top of page
  • ericaanne

"You Don't Understand!"

Nick uttered (or sometimes yelled) these words to me more times than I can possibly count. "You don't understand!" became a daily phrase used around our house. For a long time, it seemed he wanted me to understand exactly what he was going through... To know exactly what his mental hell was like. I "understood" from a third party perspective. I didn't have first-hand experience with having OCD.

But, the reality was that I didn't understand it first-hand. And I probably never would.

Sometimes he used this against me in arguments. Sometimes he would use it for comparative suffering*, telling me that I had nothing to complain about because I had never experienced OCD. I would argue back, telling him that what I was experiencing was also difficult, just in a different way. My response never resolved anything. This phrase was becoming the bane of my existence. Almost every argument involved it.

And eventually, this argument felt like a broken record. He'd tell me I didn't understand. I'd get defensive and argue with him about how my suffering was also important.

We were repeating the same fight, over and over.

The popular definition of "insanity" is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

With this definition in the back of my head, one day I decided to try a different approach. "You do NOT understand," he said to me, irritated once more. I turned to him and said, "would that make this easier on you? If I had OCD, would that actually make it easier on you?"

He stopped talking.

Of course he knew it wouldn't.

The reality was this: nobody needed to understand perfectly in order for him to get better. This was his own journey, and nobody else could do the work for him. No amount of understanding would make the work easier. He could get better regardless of whether or not I understood. All I could do was support him.

Now, I want to highlight the importance of this phrase for supporters: nobody needed to understand perfectly. I needed to have this realization, too. I thought for a long time that people needed to understand what I was going through. Truthfully, they don't. I would get frustrated when people handed me advice like, "he just needs to think about something else," or "I don't understand why he can't just suck it up," or "he has this great life. He just needs to put down the video games and appreciate it."

None of this type of advice was helpful, and I got frustrated that people didn't understand our situation. Most people have no idea what it was like to support someone through a suicidal episode or mental illness, but that's not their fault. And getting mad at them for it wouldn't have been productive. The people I needed to lean on were those who would listen with a non-judgmental ear, despite the fact that they didn't understand. Just like I couldn't get Nick through his recovery, our own support system cannot "get us through" ours. We can lean on them, but they cannot fix it for us.


*comparative suffering is when you compare one person's suffering to someone else's. Typically people will use it to try to rank how badly someone is suffering, often saying their own suffering is worse than someone else's and discrediting the other person's suffering in the process.

109 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All


1 comentário

Rachel Hill
Rachel Hill
23 de ago. de 2022

thank you so much for this as it really helps me understand the frustrations of my long suffering husband who I too, scream at angrily for not knowing how bad ocd is? and we arugue and i get more frustrated but he is always my this helps me understand hs frustrations so muchxxxx

Post: Blog2 Post
bottom of page