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How Does OCD Affect Family Life?

12/05/2017 11:52

What are some of the ways OCD impacts romantic relationships? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Barbara Claypole White, Bestselling author, OCD advocate, and Guiding Scribe of WFWA:

In her darkly funny memoir, Mad Girl, Bryony Gordon states that mental illness can make you "staggeringly selfish." Selfish doesn't describe either of the people I love who battle OCD, but OCD behavior can make a loved one self-focused and, let's be honest, annoying. Well, duh. OCD is all about control and certainty. It's about I need this now, now, now, now. And the dishwasher has to be stacked this way, only this way. And there can be no delays. Oh, and did I leave the oven on? I think I left on the oven on; we need to go home and check.

When you're tired, it's hard to remind yourself to separate the person you love from the disorder and say, "That's just his or her OCD." Because there's nothing "just" about OCD. And even if you can find acceptance, everything goes out the window with a family crisis. OCD hates disruption to established routines, and change is a four-letter word.

OCD is also one sick bastard that likes to twist and pervert whatever matters to you most. It will latch on to relationships like a leech; will give doubt where there is none; will whisper you had an affair when you didn't; will repeat endlessly that you're a terrible spouse and a terrible parent.

Back to Bryony Gordon's brilliant memoir: When she was pregnant, her OCD kept poking at her with, "What if your fiancée isn't your baby's father?" Apparently that's a standard fear when you mix OCD with prenatal hormones, which is another weird OCD quirk. It's highly individualized, and yet it comes with common traits. A debilitating fear of catching a sexually transmitted disease--even if you're a virgin--is a variation on a theme of contamination fears. But I'm getting sidetracked...

The hardest part of being the non-OCD person in a relationship is figuring out how to offer love without engaging the monster. OCD encourages its victims to check and double check. Sometimes that pattern sucks in a partner or a parent. If someone you love is in crisis and you can fix the problem--you know the oven was off when you left the house--your instinct is to give reassurance. Problem solved, right? Wrong. Reassurance is what OCD wants. It feeds on affirmation, and if you provide it, you're tossing gasoline on a bonfire. And that fire can gain strength so quickly that nothing will prepare you for the unimaginable: hearing someone you love to the moon and back tell you he's contemplated suicide.

Heavy-duty stuff, I know, and throughout the journey, you have to find ways to protect your own mental health. That can be as simple as walking away for half an hour or finding joy in a hobby. When my om is AWOL, I garden. There's a reason I have fourteen flowerbeds, all of which I started from scratch.

By the way, I highly recommend When a Family Member Has OCD by Jon Hershfield. I keep a copy on my desk.

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