OCD and COVID #19, Oh My
You can feel it in the air. A heaviness like a plump storm cloud is about to start pelting us with lightning bolts of death and disease. An invisible unknown killer is besieging us.
You are now entering a World of “what if”. Uh-oh what if I have “IT”?!?
What happens if I take this killer germ home and it affects my Folks? How about my children? I’m sitting next to a co-worker who sneezed. Oh that’s it. I have it for sure. Now I could possibly infect those who I know and love. Full on panic can ensue.
The Little worry wheel has begun. What used to seem like everyday concerns have just blown your stereo up to 15 and snapped off the knob.
Welcome to the world of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.I do not say this lightly, and my intention is not to say Na nan na nan na now you know how I feel, but rather to provide a glimpse into this strange and not entirely uncommon condition. If the word disorder offends, you just think “Dilemma”.
We have all felt these little pestering thoughts from time to time. What if I left the stove on? How about the iron? Did I blow out the candle I lit last night? Sometimes you even go back and check and usually find that all is well, and you go about your day. Not so easy with OCD. I have stood in front of my stove for far too long ascertaining whether it was on or off. I have had disturbingly realistic thoughts of my apartment being on fire and my little cat crying at the window for me to come home and save her. I can see it and the image overtakes me so back in I go to check the stove again and after another 5 minutes of doubting my own reality, I’m late for work. Unless I outwit myself and start earlier.
OCD is called “The doubting disease” by the French, often because we get stuck in the land of “What if” and very often doubt our own obvious reality.
Sometimes the mind goes elsewhere and creates its own reality. This can be tortuous at best. For those of us with OCD the idea of spreading germs is just the tip of the Iceburg Fear of contamination is one aspect of this underdiagnosed condition that goes to the bone.
Shortly after JFK was shot and well before my adult teeth had grown in, I lost my mind. My precocious and highly sensitive little brain snapped.
At first, it was images. My mind was bombarded by distasteful and disturbing scenerios. Then the swear words “slipped in”. I say that because these certainly could not be my thoughts. I became terrified and more importantly, guilty. ”Bad thoughts” were constantly “slipping into” my head. I felt as if everything bad in the world was my fault. At 6 years old I considered myself a conduit for evil.
I was fortunate enough to have been able to tell my parents and I was sent to the school psychiatrist who recommended “rest” and a short time away from school.
Spending a brief time at home actually helped(or something shifted in my brain)because I was healthy, happy, and at the Top of my class in Second grade.
Sadly my “Evil Siamese Twin Sister” woke up again the Summer of Fourth grade and she’s been with me ever since.
People are calling this a “Crazy World” but for those of us with OCD it has always seemed to be this way.
You hear windchimes, we hear gongs.
O.k. now I do have something to admit. Alright out with it. I’m a little relieved about the whole handshaking thing being over at least for the time being.
The following is a list of things I have done to avoid shaking hands…I bet you’ve done some of these too.
Sometimes I keep my hands behind my back and nod politely when being introduced. Other times I give a Peace Sign or Go Vulcan and signal to “Live Long and Prosper”. I have saluted, used my left hand, and Lifted my hands up jazz style while shaking my head nope. I’ll give you a full on or half Namaste, or even a polite nod. I could go Biker Greeting (chin thrust up) or Geisha Girl( with eyes down cast). I am just not thrilled about shaking hands. It’s a Social more and one that I have never embraced. Unfortunately, if you don’t shake a proffered hand you seem like a Hillbilly Throwback Podunk. I’ve even curtsied when meeting a whole group of people as opposed to touching all those grimy palms. Of course my knee pops and clicks like one of Cinderella’s step sisters’ but it’s better than all that touching.
I admit it! I get sweaty paws and that makes me even more nervous. What if I give you something living in my sweat? It sounds strange but then again so does CoVid 19 living on our eyeballs.
Although an isolating experience, This cunning condition also brings little friends along. By that I mean there are tertiary conditions which come like consolation prizes or parting gifts. In my case I developed depression. “The Harder They Come, The Harder they Fall” J. Cliff.
Having Depression is such a treat. I want to get out of bed in the morning and get on with a Great day but then I feel this gigantic hand holding me back. I push to sit up, it pushes me down. It’s a Mexican standoff until my bladder calls the final shot.I cry alot. In addition, I’m lonely.This is an isolating pest, this OCD.
It has been maintained that many to most folks with OCD have a high degree of intelligence. So we know what we are thinking is false, unreal, without merit, and yet the compulsions come anyway to shut the obsessive chatter up! How Stupid! But what if…
I mentioned earlier that OCD can show up in a number of ways
There is of course fear of contamination wash wash wash!!!
Here are a few more examples:
Fear that you will do harm to a loved one (common with new Mothers)
Fear you can hurt someone by thinking bad things about them
Feeling that that bump in the road may have been a person
Religious Scrupulosity and hoarding ,skin picking and pulling out hair.
Checking your door again and again to make sure it is locked.
Having to do something a certain amount of times
The list goes on. I suffer from covert ritualistic thoughts primarily .I also have certain phobias which are only exacerbated by constant what if’s?
Some obsessive thought will have me off to the races with the rituals.
If I’m having an anxiety provoking Day the judges (Tall men in black robes behind me/Inquisition style) are heartless and I must be perfect in my recitation. If I have to go round another time then that takes me into the realm of numbers, which is a whole other trip!
At times it can be so hard to concentrate. There is the OCD chattering, and my own my own internal dialogue which can be hard to juggle. Now try adding in a conversation with a real human being.If I am ritualizing and I have to stop to actually speak then I feel compelled to start all over again.
Sometimes I want to Scream “I’m a Warrior against Anxiety”!! Other times I just want to scream.
That’s when I know it is time to slow down and maybe even do a mini meditation. If I need to calm down in a hurry, this is my method.
I sit. I pull up my head like there is a sting attached. I let the string go and let my head fall naturally. Now I breathe while repeating a mantra. In through the nose “I will save all beings from suffering” out through the Mouth “All will be well”.
It doesn’t matter what you say.
One of my favorites is (breath in through nose) OOH EE Ooo ah ah (and exhale )TING TANG walla walla bing bang’. It doesn’t make a difference. Not a bit!! Just sit with yourself in the present moment , and still your mind as much as can be. Thoughts like clouds will race across the sun, let them go and Relax. Works for me. Sometimes.
If any of this comes off as too light, I do not apologize. I’ve lived alone in the dark for far too long and can use any laugh I can get or give.Humor is my Best Friend and I believe in the healing power of laughter.
If anything good can come of this Horror of a Pandemic , I hope it can be an increased awareness and empathy of and for each other’s’ deepest fears Loneliness, pain, guilt, and sorrow.
Now is the time to bring some light to hidden and unspoken anxiety. While we have this moment in time when we can dig deeply and come up with new and better ways to support and love each other, let us do so, and indeed all will be well.
Sarah Owens is a Bridger at Advocacy Unlimited who has worked for DHMAS funded non-profit mental health agencies for 16 years. Sarah Loves her Siblings, making Connections, calming Anxiety, looking for sea glass,and making Music. Sarah was a disc Jockey for 23 years up and down the Eastern Seaboard from Martha’s Vineyard to Boston. Sarah graduated from Kenyon College with a degree in Dramatic Arts, which she uses to this day.