Living with OCD during coronavirus
The realities of living with OCD, when the fear becomes real, and distinguishing between OCD thought patterns and being a responsible member of society during the Covid pandemic? Ria Pelling talks us through her disorder.
The reality of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, OCD, is so far removed from the meaning implied when it is slipped casually into our daily conversations. How often do you hear someone say “I’m just so OCD about the way I organise my pencils or clean my desk, or because I stay up at night replaying a conversation I had with a colleague a week ago, reviewing their reaction over and over to make sure I hadn’t accidentally, unknowingly offended them somehow, after spending the week telling 3 friends and 5 family members the story of said incident, checking to see whether they think my colleague was offended and making a plan to buy said colleague a doughnut on the way to work, to gauge some kind of answer as to whether or not they now hate me.” And breathe. Okay, that last example is very OCD, but you can see why it would be annoying to someone with actual OCD when the word is used so inaccurately.
For me, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder presents itself as a pile-up of thoughts about a wide variety of subjects, some seemingly logical, others so taboo and disturbing it took me years to admit to having them, that bring with them crippling anxiety and guilt, otherwise known as obsessions. To shed these obsessions, my brain has come up with a not so handy way to allow me to carry on with my day, that could be washing my hands repeatedly or asking family members for reassurance, aka the C in OCD – compulsions. The D is for disorder, just in case you didn’t know.
I have spent a large proportion of my life obsessing over germs, illness and contamination. Largely, the fear of being responsible for passing on or causing illness to loved ones, colleagues, even strangers. One time, I remember going to a club with some friends on a holiday to Cornwall. I was chatting away to a guy and my friend asked, “Why don’t you kiss him?”. My response was, “Well I have the sniffles, which could be a cold and what if I give him my cold as we kiss and he gets ill unknowingly, then goes to visit his Nan this weekend, passes the germs to her and makes her ill and it’s all my fault?”. To which she looked very confused, told me I was overthinking it and went to get another drink.
Now, back in Newquay in 2011, this was just a touch excessive and completely irrational, but today, in our current situation with the coronavirus, it sounds to me to be a pretty logical and responsible thought pattern. The rules of the lockdown are there for a good reason and should be respected to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our communities. But it’s a weird feeling to know you’ve been applying these rules in part for years, knowing you were acting irrationally and fearing the worst, to now knowing in contrast that those fears, though exaggerated, are logical and paramount for keeping those around us safe. That is not to say that my compulsions have now in any way become useful, as OCD takes the rational and morphs it into something extreme, terrifying and at times all consuming. As the rules around how we must live at the moment become stricter, my own obsessions and compulsions become more irrational and leave me doubting my own ability to reason.
Alongside my contamination obsessions are my moral obsessions, a particularly fun combination at the moment. I obsess over mistakes I have made in the past and strive to know the “right” thing to do in every situation, no matter how grey the situations might appear to others. I spent an extra week inside before the lockdown out of pure fear that I would contaminate someone or regret leaving the house in five years time when I look back. I checked the number of tins in my cupboard several times, as if it would change, terrified I was stockpiling after my dad unexpectedly brought round some food and left it outside my front door. Then I began contemplating whether or not to sanitise my milkshake carton and realised due to the anxiety and doubt fuelling my actions, it was OCD, not common sense, taking the wheel.
What I am trying to say is that at the moment I am finding the line between being a responsible citizen and letting my OCD take over a very blurry one. Although, I will always follow the guidelines set to keep us safe, distorting those guidelines into obsessions or taking them too far is not helpful in any way. If you also have OCD, remember to follow the guidelines, whilst resisting urges to repeat hand washing, checking, or any other compulsions that may arise in these anxious times. I know that I have been giving into compulsions more than normal, and although this is not ideal and will only make my OCD worse, at times like this I think it’s important we are kind to ourselves. I strive to resist the urge to give in to my compulsions and instead sit with the feelings of anxiety and guilt as I know this is the best route to managing it.
For anyone worried they may be showing signs of OCD, or that their OCD is becoming unmanageable, please visit www.ocdaction.org.uk as they have some great advice, support and information on how to help OCD sufferers.