I was diagnosed with contamination-type obsessive-compulsive disorder when I was 15 years old. While surprised at first, the more I learned about the disorder, the more the diagnosis fit.
My obsession mostly involved bugs. Unfortunately, there had been an incident where an ant trail had crawled into my bed with me, and ever since then, I began engaging in compulsions. The “obsession” is the anxiety portion – I was afraid of bugs and of being “dirty.”
So what did OCD look like for me?
In order to cope with the obsession, I would engage in “compulsions.” This included checking my bedsheets for bugs. Except, the compulsions become irrational, or one “check” wasn’t good enough. That’s why, at its worst, it would take me 25 minutes to get into my bed for the night.
I began to comb over every inch of the bed, through the blankets, and around the bed. I would pace outside the kitchen when I needed to go in, crying, terrified of the dust spiders that sometimes dangled from the lights. I started using the corner of my shirt to open certain doorknobs.
I wouldn’t get dressed until I’d looked over the inside and outside of every piece of clothing. I had to wash my hands after touching the dogs, who would go outside and roll around in the grass. I wouldn’t sit on the couch in pajamas that I would wear to bed.
It’s as exhausting as it sounds.
Every single task was made longer and more difficult by my checking behaviors, but I was unable to stop. If I didn’t give in to the compulsion, it would trigger an anxiety attack. Luckily, my parents’ health insurance was able to provide me with medication and cognitive behavioral therapy, and over time, I was able to learn how to reduce and cope with my compulsions.
Then, a global pandemic hit.
Suddenly, everything was swamped with warnings about a new, infectious disease. It was unknown how it spread, at first. My mom, grandparents, and I were all in high-risk categories. Everywhere I looked, there was messaging about germs, contamination, and “wash your hands” warnings.
Naturally, my compulsions got worse. Now, if I left the house I was “dirty” – everything I was wearing went to the hamper and I had to shower. We now have a table by the door full of wipes, sanitizers, sprays, and even a UV phone cleaner. Anything that goes outside is cleaned before it touches anything else inside. I own at least ten masks and don’t even take out the trash without one.
I try not to let my anxiety about the virus consume me but it’s difficult when every piece of news seems to be about Covid-19. Nearly everything is out of control, except whether the counter is clean or not.
With other types of OCD, like “religious OCD” or “counting OCD”, the fears are 100% irrational. Religious OCD could be something like, “I have to pray three times before I leave the house, or God will punish me.” Counting OCD is more what people recognize as OCD, “I have to turn a door handle three times before opening or my mother will die.”
But how do you cope with compulsions when your fears are partly rational? My fear of bugs being in my bed did happen. Bugs have been in my bedroom, my shower, even on my dog. It’s a constant struggle between, “I’m afraid of something that could happen”, and “I’m being irrational.”
Honestly, it’s gotten worse – but I still have hope.
The first time I left my house from March 6, 2020, to June 1, 2020, was to attend a protest for George Floyd’s murder. I wore a mask and most other protestors did, too – but I still covered my face with my sign near other people. Contracting the virus was all I could think about.
Now, those fears extend to people. I barely leave my house. I only leave for my college courses and getting essential items. When someone stands near me, they make me nervous. I put double the six-foot required distance between myself and people without a mask on.
My symptoms have gotten worse, but I have been able to find support online among other people with OCD. Online support from other people has been a lifeline during my semi-quarantine. We talk about our fears, compulsions, and even if we can’t stop, we’re able to support each other.
It’s one of the things that I don’t know if I would have ever looked for, if Covid-19 never happened.
Hopefully, those with OCD aren’t left behind in the fight to return to “normal.”