My OCD started out as manageable, and somewhat compatible with everyday life. I had a fear of contamination that I could slyly pass off as just a heightened sense of hygiene, and a quirky love of Dettol (the grapefruit scented cleaning wipes were my favourite) but even then, the skin on my hands would crack and bleed from being washed too often.
Things started to get less manageable around exam season. Until that point, I was working under instructions from my CBT advisor to ignore compulsions – when you think you should wash something, don’t do it. Let me tell you now that is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. But I persevered, and for the most part, I was doing alright. When exams came around I was hit with a new pressure: time. I couldn’t afford the time to be ill and miss studying. So I gave in. I told my partner “Im going to allow myself to act out my compulsions, just for a bit before exams, it will keep me calm and definitely make sure I don’t get ill”.
Allowing myself to be commanded by the voices inside my head only made the compulsions stronger. It reinforced all obscenely unrealistic ways I believed diseases could be transmitted, and made me feel like what I was doing was necessary, not only for my health, but for those around me. To me, this wasn’t OCD, this was essential, I was saving people from disease.
But it didn’t stop at cleaning. Once I had ran out of surfaces to Dettol, my anxiety found a new focus: me. I was a vessel for germs. My hands were great lumbering meat pads the spread disease to whatever I touched. My feet carried all the dirt of London, and bought it into my house. I started to cordon off my body, restrict areas from one another; feet must never be touched and socks worn at all times, face must only be touched after disinfecting hands. Right hand was for personal hygiene and should avoid touching left had, which was to interact with my environment.
Eventually it got to a point where I was having multiple panic attacks a day, I couldn’t wash, eat or wear clothes for fear of getting ill. I would sit in my dressing gown, on a chair that I had Dettol-ed twice, and just, exist. I couldn’t go out, I couldn’t do chores, heck, I couldn’t even go to the bathroom without freaking out about imminent death. I punctuated my existence with occasional outbursts of crying, escalating up to wailing on special days. I felt so vulnerable. I felt so frightened. I felt so stupid. I felt so, useless.
On the day of my final exam, I couldn’t put on the trousers. I stood there, half naked, crying, holding the third pair of freshly laundered jeans, that just, weren’t clean. I had given in to my compulsions just to get by, so that I wouldn’t miss an exam. The irony was painful.