Breaking Up With OCD: In a Patient’s Words

By Fletcher Wortmann

November 1, 2012

Fletcher Wortmann is a former patient at McLean’s OCD Institute.

I think that, in a strange way, I used to love my OCD.

That probably sounds insane to you. Looking back it seems insane to me. If your symptoms are anything like mine used to be, you know what it was like—the isolation, the terror, wasting hours and days ritualizing. Just the suggestion of harboring affection for this disease is completely absurd.

And yet, even when OCD made me miserable, I was convinced it gave me something back. My OCD made beautiful promises. My OCD told me that, if I followed its rules, we could make my life better: I’d have total protection from hurting myself or others, I’d be absolute master of my destiny, I’d accomplish things no one else even dreamed of. OCD promised me another life, one like this, except perfect. Is it any wonder that I loved it? We could do such great things together, I was sure. Unfortunately it didn’t work out that way.

Fletcher Wortmann
Fletcher Wortmann

I was admitted to the McLean Hospital’s Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Institute (OCDI) in the summer of 2007. The previous winter, I’d ended the worst relationship of my life. The woman I was seeing was smart and funny and beautiful, but she was also very sick; she struggled with OCD, anorexia, depression, self-harm. I was young and naive, and I knew that I loved her. I was convinced I could save her from herself. And once she was better, I knew we would be perfect together.

Unfortunately it didn’t work out that way.

I remember, very near the end, the first time I stood back and saw our relationship clearly. I realized I had two options. The first was to leave her, and let her struggle alone. The second was to stay, to try to rescue her, and to fail. There was no third option. The life I’d imagined for us did not exist. And as hard as it was, as selfish and cowardly as it made me feel, I made the practical choice. I left. It took a long time to forgive myself for that, but I wouldn’t hesitate to make the same choice again.

What does this have to do with OCD? OCD is the worst girlfriend. OCD lies. OCD takes everything and gives nothing back. OCD leaves towels on the bathroom floor and never pays for dinner. Fighting it means rejecting its false promises of security and happiness, turning away from that perfect life and never looking back. And that means leaving something you love.

I promise you it will be hard, but even without knowing you—I know you can do it. How do I know? You have already lived with this disorder, and because we both know that the pain of rejecting OCD cannot be as bad as the pain of living with it. Think of the hours you’ve struggled, the opportunities lost. The disorder has already done its worst but you’re still here, reading this. When the OCD goes, it will leave a fresh wound, one that will hurt in unfamiliar ways. But the moment you choose to fight it is the last time it can ever hurt you as badly as it has.

So grab a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, wrap yourself in blankets, and curl up on the couch with the complete third season of “Friends” or “Doctor Who” or whatever your comfort viewing is. Find someone you trust to confide in. Cry if you need to. This is the worst breakup of your life. But I promise, looking back afterwards, you’ll wonder how you lasted so long before you kicked that schmuck to the curb.

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