Life With OCD in the Winter

Yes, this is similar to this post.  The difference is that this post deals with how winter effects my OCD.  How is that different?  Well, simply put, because more people are sick in the winter.  Since I have contamination OCD, the months of December, January, February and even half of March are brutal for me.

I’m dishing up some honesty today.  I have to say, OCD is harder for me to talk about, because it may seem like I’m not working hard enough or fast enough to work through it.  The problem is that I’ve had it for 6 years and it hit hard and fast, like most anxiety disorders.  I didn’t try therapy until 2015 and it was not the best experience.  Maybe it’s because it was my first experience with therapy, ever?  Maybe it was because my therapist and I just didn’t “mesh well”?  I dont know, but it wasn’t a great experience.  During the 9 months I was seeing her, she told me on several occasions I was too fragile to really work on the OCD.  I mean?  What had I been paying her for, for 9 months, once a week?  Then I didn’t try therapy again until this past summer (and PS, my therapist now ROCKS).  So basically, I’ve had to start from scratch, 6 years in.  So, it’s going to be harder to get over and take more time.

Every week my therapist gives me a teeny tiny task to conquer and take on.  I’m pretty competitive, so this works for me.  But when I say teeny tiny task, I legit mean tiny.

Background:  I work full time away from home, our kids are in 4th grade and Pre-K, and both in sports.  I’m an extrovert.  I’m built to be out socializing….THIS has put a damper on all of that, as you can imagine.

Typically the hardest thing for me is not being able to control my environment.  Obviously anxiety stems from not feeling safe or out of control.  Basically, it’s me in a nutshell, just worse in the winter.

This is how contamination OCD feels in the winter:

If someone is sick at work and I find out, I’ll ask a friend what it is, or how long they have been out etc.  Why?  Because that tells me to stay away from the bathroom, depending on what they have.  Asking anything about anyone’s business makes me feel ridiculous, I won’t lie.  But until I know something, my brain won’t shut off, my heart rate just keeps climbing and I start to go into early phases of panic.  We USED to have an amazing cleaning service at our office.  Now, they have cut our cleaning service down to 3 days a week and the service we have now really really, well, it’s not great at all.  This is not so much an issue I look at in the spring and summer, but is more of an issue in the winter.  Our building is of decent size and typically if someone is sick, there’s enough “room” that I still feel like I can have a little control.  We have 2 bathrooms.  For about 20 people.  Also, we have training in our building that is held several times a month, which brings in another 10-25 people that I feel like I have to worry about, since people tend to come to training sick because they feel like they can’t miss it.

What’s been happening the past couple weeks is that when someone gets sick…I tell myself “it’s OK, it’s probably nothing, just Lysol the bathroom and the printers, copiers etc.”  But once I start hearing the rumors about any type of stomach stuff happening, (stomach issues are my BIGGEST trigger) I just stay in my office, working, not drinking hardly anything until I can go home for lunch to avoid using bathrooms at work.  Extreme?  You bet.  I get it and I know what you’re thinking.  I could be at the mall and use a restroom and not think twice about it and who knows who has used that restroom 50 times before me.  Also, I’m sure I’m probably getting dehydrated, as I’m supposed to be drinking half my weight in water because of the anxiety medicine I take.  So what do I do?  I chug water at lunch and I chug water when I get home.  It’s horrible, I know.  But my brain LITERALLY has a giant red flag with flashing red lights that goes up telling me to steer clear of the work bathroom at all costs.  If we are talking bad colds or sinus infections, I’ll go in there with my wipes and not worry.  Stomach issues….nope.  I’ll do whatever it takes to try to avoid (aka control) the situation.

And let me be clear…it’s NOT work (even though regular cleaning would be a little burden lifter), it’s the OCD rearing it’s ugly head, making me think things are all epic catastrophes when the truth of the matter is that it probably would be OK to use the darn restroom.

Another thing that’s hard for me in the winter?  School for the kids.  I love their schools, teachers and friends dearly, but to me it’s one giant petri dish that I don’t generally worry about until the end of November, when I start seeing and hearing moms talking about the stomach bug invading their households.  Then again usually around Christmas it makes another big comeback….then typically there’s a few weeks after Christmas (probably because kids aren’t at school) when everything is calm again, then mid January it rears it’s ugly head until early March.  I learned early on that school is definitely something I cannot control.  The kids HAVE to go.  But, I do get all kinds of panicked when the kiddos come home saying their best friends went home sick or are sick with stomach issues or the actual flu.  My brain:  wash their coats, make them take showers, Lysol their book bag, ask them if they used the same school supplies or ate after each other… Speaking of questions; I also don’t want to ask them too many questions to get their minds worried.  It’s a fine line because I know some people are more prone to anxiety than others and I do NOT want to see our kids get OCD.

