It’s finally Fall. One of my favourite times of the year. The air smells delicious, I can finally wear scarves and toques while taking Matilda to Kindergarden (prompting a child there to ask if I’m sick. No child, geez. I just like being cozy, ok?!) Candles and tea are very appropriate and I can stuff my face with all things pumpkin. Fall, however, for the past two years, has also brought with it sudden, random moments of panic – constricting chest, shortness of breath and vivid fear. I have been sitting on writing about this next part of our story for months. It’s still hard for me. I am still recovering, two years on and that surprises and frustrates me but that is just the way it is. So, bear with me if I have to take a break to cry in a corner and then remind myself of the miracle of the past two years.
In October 2013, we packed up our little family and moved out east from Bremen to Leipzig. In August we had handed in our resignation, unable to communicate effectively with our bosses about what decisions needed to be made to preserve Patrick’s health and seeing no other way forward to protect the health of our family. The decision itself was painful and stressful. We were leaving our position of leading a church that we loved in a community that we were passionate about and moving to a city where the future was extremely uncertain.
The apartment we were going to rent wasn’t available until the beginning of November so we asked the local Salvation Army if they could put us up for a month, which they did in a the tiny studio apartment they had available. They stored all our stuff for us and we lived out of suitcases for a month. We had braced ourselves for Patrick’s OCD to worsen. Stress is a major trigger and we had just been through some of the most stressful times people face in their lives (moving and becoming jobless). It did worsen when we moved into the studio. We were not surprised and, pleasantly, it was still quite manageable. On top of that, one of the major reasons we moved to Leipzig was the medical care they had for people with OCD. The Uni-Klinik here has an entire branch dedicated to treating to people with OCD. What is more, when we called them from Bremen to see when an appointment would be available (in Bremen we had been on a waiting list for over a year) their answer was ‘Next week?’ We made an appointment for the first week we would be in Leipzig and I especially could not wait for Patrick to have professional support so that I wasn’t by myself trying to help him. So despite things worsening, and they were already not great, we were not too worried because help was imminent.
When it came time to move into our new apartment, it all fell apart, and fast. The Salvation Army moved all our stuff with their volunteers – which is amazing, because otherwise it would have been impossible. Patrick spent the day in the washroom in Leipzig, caught in an OCD nightmare. I was across town and could do nothing to help him. He finally arrived in the evening, after it was all done. This should have been the first warning sign for us that things were going to get ugly. The next week or two are a blur, but then the days get very clear again.
Within about a week of moving in, I was ‘helping’ Patrick with so much of his regular routine – trying to help him not wash his hands over and over again, trying to remind him of what is true and that OCD is full of lies. Torn between helping my husband and taking care of our baby who was 9 months old at the time. The permanency of moving into our apartment had triggered a stress in Patrick and a desire to have everything ‘right’ according to his OCD that he could no longer control and with a force that we could never have anticipated. My mom came down for a weekend to help us unpack and spent most of the weekend watching Matilda while I spent most of the day trying to help Patrick get through his day. At the end of the weekend, Patrick and I decided that we had to ask my mom to stay and I could not take care of Matilda and try to help him somehow pull out of this nosedive into sickness.
Patrick needed about 2, sometimes 3, hours to get out of bed. It could take over 30 minutes for him to be able to move his head off the pillow. Getting ready for bed was no different and I would lie awake, listening to him go through the rituals that OCD was telling him were necessary, begging God to let him make it to bed so he could just sleep. Showering could take 3-4 hours. Usually he had more than one shower a day. There were some days where he would make it out of the house with us, and we were so excited, but then he would need to wash his hands I knew we were going to be there for ages and I would stand in the door, begging him get done. One time we managed to leave and walk to my brother and sister-in-laws house so that Matilda and Mom could play with the family and we could just get out. As we walked towards their house it started to rain and Patrick suddenly looked so upset and told me he was going to have to shower. Not because of the rain, but because of thoughts he had had when a raindrop fell on him and he was so scared of the associations. Mom and I went out to buy stuff for the apartment. I was terrified the whole time of leaving Patrick, so afraid of what may happen to him while I was gone and what we may find when we got back. When we got back, I wanted to show him all the great stuff we got. He told me it would all have to go back – he wouldn’t be able to use it because of thoughts he had had while we were gone. One day we both spent 18 hours in the bathroom, just trying to get him out. He would be finished showering, only to realise that he forgot a step, or I didn’t pay attention properly etc. etc. On top of all this, new fears were popping up out of nowhere. A fear of certain numbers meant that he could only repeat things in certain combos that made OCD-maths sense meaning that he would repeat movements or actions way, way more often than before. It felt never ending.
The worse part of all this was not the physical toll or the time spent, it was the emotional mess we were in. Seeing Patrick so hopeless and scared was terrifying for me. OCD has a way of convincing you that what it is telling you to do is truth and almost erasing any memories that can remind you that your reality used to be different. I could not believe how quickly that happened with Patrick. I would try to remind that just two weeks ago he was so much better, he would be better again. He could barely see it. He would beg me to remember who he used to be, to believe that he was still in there somewhere. And I, in turn, was angry. I have never been so angry in my life. Angry at Patrick, at OCD, at the people who helped us be in this situation and most of all, at God. I would shout at Patrick in the bathroom sometimes, I would throw things onto the floor, I could not believe the red-hot anger I felt. We both knew we needed help, we just didn’t know what to do. Call an ambulance? Before my mom came, I mentioned to Patrick a few times that maybe I should just leave. We had reached the end of the rope.
We decided to go and see Patrick’s clinic and ask the doctor for help. I was so scared that we would miss the appointment. Patrick’s amazing doctor immediately spotted what a desperate situation we were in. I remember him looking at me and saying ‘You’re tired, aren’t you’ and I just nodded and cried. We knew that Patrick’s dependance on me to help him go through his rituals was really unhelpful and against any OCD-spouse advice but we had not idea how to break that cycle and help Patrick get better. His doctor made it possible for Patrick to get a bed in their clinic that day, acknowledging that one of the goals would be to break the dependance we had allowed to grow between us. We just had time to go home and pack him a few things. I felt sick, and a bit like I had failed him and was now pushing him off onto others. I knew and know that that was not the case at all and this was the best thing we could do, but bringing my sick husband to a psych ward, where his coming and going would be regulated and the ward was locked down was horrifying to me. I think a part of it was that my beautiful Patrick was going to be there but they wouldn’t know how amazing he really was. They would just know him as ‘sick’ because that is what he was. He had lost an incredible amount of weight, his skin on his face, neck, arms were peeling like a snake and he could barely make it through a day.
We brought him in and he was shown into his room, which he would have to share with someone else. I made his bed, we tried to be cheer-y for each other. We said good-bye, he said good-bye to Matilda, which he had never had to do before and we left. As the elevator closed, I broke down and cried. I was so worried about him and heartbroken that it had come to this but also so relieved. Relieved that he was finally going to get the help he needed. Relieved that I was not going to have to watch him suffer at home. Relieved that he was going to get better, even if we couldn’t see it yet. And that is a story for next time.
p.s. my glorious husband is out playing basketball tonight like he does every Tuesday. It really is a miracle that he can do that, but it doesn’t help his skills 😉 and I am now going to go make myself a tea, it is Autumn after all.