Today I used a public bathroom at a park with my daughter. I probably could have waited (maybe) until I got home, but I thought it would be a good exposure. I did pretty well, too, until the hand washing. I used to have a hand washing compulsion. Like it could be upwards of fifty times a day, often in the thirties or forties. I also frequently did the double soap pump. I still do, occasionally, sometimes out of habit, sometimes just to feel “clean.”
The issue today was that there was no soap. No soap! When doing exposures, I find that talking myself down comes naturally: “It’s not a big deal. Obviously it must be fine if they don’t even provide soap. Why would they not give soap if they thought it was unsanitary? That doesn’t make sense. You’re fine. Just use water. It’s fine! It’s like camping! But you hate camping.”
So we rinsed our hands, walked back to our stuff, and I got out my hand sanitizer. It’s frowned upon, my having hand sanitizer in my bag, but I really try to save it for emergencies now: like when there is NO SOAP or when my kids do something weird. I used to hand sanitize a lot. Like before going into stores. Or going to church. Or coming home from church. Just in case. I don’t (usually) do that anymore, though sometimes I will use the complimentary wipes for the shopping cart to “cheat” and clean my hands as I wipe the cart handle.
It’s these little cheats that my doctor says I have to work on now. I know I do, but it’s really hard. Part of me feels like they aren’t a big deal, like isn’t it good to use hand sanitizer after you go to the bathroom if there wasn’t any soap? How can that be “wrong”?
That’s the thing about OCD treatment. You do some weird things that don’t seem normal (and frankly often aren’t normal AT ALL) but that are so important in order to break your habits and get better. And that’s the other thing. You never really “get better” fully. Not as in cured permanently or anything. But there can be definite improvements. And those are amazing and worth it–even if you fall off the wagon a little bit and hand sanitize in the wilderness. Because at least you made it there and managed to go to a public bathroom without having a panic attack.
Progress is progress.