It-is-exhausting.  My brain is so physically and mentally exhausted when something like this happens.  Normal logic is that all kids get sick.  It happens.  Mine have been sick this winter, with some random cold-digestive virus that felt like it lasted an eternity for Brayden. I mean, I get that everyone can get, and is allowed to be sick.  What people have to understand is that my brain sends out panic signals to my body when it is someone close to us, because typically when I find out about it, you might as well list it under “categories you can no longer control since they’ve already been exposed.”  :-/.  Most would say “why worry about it now?  If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen.”  Well, it would be really nice if I could think of things that way, trust me.  Instead I sit and overthink, and text my therapist for validation and text my friends just to get the thoughts out of my brain.  I mean, I’m amazingly fortunate that my friends will listen to me and try to talk me down.  That’s such a blessing.  I’m so thankful for them!!!

In general this time of year I’m just astoundingly aware more than anyone, of what my surroundings consist of.  At the grocery store, I look to see what people in front of me have on the belt….if it’s Gatorade, Sprite, Pedialyte, ginger ale or saltines—I find another lane.  Let’s break this thought process down:  all kids love Gatorade and most of them love Sprite, so why does it bother me?  Brayden drinks Gatorade all the time and it’s OK when I buy it.  But, when someone else does, along with other items like the crackers…I immediately think, stomach virus!  At the gas station, I try to use my hands as little as possible, and use antibacterial wipes afterwords.  At restaurants, I will never drink directly out of a glass.  I have to have a straw.  I also use antibacterial wipes after looking at the menu and I’m aware of everyone sitting close to me (no, not the people I’m dining with, but the table next to us or behind us) .  Are they hacking?  Are they talking about being sick?  Even when I go to my therapist’s office, I always ask her if anyone prior to me had been sick.

Family gatherings and birthday parties in the winter are also really hard for me.  I love my family and our kids’ friends dearly and I always love to see them.  We have some amazing people in our lives.  But my brain doesn’t trust that people will stay home if they are sick, and 99% of the time, it’s never our family or friends having the party, it’s other people that come to the gathering, which obviously I can’t control in any way.  I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been at a family function or party of some kind in the winter and good ol’ Debbie (not a real person), a mom of a kiddo who is at the party casually just throws out there that little Jenny (again, just another example) was throwing up all night, but she’s sure glad she woke up “better” this morning so she could come to the party.  Newsflash Debbie.  If your kid was throwing up 10 hours ago, they are still contagious, so thank you for bringing her here to spread it to 15 other kids who can go home and keep the gift that keeps giving alive, because we all know that 4 year olds always wash their hands and never put their fingers up their noses or in their mouths.  Or, another favorite is after your kids have been playing with a group for 2 hours, all on the same equipment by the way, one of the parents slides into the conversation and says “ya, Bobby (again, not a real person) was put on TamiFlu 2 days ago…and it made him so much better!  I’m so glad we could come today, we both needed to get out of the house.”  Are you freaking kidding me?  Your kid just tested positive for the actual flu.  Yea, TamiFlu is going to help with symptoms, but for the love of everything good and pure….why is Bobby here at Sky Zone–and also, thanks for being selfish and thinking only of yourself and how you needed to get out.  None of us had anything else going on the next 2 weeks and our schedules are wide open to be home with sick kids.  (Eye roll)  But the one that wins the most awards and literally makes me fall into an immediate panic attack is being at someone’s home for a gathering and after being there for a while, the host says “I really didn’t think we were going to be able to pull Cindy’s (another example) birthday party off, we’ve all had the stomach flu this week.  It went through the entire house and got every one of us and little Cindy just got over it last night.”  What the actual hell.  You invited 40 people to your house and you’ve all been sick for over a week and thought that was OK?  Listen, I completely get that people are really way too busy these days.  When baseball season starts, we will be living out of our cars as much as we are home, so I get it.  It’s gets worse with multiple kids in sports and activities….I get that too.  But don’t contaminate 40 people because you didn’t want to reschedule to the following weekend because your other kid had a tournament of some kind.  It should be common sense, right?  I mean, you make the best out of the situation.  You do something special at home and give your birthday kiddo his/her presents and whatever else you can do to make their night enjoyable, and you promise them a make up date.  If a make up date cant happen for some reason, then take them out for some one on one time and have a bigger party next year.

