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A Compulsion To Be Obsessive and other Germs

For me, the day started around 10.15am. This cold has taken over and my throat is raw and scratchy as all hell. My OCD kicked in and I spent the morning wiping down every surface with hygiene wipes and washing my hands with Sanex. I’m dehydrated and cold, even though I’m drinking plenty of fluids and wrapped up warm. I had the heater on earlier but it was like being suffocated, so it went off. Hard enough trying to breathe as it is.

I detest being ill. I can’t deal with the headaches, bodily aches and pains and constantly feeling like crap. It’s not something I have any patience or sympathy for, especially in myself. Thankfully, Bear doesn’t get ill easily, but when he does he gets really ill. He’s not a ‘man-flu’ type of guy. Most things he can shake off in a day or two, but when he gets caught by something nasty, he goes down hard and suffers for a week or more. He doesn’t do sympathy much either, so I try to be aware of his needs without fussing over him.

I am grateful that the day’s are gone when I had to shower two to three times a day with scouring cream and a scouring pad just to feel clean again when I was ill. Germs were life-threatening and I would go to war against every germ I ever caught so that I didn’t pass it on to someone else and risk it killing them. Not realising I was almost killing myself in the effort. I’d seen the medical adverts, showing how when a person coughed or sneezed, the germs would end up on their hands, faces, tissues, clothing and immediate surroundings.

So every time I coughed I used a tissue, threw it away and washed my hands, face and hygiene sprayed my immediate area, to kill the germs. If I sneezed it was the same, except I used a Qtip dipped in hygiene spray to wipe around my nostrils to kill the germs that caused the sneeze. The more I got ill, the worse the germ-killing became until I was using stronger more abrasive cleaners and cleaning a wider area than just my immediate surroundings. I changed my clothes four times a day, and showered with harsher cleaning fluids than previously because I felt the germs all over me, inside and out.

Before long I was using household bleach and a steel wool pad to wash with, germs were everywhere and if I passed any on to my children they would die. Germs were in dust, so I eradicated any dust in my home and patrolled every surface to make sure none landed. Then I realised we breathed in dust, and thus breathed in the germs, so used a hygiene spray as an air freshener, to kill germs in the air. Obviously I didn’t do it when my family were around, I knew I had a serious issue and I knew it was my issue not their’s. I was just waiting for them to leave the house so I could continue my compulsive behaviour every day.

Strangely, the same compulsions were different at work. I kept my space clean and hygienic, but allowed the rest of my work place to just be, keeping it clean but not hygienically clean. I ran a library and knew books picked up all kinds of germs, but because they were very dry, germs couldn’t live long on them and as long as I washed my hands regularly when handling them, I wasn’t likely to pick up anything nasty. It wasn’t a busy library anyway, being hidden away on a Military housing estate, just a handful of regulars with a few irregulars now and again. It was there I met an old gentleman who realised what I was doing to myself when he saw the scars I had on my inner forearms from the steel wool and bleach.

He came in one day with a single red rose and a small bottle of Echinacea cream and sat me down and asked about the scars he’d seen. I allowed him to see the rest of my arms and he didn’t flinch at all when he saw the burns and raw abrasions all the way up to my shoulders. He rubbed the cream gently into my arms and said that this had to stop. Every few days he’d come in to talk and see how my arms were healing. I slowly got better, learning to cope with the compulsions and obsessive behaviour with his help.

He told me how he too had done to himself what I was doing to myself. He had been a soldier in WW2 as a young lad and the things he had seen had deeply affected him to the point that he felt he could control his surroundings and thus the people around him, and what happened to them if he did certain actions repeatedly every day, these actions included washing himself a certain way with a certain product as he washed his home, car, garage, patio, shed and gate. He believed that as long as everything was washed with a certain product in a certain way, they would protect everyone who came within the bounds of that cleanliness.

Then his wife died. He went to therapy and realised there had been nothing he could have done. Cancer doesn’t respect the boundaries of cleanliness and no amount of cleanliness will protect anyone from it. Like me he felt defeated and with help started to get better at coping with his loss and the feelings of failure because he hadn’t been able to protect his wife. As I couldn’t protect my children. I realised I was in a losing battle. Germs were everywhere, on everything and only they would win, always. I also realised some germs were good, if we didn’t have them, we’d die.

It took over a year for me to recover from the wounds I’d been inflicting on myself, both mental and physical, and get back to a place where I could control my obsession with germs and not allow the fear of dying to overwhelm me when I or one of my children got ill. Now I have moments where I have to hygienically clean just for peace of mind, but in no way is it the obsession to bleach everything I used to have. Knowing Bear will recognise the signs of my OCD helps me keep them in check. Giving him cause to worry about me is not something I will allow, so when my head starts telling me horror stories about dying just because I have a cold, I slap that lying MoFo down hard.!

claytoonz

Nationally Syndicated Editorial Cartoonist

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