What is the OCD-related fear?
One of my biggest OCD fears is viruses – literally all viruses – but especially ones that may cause me to become contagious (I think this is related to blame and guilt) or cause me to lose a loved one. Before and during my diagnosis, I used to skip entire nights of sleep and would instead research viruses obsessively – specifically symptoms and statistics surrounding survival rates. It’s like I was planning ahead for something that was never even supposed to happen.
So why have viruses always been a huge fixation of mine?
Firstly, I’ve had OCD since childhood. I assume a lot of people with contamination-based OCD probably have prevalent virus fears also? Another confounding factor is the fact that by age 17 I was diagnosed with CFS, which I’m still trying to wrestle into submission 10 years on. Viruses seem to trigger CFS in a big way for me – even a cold can cause my body and brain to remain severely fatigued for up to a month after the cold has cleared up. This has definitely amped the virus fear up a couple of notches. But the most damaging trigger that brought on the OCD meltdown in 2016 was A-level biology. Weird eh? A teeny tiny module of the curriculum was about viruses, and for some reason the OCD decided to fixate upon them so violently that it changed my whole life.
How CBT helped me to get on top of my virus fears
The two chunks of CBT that I’ve had over the last few years helped me to realise that the OCD fears I had were irrational, illogical and improbable. CBT helped me to identify and re-calibrate some faulty thought patterns about the things I’m most afraid of. Being scared of catching viruses in terms of my health was not necessarily a faulty thought pattern as it was logical, but I was able to recognise that my fear of worldwide viral outbreaks was disproportionate to the actual threat. So I reprogrammed my fight-or-flight reaction by reminding myself how unlikely the event was, and therefore how illogical my level of anxiety was.
Shuffle six months forward in time and I’ve been struggling a little with the Covid-19 pandemic. I feel guilty for finding it so difficult because it hasn’t even affected me that much as of yet – people are literally dying allover the world. People are going to bed tonight with a member of their family not alive anymore. I know that I’m lucky so far, so I’ve put off writing about how it’s affected my mental state in fear of sounding tone-deaf. But this is actually a scary time for everyone regardless of OCD and I do feel really strange and I feel like it’s okay for me to share.
In terms of the OCD, I worry incase the new techniques and thought-patterns I learned in CBT therapy end up being undermined in any way. The thing I was illogically terrified of has happened, and it’s right down the road from me. What if I become dubious about trusting any of the things I learned in CBT?
What effect has the Covid-19 outbreak had on my OCD?
How on earth is it possible to feel calm and panicky at the same time eh?! Because that’s what the f**k is up with me right now. Part of me thinks I should be panicking more about the fact my worst nightmare is coming true – but at the same time I sort of do feel panic deep in my abdomen, like a heavy stone. It’s like controlled, serene panic. Maybe it’s a coping mechanism that’s keeping the worry deep down. Maybe everyone’s feeling this exact way and it’s completely unrelated to OCD? Maybe everything really isn’t okay and my brain is just reacting to the outbreak in the same way as a normal brain would.
This little OCD wobble does feel different from the last one. You know those tiny little red dots you get under the skin on your hands sometimes? Last time I felt this odd, I dug them all out because they “weren’t supposed to be there” (they bled like a motherfucker). I dug one of them out in the shower before realising how f***ed up it was. I jumped out mid-shower and ran to my mum with blood running down my forearm so that she’d calm me down and stop me from harming my skin any further. Everything I was doing at that time was frantic and panicked.
I haven’t done anything like that this time round. I’m talking zero outward panic. No bulk-buying, no crying and no anger. I think I’ve been able to maintain control and stop myself from re-forming old compulsions such as overly excessive hand-washing and door-handle cleaning. But what constitutes as too much?! I have no idea where the line is between logical hand-washing and compulsive hand-washing. I’m really having to think about my behaviour even more than when I was in the middle of doing CBT therapy because I’m constantly stuck between “I shouldn’t clean this because I’m giving into OCD and therefore feeding it” and “I should clean this to prevent the spread of Covid-19”.
Despite a lack of panic-fuelled chaos and crying, the outbreak has notably affected my behaviour. I’ve stayed in my home a lot more than usual and I’m struggling to eat certain foods. I don’t want my family members to leave the house. I’m clenching my jaw so hard in my sleep that I have two lines of ulcers on the inside of my cheeks. I also somehow managed to re-convince myself that my sister’s death was my fault. (?!) I’ve had this thought before and I was able to just slap a big ol’ “ILLOGICAL IMPROBABLE IRRATIONAL” sticker on it, but I think the viral pandemic has triggered some dusty old faulty thought patterns maybe? I don’t know. I feel confused. Maybe it’s pulled out a cork that was put in place by therapy, and now a couple of irrational thoughts outside of viral fears are spilling out.
How I’m countering the effects the outbreak might be having on my OCD
- The relapse prevention plan my therapist and I curated is printed and up on my wall. I re-read it whenever I feel the need as it helps me to feel in control of my mental health.
- “Whatever the OCD tells you to do; do the opposite”. This is something my therapist said to me once and it stuck like superglue. I’m reminding myself to resist when OCD tells me to do something, but if medical guidelines tell me to do something – I’m doing it.
- Working out the balance between refusing to obsessively trawl through the news on my phone whilst trying not to avoid it all together. I’m trying to carry on as normally as possible in terms of media and social media intake.
- Medication. There’s no shame in taking meds when you feel you need them, and I’m currently taking valium to calm me whenever the panic does start to rise up and I feel unable to attend medical appointments.
So yeah, sorry I haven’t been posting recently. I haven’t really been able to organise my thoughts onto my keyboard but I’m feeling slightly more psychologically organised this weekend. I hope this post hasn’t seemed whiney or self-centred, I just want to share an OCD perspective on the Covid-19 pandemic and maybe even help another OCDer to organise their thoughts.
Sending love to my fellow OCDers (and any non-OCD readers too). I’d be interested to know how other people with OCD are finding the current state of events.
STAY SAFE AND WASH YOUR HANDS (but not too compulsively lolz)