Behind Closed Doors: Obsessive. Compulsive.

At Any Other Woman, you can talk about anything. Anything you want at all. Any subject, any time. We are proud to be able to provide that platform for you, it makes our hearts sing. But we do understand that sometimes there are topics that are too sensitive, too divisive, simply too hard to write about and broadcast without a second thought. No-one wants to hurt their loved ones unnecessarily and yet sometimes a story needs to be told.

This is your place for those subjects. A place for you to tell those tales you’d not considered telling before. No names, no justifications, no apologies.

You can send your BCD submissions to behindcloseddoors@live.co.uk and we promise that you’ll remain anonymous throughout the entire process.

If you know me, you’ll know that I am a sharer. I love to tell people my life story on park benches in a way that makes Forrest Gump look closed. There is no topic left unspoken.

Actually that last bit is untrue.

Today I want to share the thing that I only ever speak to my closest, closest friends about, mainly because (this next bit sounds like I am still in high school) it’s not really my secret to tell.

The secret is that my husband has severe OCD.

OCD, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, must be one of the most misused mental illnesses in society today. Daily, I overhear people making comments like: “I’m a bit OCD about how I like my tea” or “Being OCD I like to write lists” and I feel that this trivialises what is a horrible illness. So often, what people describe as being “a bit OCD” is just not OCD, and is instead people being picky or having specific preferences or habits. The best example I can give of this is cleanliness. People associate OCD with cleanliness because a common symptom of OCD is sufferers obsessing about keeping things spotless. But liking things to be clean and tidy can often just be a symptom of control freakery (I am totally guilty of this), rather than OCD. My husband is not a clean or tidy person. He could live in a pit of filth and be perfectly happy. This difference in opinion about a ‘normal’ standard of housework has in fact caused us to argue until I caved and got a cleaner. OCD does not necessarily equal tidiness, or organisation.

(I should caveat this last paragraph: I don’t think there is a one size fits all approach to OCD or any mental illness. I actually had one of those heart to hearts where you block out the rest of the restaurant noise chatter with my best friend on Saturday about people’s mental health and how for any mental illness, everyone sits somewhere on a spectrum from healthy to unhealthy and where you are can and does change periodically.)

For a while, my husband wouldn’t talk to me about his OCD. He is, as he describes himself, “highly functioning,” (translation: “good at hiding it”). Looking back, there were some clear signs (continually turning off plug sockets, waiting outside the door for a just a handful of seconds too long before being able to lock it up and leave it…), but without something to link these behaviours to, I or any of his other close friends or family didn’t connect them together. Now he is more open about his illness to me (our friends and family still do not know), but his confidences come out in snippets, whispered under the bedcovers, apologetically admitted to mid-argument. He does not find his mental illness easy to talk about.

At its worst, OCD is like ‘someone else’ has taken over my lovely husband. There was the time he came back late to our flat and quite literally wouldn’t stop flexing his hand in a funny way because he was convinced something was wrong with it or it wasn’t there anymore. And the times he has walked off without me at night on public transport because he convinced himself he shouted something inappropriate at a member of the public. He goes into a kind of trance and won’t look me in the eye or speak to me. These episodes are frightening.

It is hard to believe that it is the same man who is always telling me not to worry: not to worry about the future, to enjoy life now, to keep calm about job interviews and whether I will be able to have kids and whether I need to lose weight or not. He is quite literally the last person I think any of our friends or family would imagine has these feelings or acts like this.

Last summer, he decided to take the step of speaking to the professionals about it. It has taken me almost six years of convincing him to talk about it to someone, to ANYONE. Convincing him that trying to fix it himself by the internet won’t work. Convincing him that I wouldn’t consider us having children together until he was trying to address it, because I didn’t want us to have to deal with what could be a really stressful time of our lives without him having help. These were difficult conversations.

The therapy is helping. I don’t know if the OCD is getting better, so when I say it is helping I mean that it is just helping us to talk about it more. He has started telling me about his obsessions, talking about them in a way he would never have done in the past. One day I came home to find him cooking dinner, having bought groceries from the supermarket. I am always the one who shops and cooks, and I always thought it was because he was a bit lazy or didn’t enjoy it. On this particular evening I’d had a terrible day at work, hadn’t planned what we would eat and was (being completely honest here) gearing up for a bit of a fight as I knew we would both get home late to a dark flat and no food and I would feel both put upon (because the assumption is that I would shop and cook) and guilty (for not shopping and cooking).

