|Me with my best pal|
I have had the privilege and blessing of being married to a wonderful man for 25 years. There were times, though, when I was not completely sure we would survive. My anxiety has always been the third party in our relationship. In addition to all the usual challenges that come in any marital relationship, GAD, OCD, & depression have been a large burden to both of us. There are times when I feel tremendous guilt because I know that my poor husband, Jim, did not sign up for a life of having to care for someone who struggles with mental illness. And yet, do any of us know what we have "signed up for" when we get married? Committing to a lifetime of loving someone is a long time, and things can certainly change health-wise, for either party.
I am fortunate in that Jim is a compassionate person, and my struggles have certainly torn at his heart strings. For years, we would go through cycles with my OCD. I would be in an OCD moment, we would get into a huge argument about it, then I would feel terrible, and he would feel guilty for getting so angry with me. He would try to make me feel better by enabling me and by participating in compulsions. Then, he would realize that this was unhealthy and not normal, so he would get upset, I would panic, we would argue, and then the cycle started all over again. In addition, if he did not participate in my compulsions, I could get quite angry, and frankly, mean. When my anxiety is high and my fear is overwhelming, I can become like a trapped animal. I am convinced that my husband only stayed with me out of his deep sense of commitment to the Lord, and because he actually still managed to love me, in spite of this painful merry-go-round.
The Fall of 2009 became a pivotal turning point in our relationship and in my recovery. I began CBT/ERP with a specialist in Boston. The first year of therapy was brutal, mainly, I believe, because we let my illness get so severe. Slowly but surely, the OCD started to get under control. One of the things that really helped was my husband's collaboration with me to get better. He did not begrudge the money we spent on therapy (and it wasn't cheap as insurance only covered part of it). He doesn't drive a 13 year old car for nothing! He came to therapy sessions when I asked him to. At my request, he read Jeff Bell's excellent memoir, "Rewind, Replay, Repeat," he accompanied me to the IOCDF Annual Conference last summer, and he also attended marital CBT/ERP sessions with a psychologist who specializes in treating couples affected by anxiety. He has also spent literally hours upon hours listening to me, and learning about how OCD impacts my thinking and emotions.
At my psychologist's suggestion, we made a pact to work together on the anxiety. Working together to fight OCD and GAD can be a disaster for a relationship if you don't both agree on some basic ground rules. He agreed to not get angry or be sarcastic with me when he tried to stop me in my OCD tracks, and I agreed to try to refrain from getting angry back, recognizing that he was just trying to help me. We try to talk to each other gently in the midst of OCD turmoil. He tries hard not to enable me (which is difficult for him because he has a sweet and giving nature). I try to work on my anxiety because I know it makes him suffer too. We are co-warriors in the fight against anxiety. We realize that the other one is not the enemy, the OCD is the enemy.
Just the other night, I was really struggling with facing a fear. I was pretty upset about it. Instead of minimizing my fears, my husband said, "It's ok. You will be ok. We'll do it together. I can't imagine how hard this is for you." Wow. Those last words said it all. He gets it. He usually follows up words like that with a hug.
The result of all of this effort? A much stronger, more loving, kind, and compassionate marriage with less interference by the OCD monster. It did not happen overnight. It cost money and time, but honestly, I would do it all over again. I feel certain that my husband would agree. Is our marriage perfect now? No way! We still fight over stupid things like the toothpaste cap, and yes, even OCD sometimes. But we've been given the tools to move forward in a healthy manner, together.
|My absolute favorite pic of the two of us!|