Handling Situations with OCD

The first thing I wanted to talk about is how I deal with contamination OCD in everyday situations.  After all, this was the first anxiety disorder I was diagnosed with that has totally changed the way I think about simple things.  I was going to make the focus of this post of what a “typical” day looks like for someone with contamination OCD, but after writing it, I scrapped it.  Because, to be honest, every day and every situation the day brings is handled different; however, there are definitely some situations that happen frequently that I can write adequately about. So I’m going to write about situations that arise; whether daily, weekly, monthly or yearly and how I handle them, living with contamination OCD.

I’ve accepted the fact that I have OCD.  I’ve accepted that one day it will be much easier for me.  I’ve also accepted it’s a long bumpy road.  I’ve acknowledged I won’t be stuck with this forever, and it will pass one day with hard, continued work.  It’s been 5 years and hasn’t been an easy road at all, but I know it will.

*As a disclaimer, I don’t want anyone to get upset by what I’m about to type here.  The thing about OCD is that it makes you think about situations differently than you normally would.  For example, I may hear a kiddo coughing up a lung in the grocery store or in Target.  My brain immediately goes on a strong defense.  I will change aisles, I won’t go down that aisle again, and I will over think the situation half the day.  “Was I close enough to them to be around the germs?  Did that child cough in my space?  How long do the germs float around actively in the air?  Did they use the same check out lane I did?”  I will do this until I usually find myself just taking a shower.  Then the guilt kicks in, “that poor mom, I hope her kiddo is better soon, I can’t believe I just ran out of that aisle!  I hope that cutie is OK, why do I immediately think of the bad?”  Then the rationalization kicks in.  “Mary, you DO have an immune system.  You will be OK.  Do you know how many people may have been in the store earlier that you didn’t even see, that could have been sicker?”  So, like I said, I hope I don’t offend anyone with how I think through and handle situations.  Trust me when I say this: I NEVER intentionally want to make anyone feel like I’m avoiding them.  NEVER, EVER.  But, rationally, I can see where it does come across like that because in reality, I am avoiding.  My brain is just trying to avoid the SITUATION, not the person, on a personal level.  Please understand that. 

So, let’s get to it, shall we.

First up, I want to talk about work.  Let’s face it, we spend more time at work sometimes than we do at home.  It’s a necessary part of life.  We have to go to work and get our jobs done.  I like my job and as I mentioned in my previous post, I’m immeasurably grateful I’m back in my “home” office, 7 miles from my house.  It has made a world of difference in my anxiety levels there.  But how do I handle every day tasks?  Well, for starters, I use an antibacterial wipe to open the outside door in the morning when I come in.  Then I use hand sanitizer when I get to my desk.  If I have to make copies or fax something, I use a pencil eraser to punch the buttons on the printer.  If I have to bundle a package, I wash my hands afterwards with HOT water.  And speaking of washing my hands, after I wash them in the bathroom, I always use 3 paper towels to open the bathroom door upon leaving.  I never ever use the kitchen, or anything like the fridge or microwave, ice dispenser or water cooler.  Ever.  When I know we are going to have a birthday celebration and may have cake, I bring a plastic silverware set from home.  Actually I have a few in my desk drawer, just in case.  In the circumstance that someone is sick there, I bring a mini bottle of lysol with me to the bathroom and spray down what I know I’ll be touching, or I use a completely different bathroom if it’s available.  I will also use a different printer/copier.  And yes, there are times depending on how bad the sickness is and how many people have it, that I will spray myself with Thieves antibacterial spray when I get back to my office.  I don’t douse myself with it, but I will spray it a few times and walk into it, kinda like putting on perfume.  Bonus: it smells like cinnamon. 🙂

