Wednesday, September 16, 2009

OCD through My Husband's Eyes

A blog post written by bloggerwithocd's husband

So, my wife asked me to write a blog post for her about what it’s like to be married to someone with OCD. She jokingly said I could write about “how I put up with her.” In reality, it is a joy and a privilege to be married to such a glowing, caring, loving woman. For the vast majority of our time together, OCD has no negative effects and, as my wife alluded to in an earlier post, I believe that it benefits our relationship. We love to be goofy together, and I know that her non-linear thinking leads to a lot of laughter for us. Moreover, living with someone with OCD has taught me many things, both about the condition and about myself.

My wife revealed that she had OCD relatively early in our relationship, but it was hard to know what that meant, exactly. People say “Oh, I’m so OCD” so much that it’s easy to forget that OCD is an actual medical condition. That is unfortunate to me, and it seems to be in keeping with our culture’s inability to really address mental or emotional disorders. No one would ever say “Oh, that broken leg is just in your head. Get over it.” But people will cavalierly dismiss things like OCD without any thought.

One thing that I realized about eight months into our married life is how real and how potentially debilitating OCD can be. As my wife discussed in an earlier post, she had a difficult period in 2008 where she couldn’t sleep, could barely eat, and simply wasn’t functioning like she normally does. It was the first time that I experienced the power that OCD can have over someone, and I was simply overwhelmed. I had no idea how to help her, and when we were ultimately sitting in the emergency room at 1:00 AM, I realized that OCD needs to be treated, and treated aggressively, the same way you would address any chronic medical condition. Since that time, I think that I’ve gotten better at helping her address OCD problems. I try to help her confront issues, and to provide reassurance while at the same time trying not to enable any irrational needs or affirmations. At least, I hope I help sometimes. But the reality of OCD has made me more attuned and more sympathetic to others who struggle with the same or similar conditions.

Another striking aspect of OCD is its ability to surprise. There are certain things that I’ve come to expect from OCD and situations that I know are going to trigger OCD anxiety (leaving appliances on, dangerous driving, etc.). But then, I go to a session with my wife and her therapist, and I find out that there were days over the past week where my wife would gag when eating meals because of an OCD-related worry. It’s an issue that I hadn’t noticed, and a trigger that I didn’t even know existed. I’m someone who generally prefers to be on an even keel, and having such surprises can be jarring. But they have taught me to pay closer attention to my wife. It can be easy to respond to a question like “Did we shut off the stove?” with a “Yes,” and not even realize that this is an OCD-related worry. OCD encourages me to observe my wife more closely. And, I hope, it also encourages me to pay closer attention (and have greater appreciation) for the details of my daily life.

Finally, OCD has the capacity to frustrate. It obviously frustrates my wife, but it frustrates me sometimes as well. In particular, she has a bad habit of picking her nails and the skin around them. We all have nervous tics – I, like my grandfather and other male relatives, will rapidly bounce my knee up and down if I’m nervous and sitting. But my wife will pick her fingernails even when we’re in relaxed settings, like just watching TV together or having dinner with family. The message that sends to me is: “I can’t shut this off. There’s always something that I’m worrying about, even subconsciously.” That’s sad to me. She asks me to stay on her to catch her when she’s doing it, but no luck. The picking itself doesn’t bother me as much as the fact that it seems to represent a constant uneasiness. I feel like scolding her to stop picking isn’t really addressing the underlying worries.

In reaction to these frustrations, however, I think I’m slowly learning to be more loving. My wife is very naturally compassionate, and while I am to a degree, I can also be dismissive. Living with OCD in my spouse can help to push past superficial irritations or anger, and into more caring, connected relationships.

My wife and her OCD have taught me a lot in our first few years of marriage. I look forward to learning more in the years to come.

If you are the spouse or friend of someone with OCD, and you have questions for Husband, please post below. All replies to this post from Bloggerwithocd (with the exception of the first two) will be from him.