Living with OCD During COVID-19 Nearly Broke me
The Monstrous Angel of One More Check
Never in my innocent young age would I have ever imagined that there were monsters that lived within us, dined with us, and walked beside us step by step. Always watching us, hoping that we would lose our vigilance to get a chance to pounce on us.
Living with a mental condition is like walking on a thin line, where any lapse of vigil can leave one descending an endless hollow pit while still being munched on.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder puts an individual in a dangerous loop whereby intrusive thoughts spur compulsive action(s), growing into obsessions.
These repetitive habits, over time, form into chains of habits, too strong to be broken despite their periling consequence on a person’s life.
Forget the sleek TikTok videos showing influencers obsessed with arranging items in a clean, perfect symmetrical order. OCD is a mental condition that can have life-threatening consequences on an individual if not treated or well managed.
Mind you, the best-known case that can show the extent of untamed OCD is Howard Hughes, the millionaire playboy, who had gone as far as storing his urine in covered jars in his late adulthood.
Though that is uncommon, OCD is undeniably a monster dressed as an angel of safety, health, and a savior from speculated dangers. This monstrous angel creates doubts in victims’ lives, gains their trust, then isolates them, and gradually starts feasting on them from the comfort of their homes.
As with many other patients, the onset of OCD in my life was in early adolescence. Day by day, it slowly grew stronger, spreading from one arena in my life to another.
As I walked down the street, this monstrous angel would scan everything for ‘my own’ safety and health. ‘Don’t sit on that seat, don’t hold the rails, who will press the elevator buttons and don’t shake hands.’
I would be thrown into a quandary when someone extended a hand for a greeting. God knows, we all can’t afford to be a Kardashian; thus, screaming ‘don’t touch me’ is probably not the best option. The answer tended to be ‘shake and get over it,’ then quickly dash to the bathroom for hand washing longer than arcane cleaning procedures in priestly masses. Who doesn’t know you need such washing after being hand gripped by Night King?
Being a humble disciple of my heroic monster, who had an insatiable desire for power over my life, I would follow all commands is “Do one more check, just to be sure.” Check whether you have locked your door or whether you switched off that electric socket or gas cooker. Who knows what might happen if left leaking, the fire, deaths, and damages? It never hurts to be cautious until it does.
The more permissive I became, the more control it had on my life. Checking ‘just’ once turns to be five times, then ten times… The illusory veil of safety checks splits when I start noticing that I have fallen into servitude, in which I know how to flee but lack the strength, the will, and courage to follow the escape hatch.
At least that helped nudge my sympathy for Juliet’s predicament of being compelled by Lord Capulet to marry Paris instead of Romeo.
My OCD symptoms started worsening during Covid-19; this severity was further exacerbated by losing a loved one and having a toxic job. I had no idea how to survive before, leave alone during and after the Coronavirus broke out.
A deadly virus that attaches to anything was all that was needed to spook my OCD symptoms. It was like jumping from the frying pan to fire. The limited areas in my life which my conscious brain had allowed me to touch or come close were now gone.
I would start perceiving viruses and germs everywhere, from restaurant to hospital, spread out like nematodes, waiting to attach to my conceited body or clothes.
With COVID-19 live and on the stereo, visitors became rare as lockdowns became enforced. Depression kicked in, anxiety and panic attacks, all of which served to worsen my OCD symptoms, particularly the contamination fears.
Things went sour quickly than I could imagine; everything that entered my house was contaminated. I would be wary about touching bought food; what if an infected somebody has touched it while on the shelf?
Going outdoors became stressful while living reclusively brought ‘a little more ease’ after endless torture of avoiding germs. Nothing makes a monster happier than an isolated victim.
Like many other patients, when secluded and withdrawn, OCD became too demanding, harsher, and stricter than a lanista, offering gladiatorial training with nothing more than a mental whip. In the end, I had slowly turned to nothing more than a docile Rubik’s Cube to OCD obsessions.
OCD has the ability to fan out from one symptom to multiple. My fear of contamination due to the contagious nature of COVID 19 developed to perfectionist washing symptoms as I started cleaning hands ‘perfectly’ using clinically recommended proper handwashing techniques.
This could cumulate to more than an hour of handwashing in a day. My palms became more slippery than salamander feet as I fervently streamed sanitizer over my skin to sanctify any contact sin.
Before long, I began noticing I was caught in a cycle of triggers, anxiety, and compulsions. I had become a prisoner at my home, chained to rigorous cleaning and safety checks losing sanity every day.
A good break was getting vaccinated to lessen the anxiety and tendencies to react to contamination triggers.
Though that was not enough, with variants still springing, fighting obsessive-compulsive disorder was no easy job as it had become deeply rooted in my life. Slowly I would start mounting a coup against OCD in an attempt to regain control over their life.
Restraining myself from acting on compulsion felt like bathing in lava. Giving in was the quickest way to be dropped in ‘calm ocean water’ seems like a better option.
Even delaying compulsions only added more anxiety, and yielding seemed the best way to end the inner hellish conflict. I realized that is I was at the mercy of an ‘angel’ who, in disguise of protecting me, was tearing me apart.
The most painful thing was that in craving for normality, I tried to get out of the OCD cycle only to find out outside out of this maze; I felt so naked.
There was a stark vulnerability in living the unknown life where I didn’t have to follow rituals and act on compulsions forcing me to go back to the OCD maze.
There is no helplessness more drolly than living a life running from a monster, and when it finally stops chasing, you walk back to it, seeking the nostalgic thrill of the struggles that have defined your ‘safe’ existence.
I had previously sought professional help, which I have been advised to take some OCD medications to take. The side effect of taking prescriptions brought me more discomfort and torment than even the OCD.
Though I had to continue taking them, I was crushing before, but at least with medication, I would get some work done and retain some sense of serenity.
The side effects made me realize one of the biggest hurdles to people with mental health conditions; the rareness of the disorder makes it less of a priority for scientific studies and drug development.
This was when I would learn of behavioral therapy advocated by Dr. Lee Baer, Getting Control; Overcoming Your Obsessions, Compulsions, and OCD, involving exposure and response prevention.
Behavioral therapy proved to be the most effective long-term rather than short-term.
This treatment involved me coming into contact with objects I perceived to be contaminated, e.g., doorknob. I was then required to resist the urge to perform rituals arising from compulsions during or after the exposure.
The journey to recovery was full of errors, relapses, and frustrations. Eventually, OCD treatment would help diminish the debilitating effect of most symptoms and regain control over my life.
Overcoming OCD was fight that defined my life; it threw me to the ground, and I rose again with most OCD symptoms disappearing. It was a victory from which I would draw most strength and motivation needed in my life.
To every OCD patient out there, we make it in all the stumbles and struggles, and most importantly, we thrive, especially if there is love and support around.
It takes time, much patience, a little bit of stubbornness, plenty of errors, relapse, lack of focus, hopelessness, anger, distress, and frustrations. What a thrill to regain control of your life once robbed.
Having a mental health condition does not put anyone at a disadvantage.
It is simply a different path from the customarily used ones, each with its strengths, opportunities, and struggles, though the destination is the same. We do make it, always!
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