I’m sure you’ve heard it a hundred times. I’m sure you’ve even said it. Talking about how it drives you crazy if the forks aren’t always in the ‘fork’ spot, or if a picture is just slightly crooked. How you have to iron your underwear, even though you know that just isn’t sensible or how your ‘Twilight’ books, all from the same publishing house in the same series are not all the same height (seriously, Atom, what’s up with that?!) And you know, I get it! I really do. I used to say that, too, (although my character is about as far ordered as you can get) and I used to think nothing of it.
Until I started dating Patrick. You see, my dearest husband, the man I have welded myself to for eternity, has OCD. Not the cute kind. The real kind. The kind you take medicine for, go to therapy for and even have clinic stays for. It’s anything but cute. Anything but a character quirk. Now, when I hear people talk about ‘their’ OCD, it stings a little. They have no idea what they are talking about. I know, because I never used to either.
I remember sitting in the car with my dad when Patrick and I were on the verge of ‘going steady’ 5 years ago now. My dad knew and loved Patrick long before I did and I remember him asking carefully if I had thought through the consequences of dating someone with an illness like Patrick’s. He wasn’t trying to deter me in any way, just making sure that I was walking into something aware of the situation. The same thing happened during our marriage prep with our wonderful pastors in London. They questioned us on the pressures that OCD would bring to our marriage, how we would protect ourselves and especially how I would cope. I remember that both times I smiled, filled with so much love for this man who is so much more than his OCD. I assured both parties that I knew what I was getting into, that I had done my research, spoken with Patrick and heard about his past where the symptoms of OCD had been much more pronounced.
On our wedding day we purposely used the traditional vows. There is something sacred in promising the same thing that hundreds of thousands of people had promised before. I remember being especially aware of promising to love Patrick in sickness and in health, knowing that I was marrying a man who had a sickness that could possibly, unexpectedly affect our lives.
I don’t know if you know anything about OCD. The Mayo Clinic defines OCD succinctly:
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by unreasonable thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead you to do repetitive behaviors (compulsions).
That definition sounds so, well, manageable. It masks the utter destruction and despair that can result from OCD. The thoughts may be unreasonable but that doesn’t make them any less terrifying for the sufferer. The ‘repetitive behaviours’ can be anything from once or twice, or in one horrifying instance, over 5000 times.
There is also no definition of what it is like to be married to someone with OCD. I never even thought about it in those terms until Patrick got very, very sick. Up until that point, the slow, deceiving decline, I hadn’t really considered the reality of what ‘sick’ Patrick looks like for the very simple reason that I had no idea what that could look like. He had told me before of a bad time but it was so long ago and we were both so far removed from it that it was impossible to grasp its extent.
I now know. I know. I am also keenly aware of the loneliness of the spouse. The helplessness, the despair, the burning anger so strong that it scares you. Friends and family are supportive but they don’t really ‘know’. And that is why I am going to write about this more often. I want to talk about it so that other people are more comfortable talking about it. I am going to describe the horrors of ‘my’ OCD (‘my’ because you do get close to it. It does get in your brain. It’s inevitable, I think). I will also celebrate the amazing triumphs and grace that we’ve had. I will try to honestly describe how our family was and is affected. What I do to do better than just ‘cope’. I want to do this, not to have a pat on the back, a nice ‘well done you, Sarah’ from the Internet world but because I genuinely hope that the families of people suffering from OCD who are feeling alone and overwhelmed will somehow stumble onto this weak little drop in the ocean and know that they are not alone. That we can write, vent, mourn, laugh and celebrate together as people who really know, down to their core, that OCD is not cute.