Shopping:  Usually this isn’t a big issue for me.  Most of the time when I’m out and about, I’m not in a store a really long time, especially lately with the panic disorder issue.  I will admit that I do go out  a lot more in spring, summer and fall than in winter.  I avoid going out in the wintertime.  Partially because it’s disgusting outside and bitterly cold, but also because I don’t trust anyone to stay home when they are sick.  People need medicine, groceries and gas when they are sick….so out they go.  I realize that’s normal, but all the more reason for me to order groceries online, use Target 2 day delivery for house items and wear plastic gloves while getting gas.  Anyways, we kinda got off topic there.  I won’t open doors with an antibacterial wipe when I’m out shopping, but after I’m in the store I’ll use a wipe, or Thieves spray, or hand sanitizer if I have it.  If someone is coughing or grabbing their stomach, talking about being sick (if they mention the word sick, I swear my radar picks it up from great distances) or just looks sick, I will literally turn around and leave, or check out early without getting everything I needed…to me, nothing I need is important enough to risk getting sick or bringing a sickness home.  That’s what Amazon is for.  I know what you’re thinking…do I really see people clutching their stomach while I’m at Target or Kroger, or the mall?  The answer is yes.  Now, maybe they just had surgery, or there’s something else going on, but I’m not typically gonna stick around to find out.

Doctor’s Offices:  I mean, could there be anything worse to have to live through when you have contamination OCD?  I schedule all our yearly appointments in the summertime.  All of them!  Physicals, blood work, the kids’ yearly appointments (convenient they both have summer birthdays anyways), dermatologist appointments, dentist appointments, OB appointments and even eye doctor appointments for Brock.  With all of my anxiety, I have a lot of appointments and follow ups with my psychiatrist, therapist and hormone replacement doctor.  Thank goodness they don’t typically see sick patients.  My hormone replacement therapy doctor is a nurse practitioner, so technically she can see sick patients, but most of the time, she doesn’t.  Even so, I try to get everything out of the way before November, if I can, when it comes to seeing her.  Thankfully my doctors, like the psychiatrist and therapist’s offices, aren’t intimidating to me, because like I said, they shouldn’t be seeing sick patients.  And, their offices are not in medical buildings, so there’s no threat of sick patients going to see other doctor’s in the building they practice in.  There usually comes a time when I do unfortunately have to take a sick kiddo to the doctor.  I feel too guilty having Brock or my mom do it, so I will go, but I will have my mom go with me since Brock can’t get off work as easily.  I don’t touch the door handles at all (thank goodness for the handicap buttons that open doors!) and I sign in with my own pen.  I don’t bring my purse in or my phone (less to sanitize later) so basically I cram a pen, hand sanitizer and my insurance card into my pockets.  Honestly, I don’t care what anyone thinks when I’m at the doctor.   In the room, I don’t let the kids touch anything.  They literally sit on the exam table and we just chat about our day until the doctor comes in.  Thankfully, my insurance doesn’t require a co-pay, so when we go to “checkout” after the appointment, I never have to give them anything.  When it comes to myself and going to the doctor….ugh, it has to be BAD before I go.  Last year, late in the fall, I had a killer sinus infection.  My ears hurt so bad I couldn’t lay my head on a pillow and the left side of my face felt like it was going to fall off. (I have a deviated septum and when I get a sinus infection, the left side of my face and left ear suffer the worst…like you really wanted to know that, but now you do.  You’re welcome.  Also, on a side note, I need the sinus surgery.  I’m sure it will go exactly like it did for Jennifer Aniston….and I will magically sleep better, get less sinus infections and be gifted with a slimmer nose.)  So back to the story.  I had to make an appointment and go to the doctor, during what was ramping up to be the worst flu season in history.  I walked into the office and immediately, another person walks in behind me wearing a mask.  I think a part of me died inside.  I didn’t know if they were wearing the mask to avoid giving everyone else their sickness, or they were wearing it to avoid sickness.  Either way, I got up, walked to the furthest corner of the room and prayed I would get called back next and I’m pretty sure I was holding my breath.  It was brutal.  Also, my doctor’s office has a finger device to measure heartbeat.  Listen, the LAST thing I want to do is use devices like this, and the blood pressure cuff, that sick people have used before me.  Sinus infections aren’t contagious, but the flu is.  I left there, went home and took a shower, then sprayed Lysol in my car, and on my purse, because even though it wasn’t in the office with me….I felt like I needed to.   So this is how I handle doctor’s offices.  Ya, I know.  So well, right?

