Here is what it’s like when a loved one of yours is suffering from OCD, from the OCD Mormon’s Husband.
Backing Out of Plans
A few years ago we moved from Utah to California. Many people in the ward there were so nice and wanted to be friends with us, the new couple in the ward. We got like 3 dinner invites on the first Sunday we were there! Everyone wanted to have us over for dinner. They were so welcoming! My wife, of course, was terrified.
Since you can’t really say no to people, you say yes. But then usually, the day before, she would start to get really “sick.” It took me a while to catch on to what was going on. It seemed like every time there was an event involving other people, she’d get this stomachache or whatever. So sometimes she’d send me on my own. Which is really awkward by the way, because my wife is much better around people than I am. I am actually terrible around people. How do I tell concerned friends, “Actually she’s fine! In fact, her OCD loves you so much, it made her sick, just so she could avoid making you sick (with the illness she doesn’t actually have)!” It’s really complicated. We’ll leave it at that 🙂
When I was about 13, I had a relative that was in rehab and I went to some kind of group therapy session for it. Someone told me I looked just like their son, who was a participant in the rehab program. How was I supposed to take that? Anyway, it was very awkward and I didn’t really want to say anything. Kids really hate talking about their feelings, I guess, and grownups aren’t much better.
When my wife started going to therapy for her OCD, we found a group therapy in Seattle that had a loved ones group at the same time. The first hour or so we were all together and had very good training from experts in OCD and hoarding. The second hour, we had smaller break out groups, with the folks dealing with the illness themselves and their loved in different groups.
They laid down ground rules about how you need to use “I” statements and how there should be no “cross talk.” We were told to talk about how we felt. We weren’t supposed to tell other people how they should feel or try to solve their problems. In reality, everyone told each other how to feel and tried to solve their problems.
One time in particular, an older guy took me aside after the meeting to tell me how much I reminded him of himself. He knew what I was going through and what I needed to do. This was the guy who had been talking earlier about his wife who, for 20 years, refused to get any kind of help and was now basically dying. Maybe he’s right, but seriously though, I hate that guy. I want a happy ending.
Not Giving Reassurance
“Reassurance seeking” is this trick that OCD people use to make themselves feel better. It’s a compulsion. It’s something the doctors tell the people they are treating to avoid. But, as a loved one of someone with OCD, you’ll get sucked into this all the time.
Here are some example of reassurance seeking in it’s subtler forms:
- “Hey, what do you think this spot [on the floor or clothes] is?”
- “Do I have any of these symptoms?”
- “Why wasn’t so and so at church on Sunday?”
You can tell it’s reassurance seeking, because when you answer them, the questions don’t go away, they just get worse:
- “But why would it be chocolate?”
- “But what about these other symptoms?”
- “But what if they stayed home because they were sick!?”
How do you stop the cycle of reassurance seeking? You can’t, but basically you need to not answer the questions. Ask them “how would your therapist answer that question?” or just say “Hey, I love you, but I don’t think it’s going to help if I answer these questions.” This is really hard, and you should probably only do this under the guidance of a therapist otherwise they’ll likely think you’re just being really mean to them. And yes, this still happens to us a lot.
Helping them Seek Help
How do you tell someone that they’re crazy? Especially someone you love and respect and would do anything for? It’s really painful and hard and confusing.
Let me tell you about the first time we tried to get my wife some help. This is around the time she was convinced that she was running people down in the streets and having all sorts small anxieties (ha!). I was basically doing most of the grocery shopping at this point because she didn’t really want to leave house. So we setup a meeting with the Bishop.
He was very nice, and really, I don’t think he understood why were seeing him at all. My wife and I were serving well in our callings. It’s not like we were having any obvious signs of trouble. We were doing very well.
…and we didn’t really want to talk about the problems. She tried to tell him that sometimes she had anxiety and anger issues and that they made her a bad mom. He kind of called her on it and was like, “you’re a great mom” but still referred us to LDS social services, albeit very skeptically.
Why didn’t it go well? Well, for one, we didn’t really tell him about everything. It’s very embarrassing. Am I supposed to share the problems she’s having? I didn’t want to throw her under the bus. It was stressful and felt very discouraging.
The second time around though, it was different. Her anxiety was completely debilitating. I was basically looking at some kind of in-patient program to help her. Of course, the good programs had months long waiting lists, but the second doctor I called had a next day cancellation! It was truly an answer to prayer. I told him about my wife’s symptoms and how we needed urgent help. He strongly encouraged me to get her into group therapy that evening so she could meet with him as soon possible. I managed to persuade her to go and it’s been amazing since that point! Literally, she got her future back and I’m so happy about that. <3
If you really love someone, you need to be there for them. When they’re having hard days, you need to support them. You may need to sometimes reign in your aggressive pushback on reassurance seeking. Or maybe loving them means loving them enough to say no.
You also need to celebrate every little achievement. When my wife started counting her hand washes, she was over 50. And you know, when she set the goal to go from 50 per day to 40, her hands were still bleeding and cracked and horrible. (It was horrible!) But you know what’s not horrible? Being nice and supportive. Now she’s down to 11ish. But it’s 6 months later.
Early in the process, there was this book she bought called The OCD Workbook. She was having such bad OCD at the time that she hid the book in the closet because she got sick and the book was maybe going to get people or her sick again. I just wanted her to read the book. I thought that if she read the book she would know how to get better. So sometimes I would read the book and share things with her that I thought might be helpful. Because I love her and I want her to be well.
Before you try to get help for your loved one, make sure that they know that they are your loved one, that no matter what happens with their treatment or how many setbacks they might have have, you’ll be there for them. It’ll make the process go a whole lot better.
Share your Story
Thanks for listening to my story. What has been your experience supporting someone with OCD or another mental illness? We can all learn from each other, so post your thoughts!