confident, so steady, so charismatic, with swollen red eyes and a look of complete fear and hopelessness on his face… it breaks my heart. But there’s nothing I can do, except hold him tighter.
You’re probably thinking, ‘OCD? Being a control freak, a neat freak, or a perfectionist shouldn’t put you in that kind of misery.’ Well, it might. But people don’t realize, there are a lot of different types of OCD. It’s often overlooked, misunderstood, and trivialized. Let me assure you, OCD is very real and can be very debilitating. My boyfriend suffers from the type that constantly puts horrible, intrusive thoughts in your head. The type of OCD that makes you believe you’ve unintentionally committed some crime and are bound for a life in prison, even though you’ve never done anything remotely criminal. The type that makes you think you’re a bad person, or that others will perceive you as such. The type that makes you believe, no matter what you do, you’re eventually going to lose everything you love and care about most. You’re not sure how exactly, but you’re certain it will happen. And it keeps you in bed, because that’s the only place you feel safe.
What if you accidentally searched something illegal and the FBI thinks you’re involved in it? What if you were unknowingly part of a business fraud? What if a virus put inappropriate images on your computer, without you knowing they were there? What if a child or a woman falsely remembers you doing something to them? What if, even though they said they wanted it, they later decide it wasn’t really consensual? What if you accidentally miscited something and get expelled for plagiarism? What if you filed your taxes wrong and they come after you? What if you accidentally ran over someone or something and didn’t realize it? What if you never realized how badly you hurt or offended someone, and they’re going to come after you for revenge? What if you lose control and become violent? What if you forgot to pay for something at the store and they think you stole it? My boyfriend doesn’t struggle with all of these things. But they’re common worries for this type of OCD.
When in the midst of it, OCD keeps you from thinking rationally. You start questioning your memories and your perception of different events. You blow everything out of proportion and associate yourself with the most hardened criminals. You read about them to try to make yourself feel better, to try to tell yourself you’re not really on the same level as them. But instead you find the few commonalities, however small and insignificant they may be, and it only proves you’re a horrible person. The truth is, a horrible person wouldn’t be sitting there obsessing over their wrong doings. A horrible person wouldn’t care if they might have unintentionally hurt someone. They wouldn’t feel guilt and shame and regret for the tiniest of mistakes. A horrible person wouldn’t think twice, let alone obsess over it.
They’re not horrible people. At times, we all have weird, inappropriate, disturbing intrusive thoughts. But most of us can recognize them for that and brush them away. The OCD brain fixates on them and goes through compulsions to try to provide relief — in my boyfriend’s case, over analyzing, excessively googling things, and constantly seeking reassurance (even though his brain won’t really let him accept it).
Even though I know it won’t make a difference, and sometimes it makes it worse, I still find myself wanting to provide that reassurance. I try to provide the logical reasoning he’s lacking in the moment. But it’s like playing devil’s advocate. I try to tell him how much I love him and why. But it just makes him feel bad because he doesn’t think he deserves me. I’m too patient, too loving, too good to him. It’s a trap that only leaves me feeling more helpless and frustrated. Not at him, just with this disease. Because it not only invalidates his thoughts, but mine as well. And when he can’t be comforted, it only makes him more distressed and hopeless.
You become convinced it’s only a matter of time. Your life is over. You have no future. And you’d be better off alone, so you don’t drag anyone else into this mess you’ve made. Instead of the usual teasing, joking, and chattering away about anything and everything, all he can seem to say is, ‘I’m doomed. I can’t do this anymore. I don’t know how I’m going to live like this for another 50 years.’ And he tries to push me away, so I won’t be hurt in his ‘inevitable’ future. Not realizing, he’s hurting me now. Not realizing, in the process of trying to make sure he doesn’t lose everything he loves, that’s exactly what he’s doing to himself.
In a better state of mind, I’ve watched my boyfriend dismiss his irrational fears and easily provide reasons he knows he shouldn’t worry. But when he’s anxious, he questions these truths and finds new twists and facets of it to worry about. It can be exhausting. I’ll think he’s overcome one hurdle, only to realize it has mutated into something else. I’ve come to realize and accept this will always be part of our lives. It won’t always have to be this bad. And it won’t always be the same fears. But he’ll always have OCD. There are things he can do to treat it, but you can’t just cure it or overcome it. Mental illness doesn’t work that way.
People ask me, ‘Are you scared to be with him, knowing he has to deal with this? Seeing him at these really low points?’ Not really. Loving someone with a mental illness can be hard, but everyone has their challenges. Dietary restrictions, disabilities, family circumstances — so many things require perspective, the right mindset, and lifestyle adjustments. This is no different. We have to make sure we don’t have too much down time for him to start getting anxious, and we try to plan things to look forward to (which is hard to do right now with social distancing). We have to be careful about what we watch so it doesn’t trigger him. We’re developing better communication, goal setting skills, and boundaries.
Ultimately, I understand the head doesn’t always accurately portray the heart. His mental illness isn’t him. And it’s way more difficult and agonizing for him than it is for me. He’s trying his best and doing everything he can to get it under better control. And as long as he’s trying, I’m not leaving him. For some people, that might be more than they can handle. That doesn’t make you cruel or any less of a person if you choose not to. But there’s a lot of mental illness out there, and the more we can be understanding and supportive, the better off we’ll all be. He’s such a wonderful person and I’d rather learn to work with one of his few struggles than give up on all the many things I love about him.”
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