Kids’ activities at school:  Let me be honest.  You can’t control school.  Kids have to go.  I just try not to think about how many times they pick their noses and eat their boogers a day after not washing their hands.  OK now that that’s been said, when Brayden started kindergarten, I was totally the mom that made sure I was at every single event, field trip and picnic.  1st grade was the same.  In 2nd grade I started realizing it was harder and harder for me to play room mom, especially in the winter months.  So, I just decided I would do what I could, which usually meant a fall field trip, Halloween party, spring field trip and then all the events at the end of the school year.  It made me feel horribly awful not being there for his Christmas and Valentine’s day parties.  Like, to the point that I cried one night thinking about it.  But….I – just – couldn’t…..  I remember asking Brayden how his 2nd grade Christmas party went and he said to me that one of the girls he was in a group with didn’t make it to the bathroom before throwing up.  And this, my friends, is why I shy away from winter events!  Last year when he was in 3rd grade I went on the fall field trip and couldn’t help with the Halloween party because of a work commitment.  That was pretty much it until the end of the school year, but of course by that time, my panic disorder had kicked in, so it made it even harder.  I made my mom go with me to his wax museum & speech and skipped field day and the walk-a-thon, which I always looked forward to.  I also try to volunteer for one holiday party at Mason’s school (Pre-K) as well.  Last year I volunteered for the Thanksgiving feast and it was one of the cutest things ever!  But this year….I’m reluctant to volunteer for anything with the onset of this panic disorder in addition to the OCD.  I know I need to make myself though!  I have learned this much, younger kids put more in their mouths, which means they usually get sick more.  Therefore, as extremely adorable as they are and as much as I love to see 3 year olds line up patiently to toss bean bags into pumpkins or pin the star on the manger…I just can’t handle it as much (especially in the winter) as I would love, or as much as I used to be able to!  I’ve made peace with my mom guilt and just do the best I can in these situations.

Sports: This one used to be tougher on me than it is now.  In my mind, the older Brayden gets, the more responsible he becomes and the less he puts dirty/germy things near his mouth, eyes and nose.  Baseball has always been his #1 sport.  Baseball is a spring/summer outdoor sport (thank you, Brayden…thank you!!) so thankfully we haven’t typically had to deal with much sickness on spring sports teams.  But, in typical fashion, if someone is sick…immediately I try to remember the last time Brayden was around them, or ask Brayden if they sat by each other or (gosh, please let this answer always be “no”) if he accidentally drank this kid’s Gatorade instead of his own.  It will bother me for a day or two, then rational thought comes into play.  Then 2 years ago he started playing basketball.  Oh sweet mother a winter sport.  An indoor sport.  A sport where sweaty kids run into each other and all touch the same sweat covered ball.  I mean….it was harder for me.  But, at the same time, if Brayden truly loves something, I’m not going to be the one standing in his way.  Last year he played on a travel team.  It was a wonderful experience for him.  He learned a tremendous amount of skill and I’m forever thankful for his coaches.  For me personally (selfishly), it was hard.  Mainly because it fell right smack dab in the middle of the worst flu season we’ve had in a million billion years.  For the most part, our team stayed pretty healthy–which was comforting.  But it was hard to go to these gyms with TONS of people all crowded around watching the games.  All I could think about when I saw the opposing team was “I don’t know these kids-they don’t go to our schools, what if their parents brought them sick because they wanted to play that bad!”  At the same time, I would also think “I wish I could be the one sitting with all our team’s moms, making new friends.”  But, I kept myself guarded because so many times in the past, I would open up, let that wall down and a day later see where they were sick or had a sick kiddo on social media, which then scared me for letting my guard down for future occurrences.  Sometimes OCD is so isolating.  I LOVE being around people.  I know I’m an outgoing person, but people that don’t really know me well, wouldn’t think that because I always have this “they may be sick, their kids may be sick” wall built so thick around me.  Sorry for all the side notes.  We got through basketball season….successfully haha.  I’d do it all over again because I know how much Brayden enjoyed it.  But, let me just say this…I’m much calmer during baseball season when the weather has broken and the worst of cold and flu season is behind us.

