Dane was cleaning up his part of the bedroom recently and when he looked at the trash, he said, “You should write a post of what it’s like living with someone with OCD”. He took a picture and texted it to me. Sure. Bash the man I love about something that might occasionally drive me just a little crazy?? Maybe not. “Can I talk about your anxiety too?” I asked. “Sure!” he said. “I know you’d never be malicious. Go ahead. Maybe it will help someone. Maybe it will even help me.”. That, my friends, is a big deal to me and so I tread gently but honestly as I write this.
That trashcan and the ensuing conversation started subsequent conversations which has been great. The photo is just a small peek, a little glimpse. While he was cleaning up (and the mess drives me nuts but it isn’t my mess so I don’t say anything about it – it’s his side of the room) he looked at me and said, “I’m totally out of control”. During these moments I try to be the listener and say very little. Why? I might ask. How? Is perhaps something I would say. I know the answers I think, but I enjoy the opportunity to understand better, because quite honestly, I don’t always understand. And sometimes I’m frustrated and hurt.
I asked him if I have any OCD or anxiety issues and he told me no – I’m the most balanced person he’s ever met. I want that to be true, so I believe him. And then I rapid fire questions, intently listening to his answers because I so desperately want it to make sense to me. Here’s some of what I learned from his perspective:
- I fixate on something so intensely it makes me angry to be interrupted, not to be able to continue researching it. It actually feels painful to put my phone or iPad down and try to watch a movie with everyone, or take a walk.
- I know I’m detached and distracted but it doesn’t matter because what I’m doing is more important to me. I know I’m missing out on things and the vault of information I’m accumulating won’t make my life better, but I feel so hyper-focused, it consumes me.
- You can’t capitalize on my behavior by asking me to look into which blender is the best one, or how to be more romantic. If it’s not my idea, I don’t care about it and I won’t ever look up the information or follow through on it (well, shoot!!)
- Sometimes it’s test driving a car. Again. Or going to a gun store, or sporting good store. Sometimes it’s looking at and touching something I want or have researched. Sometimes it’s the actual research – the learning about something
- It’s difficult for me to concentrate on anything else. That thing is all I’m thinking about.
Psychology Today says: Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder in which people have unwanted and repeated thoughts, feelings, ideas, sensations (obsessions), or behaviors that make them feel driven to do something (compulsions).Often the person carries out the behaviors to get rid of the obsessive thoughts, but this only provides temporary relief. Not performing the obsessive rituals can cause great anxiety. A person’s level of OCD can be anywhere from mild to severe, but if severe and left untreated, it can destroy a person’s capacity to function at work, at school or even to lead a comfortable existence in the home.
And – AHA! – the anxiety issue comes in to play. Anxiety can be completely separate from OCD, but they do like to play in the sandbox together. So, putting down the phone, being angry, trying to focus on the movie and the family, creating some resentment, etc… can then lead to anxiety. They both happen separately from each other too, but they often skip and hold hands.
What I see:
- He’s disinterested in what I have to say, spending quality time together (being in the same house not interacting isn’t quality time). If we have a conversation he won’t remember it later
- He’s distracted when I’m talking to him. I know he isn’t listening.
- I often feel like I’m interrupting him.
- I don’t ever feel his anger. He’s snappy with the kids sometimes, but I wouldn’t realize it’s because he wants his OCD fix.
- I feel his anxiety coming on like a wave – similar to how he describes how it feels for him – but it’s more like I’m in a glass building watching it happen – feeling it happen – seeing and hearing it -but I’m apart from it. It’s right there and I can’t do a damn thing about it. Usually I can feel it like static in the air just before it happens.
- I feel helpless. I feel sad that there’s nothing I can do. I want to fix it and I can’t. I reach out and sometimes it makes things worse
What I do:
- First, I ask questions. My timing isn’t great at this, but I do try. If I understand things better and they make sense, they don’t bother me. Like the noise you hear outside your window driving you nuts. Once you know what it is and where it’s coming from, it doesn’t bother you anymore. I no longer ask questions while he’s in “mode”
- I give space and I try to remind him that I’m here – we’re all here – and we’d like his attention. The idea to switch gears needs to be his. It isn’t like he’s some raging asshole who blocks us out all the time in a rage while he has ticks, sees the invisible and rocks inconsolably. Lots of people wouldn’t notice – I didn’t notice for a long time. So I try to let him segway on his own from whatever the OCD is about
- When anxiety hits, I get very calm. Mellow. I’ve learned a few things that help. Saying nothing and just touching him. Especially if I put my hand on his heart, which is often in pain. Massage has been amazing. Truly. At night if he has an attack, I rub his back, feet, hands, head, neck – anything really and the anxiety dies down and he falls asleep
- I try to remember that the majority of our lives isn’t affected by OCD or anxiety. Most of it is really pretty great. When this is an issue (and it seems to go in spurts), we work through it. Dane is very aware of himself and how it affects everyone, so his honesty and desire to feel less overwhelmed is amazing in our journey
- I’ve taken nutrition classes on anxiety, stress and lack of sleep (which for him is usually anxiety driven) and I try to incorporate supplements and foods that help reduce stress and anxiety. This has been pretty successful actually and that’s very exciting
- Sometimes I get mad. Not at him, but inside. Sometimes I cry. I’m watching someone I love struggle and I can’t make it go away. Sometimes I realize that because of this it means I’ll feel alone and that when we’re in an anxiety storm, my needs take the back burner. I miss him – the real him – when he’s engulfed in these feelings. I try to remember it’s not personal. It’s not about me, it’s his struggle.
Diet, exercise, getting away from the city, having a little personal space all help Dane a lot. We have a mental list of de-compressors and triggers. Basically the triggers need to be lower for anxiety to stay dormant. Sometimes, though, anxiety hits for what seems like no reason at all and his OCD behaviors feel like a violent storm.
My sister thinks my desire to have my house clean is a form of OCD and that I used to chew on my bottom lip and that could be also, but all I know is that I don’t chew my lip and haven’t for years and my house isn’t generally clean. It’s true, though that maybe we’re all just a little off and I guess I wouldn’t want it any other way.