Seeking Reassurance for my OCD Fears Part 2: My Husband
I concealed my anxiety from my husband as much as possible for the first couple years we knew each other. I was ashamed of my fearfulness. One summer during college, I moved in with him because I couldn't find a job. I had a blast of anxiety that I had a swollen lymph node behind my ear and that this meant I had cancer. Without a job, I spent hours obsessing, lost in anxiety. I went down to the tiny public library, with its creaky floors and looked at medical reference books, which gave a momentary hit of relief, and then the anxiety started up again. I finally told him about my anxious fears. It felt like confession. He had great compassion for my suffering.
My pattern became long stretches of anxiety, which I hid from my husband as long as I could, and then several times a year, I would reach such a depth of anxiety that I would confess my fears to him, and cry raggedly into his chest. One summer in grad school, I felt tingling in my fingers, and had a burst of anxiousness, and went to the library to read medical reference books, and saw an entry about Guillain-Barre Syndrome, which results in the nervous system attacking itself and patients can be completely paralyzed but still conscious. My OCD latched onto this, and dogged me with fear. We were getting ready to leave on vacation, and I didn't want to ruin it by admitting my fear, but when we stopped for lunch on the journey, I could barely focus on him sitting across from me. The anxiety had slipped me from my moorings. I couldn't eat.
Finally, I blurted out my anxiety, and I remember how sad he looked, as he took my hand in his, across the table. "Don't you want to go on vacation with me?" He didn't know what to do, and he was afraid that he had done something wrong. Later, when we got to our destination, I lay down, still wrapped in fear, and as I closed my eyes, listening to my worry over and over "What if I have Guillain-Barre? What if I am paralyzed?" I suddenly had the thought that if I became paralyzed, my husband would take me to the emergency room. There wasn't anything else to do. He would take care of me, do what needed to be done. I was still scared and shaky from all the adrenaline, but I had a flash of reality in that moment.
As I flipped through a newspaper, I came across an ad for a research study on anxiety disorders, which listed tingling and numbness of the hands as a symptom of anxiety. In that moment I had a choice to make. My best guess was that the tingling was from anxiety; Guillain-Barre was much less likely. The OCD still wanted absolute certainty that it wasn't Guillain-Barre, at the expense of being in the present moment with my husband, on vacation, being alive, rather than the living dead. I chose to stay as present as I could. I was scared, but I wanted to escape the tyranny of the anxious thoughts.