Last month I opened the doors to my Invisible Illness, I’ve lived with it so long now that I’m able to go about my day to day activities without revealing the true effect my secret triggers have on me. Far too many think that if something can’t be seen to affect you, then it can’t be having much of an impact on your life. This is far from the truth when it comes to OCD.
Most of my compulsions occur behind closed doors, literal and metaphorical. Ironically I’ve lost count of the times I’ve had to complete compulsions until they felt just right, the longest being hand washing, lasting up to 30 minutes. Imagine 30 minutes, stood at a sink, washing your hands until everything feels just right and no one can tell you what’s right, as that feeling exists in the head of the washer. To be honest, there is no “just right” what’s right for one time is not right for another. The elusive feeling of just right, exists across a boundary that washing your hands can make feel quite distant.
It can be frustrating for those around me. They can’t see the invisible contaminations that can occur when washing your hands. Questions arrive into my mind at lightening speed and no answer is satisfactory. “Did my hand brush the (dirty) sink?” must wash more “Did I pump the soap the right amount of times?” must wash more “Did I wash enough to get the germs off that came off the tap onto my hands?” must wash more. Once this cycle is complete, a new inner turmoil begins. If I’m in a public toilet I am faced with using the hand dryer without touching the buttons or allowing my hands to make contact with the dryer. Or if there are paper towels, I must be able to take one without touching the container which houses them.
Then I am faced with a physical barrier, the door from the toilet. Statistically there are a lot more people who don’t wash their hands when using the toilet, than people realise. If I have long sleeves then I use this to open the door, but during the summer my struggle with the door can be much more embarrassing. The worst thing is if anything happens on the way out which makes me feel like I need to wash my hands, I have to walk back in again and start afresh. This can be quite humiliating in public settings.
By the end of the winter months my hands are usually red raw and cracked. But for me it’s a small price to pay to keep my anxiety levels low. I’ve tried exposure therapy, which is where you put yourself in situations which would normally trigger you to wash your hands and then you try not to wash your hands for as long as possible. This kind of therapy does not work for me. Though to be fair it works for some, it’s just not my fixer. For now I’m happy feeding my secret triggers, I know it’s not the answer to ridding myself of my OCD ways. But I’m not naive, I know that my OCD ball is with me for the long haul. We’ve trodden a really long path and we have a really long path to tred before us.
If I can turn one light switch of understanding on for someone (see what I did there?! yes I have a light switch compulsion) then I will know that my OCD is some form of gift. A gift of understanding, from me to those who have no experience with an invisible illness.