Like I wrote earlier, things have been fairly rough lately. I have felt like I am constantly unclean, and that “discomfort” (which to me feels like saying a broken limb is a slight scratch) has been ruling my life, leading me to wash my hands over and over again, restrict what I do and when (laundry, cleaning, exercising, showering, etc.), not want to go to the bathroom, fear that faucets and soap canisters are “dirty,” etc. 

Bathroom Issues

Frequently I wish that I wasn’t alive anymore because it feels impossible to bear. It literally feels impossible to keep going. I feel like I can’t possibly go to the bathroom and deal with my clothes and wiping up and washing my hands and getting presentable again. I go to the bathroom multiple times a day, of course, but having to deal with the anxiety of anticipating something so routine and natural as going to the bathroom wears down on me each and every day, and I think about it consciously or subconsciously almost every moment of the day. It controls what I do, what I wear, where I go the bathroom, and to some extent, when I go.

Purposeful Exposures

My doctors (the two who run the group I am attending) have instructed me to do two specific exposures to try and help combat my fear of being unclean. I was asked to get a drop of urine, put it in a spray bottle, fill the bottle with water, and spray it around my house.

Initially I balked at this suggestion and was given the lesser assignment to do the same thing but with spit instead of urine. I did that and eventually worked up to the “pee spray.” Doing it was extremely painful. I sprayed and sat on the moist surfaces. I eventually sat in and drove my car. It made me feel like I was potentially harming myself or others. I felt like I was being unnecessarily risky—putting myself and others at risk. But I endured it, and then I had a negative bathroom experience and that anxiety gave way to the greater fear of fecal contamination.

The other exposure I have been asked to do is to get a “contamination rag”—that is, to get a rag or cloth “dirty” and then wipe it all over my body after showering and before putting on my clothes each day so that I am never “clean.”

The Spiral

Sometimes I feel like the fears of contaminants are spiraling from just bodily fluids to anything that could be construed as dirty or abnormal. Anything that I cannot trace to being something “safe” or known is a potential contaminant hat deserves to be feared.

It is extremely exhausting. I worry about washing clothes after washing underwear or towels, feeling like I have to do a “cleansing” bleach load in between or wash something like sheets or dish towels to “clean” the machine before I put in clothes. My life is dictated by trying to avoid unnecessary or excessive dirtiness, but then I have three other people living in my house who do not care at all (two children and a husband). They track dirt and mud and stains in almost purposefully.

I know I cannot continue to live like this. I know I have to make changes or allow it to disable me completely. It’s so hard though. In group last week, I said something like “the fear is so real” and my doctor responded with “but the risk is not.” I guess that’s important to remember when dealing with obsessive compulsive disorder: “The fear is real but the risk is not.”

How do you push through the anxiety to make progress in our OCD recovery?

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