Your baby just told you they’re OCD. But you’re not sure how to react.
What is OCD, anyway?
And what should you do if bae has it bad?
Don’t brush it off.
Yes, OCD isn’t rational. If your partner tells you that they have panic attacks unless they reorganize their food pantry by color six times a day, you might roll your eyes.
The world won’t end if they don’t organize the food pantry. So why can’t they just…stop? OCD solved!
That’s like telling a depressed person to just be happy, or a person with cancer to just stop producing cancer cells. Take your partner’s OCD seriously.
What should you do? If you just can’t conceptualize why OCD is serious, then put yourself in this situation:
Your childhood home is burning down. You, your mother and sister are trapped inside. You are panicked. You are blind with fear. You can’t breathe. If you knew that the only way to save your family was to organize your pantry, what would you do? You would organize that pantry!
OCD gives your partner that terrified, panicked feeling all the time. And the only way to stop that panicked feeling is to do something they know is irrational, like wash their fingernails sixteen times an hour. It doesn’t make sense. But it’s the only way that the panic recedes, even for a moment.
There are different types of OCD.
We’ve all seen the OCD stereotype: Someone washes their hands 800 times. Or they keep their room obsessively neat. That’s why your friends hyperbolically remark, “I’m so OCD” whenever describing their own perfectionism (which isn’t OCD).
But OCD comes in many, many forms. Sometimes it’s invisible.
Rumination OCD affects someone who can’t stop thinking about the same unanswerable question, all the time, forever. A person with rumination OCD might spend every waking moment thinking about the question, “What is life like after death?” They’re not curious. They just can’t stop thinking about it.
Hoarding OCD, which you know about if you’ve ever had the misfortunate of watching Hoarders, prevents people from throwing anything away.
Sensorimotor OCD is an obsession with the body. For example, bae might be obsessively fixed on their blinking, or on their own breathing, or on the dark spots in their periphery vision.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are dozens of types of OCD.
What should you do? When your partner finally gets up the courage to tell you that they have OCD, don’t assume that means they just want to take three showers a day. Ask them to tell you about the specifics of their situation.
The OCD mind works irrationally.
Yes, people with OCD know it doesn’t make sense to wash their hands sixty-four times over a period of sixty-four minutes. They know it’s irrational to check every five minutes to make sure the stove is off, even if they haven’t used the stove in three days. They know it doesn’t make sense to say the Hail Mary one hundred times before every meal.
Telling them it’s irrational doesn’t magically fix anything. If anything, it makes them feel alienated and irritated.
So what should you do? When your partner is acting on his or her compulsions, don’t remark negatively on it. Let them live.
Be patient, and don’t take it personally.
Some days will be more frustrating than others. Some days are so bad that people with OCD can’t leave the house; you might come home to see your partner unable to leave the bathtub. Those days, bae might be particularly frustrated or ashamed. It’s not your fault. If they snap at you, don’t take it personally – they’re at war with their own mind.
Similarly, some days you just won’t want to deal with OCD – why should you? After all, you’re not the one with the disease. Some days, you’re going to want to leave your partner alone to deal with their own problems while you make a Long Island Iced Tea.
What should you do? Be loving and patient. Your partner is fighting an invisible battle just to survive. You don’t know how difficult and crippling that can be.
When you’re frustrated, take a deep breath, remind yourself why you fell in love with bae, and be the supportive partner they need you to be.
This poem may help you understand their perspective a little more.
OCD can’t be cured.
Like depression and anxiety, OCD can be managed but not cured.
In fact, depression and anxiety go hand-in-hand with OCD. OCD is, after all, just anxiety on steroids – your body goes into panic mode unless you do one very specific thing, all the time. And grappling with the constant stress can lead to depression.
What should you do? Although OCD never goes away completely, with therapy, medicine and support your partner can learn to manage the symptoms.
Be patient. Encourage their healing journey. Find a therapist or support group. And, most importantly, just be there for your baby.