My Thoughts on Bones’ Take on OCD

I started watching Bones when I had to have a spinal tap before my second scoliosis surgery. I spent my Thanksgiving break laying completely flat on a couch and binge-watching Bones DVDs that my dad picked up for me from Blockbuster’s (which definitely dates my story). I focused on it instead of the raging pain in my brain every time I moved.

Since then, I continue to watch Bones reruns when I am tired, in pain, not feeling well, or just need something comforting on in the background. I love the ridiculous relationships, elaborate jargon, and dumb jokes.

In one of the episodes from Season 4: The Perfect Pieces in the Purple Pond, the team solves the murder of a man with OCD. I first watched it long before I got my official OCD diagnosis. Back then the signs were all there, but I was high-functioning and kept many of my rituals and repetitive behaviors hidden.

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Fear Can Make Us Small

Fear can make us small. It can make us paranoid, nervous, suspicious, unfriendly, close-minded and all these things that I don’t want to be. My anxiety and OCD means that I get scared a lot. Ordinary things that don’t scare other people scare me. Some days I’m more scared than others. Some days I have to really psych myself up to go outside or get in the car or even video chat someone for the first time.

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Mental Health and Moving in a Pandemic

When the reality of the coming shutdown became clear, we started thinking hard about when and how we would move 500 miles. We had been thinking about the move for a while, had even visited the areas we were thinking of moving to but hadn’t started seriously planning. We had originally planned to move in the summer but when the media started discussing the economic effects of the shutdown, we realized it might be incredibly hard to sell our old place and move in the summer or even in the next year or so.

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What the world is like when everyone, and not just me, starts washing their hands obsessively

“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.





How the Swine Flu and COVID-19 Pandemics Seem Different as Someone Who Got Swine Flu in 2009

In 2009, I got swine flu. I had just returned to college from summer break, and either brought it with me or I got it from my roommate, who got it almost as soon as we returned to school. I got it a few days later.

I had barely heard of it at that point. Online research says that in mid-September when I got it, it had already been around since April. However, no one was all that worried or panicked about it. There was no shutdown.

When my roommate and I contacted health services, they told us to stay in our rooms for two weeks and wear a mask when we interacted with others (and with our third roommate, who somehow avoided getting it despite sharing a two-room dorm room with us).

We were quarantined but felt too sick to leave anyway. I remember being exceptionally exhausted and sleeping for twenty-plus hours a day. I had to ask a friend to email my professors and parents to let them know what was going on.

I’m not going to downplay how awful getting sick actually was—it was probably the worst flu experience I had ever had and with my back, the body aches were beyond awful. But no one was all that worried. It sucked and then, at some point, we got better and it was over. Most of our friends didn’t get sick and the school didn’t change anything. The dorms were open, classes happened, and life went on.

I don’t remember hearing much about it beyond the usual coverage of the annual flu season—like CVS telling us that flu is widespread in our area and to stock up on cold and flu meds.

So the past few weeks I have been trying to understand why this pandemic is so different. As far as I can tell, the mortality rate is similar (sadly, I remember that someone at my college who as immunocompromised did die after contracting it) and it also spread through all states eventually. It was an official pandemic (not the first of my lifetime either).

But there was no widespread response—definitely nothing like the shutdowns we’re currently experiencing—and I am confused by it. I don’t know if this is better—on the one hand, if we can prevent many people from getting sick and dying, that’s amazing!

On the other hand, the panic and stress from the constant 24/7 media reports seem like the opposite of a healthy response. I keep trying to stay away and then isolation makes me wonder what’s going on in the rest of the world (or even my town) and I got back down the rabbit hole.

I wish we could proactively and compassionately respond to a pandemic in a timely manner without resorting to fear and constant anxiety. I’m not sure what that would look like exactly but a responsible media response has to be part of it. Fear cannot be the best way to convince people to quarantine or practice social distancing. I know that for the many with anxiety and OCD that it just makes everything so much worse. It’s incredibly unkind to everyone who is trying to do their best despite all the uncertainty.

So, like many of us, I’m going to keep trying to update myself mindfully and at strategic times, focusing on a few reliable sources and not click on everything, especially the scary, panic-inducing click bait articles. The keyword is “try.” I will probably fail again and again through this period, but I will try because if I don’t, I won’t be able to keep my anxiety in check and that won’t help anyone, least of all me.fusion-medical-animation-EAgGqOiDDMg-unsplash

Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash