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.
“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.
I didn’t mean to take a break from blogging. It was a small break that snowballed into a medium break and then a larger one. The last few months have revolved around a new condition that I have had to get treatment for while also getting tests and procedures to figure out what is causing it. I was able to get a test done a couple weeks before the shutdown caused by COVID-19.
Now is as good a time as any, maybe better, to start blogging again as I sit at home and try not to ruminate. This week has been particularly hard because my doctors have canceled appointments that I have literally waited months for. Some have rescheduled. Others have not. I have another appointment at the earliest end of the shutdown period and I have no idea if it will get canceled or not.
The stress from this has added to the general stress of having everything else canceled, including my regular exercise classes and therapy appointments like acupuncture, my worries for friends and families, and a general sense of not having any control. Things are changing so quickly. Last week I was doing okay mentally. This week has been harder. Like everyone else, I don’t know how long this will all last.
I also know that I have fallen back into some bad, old OCD patterns. I’ve been checking various news sites constantly and reading all sorts of new information constantly. My friends and family have also been updating me. I know reading information and following the news erroneously makes me feel like I have control of something, even though I don’t and it makes me much much more anxious. But I’ve struggled not to do it.
However, whenever I’ve gone offline even for a bit something happens. An appointment gets canceled, I miss a call from an office rescheduling an appointment, or I see a work email late. Missing these kinds of notices have just increased my anxiety.
Like many people, especially those with mental illnesses, I’m struggling with the anxiety of these times.
But I’m also glad that we’re staying home and we’re doing trying to do what we can to prevent this from spreading to everyone too fast. I believe that is important. Ironically, I wish we knew more so we could plan ahead but I know I can’t find that information online. We need to just be patient and wait for more research. And no refreshing of news sites every hour is going to do that.
I just have to remember that. And be patient, but it’s hard. I want to do something. But not my rituals. I’m trying to avoid washing my hands too many times and cleaning our apartment too thoroughly. I struggle with over-cleaning. I don’t need the CDC to tell me to wash my hands twice! But now everyone around me is acting more like me. They’re carrying hand sanitizer, wiping down their phones and surfaces, and washing their hands frequently. It’s weird. And honestly, I’m trying so hard not to overreact.
My body is already telling me to relax and take a break. My eczema has been exacerbated by all the handwashing and cleaning chemicals and I’ve been fighting with a migraine for days. At the same time, I am struggling to rest and sleep.
I’m trying to be kinder to myself and give myself permission to use my anxiety meds when I need them, take more breaks, watch more Netflix, and read more fiction. Having OCD and anxiety is just as real as a physical illness, and I need to treat them like that, especially now. We all do. It’s okay to feel awful right now even if you’re not sick with COVID-19. This is a crazy, awful time.
To begin, I’d like to take umbrage with the term “functional.” I think that means something different to everyone and I don’t want to judge others for what they can or cannot do. What I mean here is OCD that is medicated and at a level that I find acceptable on a daily basis.
Why do we need to be different? Everywhere this time of year there are advertisements for New Year’s resolutions that will change you: make you better, make you different, make you a new you for the new year. Why do we want that? Why are we so unhappy with who we are?