Panic Disorder & Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – Uncovered

A Guest Blog by Casey Walton.

My other half is a self-defined neurotic and a professionally diagnosed panic disorder & OCD sufferer.

He hid it very well when we first started seeing each other, or rather not really ‘seeing’ each other and now to my relief I feel he’s almost his whole self around me.

We’ve come to some compromises, such as I am now trusted to make my own breakfast! But this comes with a number of regulations, which as an utter slob of a woman, took me a while to adjust to, but here we go;

  • Get the bread from the fridge, wrap up the rest of the loaf and return to the same place in the bottom fridge drawer.
  • Pull the toaster and kettle to the front of the counter during use, to then return to original position after use and switch off after plug.
  • When buttering the toast, do not get crumbs in the butter tub and follow the direction the butter has already been sliced through.
  • Use a separate knife for the jam – this one isn’t so much a rule, just a ‘hot tip’ from experience that it’s incredibly difficult not to get butter in the jam jar.
  • Rinse the butter knife – and jam knife.
  • Wipe any crumbs off counter and place coaster for tea.
  • Return milk to bottom fridge draw, butter to top fridge draw and wipe jam jar to avoid stickiness and return to condiment fridge draw.
  • I’m not permitted to wash the dishes.
  • Always forget to wipe my jam hands before touching the remote. Oops.
For people with OCD, a routine is very important . It can be for a lot of mental health issues. Mental Health issues often give the sufferer a sense of lack of control. Routines can bring that feeling of control back.

The same applies with other routines, feeding his cats for instance (I’m not yet permitted to do and if you met my overweight rabbits – you’d see why). A quarter of a sachet of food which he mashes up for ease of digestion (one of the cats tends to vomit…a lot), to then wait a period of 10-15 minutes with supervised eating, before repeating the same mushing process with another part of the sachet and so on and repeat.

And any plans we have, if it falls on a day when we don’t normally have an activity, my partner needs that little bit of extra notice from me. He needs to know the time we are leaving, how long we will be out for, location, distance to location, if there’s food involved, he’d like to see a menu etc etc.

The next challenge is sound regulation, for instance, eating out can cause frustration for him, the sound of someone eating grates on a lot of people, but for my beloved it induces a reaction more resembling a burst ear drum, its inescapable and intolerable. Then the unexpected events that can happen unpredictably, of which he struggles to not fall into what he describes as a ‘melt down’.

Some people can’t fathom the exhaustion of such organisation and the regimented routine he upholds, to others it probably resonates quite comfortably with them ha.  Some people would look at this behaviour and describe it as ‘high maintenance’.  And to those people I feel I could maybe paint a picture for them, to show them a different perspective.

Just because you have formed your own opinion based on your perceptions of the world, does not mean you are right or wrong, it is simply your opinion. Often in life, your perception is not always someone else’s reality.

Imagine a time when you received some awful news, or maybe a time when you were in some serious trouble. That feeling in your stomach is the one we’re after in this scenario, that sinking, nauseous feeling, when the realisation of something terrible is just dawning on you.

It’s adrenaline, your body is preparing you for the old ‘fight or flight’, it knows something bad has happened and you need to be ready, well, that’s what your brain has informed the rest of your body anyway.

Now remove the bad news, remove the serious trouble, but leave the feeling of dread. And that’s how some people feel in situations that for all intents and purposes, shouldn’t.

The brain is short circuiting and making you feel as though you are in a very dangerous situation – for no reason. You feel queasy, you have immense energy coursing through you, feeling as though you could run with the adrenaline pulsing through you in that moment. But there is no getting rid of it, because you don’t know what caused it. It’s simply there.

The ‘Fight or Flight’ response is very real, as are the resulting physiological responses.

Something scares you and makes you jump, but you don’t come down from that ‘jump’. You’re suspended in this perpetual distress. And because your body is ready to flee for your life, it starts working a little harder to make sure you stay alive. So it vamps up your sensitivity to what you can hear, because your brain doesn’t want you to miss the sound of anything. No predator is going to sneak up on you!

It also gets your heart pumping too, because it figures your limbs are going to need to be ready to get running or fighting (hopefully the former). You might need the loo too, the stomach wants you to empty everything in order to leg it and you’re not going to be very fast with that Tesco meal deal sat in your belly.

With all your oxygen going to your limbs, you might start to feel ‘out of it’, like you aren’t really here, or worse, your shallow breathing may start resulting in chest pain. You feel the horror of impending risk to your wellbeing, but you can’t stop it, because you can’t even see what this ‘impending risk is’. Because there isn’t one.

Sadly for you, you have a tripped wire where for whatever reason, your brain activates your ‘fire alarm’ button in random scenarios that should only be reserved for the worst moments of your life. Well that’s crap; an evil spawn of phantom IBS, delusional thoughts, fake heart attacks, a sweating disorder and insomnia all rolled into one that can arrive at any moment.

Now if you carried that in your life, wouldn’t you try to control absolutely every variable in your life in order not to have your brain set off your fire alarm? (Unless you’re a masochist who enjoys internal suffering, no judgement here)

The anxiety felt by someone who suffers with panic attacks is entirely understandable, when you consider the physiological and mental effects they produce.

The biggest effect of panic attacks or panic disorder is the fear of the unknown. So if you plan everything, if you keep everything the same, if you know what’s coming, where everything is, there is no unknown.

My beloved isn’t high maintenance or demanding, he’s just trying to make his environment as predictable as he can, so he doesn’t have to carry the feeling of continual fear. He says he ‘moans about first world problems’, but if we had a condition that disrupted our lives so volatilely; our sleep, our bowels, our weight, how much we sweat, hair loss, crying, scary delusions (not an exhaustive list but exhausting enough) I think we wouldn’t see an individual who is moaning about the trivial.

We would see a fellow human just trying to avoid suffering unnecessarily.

With greater understanding of OCD and Panic Disorder, in fact with all mental health conditions, comes greater compassion!

So I follow his routines, I wipe the shower gel bottles, I switch both lights on and off at the same time and he can moan about public spaces, timings of events, mess etc because if regulation of those ‘trivial’ things gives him a sense of control over his ‘fire alarm’ going off.

Then that’s a gift to me, to feel I can help.

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