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  • Writer's pictureThe OCD Catholic

My Life with OCD in a Pandemic

There’s a lot of noise right now about whether or not to open the U.S., and the world, back up. A lot, a lot. And I get it, it’s been a rough few months. For some it’s been harder than for others, and in different ways for us all. I want to try and cut through some of the noise today though, and talk about what my experience of the last few months has been. I have a unique perspective to offer about life as a young woman in a pandemic, because I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and anxiety and struggle with depression, and this crisis has meant that one of my worst fears has become a reality. Over the last few weeks, I’ve heard a lot of talk about those suffering from mental illnesses and/or in abuse situations. But no one that I have seen has talked about living with OCD during this. So here I am. Let’s chat.

Coronavirus first came onto my radar in December, and I didn’t pay a lot of attention. Christmas is not a particularly fun time of year for me, so I didn’t think a lot of it. As it picked up steam in January though, I was hoping that it would be contained to China, maybe other parts of Asia, and not come to America. Even so, I was scared I didn't want this to come to America.

February came, and loved ones travelled outside of the country. Now, a brief pause to mention and give some context- one of my jobs in my house is airport pickup and drop off. I have a strong love/hate relationship with this job, because I hate flying and airports, and get anxious about people travelling, but love driving to and from our airport. It’s weird, I know. And what’s even stranger is that, frankly, I am a bit of an expert at this particular task.

Anyway- loved ones out of the country. They finally came back to the U.S. and I could not get out of picking them up from the airport as I had hoped. I had been anxious for this trip for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was the spread of COVID-19. So when I went to pick up my people from the airport, I brought a full-size can of Lysol with me and told them that if they touched me I would absolutely spray them down. No joke. I 100% brought Lysol with me. This was, of course, back when you could still get some. I was terrified. I told my loved ones that there would be no hugs or physical contact of any kind for at least two weeks, until the incubation period was over and they were symptom free.

We come now to March. I was off of social media, trying to avoid the panic of the world around me. I didn’t check Instagram for weeks, avoided live TV and the news like it was the plague (that’s basically all they were reporting on), and kept to myself. My job was stressful, and I was so thrilled for the end of each shift. Coronavirus was all anyone was talking about. I hated it. The last time I went to Mass was before a baptism for loved ones, and it was so strange. Shortly thereafter, my job closed. Everyone was quarantining to some degree or another. Toilet paper was flying off the shelves.

The next little bit is kind of a blur. My state issued a stay at home order, and my diocese stopped public Masses for the foreseeable future. Everything was happening at home. I was furloughed and life as I knew it looked so different, and yet, so the same.

As the pandemic picked up more and more and more steam, I became more vigilant. Hand washing was something I was doing so much that I had to keep it in check to make sure I didn’t dry my hands out too much. I hated leaving the house for any reason, and tried not to. Even to help unload groceries or get the mail. Going for a walk was out of the question; even sitting on my deck made me nervous.

As Lent went on, I found myself slowly but surely abandoning my Lenten resolutions because dammit this was sacrificial enough. I went about my life indoors and avoiding the news. I returned to social media eventually, and was greeted by all the wonderful things people were doing to try and keep spirits up.

Eventually, Holy Week was upon us. Holy Week and Easter is my FAVORITE time of year, and I had held out hope that this would pass and that I could be back in church for the Triduum liturgies. But no, that was not the case. I was devastated. I wept through the Mass of the Last Supper and the Easter Vigil. I needed a return to normal. I needed to know that everything was going to be okay. I needed to know that eventually I wouldn’t need to do so much mental and physical preparation just to leave my house.

I only left my house about once a week or so after Easter, because that was all I could handle, and even that was hard. I showered immediately after getting home, and clothes went straight into the laundry, even if I had only been out to go through the drive-thru.

It’s hard to explain the mental drain that OCD is. Ordinarily, it’s disruptive, even if only slightly, and even still occasionally with medication. There are good days and bad days, and the bad days suck. My mind almost never stops reeling from obsessions and compulsions on a bad day, and few things bring lasting relief. Distractions only work so much. I can only do so much cleaning and organizing and praying. And even then, I need to make sure that I’m not feeding my disorder with those activities.

So now, with the world gripped by terror of a microbe, the OCD isn’t better. I am one of the lucky ones who have a great team in my therapist, psychiatrist, spiritual director, and confessor. As I told my therapist and psychiatrist once everything had been moved to telehealth, I’m not doing so poorly that I’m curled up in a ball in my room waiting for death at any moment. But I have my moments, and I still have anxiety around this virus. And it is more severe for me than for some others.

I’m not here to delegitimize your struggle during this crisis if you are in perfect mental health, or even if you are mentally ill but do not have OCD, but I am here to remind you that you do not have it so bad. When this is over, those of you without OCD may go back to life and stop wearing your masks and stop worrying about getting a potentially fatal illness just from going outside. You’ll continue on with your normal lives at your normal jobs doing normal things. Sure, it will take time, but that’s what will happen.

Those of us with OCD might not be so lucky. This is a nightmare come true for a lot of us with this disease. This is why we might carry around hand sanitizer all the time, or constantly clean everything, or do any number of compulsions. I hope that one day I can leave my house again without being unreasonably nervous about diseases, and that just going to get groceries isn’t something I have to mentally prepare for. But I might not be so lucky. I think, I hope, I pray that I will be. But I also can’t help but think of those people who suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder much worse than I do, and who will get worse at the end of this, and are getting worse now. I can’t help but think of the people who will never step foot in a grocery store or a bank or even a hospital again because of the danger they perceive there. I can’t help but think of the people who are starving themselves because none of their food is “clean enough”, or whose skin is cracking open from all the hand washing they’ve been doing during this. I can’t help but think about those who think they are sinning by missing Mass when their bishop has dispensed the obligation, or who are curled up in a ball afraid to go to Confession because they might become infected with COVID, and/or because they are afraid that God might not forgive them. These may seem like extreme examples, but I promise you that these people exist. And that’s not even the tip of the iceberg of OCD sufferers.

So if you do not suffer from OCD, count that in your blessings every night. Your life will likely return to normal, at least at some point. You may never know the suffering that those of us suffering from this disease are experiencing. Be grateful that you are only bored and not panicking to a debilitating degree because you have to brave the outside world. Check in on your people. All of them. You never know what people are going through.

If you do suffer from OCD, I see you. I’m with you. I may not have it as bad as you, and I’m grateful for that, but I am also very aware of what you may be going through, and how miserable it is. I pray that one day you find healing and can experience life as it was meant to be lived- free from fear, obsessions, compulsions, and panic attacks. Get help and do not be afraid- it will all be okay.

I am praying for all of you.

St. Therese, pray for us.

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