My psychologist in Seattle introduced me to the idea of “lifestyle” exposures, as compared to purposeful exposures. I might go in and say something like, “My son pooped his pants but I didn’t throw out the clothes he was wearing!” in an effort to show my progress. But things I can’t control (i.e., my son’s bowel habits) don’t technically count as a purposeful exposure since, well, I didn’t make it happen “on purpose.” I didn’t choose to face that situation and then overcome it. Instead, it happened, and I had to deal with it. These are what he called “lifestyle exposures”—things that come up and we have to choose whether or not we will let the OCD dictate how we react.
As I wrote yesterday, I’m pretty rubbish with all types of exposures. My daughter needs to poop and wants someone to wipe her bottom? I call my husband almost all of the time. He works from home, so it’s okay, right? Or giving the kids baths? Again, papa time. But they need papa time, don’t they?
Back when things were really bad, I would totally freak out when a lifestyle exposure presented itself. I would usually call (sometimes hysterically) for my husband and then go swiftly to another part of the house and/or have a panic attack. This is obviously not the ideal, psychologist-approved way to handle a lifestyle exposure. In a world wherein I had control over the OCD and not the other way around, I would think “how would a normal person handle this situation?” and then do that. For now, I am probably somewhere in the middle.
As an example, If I am going to the bathroom and some toilet paper flakes off and touches my clothes as I am wiping (sorry for the imagery, but this is my life), instead of freaking out and changing my pants, I should (a) not even notice that anything happened and go on with my day BUT usually I (b) wipe the questionable part of my pants down with a disinfectant wipe OR (c) spray with some disinfectant spray and then go on with my day. This is most likely not the proper use of wipes or spray…but for me, it’s a step in the right direction.
Sometimes I still call my husband and run away from the situation. Today, I was late to go somewhere, clogged the toilet (another wiping OCD problem ugh), and it overflowed. Basically, a disaster for an OCD person. Initial thoughts included: dirty toilet water all over the floor? I can never go in that bathroom again. But I called him up, handed him a tub of wipes, told him to throw out any towel he used to clean it up (again, OCD problem), and left.
So basically I am still not doing so well with lifestyle exposures (or purposeful ones). But sometimes you just have to live your life and do what you can to get through the day.