When you think of someone with OCD, you might think of someone with a funny tic — a person who has to walk over the threshold of a room three times before entering, or count to 10 as they flick the light switch on and off. Someone whose clinical disorder amounts to nothing more than a quirky or even endearing personality trait.
Everyone who has a mental illness experiences it in different ways, and I have little of the “classic” symptoms of OCD. But according to my therapist, obsessive thinking counts.
Remember those giant yellow cones they used to have in every mall — where you’d beg your mom for a coin, drop it in and watch it spiral to its inevitable end?
When you have obsessive thoughts, the coin is your completely fabricated belief that something you did at work was slightly off the mark. The hole at the bottom is a vivid vision of your public firing and your co-workers pointing and laughing at your new home in a van down by the river.
Or, the thought is a slight nagging sensation that you left your hair straightener on. By the time it reaches the end of its trajectory, you will have rushed home, wound the appliance’s cord around itself, placed it in your front yard and taken a photo of it to convince your brain that your house isn’t going to burn down.
Did you ever try to catch one of those coins once you let it go? I’m usually able to stop the spiral, but I operate at the lowest level of anxiety when I feel in near complete control over my environment. As you can imagine, COVID-19 has taken its toll.
In short, I am becoming a stereotype.
I’m Becoming Obsessed With What I Can’t See.
My OCD has never manifested in the visualization of germs. Now, being around things that other people have breathed on makes me physically uncomfortable.
I fight the urge to wipe down everything, multiple times. I have wondered how crazy I would look if I converted a fanny pack into a Clorox wipe dispenser. I wash sodas I buy from the office vending machine with soap and water. Why? Because hand sanitizer makes the Diet Coke taste funny.
Eating takeout requires the meticulous removal from its bag (who knows who touched that) and its container (someone probably coughed on the stack in the supply room). This process requires several hand-washings and usually, by the time I’m done, I wish I had just made a sandwich.
I’ve Subjected My Family to the Madness.
My husband’s job takes him to — shudder — Walmart — on a regular basis. It bothers me that I have no clue what’s happening while he’s there. The man hasn’t gone to a doctor in five years and, I’m sure, secretly considers himself invincible. Am I supposed to believe that he really washes his hands as much as he says he does? How many people have sneezed in his general vicinity?
This is, sadly, the only time in his life when he can tell everyone that his clothes come off as soon as he comes home to me. I follow him to the shower with my trusty wipes, sanitizing everything he happens to bump into. Then I pick up his clothes with gloves and wash them immediately on the hot af cycle.
When I have to go shopping, the trip takes twice as long as it should. If more than two people get within 10 feet of me I panic, and I hang back until they step away from the bananas. When I come home, everything I touched on/in my car gets wiped down. Then I make my husband and daughter set up an assembly line and every single thing I bought gets wiped down before it enters the house.
After each item has been sanitized, I feel a little twinge of satisfaction — a feeling I know is sending me deeper into the obsession.
It’s All As Exhausting as it Sounds.
But it’s the only way I’m managing my anxiety.
Depending on who you are as a person, you’ll either think I’m being smart or ridiculous. And I’m OK with either opinion. Because despite all my precautions, we’ll probably get coronavirus anyway. I know that, but it doesn’t make me want to try to avoid it any less.
When we do get it, I’d like to think I will know it wasn’t because I wasn’t careful. But I know my brain will find a way to convince me that, like most things, it was all my fault.
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