Living through a pandemic with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Imagine a life ruled by fear, fear you will be responsible for contaminating someone and they will die. Imagine a life where thoughts come into your head as rapidly, as savigily as walking into a wasps nest. What if I told you I had lived since the age of 15 with these fears, these constant, unrelenting barrage of thought after thought and now I am 38. What if I told you I have OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)? Could you imagine a year in my life before this year? Could you imagine living with my brain in 2020 in a global pandemic? I would really like to tell you about it.
I was officially diagnosed in 2015 with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Due to thoughts where I need to prevent anyone being contaminated, and it being my fault, or preventing harm coming to others I have used avoidance. It started small, e.g. washing my hands before making someone a cup of tea. Then it got bigger and bigger. I stopped making tea for friends, if a builder was here I would offer the polite cup of tea only to make it 10 times, over and over. What if they have food allergies? What if the cup is contaminated? It will be my fault if they die. So I avoided more and more. Stopped people coming into my home, couldn’t stay at friends houses. Couldn’t see my old vulnerable grandparents. Couldn’t go on a bus – what if I have a cold, what if someone is immunosuppressed, what if what if..
I used to smell gas and often report gas leaks. I couldn’t sit with the fear that the whole street might blow up and it would be my fault. Soon I would stop going out of the house and or if I did I would cut off my senses. Not breathe through my noise so I wouldn’t smell something I might worry about. I used to look down when walking so I didn’t have to notice something I would go on to worry about. It is so hard explaining this to you, to do it justice just how life limiting it is.
I had come so far with my therapy in many ways. By 2019 I was more stable, more able to use Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to challenge my obsessions and compulsions. Sadly, in October 2019 my marriage ended abruptly and I was overnight left on my own. My partner of 15 years of marriage suddenly not there to ask the questions to gain respite from my thoughts of responsibility. This is known as ‘reassurance seeking’. It was something I was challenging and trying to take responsibility for decisions. But I was thrown into having to make every decision on my own without anyone to check it with. I remember one morning putting bleach into the recycling bin to clean it outside. I went and got the kettle and poured hot water into it. Steam rose and BOOM. My brain flooded instantly with ‘What if I have just made a cloud of chlorine gas?’, ‘What if it travels over the village?’. ‘What if my neighbours breathe in?’. ‘It will be my fault that they die’. I couldn’t go and ask my partner, they had gone. I shut the lid, cried so so much, my mind racing, followed by an extreme exhaustion that you can only explain follows that extreme anxiety. Have you felt that? When you are TERRIFIED, WORRIED, and after when the adrenaline leaves you, you are left exhausted. I pulled the curtains, put my ear plugs in, stopped breathing out of my nose, all to avoid the world and the next thought.
When I first heard of Coronavirus in February I remember feeling very scientific about the facts. I wasn’t worried about it, it seems far away and I thought like with other viruses I and most people would be OK. Suddenly over night the news changed and the focus was on our responsibility to not pass it on to the vulnerable. Wash your hands. Sing Happy Birthday twice. My thoughts went to ‘It’s our responsibility to be as careful as possible’. ‘You just touched your face, if you don’t decontaminate your hands you will pass it on to someone vulnerable and they will die and it will be your fault’. I started using hand gel excessively, wearing a face mask long before anyone else, not letting people in my home again. I had regular support workers and I wouldn’t let them in, or go in their cars. Quite quickly I avoided one thing, and then the next, and the next…
My life became and has become more and more isolated. I was still using the bus in August, and then stopped as I didn’t want to be asymptomatic and pass it on. I formed a support bubble with one friend as soon as we were able but only in December did I pop that bubble. I don’t want the risk someone catching the virus will be my fault. I was able to use a taxi because weirdly if I was to have passed it on to someone I would never see, I atleast wouldn’t know. But my neighbours, if I passed it to on them, and they died, it would be my fault.
Now its January 2021. I no longer leave the house other than to walk in the fields miles away from anyone. I regularly sterilise my gate, front door, packages. I wont let my neighbours go near my pets, just incase they have Coronavirus on their fur. But all my other thoughts have come back just as strongly. ‘Have I turned the gas off?’ ‘Go back and check, and again and again, and again’ ‘If you haven’t, the house which will catch on fire, which will catch the power cables alight, which will spread to all the houses, and they will all catch on fire, and many people will die and it will be your fault’. I can’t send cards in the post, just incase I have contaminated them.
My life is now as wide as the four walls of my house, some days only my bedroom where I retreat and cut off my senses to try and have respite from the relentless hammering of thoughts.
So think of those of us diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder right now. Educate yourself about it if someone close to you has the condition. Don’t create more stigma saying your ‘a bit OCD’ because you line your pens up on your desk. Yes you like order, yes it is important to you BUT does it limit your life? I have lost nearly everything now to OCD. Think of me, think of us.
This is a year in my life.