I opened the door to the smell of pasta sauce. He was in the kitchen, peeling vegetables. I asked him why – we both knew this was unusual behaviour – and he replied: “I have a challenge this week to shop in a supermarket and then cook dinner.” The dinner was delicious. Whilst eating it, we talked about why he doesn’t shop in supermarkets (obsessions about walking out without paying/with the correct amount of money, or worrying about making racist comments to cashiers). It was a lightbulb moment for me. My husband never cooks, he will always get a takeaway or eat out. In part I think this is because he loves eating out or avoiding washing up, but at least some of the times will have been purely and simply because he wants to avoid his OCD.

I am so proud that he managed (and continues to manage) to talk to someone about his illness, because part of the talking is admitting it exists, and that must have been one of the hardest things. I also know that he will never not have OCD – even if he manages to reduce his obsessions, or even not have any for a while, at times of stress I understand they might reappear in the same or different forms and we need to be watchful.

We are closer now, we understand each other better, and when we fight and the cause has been something OCD related that he has hidden, I can comfort him rather than rant at him. This is what I mean when I say the therapy is helping. We have been helped; we are getting better.

I wanted to write this post to help everyone understand a bit more about what OCD is, and how mental illness can affect people in different ways. And also to say that the people that you might think were the most sorted, happy, lucky people in the world might find life a whole lot more challenging than you might think.

Categories: Behind Closed Doors
18 interesting thoughts on this

18 Comments

  1. Posted March 24, 2014 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    Fabulous post! I was totally unaware of the reality of what OCD meant and was one of those people guilty of misusing the term – until I was diagnosed with it by my therapist! I was utterly blindsided by it but she explained that its not always about germs or switching the lift on and off – for me it was about creating superstitious rituals as a way to ‘stop bad things happening’ and was tied in to my anxiety and PTSD. Honestly, it was a lightbulb moment and since then I’ve been working really hard to not fall back into those rituals or ‘magical thinking’ because I know it’s a slippery slope for me – even down to really innocent concepts like luck and karma.
    I’m so so pleased that the help your husband is getting seems to be working! Understanding any mental health condition is the most important element to living with it.
    I would wish you luck, but instead will just say keep strong, both of you, and I know that the hard work will pay off for you x

  2. ChirstyMac
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    While horribly horribly unlucky to have such a life-impacting condition I think your husband is incredibly lucky to have someone like you. I have been on both sides of mental illness but, from the side of a sufferer, I can honestly say that one of the worst aspect is how completely alone it can make you feel, putting all your effort into hiding it, petrified what your nearest and dearest might react or feel about you if they knew. It isn’t a concern about how they might see you, but a conviction. No matter how highly functioning, it is exhausting, depressing and isolating which generally just makes it worse.

    No journey like this is easy and progress can feel slow but your husband obviously feels you are someone he is able to share this with, even in small increments (and never underestimate the magnitude of increments: they are the golden slivers) and that is so so valuable.

    This is very strong writing from a brave person. I wish you both all the love in the world. X

  3. Katielase
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    Thank you so much for writing this. It’s brilliant.

    One of my friends had quite serious OCD and it was so life-limiting. For a long time she had no diagnosis and no help, there were days when she couldn’t leave her house. Now she’s learnt to manage it, but it’s still a constant presence in her mind and it can still come back when she’s stressed or afraid. It’s so SO important for people to read things like this post and understand what OCD really means, because constantly referring to ourselves as ‘a bit OCD’ trivialises what is a serious, awful condition and people wouldn’t do it if they truly understood what it meant. Posts like this help people understand, so thank you for writing.

    Your husband is very lucky to have you by his side, and he is so so brave to be talking to someone about this and trying to make changes. It should never be underestimated how brave it is to walk into a room and talk to a stranger about your deepest fears, the bits of yourself that you hide from the world, that you hate in the dark hours. Everyone who ever even walks into a therapy session should know they’re a hero, and be proud of that bravery. I hope everything continues to brighten for you.

    All love

    KL x

  4. Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    This is a great insight. You must have exceptionally strong trust in your relationship to be able to work through something like this. Dealing with mental illness in a loved one is so frustrating and heartbreaking, I really hope things continue to improve and you both get some relief. You’ll be even stronger for having tackled this together. Well done you pair.

    Px

  5. Anon
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    I really hope this comes out as anon.

    I play games obsessively as I think they can stop bad things happening if I get to a certain stage or score above a certain point. I have frequently been convinced I have been screaming stuff on the tube and actually had to stuff something in my mouth to prove to myself I am not. I have some rituals and when I cannot do them I get overwhelmed and then get a little agorophobic.

