Chris Tomlin O Come all Ye Faithful

Monday, September 7, 2009

Fact or Feeling?

I have been so busy living my life and stepping so carefully around the bear traps of mental illness that surround my family, that I haven't had the energy or the inspiration that is necessary to write a new blog post. But I know that I really need to sit down and do this or you who read it regularly will give up on me. So maybe I should write about living around people who suffer with various psychiatric diagnoses and the implications these have in your communication with them.

For myself, communicating with ANYone is a challenge. I can write with reasonable clarity but try to put together a sentence, let alone a conversation, and I am often stymied by mental fogginess, obtuseness of emotional comprehension, or tongue-tied by my nervousness. The fogginess is often the consequence of anxiety. Mix that with the constant "white noise" of pain, and the conversation often leaves me in the dust. Today, however, my problem was the difficulty I have of "getting it" when it comes to relationships and emotional exchange.

My daughter is currently in a center for people with eating disorders. We went to see her over the weekend, and on Friday had a very intense family session with her and her therapist. This session was especially difficult on my husband, who suffers greatly from anxiety and also OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). The topic we discussed, was one that sent him spinning into a frenzy of panic and although we were reassured by both my daughter and the therapist that his fears were unfounded at this time; he has continuously picked up that thread and run with it in circles until he became tied up in knots of anxiousness.

Here is a hint when dealing with a person who has OCD...Do not become impatient or sound "short" or condescending when they are possessed by an obsessive fear! Even if it sounds obviously unreasonable and unlikely to you; to them the possibility they fear is a realistic and an impending one. Their fear and panic and the lack of security that results, is also real and should not be ignored or disparaged.

I did not set out to insult my husband, but it was obvious to him that I thought that his persistence in allowing this fear to possess him was a bit unfounded and silly. I failed to recognize, when he started circling around, wringing his hands and voicing the same fear over and over, that he was coming to me for reassurance and comfort. So I kind of snapped at him saying in other words, "Get a grip, you are being ridiculous!"

Later, as I worked outside putting my garden into shape for the coming winter, I pondered our conversation, and I realized that I had been rude and inconsiderate of his need...When I went into the house and he saw me again, however, there was no time for an apology. He was very angered and insulted by my insensitivity and told me in no uncertain terms that that was the last time he would come to ME for help. This saddened me...not only that I had damaged his trust in me but that I had so badly misinterpreted the conversation in question. I had missed the whole "I'm coming to you for reassurance" implication and instead saw only that his anxiety was unabated by any reasoning I used or the number of times I offered my interpretation of the problem.

I think that the point that I should take away from this instance and the one that I will also offer you is this: When a person comes to you with a fear, worry, or panic about a situation and that seems to you to be an irrational response; do not try to talk them out of their fear by offering facts or common sense. Emotions generally do not respond to common sense. My husband was looking for comfort and reassurance, not for a logical assessment of the situation. Since he is an intelligent man, he could have offered that to himself, but anxiety does not always go away when logic rebuts it. Fear is not always rational and does not respond to simply being dismissed. I failed to look behind my husband's words and to see the pain. It was really the pain he wanted me to address...not the words. For him the thing causing the worry was one and the same with the emotion of panic that he was experiencing. So when I dismissed the thing that he was worried about, I was also dismissing and negating his emotions as well.

After twenty years of living with a man who has OCD, I still have many lessons to learn about how to interact with someone who suffers from that illness. If you are in a similar situation or if you have a family member with an anxiety or panic disorder, you may relate to the things I've expressed here. Be patient and learn to look beyond and behind words and appearances and to search for their underlying message or need.
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