What I Want You To Know About Dating With OCD And Intrusive Thoughts

As if dating wasn’t already hard enough, before first dates anxieties about my violent, unforgiving intrusive thoughts swarm in my head.
The author
Courtesy of Lauren Jarvis-Gibson
The author

The violent thoughts came to me suddenly, and without hesitation, in the summer of June 2017. It was 5pm, and I was lounging around the beach house with my parents, when all at once, I was hit with a wave of the loudest and most disturbing thoughts I have ever had.

I’m going to kill someone.

I’m going to be sent to a mental institution and never have a normal life.

I’m going to kill myself.

I’m going to go insane. I AM insane. Holy shit, I’m going insane.

“No matter what I did, or where I went, disturbing thoughts followed me like a ghost”

I remember trying to distract myself by taking a shower, but the hot water running down my body did nothing to soothe my mind. After that day, no matter what I did, or where I went, disturbing thoughts followed me like a ghost. I was powerless to them.

My intrusive thoughts were extremely violent and unforgiving. For the rest of that summer I retreated to my bed in my lonely apartment, trying to sleep away the days, convinced I would never be normal again.

Days turned into weeks that turned into months and I was nowhere near to being fine. Each day I woke up, praying that these disturbing thoughts could magically go away. That perhaps, I could send them off with the right amount of sunshine, and Himalayan salt lamps.

But, of course that didn’t happen. And sunshine can only do so much for a mental illness. I remember one day waking up, with the vivid thought that I was going to have to make a noose for myself. I was terrified – these thoughts were so powerful, they made me believe I would actually commit these acts of violence, even though I knew in my heart that I never would. I knew what I had wasn’t depression. I knew what I had wasn’t anxiety. So what the hell was wrong with me?

The author
Lauren Jarvis-Gibson
The author

I decided to see a therapist that autumn. During those sessions, I would go into vivid detail about these violent thoughts. I told my therapist I didn’t want to leave my room – for work, for friends, for anything – because every time I stepped outside the thoughts would start churning. I couldn’t walk on the sidewalk in fear that I would attempt to walk in front of a car. I couldn’t drive my car in fear that I would slam myself into a wall, or worse; slam someone else with my car. I was scared of my own self, of what I would do if I got loose, like a wild animal escaping from the zoo.

While therapy helped release some of my anxiety over these intrusive thoughts, I knew I needed more answers. When I sat in my psychiatrist’s office for the first time I looked around the waiting room, wondering if anyone else had experienced the same version of hell I was living in. I hoped they hadn’t and I hope they never will.

Finally, my name was called. And finally, my life was about to change for the better. Almost immediately upon telling her my symptoms, my psychiatrist diagnosed me with OCD. I sat there stunned, not understanding how I could possibly have this mental illness. I was always under the impression that OCD was having urges to clean, to get rid of germs and to scrub yourself into you bled. The movies and the media told me that OCD was about counting numbers, and not stepping on cracks on the sidewalk but boy was I so, so wrong.

According to NIH, “Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a common, chronic and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (obsessions) and behaviours (compulsions) that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over”. My psychiatrist explained to me that an individual like me with OCD has intrusive thoughts, but doesn’t act on those urges, or behaviour.

“The movies and the media told me that OCD was about counting numbers, and not stepping on cracks on the sidewalk but boy was I so, so wrong.”

“So I’m not going insane or mental?” I sputtered out to her. She smiled at me, before replying with a gentle, “no, you aren’t”. I smiled back at her and for the first time in a long time, I felt like I had control again over my thoughts and my life. I finally had hope again.

Being diagnosed with OCD didn’t eliminate the thoughts, but it did make me more able to differentiate between my own thoughts and the thoughts from OCD. I was prescribed 100mg of Zoloft, which I had been on before to treat my anxiety. While I was nervous about being dependent on a pill to keep me stabilised, I was mostly eager to get back to my normal, happy go lucky self.

Having OCD for over two years now, my main challenge is in the dating department. As if dating wasn’t already hard enough, before first dates anxieties about my intrusive thoughts swarm in my head.

What if my thoughts get out of control? What if I lose my mind on this date? What if I really do slam my car into another car? What if, what if, WHAT IF?

Most of the time though, if it’s a good date with a good person, my OCD tends to take a back seat (knock on wood).

Lauren Jarvis-Gibson
Lauren Jarvis-Gibson

My last relationship, that ended in March, was affected by my OCD in ways that I never could have imagined. It made me uneasy at times, like I had to walk on eggshells in my own brain. It made me question things he did and things I did, obsessively. Towards the beginning, I agonised over if we were right for one another. This wasn’t your typical anxieties about the beginning of a relationship, these were intrusive thoughts digging their way into my relationship with no hesitation. Even when I felt calm about other things in my life, my relationship was my OCD’s main target.

Was he the one? If he wasn’t the one, was I wasting my time? Did I mean it when I said I loved him? Did he mean it? What if we drive somewhere together and I decide to kill us both? What if I simply can’t stop myself? What if I wake up one morning and decide to end my life? Will he come to my funeral?

These thoughts echoed around my head on some days, and came to a full blown shout on others.

One chilly night in February, after eating too much Taco Bell, my intrusive thoughts came crashing down on me. I turned pale and dizzy and ran to my boyfriend’s car in a daze. He sat with me for the next hour, telling me I was okay and I was safe. My legs trembled and shook and I could barely talk, let alone breathe. That’s when he knew that he loved me and that’s when I knew that my OCD was powerful as hell and could happen at any time. In the end, my OCD didn’t ruin my relationship, and it wasn’t the reason for the breakup, but it definitely made me aware that my OCD was still a part of me, and perhaps would always be.

Dating while having OCD will always be challenging, but I’m not going to give up now. I’ve dated considerate and incredibly empathetic people who haven’t batted an eye when I have told them about my intrusive thoughts. Most people will understand, and won’t let it get in the way of a relationship, but of course there are people that will. I will always have OCD attacks and will always have intrusive thoughts creeping up at me, but I believe that when I meet the right person, it won’t matter. None of it will matter.

“I will always have OCD attacks and will always have intrusive thoughts creeping up at me, but I believe that when I meet the right person, it won’t matter.”

In terms of telling friends and significant others about my OCD, everyone so far has been incredibly understanding and empathetic. Some confuse my intrusive thoughts with me being suicidal, which is understandable but not the truth. Most give me their well wishes and nod their head sympathetically. I’ve come to the realisation that most people won’t fully understand what’s going on in my head, but they are here for me regardless, and that’s more than okay.

What’s come to a great surprise for me is that almost everyone (including people I’ve dated) actually have similar symptoms and almost identical intrusive thoughts that I do (they just don’t have the same repetitive behaviour that drives me nuts). Almost everyone I’ve met has some sort of mental illness and as soon as I start talking to them about mine, they feel more comfortable to talk openly about their struggles. In fact, just last week I went on a date and found myself rambling about my mental illness(es). You know what happened? He told me about his too. And then we moved on to another round of drinks.

Almost everyone you know is fighting a battle you know nothing about. So listen to people when they tell you that they are struggling. Reach out to friends. Spread awareness. Be less judgmental. And please be kind to yourself and reach out for help when you need it. You are not annoying and you aren’t a liability. You’re a human being and you deserve to live this life freely, instead of hiding from it. If you meet someone who judges you on a chemical imbalance in your brain, move on. The right person for you won’t let your OCD or mental illness get in the way. The right person will love you for you.

Lauren Jarvis-Gibson is a freelance writer. You can follow her at @LaurenJG5

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