Last week our youngest child touched a pimple I had scratched earlier on my face a few times. Normal curiosity: “what’s that Daddy?!”. Moments later I notice him touch his bottom lip.
“Oh no, what if there was blood on my face? What if it wasn’t completely healed? What if he touched his lip and got infected blood inside of him and I ruin his life?”.
Lockdown has been tough for me this 3rd time. My routine is completely out of kilter, I haven’t been exercising much, and I was quite worn down from the vaccine recently also. Work remains busy and I have an impending deadline for my doctorate which I’m behind on (unlike me).
Perfect breeding ground for OCD. I started obsessing relentlessly about whether I might have accidentally contracted HIV from the environment in the past. What about that time I once saw a reddish mark on the toilet paper in a public bathroom? Could it have been someone else’s blood? Could that person have had transmittable HIV? Could the HIV have survived on the paper if it was? But wait I didn’t even wipe with the paper so what am I worried about? But you did wipe before you noticed it didn’t you? So either the mark came from you or you missed the massive abouts of biology defying blood the first time round!
On and on it goes.
The compulsive traps
Followed by research into HIV and its potential survival outside of the body, I found at least 5 HIV experts online who disconfirmed my fears. Further still, not a single documented case of someone contracting HIV in the environment (not including needle sharing) has ever been documented. I even calculated that in the UK there is a 99.9779% chance that someone doesn’t have transmittable HIV in the first place (with modern drugs reducing viral loads to undetectable levels).
I’ve mentioned before. Firstly I hate HIV stigma (probably why this one grips me so much). Second, I don’t fear being ill any more than the next person. In reality as always, the content is irrelevant. What my brain cannot accept is the ability not to be 100% – ONE HUNDRED PERCENT- certain that I’m not in danger. Not only that but then I obsess I might pass the virus accidentally to my loved ones, they will never believe my story, and I will die alone.
Of course even if I got another test the negative result would still not reassure me (I’ve been there dozens of times in the past). What if the test was wrong? How reliable are they? After all, the probabilities we are talking of accidentally getting HIV from a mark on toilet paper are way more remote than an incorrect test. So either way I’m screwed.
Even if the test did reassure me, the OCD would move on to something else anyway, its an illusion to think otherwise. A cruel lie OCD promises you. All that would happen is that my brain circuitry would learn to be even more doubtful, making recovery harder in the long run and possibly causing an even worse relapse in future.
So what next?
During the reassurance seeking stage I found a couple of bogus sources that contradicted the experts, cheers for that Google, can always count on some plonker to disagree online.
I collapsed to the floor. Cried in agony, hiding away from the children so they don’t have to see me in that state. My wonderful wife picked me up and encouraged me to carry on. Seriously not sure what I would do without that angel by my side.
I grab all my OCD books and read through my favourite and most useful sections. No matter what I must cut the compulsions.
I slip up a few times throughout the next few days, but nothing too major. Mostly the compulsions are within my own mind, purely obsessional as they are often controversially referred to. I have a wealth of statistics and references in my head to call upon. An encyclopedia of HIV knowledge. None of it matters anyway. OCD is infinitely insatiable. A parasite that is only satisfied with ultimate destruction.
My approach to OCD recovery requires many factors, but the 4 most important points I find are from Fred Penzel below:
If I follow the above tips like my life depends on it eventually the clarity comes back and I can get back on with my life.
Of course, as I say, there are other factors involved such as extra sleep, exercise, relaxation, some exposure work, and reading OCD books. I will also look to get some top up therapy sessions to help boost me.
I’m still trying to pull myself out of the hole right now, but I am making progress. The clarity is ever so slowly returning. I must persist. I must avoid compulsions at all costs. The stress, emotional pain and anguish is hard to describe, but I have been here 100s of times before. Now I just need to trust in the process and have faith.