I’ve written a lot about how it all started--the foods slowly removed, one by one, as my belly ached or the news report of another e.coli or salmonella outbreak. Red meat. Lettuce. My beloved ranch dressing.
I’ve written about how, over the span of a few months, my weight dropped and my handwashing went up exponentially. Hotter water. More soap. Do it again.
What I haven’t written about is the lingering anxiety that rears its head in certain situations, generally social, when there is less knowledge about ingredients and more probability of cross contamination with others’ hands or breath.
OCD isn’t gone. It’s settled and re-related to. Exposures help, as does a really good support system.
And now, 13 years since severe onset, 10 years since official diagnosis, and 8 years since beginning Cognitive Behavior Therapy and winning a bunch of anxiety wins, we are living in a new era where a lot of people around me are carrying hand sanitizer, wiping off their groceries, holding their breath when passing a stranger, and foregoing handshakes without question.
I talk a lot about fear. About how we always have two choices: love or fear. And ultimately the choice IS always ours.
But it’s not always easy to make the choice. Layers upon layers of soot and brick cover the pathway to love and you have to figure out a way through.
Covid-Era OCD has thankfully found me with a whole lot of tools in my belt, and I feel lucky to have them so that I can more swiftly navigate the territories we’ve been thrown in.
But it gets less and less easy as the outside world opens up. From the view outside my new home office window, everything is serene. I don’t have to worry about what I’ve touched or the air I’m breathing, because I know it is safe.
Well, we never really know. We just have a greater probability of it being safe.
And ultimately, should safety (i.e., fear of unsafety) be the driving force behind all decisions? No. Should we be careful? Yes. Should we respect the scientific laws of germ theory and wash our hands and cover our coughs? Yes. Should we never leave the house cause we just don’t know what’s out there? YES!
Oh, I mean… Uh, no.
These last 5 and half months have given me many, many gifts. (In addition to the grief and anger). These days, I am less inclined to be anxious before my eyes are even open. I’m not sick in the morning, like I often was before leaving for work (both the job that was soul-sucking and the one I loved). I can use my own bathroom. I eat my own food--untouched or breathed on by anyone else except, perhaps the people in my house who are well trained and know better.
I am exhausted thinking about the prospect of going back to school. I can’t even. But I might have to.
I have barely left the house in 5 months.
Prior to that, I was rarely home. I worked in a building with 800 people. I travelled with my son to show choir and dance competitions. I’d hang out at bars and restaurants with friends and play live music. I went to the movies. Workshops. Places with people breathing and singing and laughing and hugging.
And I was anxious even then. Social situations did that, especially if eating was involved.
But not like now. Not like today.
I sit in my parents house and I watch what everyone touches--not for me, this time, but for them. Worried, even though we are all masked, that one particular breath or sound will be the one that carries something dangerous into the air. That the mindless habit of tweaking the nose will result in a cross contamination of drastic proportions.
But that’s catastrophic thinking, too. It wouldn’t be just one. And we are all careful and healthy.
So it’s a matter of continually reframing. Breathing into my center. Believing, with all my heart, that all will be well.