Cookouts and family gatherings/Group events:  Yikes this is a hard one for me.  I should preface this and say I come from a large family and so does Brock.  We’ve had our traditional family gatherings for years and I would be extremely sad if we stopped having them because family is everything.  I would say 2 things make these gatherings hard now.  1–the season they fall under….for example, Easter gatherings are fine…4th of July, Memorial Day…all good!  Thanksgiving and Christmas?  Not so much.  And 2–the type of gathering it is.  Brock and I host Thanksgiving every year and after every one leaves, I Lysol everything–and not because someone was sick, but just because it’s during cold/flu season and there’s 30 + people crammed in our house.  It gives me piece of mind, if you will.  Having large groups of people in our house makes me extremely uncomfortable when there are a lot of younger kids involved.  That’s the sad truth.  I say sad because I HATE that I can’t get comfortable with having all my friends and their kids over.  Brock and I used to live for couples game nights and double dates with our friends before kids, but OCD came into the picture and pretty much ruined it for me now that we are all parents.  I mean, I handle it OK if one couple brings their kids over for game night during the spring or summer.  But, more than that just makes my OCD throw all kinds of red flags.  This is also why we have our boys’ birthday party somewhere other than our home.  There’s nothing that makes boys happier than being outside playing a sport and running around.  So it’s a win win for me, thank goodness.  No big groups at our house, plus our summer birthday boys get to be outside with 20 of their friends playing.  An example of what type of event causes the OCD to rear it’s ugly head would be…anything in the winter with lots of people, and usually anything in the winter involving younger kids.  A winter birthday party, a super bowl party with families, and even some cookouts where I don’t know most of the people going.  Remember at the beginning of this post, I said I was worried people would take this kind of talk personal?  You have to know it’s NOT personal.  It’s not about THE kids, it’s about the fact that I cannot tell you how many gatherings I’ve been to where it casually gets brought up by a mom how little Johnny just got over the flu and little Susie just got over it the night before (this is an example obviously)…and I happen to look over and Mason is playing with little Susie.  I cannot tell you what kind of panic that brings to me.  That’s about the time I make Brock leave because I’m in the corner taking Valium trying to calm myself down and mentally preparing for how I’m going to “sanitize” Mason when we get home…then the car….then wash the clothes he had on separately.  I don’t remember before kids ever going out somewhere or to a cookout and our friends saying “ya, I just got over the flu last night.”  It’s certainly not impossible…it’s just much more likely when you bring a room full of kids into the picture.  I don’t want anyone to get the wrong picture and I’ll probably be explaining this until my fingers fall off, but I LOVE KIDS.  I love my kids’ friends.  My nieces and nephews are THE best!  I want my kids to hang with their friends.  I’m just simply stating that to someone such as myself, with an extreme fear of germs, being in a room full of kids during cold and flu season may be ranked right up there with going to the doctor during cold and flu season.  My brain does NOT handle it well.  It goes straight to the most extreme “what if” situation.  The older Brayden gets, I feel more of an ease about the situation in general.  Maybe that is a false sensation, but we will just let my brain think that to give me a break, OK?  Also, I will say cookouts and birthday parties were a breeze when all our friends were just starting to have kids.  We would have like 5 kids in a room, none of which were old enough to go to school and didn’t even go to a daycare because grandparents watched them.  We would all ohhh and ahhh over their development and sleep patterns and talk about clothes and toys for them. It was so awesome to me.  Then we all started having more kids and I was diagnosed with OCD.  It changed things.  Here are some more examples of events and how I would handle them:  A winter movie night at Mason’s school–not going.  A spring birthday party–sure!  A winter girls night with a handful of my closest friends–yup, totally fine!  The Christmas event the Children’s Museum has every year–not going!  A summer pool party for the kids–totally yes!  A Holiday work event–I’ll go but I will not shake hands with anyone and excuse myself a few times to go wash my hands and never eat anything unless there are forks available.  A trip to Chuck E Cheese at any time of the year—not happening! Haha.  Sorry kids!  An Indian’s game with friends–sure!  A winter birthday party at Sky Zone—for Mason, no.  For Brayden, uhm lets just say I would grit my teeth, say yes, worry about it half the day and make the kids get a bath/shower as soon as they got home.  A late fall cookout–when I know everyone, yes I’ll go.  When 10 people I don’t know bring all their little kids, I panic and don’t want to go.  I think you all kind of get the point here.  The time of year plays a huge part in most of this.

