I Have Contamination OCD, but the Pandemic Doesn’t Scare Me in the Obvious Way

Photo by 🇨🇭 Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash

I have talked a lot in the last few days about how I’m coping amid this pandemic, given I have contamination OCD.

I’ve talked of how I’m constantly scared, and how it’s impossible to escape people talking about the pandemic.

I’ve talked about how my mental health is worsening because of the lockdown as it’s undoing all the exposure therapy that I’ve previously done.

I’ve talked of how my hand-washing is once again out of control. My hands are bleeding, my fingers are painful, my skin is cracked and broken, and my knuckles are close to becoming infected again.

But one thing I haven’t talked about is the exact way in which this pandemic scares me on a personal, individual level, regarding my OCD.

“Don’t worry,” an acquaintance told me a month ago. “Corvid-19 is only fatal to those who have autoimmune diseases.”

Alongside my OCD — which is part of PANS, a Neuropsychiatric autoimmune disorder — I have several other autoimmune diseases, including POTS and Coeliac. This reassurance about how coronavirus is only fatal to those with underlying autoimmune conditions did not reassure me.

But I’m not particularly scared of catching this illness. That’s the weird thing. I’m scared about what this pandemic means for my OCD and how it will stop me doing my compulsions.

While I’m glad now that we’re discouraged from shaking hands because that’s one thing that would set my OCD off, and I’m glad that everyone is using hand sanitiser all the time, I’m scared by the lack of hand sanitiser available in shops because of this pandemic. I’m scared because I can’t find antibacterial soap.

I rely heavily on these. I have done for over a year , ever since my PANS caused brain inflammation that resulted in new neural pathways being formed, linked to the basal ganglia — the part of the brain responsible for habit formation. Doctors told me it’s autoimmune based and so I need to regularly use antibacterial products.

But my OCD took this too far. It decided I absolutely had to use these products all the time, and I get very stressed if I can’t use them. I cannot tell the difference between what is rational and what is illogical, as that part of my brain is inflamed. It’s this brain inflammation that is the cause of my OCD.

It sounds silly to some, when I say that my OCD means I’m not worried about catching the virus itself, but rather about being unable to find hand sanitiser I can use to protect me from the every-day dangers that my OCD insists it protects me from.

And of course I worry that it makes me seem insensitive and selfish, when I worry excessively about whether I can get hand sanitiser. Because of course I am worried about the severity of this illness. About the mortality rate. I am troubled by this. But my OCD won’t let me stop thinking about how bad it got before when I couldn’t wash my hands.

I got extremely low — the worst I’ve ever felt, emotionally and psychologically.

I am scared of that happening again, if I cannot find the things I need to in order to successfully carry out my compulsions.

Madeline Dyer is a young adult novelist. She also writes personal essays on topics such as mental health, disability, and neuropsychiatry. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @MadelineDyerUK and visit her website www.MadelineDyer.co.uk. If you’d like to keep up to date with her writing, you can follow her on Facebook for both her novels and her personal essays.

I write about mental health, chronic illness, books, and writing. I also write YA novels.

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