Living with Contamination OCD during COVID-19 Pandemic
I never thought the day would come where hand washing and cleanliness would be the center of everyone’s new reality and not just my own. I will be sharing my personal experience of living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder during a worldwide pandemic. The hand washing and continuously disinfecting behaviors is absolutely necessary and warranted in order to flatten the curve of COVID-19 Pandemic but for me because I have severe contamination OCD it is terrifying to indulge in these washing behaviors because the fear for me is once I start, I cannot stop.
I went down a very scary steep slope when I first was diagnosed with OCD approximately ten years ago: the normal daily shower of five minutes would turn into hours of being stuck washing because my fear of not being clean enough would be consuming me. I share this experience with you to demonstrate the severity of my OCD that it once was. I have been working extremely hard with exposure response therapy for the last ten years to retrain my brain not to panic when exposed to contaminates. For example, there was a time in my life that as soon as I walked in the door from being in the outside world I would Lysol wipe my phone and any other items I planned on using in my clean and “non-contaminated” home. The fear of my phone being contaminated and making me or my loved one’s sick would overpower my mind. It feels surreal now to observe some people who do not have contamination OCD following these behaviors of washing their doorknobs, phones, overstocking on hand sanitizer, cleaning car steering wheels after being in the grocery store and the list goes on.
The guidelines put in place by the Canadian Health Minister are what I must focus on so that I don’t become consumed with unnecessary cleaning behaviors. With COVID-19 my anxiety and OCD has really been heightened. It’s not just the fear of contaminating myself but more so the fear of contaminating others. Living in our new reality of social distancing and self-isolation because of COVID-19 has been a surreal experience with my mental health diagnosis. I have really had to be in tune with my irrational OCD thinking and be self-aware of the actions and thoughts I engage in during this time. I am thankful that through the years of my diagnosis it has been essential to my healing to develop self-awareness; what is rational vs what is irrational, what is anxiety vs what is reality. I have been able to observe the compulsive behavior of others buying high volumes of toilet paper and I believe this is a way for them to cope and ease their anxiety. It helps give people a sense of control when living with such uncertainty that our world brings now. I once too tried to gain control over my anxiety in the past by engaging in compulsive behaviors such as washing my hands for hours to try and gain control over the uncertainty of if I was dirty or contaminated.
Having a strong sense of self-awareness during this chaotic and time of uncertainty has help me to feel more grounded and capable of managing my anxiety, obsessional thoughts and behaviors. I have also leaned on my supports in the form of secure online therapy sessions with my psychologist who specializes in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, I choose to pause and breathe before reacting and engaging, I have reached out to loved ones and support systems through the means of technology, I make it a priority to maintain my physical and mental health by engaging in daily exercise routines at home or listen to a podcast while coloring. This personal insight does not speak to all the experiences of those diagnosed with Contamination OCD but rather this is a small glimpse into my personal journey of how COVID-19 Pandemic has impacted my mental health.