Kids and their friends:  For the most part, this only applies to Brayden since Mason just turned 5 and doesn’t really spend the night with anyone but my parents yet haha.  Over the years I’ve had to let go of some of the control I felt I needed to have over this.  You know why?  Because Brayden loves his friends.  I love that he loves his friends.  You know what else?  I remember how important my friends were to me when I was his age, and how at the age of 10 I never would have understood if my parents told me I couldn’t go because my mom was worried about germs.  This is why I let him go, no matter the panic it puts me through.  This is important to me.  However, just because it’s important to me, doesn’t make it any easier on me.  OCD is OCD.  The symptoms just don’t “go away”.  They’re there.  Period.  All I can do is try to “let go” a little and let be what’s going to be.  I’m very comfortable with Brayden staying the night with one of his best friends, because he also happens to be one of our neighbors and I think of him as a 3rd child.  He means so much to our family and it’s very easy for me to let Brayden go over there whenever he’s invited and to stay the night when invited….even in the winter (Gasp!  I told you this kiddo is like family to us).  When Brayden started staying with other friends, I won’t lie, it made me uncomfortable at first.  Not because I was uncomfortable with the family, because that couldn’t be further from the truth.  We love Brayden’s friends and their families are awesome people.  It was just a “new” experience for me to let him start staying with other friends and I would find myself wondering “I hope he’s being kind, I hope he’s being polite, I hope no one in the house is getting over something, I hope no one literally just got over something the night before…because that’s too soon, Brayden could still catch it.”  Yes friends, that may sound insane to you, but these were my honest thoughts.  Then Brock would say “Mary, they wouldn’t have him over if someone didn’t feel good, it’s OK, let him go be a kid, let him have fun.”  Brock is usually the one to diffuse my panic when it comes to being rational about certain situations.  And my dad, because he has a solution to everything.  Or, he’s just really good at BS’ing, but it’s worked since 4th grade, so I’m not going to question it.  My point is, the more Brayden started staying with other friends, the more comfortable I was with the situation.  But, I don’t think I’ll ever drop him off somewhere and not have the thought pass through my mind that I hope everyone is healthy where he’s going.  It is what it is.