    I think for me (and possibly for your husband too) finding a way to articulate this is tricky, and saying it is something outside of your control, when it kind of feels like it is your way of controlling things is super hard. My whatever I have is currently massively flared up due to stress and anxiety and I am seeing my GP once a fortnight to check in, and I am improving a bit but also am still having to go back to all the things I learned in CBT for managing it.

    In fact if you were in the room with me right now you would see I keep doing strange things with my arms to allow me to get this comment out.

    I love this post. I love that is shows what OCD really is (I know I have been guilty of incorrectly using that phrase) and I really wish you and your husband all the best. Getting help is a HUGE thing and I really love that it is allowing you to talk about things more.

    Good luck with the rest of the journey xx

    • Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:41 am | Permalink

      Anon, if you want to talk to someone who ‘gets it’ then feel free to get in touch.

      It sounds to me like you’re doing brilliantly!!!

      I think the hardest thing by a mile is breaking rituals because they’re just like any other habit – nail biting or smoking or whatever -they get formed over time in a really gradual way to the point where you don’t even notice you’re doing them but to break them you have to go cold turkey on them and when times are tough what you want things that are familiar and comforting and not to have to do things in a strange, scary, alien way which makes you feel all weird and wrong and itchy. Throw in an overbearing sense of responsibility into the mix and it’s no wonder it feels impossible sometimes – I was really tested a couple of weeks ago – someone crashed into us at a roundabout right after I’d resisted one of my superstitions! – obviously my immediate instinct was to think it was my fault but I managed to talk myself back around using what I’ve learnt. I’m not saying I always will but I definitely notice the difference and sense of freedom of not feeling like I have to do certain things all the time so I think it’s worth the effort you have to put in.

  6. Caroline
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Thanks for writing this – I am someone else who has had to encourage their husband to seek help. Not for OCD but for a matter that I will share one day with his permission.
    It’s hard being the one who has to always be strong – especially as my husbands issue grew dramatically during a time when I just wanted to fall apart.
    I hope things continue to improve for you both.
    Xx

  7. rachel JHD
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Thank you for writing this & educating me about OCD.
    This is what’s brilliant about AOW. Posts are written from personal experience that support others, educate others & mean that we can all hopefully understand & support those around us a little better.

  8. mysparethoughts
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    Excellent post – something I knew very little about.

  9. LottieS
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    In addition to what all the other commenters have said, I just want to commend you on the strength of your relationship with your husband and also the thought, care and effort you are putting in to help you deal with the situation as best as you currently can. Well done.

  10. Fee
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for sharing this. I have issues with anxiety and my husband is absolutely my anchor and touchstone – having a supportive partner makes an immeasurable difference, it sounds like your husband is so lucky to have you.

    Sending love and stregnth – I hope things continue to get better xxx

  11. Beth
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    This is an inspiring and important post – thank you for sharing anon.

  12. Anon
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

    Thank you so much for sharing this. Incredible writing and a really brave thing to talk about. My husband has many of the same habits – checking several times that he has his keys, worrying about and feeling he has to plan for the the worst case scenario even in everything we do, always turning off plug sockets. This post has really made me realise that while some of it is his nature to be organised, prepared and ready for anything, it is also something I should think about and be sympathetic towards and ready to talk about with him, rather than, to be honest, occasionally getting frustrated and so on. So thank you for opening my eyes a little to what OCD really is. All love and best of luck for the future.

  13. rachel JHD
    Posted March 25, 2014 at 12:31 am | Permalink

    Hello again. I read this quote here http://bluemilk.wordpress.com/2014/03/09/on-pouring-out-thoughts/
    & thought of you & your husband.
    Oh the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are–chaff and grain together–certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.

    - George Eliot (pen name of Mary Ann Evans)

  14. Posted March 25, 2014 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    Great post. I will never use the term OCD without thinking again and correct my friends/family if I hear them use it inappropriately.

  15. Emma
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Such an important post and so informative.

    I suffer with some OCD issues to do with controlling my surroundings but like your husband I could happily not boyher with the house work for weeks at a time. Tryig to get that across to friends and family is difficult and I admire the way you have talked so candidly about your husband.

  16. Posted March 26, 2014 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    I admit I have been guilty of using OCD as a “thing” before… after reading this I will try and refrain in future. I realise now I really didn’t have an understanding of what people living with it really do go through day to do. Thank you for writing this. xx

  17. rachel JHD
    Posted April 4, 2014 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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