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Contamination OCD Took Last December Away From Me – and I Won't Let It Happen Again

We drove to my first group therapy session for obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) on a rather typical dreary December evening in the Northwest. We took a ferry to get across the Puget Sound and drove through Seattle as a family. Somehow making the journey together seemed appropriate. My OCD affected all of us, so a family pilgrimage to deliver me to proper help only made sense.

I think my husband and kids went to Trader Joe’s while I stayed and forced myself to admit and acknowledge my many issues. I cried. More accurately, I blubbered all over the place. And then I walked back to the car with my raincoat on. We made it home. I woke up the next morning with a sore throat but had to go back, over the ferry and through Seattle, for my first individual session. The sore throat continued.

We discovered the next day that three of the four of us had strep. Thanks, body. Thanks, world. It was a perfectly ironic gift for someone who has just accepted that she has contamination OCD with obsessions of spreading illnesses to other people accidentally. Just swell. And in the very beginning days of December! Happy holidays to me.

Getting into the spirit of Christmas was hard. I worried that everything we touched would be contaminated. I didn’t want to go caroling. I didn’t want to bake the German tree torte I had bought ingredients to make. I didn’t want to touch Christmas cards to mail to people. Wrapping presents? Not without a lot of hand sanitizer first. Accidental chocolate stains and smears on clothes or furniture? How do we know it’s not poop? We can’t know for sure!

I’m not sure how I survived the airplane journey to my parents’ house for Christmas. I don’t even know how I made it to the airport, frankly. We were at the laundromat doing laundry the morning of the flight. I didn’t do laundry at our house anymore. We didn’t have hot water connected to the machine. Right before leaving for the airport, I rushed to go to the bathroom and didn’t wipe properly and dripped pee on my undies. I ran back to my room to change my underwear. I think my husband and kids were already in the car, waiting. Wondering.

And then the airport itself? Of course the plane was delayed. The kids were touching the floor of the airport bathroom. “Stop!” I screamed, maybe only mentally, but maybe not. I worried when I went to the bathroom solo that other people at the sinks noticed how I washed my hands not just once but twice. I saw blood on my sleeve, probably from my raw hands? But maybe not. I worried. Severely. How would I make it to my parents’ house. How was it even possible?

Somehow I survived. I made it! But once there, I basically holed up in their house. My mom had what amounted to adult baby wipes in the bathroom (for who knows what reason), but I was ecstatic. Yes! A way to clean myself properly!

I took way too long showering. I washed my hands over and over again. I listened to my parents and brother ask me questions as they tried to figure out what was going on in my head. I wish I knew! I felt often like I wanted it to be over. Not just the trip or the anxiety-stained moments, but everything. I felt like it was too difficult to carry on with the burden of this constant worry. The obsessions and compulsions left me exhausted — but not exhausted enough to stop. I felt that dying would be a welcome reprieve, that it would be easier to die than to live with OCD.

I wouldn’t ever hurt myself, of course, so I prayed at night that I wouldn’t wake up in the morning. Looking back it seems absurd. Did I really and literally pray in my parents’ house that I would die in my sleep? It just felt so hard and oppressive to keep living. I felt like I couldn’t go anywhere, do anything, or be anyone. I felt like I was trapped in these recurring compulsions, doing things over and over again so I could stop worrying only to make the worrying worse.

And then I got strep again. Again! At my parents’ house! I tried to sleep through the day but I couldn’t. I felt like it was impossible to keep going. I didn’t want to go back home. I couldn’t handle the idea of going back to the house where the thoughts and obsessions had haunted me. I wouldn’t. I looked for other rentals. I contemplated making my husband go back and pack us up while I stayed at my parents’ house, safe in that little cocoon.

My mind had ruined Christmas. I didn’t want to touch my presents. What if they had strep germs on them? If my compulsive sanitizing and cleaning hadn’t protected me from getting strep again within a month, how could anything be safe this time? My body ached. But still I was alive. Still I kept going, even if I didn’t want to or understand how.

Finally my mom sat me down. She didn’t care if maybe my clothes had germs on them that would contaminate her stool. She didn’t care if I might somehow give her strep. She made me talk. She told me we couldn’t keep living where we were, so far from the help I needed. I agreed. And she helped me make a plan.

We flew back to the Northwest the next day but we didn’t go home immediately. We drove to a different city and looked at homes. We put an offer on one and moved less than two months later. And I got help. I made progress. I regained my life from the OCD.

While my mind and body may have taken last December from me (and a good chunk of 2016), they won’t take away this December. Why? Because I won’t let them — and I now know that I don’t have to let them.

So happy holidays — and if you feel like they aren’t happy and may never be again, I know how you feel. I really do. Just hold on to the fact that maybe next year will be different.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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