OCD tends to be viewed as excessive handwashing and a fear of contamination. But for the first 6 years of having diagnosed OCD, I don’t think there was ever an instance of me considering germs any more than the average human.
Whilst cleaning and tidying are definitely common, valid compulsions, it’s important to recognise that people with OCD perform these actions not out of enjoyment but because they feel absolutely compelled to. Perhaps the reason why cleanliness is the stereotype so closely attached to OCD is because it is the easiest to understand but in reality, the disorder is incredibly complex.
Obsessions and compulsions can revolve around any subject, any fear, and frequently fixates on what is specifically significant to an individual, which is of course different for everyone. There are infinite types of OCD and infinite ways it can consume people.
OCD often gets thrown around as an adjective. It’s understandable; most of the population do probably experience what is stereotypically seen as OCD tendencies at some point in their life such as being clean, neat, and organized. The casual misuse of the term, in my experience, is never done with malice but it does trivialise the intensity of the disorder.
Those with OCD derive no pleasure from rumination or performing compulsions. In truth, it’s debilitating to live with an exhausting cycle of anxiety-inducing intrusive thoughts and engaging in reassurances to give short-term relief to that anxiety.
Having a preference to keep things organised and regarding hygiene isn’t usually symptomatic of a mental health disorder. The stereotyped depiction, often reinforced through media portrayal, has meant that OCD is still highly stigmatized and misunderstood in 2020.
A lot of treatment for OCD revolves around recognizing the triggers—the thoughts or situations—that bring on obsessions. From there, irrational thinking can be identified and compulsions can be resisted. For me, the line between rational and irrational thoughts has always been incredibly blurry and difficult to identify, and coronavirus made this even harder.
The pandemic was in a way a conformation that my overwhelming fear of catastrophe was perfectly rational, and I was right to be on constant alert. It became impossible to differentiate between helpful worries and worries that are unnecessary or overblown. As with every mental illness, the journey isn’t linear. Obsessions and compulsions can evolve and change at any time.
As soon as the severity of the pandemic was established and lockdown began in late March, it quickly became all I thought about. I was constantly checking the news, assessing every decision, counting the days since any potentially risky situations, believing with every fibre of my being that I was experiencing symptoms and sitting with very intense anxiety that was impossible to shift. With OCD, probability tends to become meaningless. Even when the risk is low, it’s incredibly hard to not fixate on it, making the threat grow bigger and bigger.
When managing mental health becomes difficult, it’s very easy to fall into the bad habit of going off the grid. I tend to let my phone die and keep myself to myself entirely. Everything becomes insignificant in comparison to the anxiety which overrules the ability to engage in conversation or activity.
Checking in on friends is great for both sides and even when I can’t offer much conversation on my part, I find it calming to just listen to someone talk to me about their day, about what they’re planning to cook for dinner, what TV show they are currently watching.
Even though lockdown is easing, each individual will have their own personal boundaries and ways of coping whilst the pandemic is ongoing, and that’s okay. Everyone comes from different perspectives and experiences. I’m aiming to find a balance between recognising my limits whilst also pushing myself to do things that might be difficult.