I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder when I was 20, but I had been dealing with the condition since before I can even remember. Although it scared me for years, I eventually found the help I needed with therapy and the love of my friends around me.
My boyfriend, in particular, was a great help. I can't say it was easy for either of us, but with his comfort and empathy, I managed to get a place were the fear faded away. It may still be irritating as hell, but it's just a part of me that I needed to learn to accept, and he helped me do this.
With this in mind, I feel that I can impart some advice to anyone who has started dating someone with OCD. If you do not have the disorder yourself, then you need to understand that we are not your burden; we are people. This list is not for your comfort, but for ours.
Our minds don't work in the same way yours does.
I've had so many people tell me that something will "be okay if I just stop thinking about it" or that I'm just being paranoid about something. Well, congratulations — you've stumbled upon two of the biggest symptoms of OCD: overthinking and paranoia.
There will always be times when we can get past a bad thought, but not only does it take so much mental and emotional energy to do this, sometimes it just doesn't work. I'm not saying it's easy for a person to push bad thoughts away and just get on with life, but lets just say if it's a jog in the park for you, then it's a sprint through a blizzard for us.
You cannot force exposure therapy on us.
If there's one thing a person with OCD hates, it's when someone suggests they can be happy, be healthy, if we just "try" to do the things that scare us or even go cold turkey on doing the things that our disorders tell us to do.
We will not suddenly feel okay about the stain on the floor if you tell us that "we'll just go out and enjoy ourselves instead of worrying about it." She will not stop checking the lock if you drag her away from the door. I will not stop blinking compulsively if you tell me to just hold my eyes open for a while. It doesn't work, and it can actually make things much worse for us. Exposure therapy can only work in small doses, in a safe environment, with our consent.
We will apologize — a lot.
Those of you who have anxiety will recognize this one because it's all in the same neurological ballpark. For the OCD crowd, that anxiousness is meshed right in with compulsive thoughts and obsessive behavior. So if you've ever called your partner "clingy" for constantly asking if you're okay or for constantly apologizing over something small, then you may want to rethink how you react next time.
My brain will never be satisfied with one apology. It's not enough; two words will never show how truly sorry I am, and I will wonder all day if my apology was only accepted for the sake of ending the discussion. I'm not saying you can't work with your partner to help wean them off of this, but do not classify it as clingy or annoying.
We're not curable.
As much as I'd love to prove this one wrong, OCD never goes away. Although it's true that some forms of childhood OCD have been found to work themselves out by adulthood, it's most likely that if you're dating someone with the disorder, then they have it for life.
This doesn't mean certain rituals and compulsions won't disappear over time — some have for me — but if you're waiting for the day when your partner will be able to live without any symptoms, like they've just recovered from a cold, then you're living in a fairytale.
Your love will comfort and help our recovery.
By "recovery," I mean how we learn to manage the disorder. A lot of us with OCD may eventually reach a place were the disorder no longer depresses or scares us. Sure, it'll still bug the hell out of us most of the time, but being able to cope with the disorder is our form of recovery.
Having someone by your side to help through the tough times means more than you can ever know, so don't underestimate how important you are to your partner.
Don't take our corrections and mood swings personally.
There are a lot of stereotypes surrounding OCD, but it's true that, for certain people, cleanliness, order, structure, and just having something done in a certain way is important to a lot of us. In any other situation, it may seem annoying for someone to suddenly re-clean a dish you've already washed or rearrange a desk you had already organized, but keep in mind that if we don't have our spaces in a certain way, then it can make us extremely anxious.
Communication and collaboration is key here. It's not personal; it's the OCD.
We will have off days when we won't follow our therapy. Let us.
No one's mental health is perfect. We all have days when getting out of bed or going to a therapy session feels like it will do us more harm than good. Days like these are actually part of our recovery, because sometimes we just need to give ourselves a break. Everyone misses a day of two of class, or the gym. Why should therapy be any different? We can't be skilled at dealing with our OCD every day, so please don't judge us for it.
Depression and anxiety tie into OCD.
Like many other mental-health conditions, OCD is linked to other disorders, and each disorder can affect the other greatly. This isn't the case for everyone, of course, but it is for many, especially me. Not only can obsessive-compulsive thoughts spark an anxiety attack, but the day-to-day routine of your brain telling you that you can't do something is very upsetting. If you're unsure why your obsessive-compulsive partner is showing depressive symptoms or suddenly keeling over with a breathless panic attack, this may be why.
We know it's something we can't control, but let us vent about it.
Many people try to remind us that, since OCD is incurable and is something we live with every day, we need to stop complaining about it and think about something else. I find this ironic considering a huge portion of OCD is obsessive worrying. It's essentially like saying, "I know you have a cold but you can't cure it, so stop sneezing." We can complain and vent about whatever we want — and it helps us.
You don't have to coddle us. Just love and try to understand us.
Above all, we're not tragic souls who are lost and hopeless within this world. We just endure the world differently. We need our partners to be sensitive to our disorder, but if you feel the need to walk on eggshells around us, then something is very wrong.
Learning about the disorder is the first step to understanding what kind of partner you need to be for your loved one.