Does this sound judge-y?  Maybe.  To me, it’s common sense and being considerate to other people.  If our boys dont feel well, I make it a point to text who ever is hosting the event and tell them what’s going on.  Also, if our kids have a fever or have had any stomach issues….they don’t go anywhere.  At all.  Brock and I both work outside the home, so is it a pain when they have to be home….yes.  But ya know what, we took on the responsibility of having kids……soooooooooo….you do what needs to be done.  My parents are close and watch Mason when he’s not in Pre-K, BUT, if the kids are sick, it’s me that has to take off work 90% of the time, because I really don’t want my parents to get whatever it is that they have.

Anyways, I’m going to hop off that soap box…..but now your eyes are opened up (maybe) to how I feel when I’m at these events/places if they fall during flu season.  As bad as I want to be there celebrating…..as bad as I want to be around my friends at the party, this is what runs through my mind.

You guys have NO idea how badly I want to be the mom who just doesn’t care about what might be around the corner and let the kids go do their thing.  Don’t take it wrong though, our kids get to do what they want for the most part, I’m just leery of these types of things during flu season.

So what’s the “cure”?  How do I “get over” this?  Well for starters, with as much as I’ve put up with over the past 6 years, if you say something to me along the lines of “you’ll be fine”, or “just get over it”, I legit may slap you.  Don’t you think if it was that simple, I would have done it by now?  The real answer here is a combination of things.  Like other types of anxiety, the first line of defense (at least for me) is therapy and anxiety medication.  In my experience, having the tools from a therapist has helped the most, along with getting the right types of medicines for my body.  Not all anxiety medicine is created equal, trust me.  I feel like I’ve tried just about everything to get some relief, and the simple and true fact is that it will take a while to control.  Control is the key word here.  As I’ve mentioned before, anxiety happens when you feel like you can’t control your situation, so, if you can learn how to control your thoughts, body functions and feelings in the particular situation, you can control your anxiety and not let it control you.  Sounds easy enough, right?  Nope!  Our brains are the smartest, yet dumbest organ in our bodies.  I’m not a doctor, so that may be an exaggeration haha.  But, as powerful as the brain is, and as much as it controls in our body everyday and as much as we cannot live without it…..you can retrain your thought processes.

It takes A LOT of time and effort to change a thought pattern, but it can be done.  This is why it’s so important to see a therapist.  They basically can give you a toolbox full of tools to help in certain situations.  Whether that tool is mindfulness (a practice of being present that is a lot harder to grasp than most think), counting backwards, rephrasing the thought, meditation, distracting yourself or a plethora of other tools, it’s good to have a plan of when to use what tool and how to practice getting good at the tool of your choice.  This stuff (for lack of a better word) doesn’t just magically come to someone after trying once.  Meditation takes time to learn.  Mindfulness was one of the key tools in helping me through panic disorder this past summer.  I thought “I’ve got this, it’s a piece of cake, I listen to these videos and learn how to do it and once I know what to do, I’ll whip it out when I feel panicked somewhere.”  I can tell you that did NOT happen that way.  It took me TWO MONTHS to learn how to literally put everything in my brain aside and focus on the speaker and what they were trying to teach.  Like anything else, you have to get good at it and yes, it takes time.  I’ve said it 50 bazillion times….how everything takes time.

That being said, that’s where I’m at.  Better than last year, but definitely not out of the woods.  Actively working on retraining my brain.  Every.  Single.  Day.  I would guess I probably have another year of hard work to get through to learn how to really control the OCD thoughts.  I’m good with that.  Really.  As long as my friends and family closest to me know I may ask weird health questions during flu season, without taking offense, we can all get through this together.  And I mean, there may be a time when these panicked thoughts are completely gone and then all of a sudden 2 years from now come back.  In fact, I’ve heard it happens more often than not.  The difference between now and then is that I’ll be able to use what I’ve learned to completely transform/reshape the situation and think about it differently.

It’s important to me to be brutally honest on this blog.  I want people to empathize with the struggle.  I want people to know that even outgoing, social people like myself can be affected, as badly as they do not want to be affected.  As much as they want to be at events with their friends in January having a blast, they are instead thinking that there may be sick people there and be home upset with themselves, for thinking these things and not going.  I want people to know if you are in the same boat, you aren’t alone.  Lastly, I want people to know it’s something you can get a hold of in due time with hard work.  You will always have an ear ready to listen with me.

Friends, be kind to everyone.  I say it all the time.  You never know what they are walking through.

xoxo

Mary

 

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