I have OCD—here’s what I wish my loved ones knew
I have OCD. It’s been a part of my life since childhood, with alternating periods of recovery and relapse over the years. After about 10 years of being pretty-much-ok-and-coping, about a year ago it came back with a vengeance. And worse than what it does to me, is what I see it doing to the people who love me, which I know is something all of my fellow OCD-ers deal with. So I have some things that I want to make sure those people know.
I wish I could stop it
To me, OCD is a very self-indulgent illness. I can see how it upsets my family and friends, but in the moment, nothing is as important as lathering my hands in soap and plunging them into hot water (cliché, I know, but yep – hand-washing is my primary compulsion). I can see how much it hurts my mum when she sees my hands bleed, my boyfriend when I hesitate to hold his hand, my roommate as she tiptoes around, not sure what’s going to set me off in a panic next. I feel so awful about this, and that’s ultimately what led me to seek help for my OCD. Finally, the people around me were more important than the irrational thoughts in my head.
Surprises aren’t always a good thing
Living with OCD means constantly being aware of potential triggers. Every social situation brings new challenges, that we need time to prepare ourselves to deal with.
So last-minute changes to plans can freak us out. Seemingly simple things like you inviting an extra person for dinner, changing the time we’re going out, or coming over unannounced, can bring on a wave of panic that could lead to an episode. So please be patient, let us know about plans in advance, and stick to them as much as possible. Sometimes our minds just need a little extra notice about these things.
Please don’t say, oh yeah, I’m TOTALLY OCD too (Unless, you know, you actually are)
Liking your desk to be organized is not OCD. Only eating the red M&Ms is not OCD. Getting mad when your roommate leaves dishes in the sink is not OCD. OCD is a debilitating, exhausting, frustrating mental illness. Not a quirky personality trait.
We know you mean well, and you’re trying to relate to us, but it just trivializes what’s going on in our minds, and makes us feel so much further away from you.
You don’t have to understand what’s going on in our minds. Just let us know that you’ll try your best to.
Reassure me that you love me anyway
We might be a little bit needy when things are bad. OCD makes us feel so isolated, and we’re terrified that this behaviour will drive you away. So please, if you do love us, let us know you’re not going anywhere.
Tell me that you’re proud
You know how Tinkerbell needed applause to live? There are rumours that character trait was based on me. Taking the steps to recover from OCD is exhausting. It is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done (YES Masters Thesis you have been ousted!). It’s a constant work in progress, and sometimes giving up just feels like the easiest option. It might seem small to you, but any progress to us is a humongous deal, and encourages us to keep trying.
It feels so great when I barrel into my bedroom, jazz-handing like a showgirl, yelling “LOOK! MY HANDS LOOK KINDA NORMAL TODAY!” and his face lights up with pride. Moments like that make me want to do something else great that I can tell him and make him make that face again.
We’re trying so hard, and in a lot of cases, that’s at least in part because of you. So let us know you see that, and tell us how proud you are. And then we’ll keep trying.
Every day is different
Like most OCD-ers, I have good days and bad days, usually in streaks. I’ll think I’m cured, I’ll get careless, and I’ll stop trying so hard to control my thoughts. And then I relapse.
I see my loved ones relax when I’m doing well, and they tell me how proud they are. Which is great. But it does mean that a setback, however temporary, makes me feel like I’m letting them down. It’s important to reassure your loved one with OCD that you understand that it’s a journey, our minds are a work-in-progress, and you will stick by us through good days and bad.s
I really, really, really appreciate you
We’re hard work. We know that. And sometimes we don’t know why you’re still here, but thank you for sticking by us when there are lots of people who wouldn’t. It means more than you know.
Sarah Jordan is a 23-year-old copywriter from Dublin, with a deep love of Gilmore Girls, children’s books, sweet potato fries, and throwing glitter at people (nicely, of course). You’ll find her on Twitter at @_sarahjordan.
[Image via iStock]