My contamination OCD

Most of the things I’ve written in the last few months have been fairly easy to write.
I’ve got plenty of subject matter to choose from and the necessary drive, inspiration, frustration and anger to deliver it onto paper.
What I’m typing now WASN’T easy to write. It didn’t take much effort to think WHAT to write, but the thoughts, worries and fears it brought to the surface were far from comfortable.
Even as I type this I’m still not sure if I’ll publish it or not. It’s just a bit too personal and dark for me to feel comfortable with.

My OCD surfaced in many different forms. I will address some of the other (common and bizarre) strands of it in later posts. In this post I am going to try and list and explain the contamination based issues I faced when fully in the grip of this spiteful, selfish illness.

Passing on germs to my children, family and my friends.

By germs, I don’t mean a cold or a rash. What I feared was an obviously irrational passing on of a disease or illness that would kill or have long lasting effects such as cancer or HIV.
These thoughts would be countered by an over indulgence of hand cleaning.
Only an OCD sufferer can really describe the feeling of KNOWING if your hands are CLEAN or not. The constant awareness of your cleanliness and your ‘safety’ levels.
This feeling is almost impossible to describe and certainly impossible to show on screen. It can look like ‘well yeah, you wash our hands a lot’ but the fear and anxiety behind these washes is the big problem.
Below I will list some of the situations that would NEED me to perform a hand wash before touching my children, their food, my food, change a nappy, make a baby bottle, go to the toilet or pretty much anything else for that matter.
After touching:
Anything red (as it COULD be blood), Anything wet, Dirty towels, Door handles (as others will have touched them), Any toilet, After shaking someone’s hand (even if I know them), Dirt or dust, Library books, Magazines in shops or doctors waiting rooms, Cutlery in restaurants, Pens, Meat, Food packaging, Pill and medicine bottles and jars, Shoes, Clothes that have been worn outside, Chairs and tables, Work folders, Chemical packaging (such as paint tins), Petrol and diesel pumps, Post, Food stains, Tools, The floor (grass, tarmac or concrete).

Coming into contact with possible items/substances that could give me a life threatening illness which would hurt me and that I would pass on.

Touching syringes, Looking at syringes, Looking at picture of syringes, Talking about syringes or blood, Looking at blood, Looking at pictures of blood, Dried blood on the floor, ANYTHING that could possibly look like blood on the floor, Spit, Blood on inside of meat packaging, Homeless people, Drunk people, Freshly tattooed people, Anyone looking a bit ‘shifty’, Shaking hands (the other persons hands won’t be clean enough and may have touched piss, shit, semen, snot or have cuts or scabs on), Having cuts or scabs on my hands, Walking on anything red/shiny/sharp/litter/stones or anything I am not 100% sure of, Touching shoe soles, Sharing food, Sharing toothpaste, Touching others toothbrushes, Eating food prepared by someone else, Toilet seats, Public toilets, Toilet rolls, Laundry that has been dried outside, Cutlery in restaurants, Jewellery, Falling down, Cutting myself, Snagging on nails/screws/twigs, Kissing.

Sounds a lot doesn’t it?!

How did I grow up, get educated, learn and work as a tradesman and later forge a different career as a teacher, marry and have children?

Well it wasn’t always like this.

Less than 3 years previous to being at my lowest ebb, I was regularly getting 4 hours’ worth of tattooing done a month, having piercings done, removing my oversized 14mm earrings in pubs when drunk, pushing restaurant cutlery through my stretched earlobes, eating takeaway food after long nights out without a thought of what my hands had been doing, crashing my bicycle (a lot), going all weekends at music festivals without washing my hands once, working on building sites with nails and screws littered on the floor, using old Stanley knife blades to cut out splinters, washing in the site water butt before a night out, toasting sandwiches on galvanised wall ties, washing new tattoos in sinks in public toilets, getting friends to apply cream to fresh tattoos without thinking if their hands were properly clean.
Actually, I was a bit of a dirty bastard!

It was a BIG change

I would NEED to inspect all of the items in the second list (many several times if possible) to feel ‘safe’ enough to put them to rest in my mind.
Checks, reassurances and hand washes would be as many as I could get away with or as few as I would let myself do.
Asking someone to confirm my checks or dispel my fears was counterproductive as OCD strengthens its grip and worsens with this.
This kicked in about 11 years ago in my early 30’s during a pretty turbulent time for me emotionally and physically (bike injuries keeping me off work for months).
It reached its peak during my mid to late 30’s and here I am in my early 40’s in a much better place again leading pretty much the kind of life I want to.
I’m maybe not back to my carefree past and I still have a few little niggles but this CAN be stopped and OCD can be tackled and even defeated.

Breaking the Chain

Cold Turkey: A dangerous tactic. It may work for some, but the massive anxieties even attempting this would I feel make it virtually impossible unless the OCD was very weak.
There would be a real chance of a full meltdown and regression.

Medication: This certainly from my experience reduces the anxiety levels to a less scary level and allows the sufferer to live a bit more fully.
It also gives the patient a more fighting chance when undertaking CBT treatments.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) : This works by confronting the compulsions head on in a controlled manner under the guidance of a psychologist.
This is the proven effective treatment for OCD.

If any of this sounds familiar to anyone reading this, there is effective treatment out there. This can be changed and life can improve. It’s a fight, but it’s a fight that can be won.

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