Kirstin, 33, has obsessive compulsive disorder.
Having suffered since the age of seven, her OCD started with intrusive thoughts about physical harm. It then turned into religious-based obsessions. After getting engaged to her long-term partner, Kirstin’s OCD began to attack her relationship.
OCD is an anxiety disorder that centres around obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are unwelcome thoughts, images, worries or doubt that repeatedly appear in your mind. Compulsions are the repetitive action you do to reduce the anxiety these obsessions cause. Compulsions can be both mental and physical – like repeatedly checking a door is locked or going over thoughts in your head to check your bodily reactions to them.
For Kirstin, her obsessions now centre around her relationship with her husband, while her compulsions make her constantly seek reassurance.
Her experience with OCD has been ‘brutal’.
She tells Metro.co.uk: ‘I grew up thinking I was evil and that the devil was inside me and controlling me. I never told anyone because obviously, it sounds insane.
‘I truly thought that I had the capability to make someone live or die. Terrifying. I spent a lot of time doing repetitive compulsions, but only ever did them in private. No one ever saw.’
Kirstin started experiencing relationship-themed OCD, which is often referred to as ROCD, about a year into her relationship with her husband. The pair have been together since 2008.
She explains: ‘I found myself comparing my relationship to others, a lot, and constantly questioning him why he wasn’t doing what X was doing.
‘If someone got engaged, or pregnant, or moved in together, I totally flipped out. I would feel extreme jealousy but then extreme anxiety over whether or not my husband was able to “love me” as much as so-and-so’s partner loved them.’
Kirstin would obsess over whether her partner really loved her – but also over whether he was a ‘good enough person’, or whether she loved him enough.
‘Everyone always seems so sure,’ she says, describing one of her frequent obsessive thoughts. ‘I’m not sure… How do I get sure? Is he “the one”? If he was “the one”, why did he do X? Does he love me enough to marry me? Does he love me enough to have kids with me?’
Kirstin says her obsessions over her relationship really escalated when her husband proposed in June 2016.
She recalls: ‘For the first five or so years, they were fleeting thoughts. But the second my husband proposed, I had a full-blown panic attack.
‘I didn’t know if I should say yes, and completely broke down. We were on a beautiful vacation in Greece and all I could think about was “how do I know?”.
‘When I got back stateside I started comparing my engagement ring to everyone that I saw on the street. “Mine is bigger – he must love me!”, “Mine is smaller – he must not love me.” Back and forth and back and forth. It was nearly constant.
‘The majority of my compulsions were mental. Reviewing, comparing and ruminating. But I also would ask for reassurance… “Are you sure you love me? Do you love my family? Do you love my friends?”’
Despite the frequent reassurance from her husband, Kirstin has never been able to say she’s ‘happy’, without ‘feeling totally anxious or trapped’.
It’s the uncertainty that ‘kills’ her.
‘I know that I’ll never “know”,’ she says.
‘But the fact that I can’t have certainty in this kills me. I am constantly wondering if I would be better off or happier with someone else.’
Kirstin and her husband got married in 2017. She says that surprisingly, her wedding day was the only day where she felt free from her OCD.
‘I had no doubts and felt so happy’, she tells us.
‘I was over the moon in love and couldn’t wait to marry my best friend. I had doubts up to the wedding and doubts afterwards, but that day was amazing and so assuring.
‘That is a big thing that keeps me in the relationship now – I remember that feeling and how amazing it was to be free of the doubts.
‘It’s one of the only reasons I know my husband and I are a good match.’
In the summer of 2019, Kirstin’s OCD escalated to the point that she sat her husband down and told him she was moving out, despite there not actually being any issues between them.
‘He broke down and begged me to stay’, she recalls. ‘[He said] he would do anything to make me happy and that I was the most important thing to him.
‘That he would literally flip his life upside down to be with me. I felt guilty and confused so I changed my mind. It was not an easy few months after you tell your husband you’re leaving.’
Kirstin finally opened up to her husband about what she was going through in November 2019. Her mental illness became so intense that everything was a trigger; friends’ celebrations, TV shows, movies and even music.
She says: ‘Any time anyone would bring up a happy relationship I immediately would feel this wave of heat and anxiety come over me. It got to the point where I was isolating myself and was dissociating.
‘All I could think about was my relationship. After a fair amount of research I had an ah-ha moment where I was like… “Holy s**t, my OCD morphed again”.
‘I knew that I needed some real help and for the first time got treatment. Unfortunately at that point I had had OCD for 25 or so years, and needed to go into a residential facility.
‘It was there that I finally worked with my therapist to tell my husband. And I told him everything.’
Kirstin’s husband was completely understanding – and said hearing everything that was going on helped him to understand her better.
Kirstin is currently in therapy three times a week and sees a psychiatrist twice a month.
She tells us: ‘It has greatly affected my relationship, but in ways I never would have guessed.
‘Of course it’s made things extremely painful, stressful, confusing… but by being totally open and honest with my husband we have had incredibly frank conversations about life, love, and the future that we would have never been able to have in the past.
‘We are now 100% transparent with each other and that actually has helped.
‘That being said, I still have these crazy doubts and I’d say once a month or so I have a period of a few days where I feel like I’m not sure I want to be with him.
‘It’s like anxiety takes over and I feel trapped in my house… Like I have to leave, I have to pack my bags, I can’t stay here another second. It’s extremely overwhelming for my sanity and I sometimes feel like I’m going crazy in a prison of my own mind.’
Since receiving help, when she’s doing ‘well’, Kirstin says she can allow her thoughts to creep in and simply forget them and move along. But sometimes her days are harder, and the doubts and fears become ‘absolutely constant and distracting’.
She adds that she ‘honestly doesn’t know’ how she’s found the strength to continue in her marriage.
‘There have been times that I feel as though the pain of leaving has to be less than the pain of staying’, she said.
‘But still, I’ve never left. Something keeps me here. He is my absolute best friend and truly feels like a lifelong partner. But it’s a battle.
‘I thought I was going to get married, buy a house, have kids. Instead I got married, bought a house, had a complete mental breakdown, and haven’t really recovered.
‘I have somewhat, but I feel like everything is super tentative. I question whether or not I’ll ever be healthy enough to have a kid, or if I’ll ever stop feeling these doubts about my husband. It sucks and makes me very, very sad that OCD has caused all of this. It’s so unfair.
‘You’d think after thinking these thoughts 1.5 billion times a day my brain would get tired of them. But nope. They just keep on coming.’
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