… it’s a very good place to start. I may judge you a little if you didn’t just sing along. (But before that, a little preamble)
The first post I wrote about our experience with OCD was so well received and I am touched that so many people took the time to either write me or others in my family about how it moved them. Turns out, though, writing about something as fluid and personal as mental health is harder than I thought. It’s hard to structure something in a coherent format that you are living with day to day, where experiences and thoughts flow into each other and do not fall into neat categories. So this post will simply describe how Patrick and I got together and what role OCD played in our relationship. I’ll then write another post detailing how things spiralled out of control. Once that’s done, I’ll start looking more into specific topics of living with OCD.
Now to the beginning:
I can remember the first time I ever saw Patrick. My parents had moved to Cologne and I was visiting them from Berlin. We pulled into the parking lot of the church and he was walking there with his brother. My parents knew him well by then and told me that we needed to pray for him because he had OCD and was either just going into the clinic for it or was just coming out. He must have been around 16 and I was around 19. I remember noticing his red hands and feeling sorry for him but not really caring beyond that.
The next time I saw Patrick, we were kind of thrown together so that I could talk to him about Die Arche, a children and youth project in Berlin, where I was working at the time. I remember wondering how that would work with OCD, going off the basic assumption that many have that OCD is affected by actual uncleanliness. I told him about the kids with lice (and also how fun it was) and he assured me that that wouldn’t be a problem. Then we pretty much went our separate ways.
The next conscious encounter I had with Patrick is one that I am not even sure he knows about. I was working at a New Years camp with my mom in the kitchen and there was some talk going around about Patrick and another girl attending. I remember wondering to myself how she could stand holding hands with him. They were so dry it looked like he wore red gloves and I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to hold hands like sandpaper. I am ashamed even to write that I thought that. What a horrible thing to think. But I did think it.
A half a year later Patrick moved to London and started attending my church, knowing that I was there and could speak German with him. My parents raised me right, so I invited the new guy over for supper, knowing how lonely London can be, and we became friends. Over the course of the year, we became good friends, and when he needed a place to stay the following November, he crashed in our flat for a while. It was when he was staying with us that I noticed his OCD for the first time. I can still see it – he had a mug of tea and as he went to pick it up off the floor he hesitated, just for a second or two, before picking it up. It’s an action that has become so familiar to me now, as familiar as his dimply smile or disapproving looks, but at the time it was completely new. It was then that I finally got up the courage to ask him more about how OCD worked. He explained that for every action he did, whether it was picking up a mug of tea, tying his shoes, whatever he needed to have the ‘right’ thought. Hence the hesitation. I remember being shocked at the all-encompassing reach OCD had and how subtle it worked. I also remember thinking how exhausting that must be.
When he moved out, we were solid friends and I had a major, secret crush on him, which explains the ‘wait-can-you-even-kiss-girls’ question. As I fell more and more in love with him, the dry hands became a non-issue but I still had to make sure I was ready to commit to someone with OCD. I am so grateful I had friends and family who helped me by asking the tough questions and therefore ensuring I had thought through the commitment I would be making.
I hardly remember OCD factoring in on our relationship at all while we were dating. We were having a long-distance relationship, so I was only with Patrick for a weekend at a time. I heard him talking to himself a few times in the washroom, but we would talk about it briefly and that would be it. He was fine. Fine but not all the way well. When we got engaged, Patrick decided he really wanted to work on OCD more actively. I would ask him during our daily phone calls how his specific tasks were going. ‘Did you look at people and breathe in at the same time?’ ‘Did you look at people’s feet and breathe?’
Our marriage preparation course was excellent (not just cause it was so fun to see how much we could make Jonny blush, who did the course together with his wife Catherine) but also because they, again, were not afraid to ask the tough questions. They asked how I thought I would cope being married to someone with mental health difficulties, especially if things deteriorated. At the time, I thought I had a fairly comprehensive grasp on OCD and how it affected Patrick so I answered confidently that it would be fine and I was marrying him with my eyes open.
When we got married, OCD was the best it had been in a long time, but it was still there. On our wedding day, as we knelt to pray after putting on our rings, he had me do his ring again. Little things like that, that seemed so harmless that we allowed them to exist because our life was good.
It wouldn’t be too long, though, before things started to get worse in the deceitful, subtle way this illness seems to work. But that’s a story for next time.
p.s. I have decided that in the next few weeks I will interview Patrick, asking him to explain how ‘his’ OCD works and how it has affected him. If you have any questions, you can post them here in the comment section or write me on Facebook with them. We are really open about this, so feel free to ask anything. The first question I ever really asked him about it was if he was able to kiss girls (you can see where my head was at) so really, ask anything.