'I Have OCD, And COVID-19 Is Giving Everyone A Small Taste Of What It's Like To Be Me'

One of the hallmark symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder is intrusive thoughts. All my life, I’ve felt their constant bombardment. My mind is like a crowded room, and the voices are all shouting different things.

“That’s not clean enough—it might be infected.”

“Did they just cough? Are they sick?”

“I don’t have enough of these things—what if the worst happens, and I need more?”

“It’s safer inside my house. I don’t need to go out.”

“Do they really have to stand that close to me?”

“Do we have to shake hands? That’s not sanitary.”

“We definitely don’t need to hug.”

I now see this inner monologue on the faces of everyone around me (who of course, are standing more than 6 feet away). Thanks to COVID-19, these types of thoughts are plastered across social media, as pervasive as a virus itself.

I’ve had the hand-sanitizer, gloves, disinfecting wipes, and masks well before they sold out everywhere. This is my world—a life of isolation and sanitation that I’ve wrapped around me like a favorite blanket. I have agoraphobia coupled with OCD that centers on contamination phobia—but until recently, my habits were seen as excessive and odd, rather than sensible behavior.

I feel as though I’ve been speaking another language, and you’ve all suddenly learned it.

You might assume that the advent of the novel coronavirus would have ushered in the familiar for me in some ways, but that’s not how it’s played out.

For years, my obsessive mindset has been that if I can just be prepared, I’d be fine. If I sterilized enough, I’d be safe. If I avoided strangers, I wouldn’t get infected. None of those precautions are certain safeguards right now. The guarantees my mental illness seemed to promise were false.

I’ve been trying to pin down my emotions now that everything I feared is actually happening.

Having OCD in a world that is suddenly validating all you’ve worried about for decades is numbing in my case. I thought I wanted this acknowledgment that the world is a hostile, unclean place to justify the way I’ve lived my life. But now that it’s here, it’s almost bewildering.

Interventions of various kinds over the years have helped me subdue my OCD to a functional level. For example, I have a constant running inner dialogue of, “No, Wendy, it’s fine. People are germy and messy, and that’s okay. You don’t need any more hand sanitizer or to wear a mask. It’s the OCD calling the shots, not you. These behaviors and thoughts are a sign of your mental illness, but you are in control.” Now, I’m being forced to rethink these words that used to calm me.

Some days, it feels like camaraderie, for me, to have everyone anxious together. Other days, it escalates my own worries until it’s difficult to breathe.

There are days when I do better keeping up-to-date on social media or through news sites, as it gives me a sense of control. Then, there are times that retreating inside myself and waiting out what feels like a nightmare is the only sane option. I never know what the next day will bring.

If you disclose to someone that you have OCD, it’s not uncommon to hear the dismissive response, “I have OCD, too—I like things clean/organized/a certain way.”

My eyelid twitches whenever I hear that from someone who most likely doesn’t have the condition. In this world where OCD-like thoughts and behaviors are more prevalent, though, is the reverse true? “Oh, I’m normal, too. I’ve stockpiled supplies, don’t leave my house, and I’m wearing half a bottle of hand sanitizer at any given time.”

Maybe I am suddenly “normal.” I might even be in the less panicked faction of humans right now.

Welcome to my world, humanity. A little advice from someone with pro-level OCD: If you’re anything like me, you’ll find the control you need through actions that make the world a bit better, cleaner, or safer for you and others. Wash your hands. Stay inside if you can. Call, message, or email at-risk people in your circle. Stay calm and be well because you’re all in the club now, and we take care of our own.

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