OCD means that even when I am exhausted or in pain, sometimes I can’t help but engage in my rituals and obsessive behaviors. In these times, I can find myself washing up the dishes, and then suddenly I’m doing laundry and cleaning all the counters and the toilets and I don’t know exactly how I got there. Especially because I still hurt.
It took me a while to accept (admit?) that I needed to go back on my psychiatric medication after spending the best part of a year reducing my medication for the first time since I started taking it four years ago. I wanted to see how I would do after years of steady therapy, exercise, acupuncture, and a steady process of learning more about myself and my mental illnesses. And I admit this, I did want to be “normal” and be okay without medication.
“Everyone is gross, so much grosser than I feared,” I think (maybe not entirely fairly) as a woman who has had OCD for twenty years and now realizes that everyone needs a pandemic and CDC warnings to wash their hands frequently and thoroughly, use hand sanitizer, and generally not track germs around.
I have spent years in therapy and taken drugs to try to reduce my need to wash my hands frequently. And now, everyone in the world is trying to learn how to be more like me. The cognitive dissonance is extreme. I’m not crazy anymore (at least for my germophobia and need to be clean), at least for now.
I’m not the only one carrying little bottles of hand sanitizer around or taking a pump of sanitizer after dropping of recycling or trash in the trash room of my apartment building. My husband doesn’t balk when I ask him to wash his hands after going outside, after taking off his shoes, before eating, and after a host of other practices. He doesn’t ask me to tolerate germs and dirt anymore. Exposure therapy is not relevant or even encouraged right now.
In fact, I see articles about lotions for extra dry hands that are a result of all that washing. Y’all, I’ve been testing out lotions for my hands for decades. My mom had to use baby oil when I was an adolescent to stop my hands from bleeding. By now, I know that I can’t skip lotion for a single night or my hands will crack. I get eczema if I let things go too far.
A few weeks ago, I didn’t really worry when there was a run on hand sanitizer. I had hand sanitizer. I’m never without it. I’m the person who brings it everywhere, including restaurants and offers it to everyone. I can tell you that now when I do that no one turns me down (And until we started social distancing, I was still sharing).
I use hand sanitizer after I use a public restroom because often there aren’t any paper towels or the trash can is far away from the restroom’s door. I do not understand the point of washing your hands if you’re just going to open the bathroom door with bare hands. I try not to think about the people who do or, worse, open the bathroom door after NOT washing their hands.
I wonder if restaurants and other public places will start putting the trash can next to the door. I can only hope that will be a positive outcome of all this.
I don’t understand how someone could go out without sanitizer. What if you touch a button for the elevator, hold the pole on the subway, or open a door? How can you then eat the free bread? It’s these kinds of questions that usually make me stand out from others but now many people are asking things like how long does a virus live on cardboard or can you get exposed to the virus through deliveries?
And you can be sure that we have plenty of Lysol wipes. I buy them in bulk from Costco and use them to clean my phone and wallet after I go out and about all day. My husband checked that we had plenty of wipes when all this started happening but I was not worried. I knew we had plenty. We also had plenty of paper towels, tissues, and toilet paper. I didn’t have to panic buy or buy in bulk because I already had everything.
In fact, in many ways, OCD has prepared me for a pandemic. Of course, I still overthink things (called rumination) and obsessively read and research the pandemic and keep abreast of all updates constantly (if I don’t work hard to cut myself of just like I did with WebMD years ago—nothing against WebMD but a person can know too much about all the potentially dangerous diseases and seemingly innocuous symptoms out there).
For the first time, my dad listened when I told him to use hand sanitizer and wipes on his recent flight home. He told me everyone was doing it. Suddenly (if I was still flying at this time), I wouldn’t stand out as the clean freak.
However, I still have to tolerate a certain level of exposure to germs, viruses, and bacteria. One thing I have learned even in my most severe bouts of OCD is that there is only so much one can do. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try (unless it becomes pathological such as with OCD) but there is no way we can protect against it all. And like the rest of this situation, that level of uncertainty is something we have to accept and sit with, whether we have OCD or not, and then hope for the best.