As someone that’s been struggling with various forms of OCD since I was a child, this outbreak has been tough for me. For those dealing with OCD, every day is full of worries about the surfaces you touch and the places you visit, with your brain telling you that the ‘contamination’ hides behind every contact and every dust mote. Your brain tells you ridiculous stories about what will happen if you don’t protect yourself and your loved ones from this faceless ‘contamination’, but the thing that dampens that is when everyone around you is healthy, happy and worry-free.
Therefore, when you have a highly infectious global pandemic sweeping through your neighbourhood your OCD kicks into overdrive. Now everyone else has the same fears as you, fear of the germs, the contamination and of losing those they love. Far from feeling less isolated your irrational OCD fears feel validated and are therefore encouraged, and it is so much easier to slip into obsessions and destructive patterns.
So, for those of your out there like me who are struggling, here are the three things that have helped me most so far:
1. Put a limit on how many times a day or after which tasks you can wash/sanitize your hands. This is something that can very easily take over, especially if you have a particular number you must repeat things to. Something like washing your hands after using the toilet, and before you eat is practical and easy to follow.
2. Limit your physical interactions with others. As well as following government advice, this will help reduce your anxiety around other people’s hygiene levels and catching anything. This will help you focus on keeping yourself healthy and keep stress levels low, which can often aggravate OCD.
3. Don’t isolate yourself completely! Text, video chat, send cute cat gif spams to the group chat, whatever your preferred method is. Just make sure that you keep talking and keep contact with your friends and family. Physical isolation doesn’t mean social isolation, and if you become a hermit it will be a lot harder to go back out into the ‘real world’ after all of this is over.
For those of you with family/friends that have OCD there are a few things you can do to make this easier for them:
1. Ask before you initiate physical touch. You may be completely healthy, but before pulling your friend into a huge bear hug, just check with them first that they are comfortable with it. OCD isn’t logical, and even if you are completely healthy, physical touch can still trigger an OCD episode for the other person.
2. Keep things focused away from Covid-19 by using all your best distractions. This isn’t to say don’t mention the fact that all the Karens of the world can’t survive without 60 loo rolls, but just don’t make it the main topic of conversation. I can bet you that your OCD friend is going to be thinking about impending doom plenty without you bringing it up, so talk about the inability of your lecturers to use basic technology, or the fact that your pet tortoise is convinced your toes are his best source of food. Just don’t mention the fact that the entire word is being brought to a standstill by a global highly infectious virus, okay?
3. Keep in contact. It is easy to let the fear and isolation mindset get to you, but you won’t catch anything over Skype! Make sure that your friends (and especially those with pre-existing mental health conditions such as OCD) know you are there for them.
So stay safe and stay connected – 6 feet apart