For today’s post, I wanted to revisit my most recent appointment with my doctor and give some examples of what contamination exposures and a “beat OCD” plan looks like for those who might be curious or are going through similar issues.
Recap of Visit
A typical visit with my psychologist involves me reporting back and updating him on what relapses I’ve experienced since we last met. He listens, asks some questions, and then we start delving more specifically into compulsions and things I can do to take back ground from the OCD.
Some of the topics we covered and areas I need to work on this month include:
I have to be careful with length and number of hand washes. I am trying to keep my daily hand washes to under 10 (although the doctor said somewhere around 3-5 is normal. Sometimes I simply don’t buy these numbers he gives. Three hand washes? Who only goes the bathroom three times a day?). In addition, I can write down what triggers me wanting to wash my hands. I haven’t started doing this one yet. It may sound silly, but it’s actually really interesting to write down what prompts me to wash and see patterns or times that the OCD is really grasping at straws to get me to obsess over handwashing.
Sometimes I use plastic disposable gloves when doing laundry or wash my hands before folding and putting away clean clothes. Obviously, I’m supposed to stop doing those things. The doctor even assigned me to do a purposeful exposures of touching my palms to the ground before folding clothes and, additionally, not washing my hands after folding underwear (which I like to do) and then eating something like grapes or nuts.
Physical Affection and OCD
I’ve been instructed to be more affectionate with my kids. Sometimes I avoid touching, kissing, hugging, or holding hands with my children because I imagine that they are dirty or have germs from school that I don’t want to get on myself. My doctor asked that I give them hugs and hold hands more frequently. Push past the fear!
Objects and Contamination
I often avoid sitting down on the couch until after the kids go to bed. This sounds really weird (but so do a lot of OCD compulsions when we verbalize them). My daughter sometimes wears nighties as jammies and then her underwear ends up on the couch when she sits since the nightgown hikes up. This makes me think that the couch is dirty from potential pee or poop stains in her underwear, and I avoid sitting on the couch as a result (or use a blanket under me when I sit).
Of course, the doctor asked me to, well, sit on the couch and not use a blanket. Basically, I am banned from purposefully avoiding sitting down anywhere in my house. There are no off limits chairs or couches.
Also in regards to “objects” or clothes and contamination, I’m not supposed to throw anything away (clothes). He wants me to wear my pants for at least two days before I wash them. This is one I haven’t gotten to yet. It just seems so easy to wash…plus, clothes get dirty, right?
Doing the CBT and ERP Homework
The thing is, it can be so easy to put off doing these assignments and exposures. It can also be tempting to do them once and check them off the list and get back into old habits immediately. Obviously, in order to take back life and time from the mental illness, it is best to go all in and do all the exposures all the time. Resist all the compulsions! Fight back! Go go go! Some days this works. And some days are harder. It’s important to do what we can and as much as we can, yes, but we also need to pace ourselves in some cases or at least not be frustrated with ourselves when we fail—or even when we don’t succeed to the level we anticipated.
We are human. We are working. We can get better.