Last but certainly not least……

The one, the only, the good and equally bad.. Social Media:  I think it goes without saying that social media can be our best friend and worst enemy at the same time.  I use social media a lot.  I promote this blog on it, it’s my entire platform for running my Rodan & Fields business.  So it has many upsides!  Plus, I think we all love following friends, family and celebrities for fun.   We all want to see our friends and family succeed, or at least I would hope you do.  Therefore, social media is a great tool.  I can tell my nephew congratulations on his home run, or tell my friends from high school happy anniversary.  I think you see my point.  However, for me…..social media can be detrimental for my OCD.  Along with all the good comes plenty of crap.  Around October usually, the posts start.  Posts of a kiddo laying on a couch or bed, and a caption to follow explaining how he/she has a fever, has been throwing up, has been to the doctor, has strep etc.  We all have seen these.  The normal response is to think “aww, I hope they feel better soon” and to move right along with your day.  Not me.  I see it and immediately think “is this someone in Brayden’s class?  In Mason’s class?  Do they have recess together, eat lunch together?  All irrational thought.  Right?  I mean, I know that!  Unfortunately this is where my brain immediately goes.  Then after I process the information (sometimes it takes longer than normal)—then like I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I start to have a normal reaction….they “oh my gosh, I hope their kiddo feels much better soon!!”  You guys, it’s not personal.  I’m just being extremely honest about how the anxiety side of my brain processes these situations.  Also, with social media, in the winter, the more of these “I’m so sick” posts I see, the more I generalize and basically think everyone around me is sick, and that makes me want to stay home and I’m not the type of person to want to stay home.  I go stir crazy.  Finally, with social media, I will see my biggest pet peeve in life become a reality.  I know it doesn’t shock you that my biggest pet peeve in life has to do with sickness.  {Eye roll}  People will post about their kids being sick, then post 4 hours later of their child out and about with other kids, or at an event.  I don’t see it happen only with kids.  I see it with adults just as much.  “I’m so sick, but I have to go to work anyways, I hope I don’t give it to anyone!”  You guys….if you are sick, STAY THE F HOME.  Keep your kids home!  Yes, it’s completely inconvenient when we don’t feel good or our kids don’t feel good, but please, for the love of everything good and pure, think of other people instead of yourself and miss the event, take the day off work, miss the play date, and don’t wander around Target with your child running a 102 temp, just so you can get out of the house.  And parents that send their kids to school dosed up on Tylenol because their day can’t be interrupted?  Oh my word!  You are just contributing to lots more people getting sick and keeping the cycle going.  Listen, I get it.  Life happens.  Not everyone has a job that has built in sick days (though everyone should…let’s get it together America).  Not everyone has back up baby sitters.  Not everyone has family close.  All I ask is this; think of the newborn babies that are at the doctor getting their weekly checkup and can’t be exposed to the flu, or at Target with their moms because the mom needs to buy formula.  Think of the elderly that may only have 1 lung or just had open heart surgery and can’t afford to get sick, but desperately need groceries and don’t have family to bring it to them, think of chemo patients that still would like to continue going to church.  Just think about it.   I’m stepping off my soap box about this now.

Re-reading this post just now, I think this one by far makes me feel more vulnerable than the last one explaining the history of my anxiety.  Plus, I’ve picked my entire face off, so I know just typing about this gets under my skin.  I can’t tell you how to feel about how I handle these situations, because you are entitled to your own feelings, but I will not be ashamed of it.  I literally can’t help for starters, and also, it’s something that has to be worked through.  The thing I try to focus on is that even when situations make me uncomfortable, I try to push through them.  We still host Thanksgiving, we still let Brayden be a kid, he still plays any sport he wants, the kids aren’t home schooled (bless all the teachers out there, for real!) and I still am out and about every day.  I could easily let this get the best of me, but I refuse to live my life like that.  I choose to focus on what I can get through and continue to work on the rest.  This does not rule my life.  Sure, it makes certain circumstances more challenging, but I have faith that it will get better as time passes.  Anxiety is treatable.  This is all treatable, but those of us with anxiety know it doesn’t happen overnight, or even in a month, a year, or 5 years sometimes.  My biggest wish is that everyone would just understand it and know that I mean well and have the best intentions.  However, that’s like the biggest long shot ever.  So therefore, I’ll leave you with this, and I tell myself this every day.  Always remember, someone is always going through something.  Be empathetic.  Just because you may not personally struggle with it doesn’t mean you can’t still be a friend that listens.  It means more than you can imagine!  To everyone.



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