Dear Loved Ones: A Letter of Things We Wish You Knew (When We Were in The Trenches of OCD)
Dear loved ones,
I know it can be challenging to try to look at things through the eyes of someone who has OCD, like I do. We may often appear illogical, unreasonable, or demanding. You might see our behaviors as absurd, and you may question our ability to reason.
I understand this. I know it looks that way from the outside. Struggling with this disorder can be difficult, and that can make us seem rigid and strain our relationships. Please know that this is not intentional. We don’t want to hurt anyone. In fact, that’s often precisely what we are trying to avoid.
I know you cannot walk in my shoes or see the world through my eyes. That’s okay; I wouldn’t expect that. OCD has not been your cross to bear. I would not wish this on anyone else. I know you struggle in your own ways with your own battles. I can’t know what that’s like for you. All I can do is be here for you and try to support you as best I can. That’s all I want from you as well, your love and support—especially when I am feeling at my worst.
What I need you to know
I need you to know that I need you. When I pull away or become avoidant, I am not distancing myself from you. I am trying to find solace in my mind. I am searching for any form of peace possible. My brain is exhausted. It may not look like I’ve completed much; it may even seem as if I haven’t been very productive today. If only you could see all that I have done internally, and all of the energy that it has taken.
I know that on the outside, I may look fine. Please understand that I have become very good at hiding. I’ve had to. The world has not always been so kind about mental illness. It’s still sometimes misunderstood and stigmatized, so I often keep my struggles to myself. I also don’t want to be a burden, and I don’t want to be a source of stress for those that I love, so I stay quiet. I fight alone. I want to be strong and brave, but some days I can barely get out of bed.
I count it a victory if I am able to cook dinner or clean the house or finish that pile of laundry. I am not lazy—when I cook dinner, I might be flooded with thoughts of accidentally poisoning all of the people I care about, and it may take me three hours to prepare the food to my safety standards. Cleaning the house can be overwhelming: what if I get cleaning liquid chemicals on my hands and it spreads to other areas of the home? What if my child then touches those contaminated areas and gets sick? What if the laundry has germs on it, and I somehow spread that to innocent people when I go to the grocery store? What if a pair of underwear still somehow had semen on it, and it causes someone else to get pregnant? What if on the way home from the store, I hear something and think I hit someone? I might go back and check several times, but I cannot be certain that I haven’t just committed a crime.
You see, these what if’s constantly flood our minds. Before you have even gotten home from work, I have envisioned hundreds of horrific or disgusting images or thoughts in my mind, along with the worst possible outcomes for each one. I have considered that you will cut me out of your life, that you will realize I am a monster. I have pictured myself unloveable and alone for the rest of my life. I am in a constant state of fear.
These things feel like they will be the end of us—images flood our heads about being in prison or going to hell for perceived miscalculations or accidents. Often, it just feels like it is all too much. Too much to think, too much to feel, too much to fight against. I know I seem distant, and in some ways I am, but it’s not because I want to be. I would rather be in the moment with you, enjoying what you are enjoying and participating in your experiences alongside you. But it doesn’t always feel possible.
What I wish you could understand
When I am in the midst of a debilitating OCD episode, I promise that I am not trying to be challenging or controlling. I hate the way that this illness sometimes makes me feel and how it can sometimes overtake my logic. I want just as badly—actually, probably even more than you do—to stop behaving in a way that OCD demands. I am frequently walking around in a fog, rarely living in the moment.
Every minute can be filled with doubt and even terror. I am consumed by guilt, shame, fear, and those dreaded what if’s. If I could change this all, please know that I would in a heartbeat. I often question who I am at my core, unable to trust the person I logically know that I am. It is scary. I am frustrated and angry at myself. I internalize everything. I constantly feel “bad” or “wrong,” convinced I am a misfit.
Believe it or not, I do see you. I see your needs and desires. I hear you and understand the pain that this illness has brought into not only my life, but into yours as well. Please know that if I could, I would stop doing compulsions and would get rid of all of the intrusive thoughts I have. I would love to stop doing these strange things that make no sense and only bring temporary solace. I want to focus on you and our time together. I feel myself constantly being pulled away into concerns about unimaginable things and your safety, along with the safety of everyone I care the most about.
Every person struggling with OCD
If you’re struggling with OCD, please know that there’s hope. I’ve been where you have been, and I know from my own experience that you can get better.
Our team at NOCD is here for you, and we can help you on your path to recovery. Our licensed therapists deeply understand OCD and are specialty-trained in treating OCD with exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. We work side-by-side with the OCD experts and researchers who designed some of the world’s top OCD treatment programs – and that means the best care for our members. You can book a free 15-minute call with our team to get matched with one and get started with OCD treatment.
Stay tuned for my follow-up article, “Dear Loved Ones: What I Want to Share Now That I am in Recovery.”
Stacy Quick LPC, is a therapist at NOCD, specializing in the treatment of OCD. She has been working in the mental health field for nearly 20 years. Her goal is to help members achieve skills to help them live a more fulfilling life without letting OCD be in control. Ms. Quick uses ERP and her lived experiences to help her members understand it is possible to live a life in recovery. She is a mother of 3 children, 2 of whom are also diagnosed with OCD. Ms. Quick is also a writer and content creator. Learn more about Stacy Quick on Instagram: @stacyquick.undone
NOCD Therapists specialize in treating OCDView all therapists
Licensed Therapist, MA
I started as a therapist over 14 years ago, working in different mental health environments. Many people with OCD that weren't being treated for it crossed my path and weren't getting better. I decided that I wanted to help people with OCD, so I became an OCD therapist, and eventually, a clinical supervisor. I treated people using Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) and saw people get better day in and day out. I continue to use ERP because nothing is more effective in treating OCD.
Licensed Therapist, LCMHC
When I started treating OCD, I quickly realized how much this type of work means to me because I had to learn how to be okay with discomfort and uncertainty myself. I’ve been practicing as a licensed therapist since 2016. My graduate work is in mental health counseling, and I use Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy because it’s the gold standard of OCD treatment.
Licensed Therapy, LMHC
I've been a licensed counselor since 2013, having run my private practice with a steady influx of OCD cases for several years. Out of all the approaches to OCD treatment that I've used, I find Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy to be the most effective. ERP goes beyond other methods and tackles the problem head-on. By using ERP in our sessions, you can look forward to better days ahead.