Ebola/Handwashing Combo Post

Why haven’t I written here about OCD and Ebola yet?

The Ebola virus fright this year has become highly politicized. I would be the first to complain about media hype, sensationalism, and attempts to scare the public. We also must recognize that it should be perfectly reasonable to have discussions and disagreements about protocol without it becoming political, or overly emotional. It can be political, of course, but shouldn’t have to be.

Many people with OCD experience fears of illness, and these people (at times including myself) are particularly susceptible to this type of scare and media hype. Luckily, I have not been unreasonably worried about Ebola this year. It should be noted, however, that for someone with OCD, media hype isn’t even necessary. Those of us with OCD often develop fears based on stimuli which would hardly even affect normal people, let alone scare them.

Sometimes it seems people think it is necessary to over-state or exaggerate something to make an impression on others at all. Sometimes I wonder if this had to do with my childhood fear of germs, and hand washing compulsion. At school, teachers emphasized hand washing. They showed us videos about germs. The normal kids went on not washing their hands but I decided to, every day before lunch. It separated me from the other kids. It was a ritual no one else did. Yet I only washed my hands once — every single day, before lunch. (Not that that was the only time I washed my hands, but the only unusual time I washed my hands, at school.) Would I have been this way if teachers hadn’t treated me like every other kid, assuming I would not listen well enough, or take the concern of germs seriously? I don’t know. Would I have had other OCD fears and compulsions? Probably. But is it right to overstate what we say to kids, assuming they will only mind half of it?

Death by Scissors

Scissors

Sometimes I forget how stressed out I can be over scissors. My new mall job has me hyper-aware of my fear of heights; I can’t stand being on the second floor and anywhere even remotely close to the railing where I can see the first floor. Even worse, I’m hyper-aware of the fact that someone could accidentally (or perhaps on purpose) push me off the edge if they carelessly walk by. Or I get this thought like: “OMG I hope I don’t just jump down there; that would be really bad.”

But last night had me reacquainted with an old fear: scissors. Well well well, if it isn’t my old friend, Scissors; so we meet again. How are you, Scissors — besides creepy? I have to work slowly when I work with scissors, and it’s certainly good that I’m not careless with them. But I have to filter out lots of thoughts of anytime anyone I know was injured by scissors or something like scissors. I get images from when I was in school and my art teacher hurt her finger with the paper-cutter. I get images about that time in school when I randomly decided to take the scissors and cut off a very small, unnoticeable portion of my hair just because I could. “I hope I don’t cut my finger just because I can.”

Of course, I never (or extremely rarely) end up injured and when I do, it’s not the injuries I think about or am afraid of happening. But that’s OCD for you.

I’d also like to add that I just generally have a dislike of all small-pointy-sharp type of things. You know how if Christopher Walken were president, the first thing he’d do is get rid of zoos? Let all the animals run free? Well if I were president, the first thing I’d do is get rid of all staples, push-pins, and tacks. And scissors and knives. Those things cause me entirely too much stress. So get rid of sharp things — and let OCD sufferers run free! To find other things to be afraid of.

I Don’t Know Me Anymore

I’m becoming someone I don’t know.

When I was a child, I had obsessions with germs, diseases, and other kinds of contamination. At the time, those were my biggest fears. And although my hand-washing compulsion eventually reached a point where it damaged my skin and had to be noticed, addressed, and dealt with to an extent, because I never got real therapy for my problems, the problems came and went with varying severity and no, I didn’t continue washing my hands until they fell off, but barring that kind of extreme, I continued doing my compulsions… over and over again.

As I grew up, those contamination fears gradually lessened — but not for the right reasons; not because I learned how to deal with them. Instead, my greatest fears simply changed over time. I’m sure I learned a little bit of helpful cognitive-behavioral therapy along the way without realizing it, but for the most part, I always gave in to my fears and anxieties. I always took them at face value.

So now, as an adult, I find myself finally learning how to deal with my obsessions and compulsions. It’s one thing to resist doing a compulsion, but the only way to win is to resist doing a compulsion for the right reasons. Plenty of times as a kid I was told to “Just stop doing that,” but it’s not that simple. It’s not about just stopping doing that; it’s about stopping doing that, and knowing why.

For the last week or so, I’ve been relatively successful. But sometimes it seems like I resist a compulsion and, well… a smaller one just takes its place. Does that still count as a success? If I didn’t ask my husband for reassurance about something for several hours, is it OK that I had to make sure my earrings were perfectly symmetrical instead? I’m assuming the answer has to be yes… because while making sure my jewelry is symmetrical is perhaps not the healthiest hobby, it has to be less unhealthy than a lot of my alternatives. Maybe one day I won’t be the person you always see adjusting her jewelry — but until that day, I’ll have to be happy if I’m doing that and not something worse.

And then there are the times I just feel… empty. It’s like my brain doesn’t know what to do. “Wait, I told you to worry about something… and you’re ignoring me? WTF. I’m not used to this.” So there’s just sort of a blank element. I’m not sure how to progress or be motivated to do anything when my life isn’t motivated by dealing with something my brain thinks is a problem. Kind of scary… but also liberating.

I’ve used a lot of ellipses (“…”) improperly in this entry. But I won’t correct it! No!

Someone With OCD

…Has intrusive thoughts. They might be concerned that they will:

  • Harm themselves or someone they love.
  • Catch an illness, or inadvertently spread an illness to someone else.
  • Accidentally get pregnant, or impregnate someone.
  • Make a mistake which will result in people getting hurt.

Intrusive thoughts are at the heart of OCD. Whether it’s being afraid you’re going to kill your father/mother/cousin/nephew or being afraid that your hands are dirty/something is off-center, though one fear is more socially acceptable, the same cause remains — an intrusive, unwanted thought.

This is, perhaps, the least understood part of OCD. People liken OCD to perfectionism and neatness and while that can be part of it, the problem, the whole reason there’s a disorder, is because people get thoughts they do not want, which disturb them, which they will do anything to get rid of.

What’s so bad about this misunderstanding? It causes people who have more horrible fears, such as those of harm or violent images, to be stigmatized — others believe that people with these fears will really DO these things, and that’s exactly the WORST thing to tell/suggest to a person with OCD. It feeds that vicious cycle of doubt even more. The person with OCD is already afraid of doing these things, and others have just added to the guilt.

If you’re worried you might kill someone, you’re probably not going to kill someone. Most people who kill someone just do it. They don’t obsess for a long time over whether they might, and the fact that they might, doesn’t fill them with fear. If you don’t want to do it, you probably won’t do it… and if you wanted to do it, you would probably know.

List of OCD Fears

This is, by no means, complete. But just for fun, I’m going to type up a list of some OCD fears I have, or have had at some point in the past. A couple of these are fears that got left behind in my childhood; but I include them for the purpose of giving examples of fears that people might not expect.

  • Eating popsicles, corn dogs, or anything on a wooden stick (fear of eating splinters)
  • Accidentally eating/dropping and losing staples from catalogues, magazines, etc.
  • Accidentally eating/touching battery acid; even on fresh, clean batteries
  • Accidentally eating pesticides, or other poison; feel contamined just by looking at them
  • Accidentally picking up a pair of scissors and stabbing myself every time I look at them (non-suicidal; afraid because I don’t want to do it)

As you can see, none of these have to do directly with keeping things clean or neat, but specific contaminants/hazards.