One of the manifestations of my OCD that has endured since I was a child is fear about bathrooms.
At my worst, when I was a young woman, I spent hours at a time cleaning my small bathroom. I used at least one bottle of cleaner a week, sometimes more. And I went to great lengths to keep anyone else from using my bathroom.
My symptoms have greatly improved, but I still practice avoidance in this area. My husband and I have separate bathrooms, and I still don’t want anyone else to use my bathroom.
I had a revelation about my bathroom fears when I was talking with my new therapist this week. He led me through a series of “what ifs” to get at the heart of my fears.
It’s not really a contamination issue. I’m not afraid of catching some disease or illness from a dirty bathroom. Rather, I’m trying to avoid being disgusted at the sight of a bathroom mess.
My bathroom issues have also played a part in socially isolating me to a degree. If I don’t have really close friends, I don’t have to invite them to my house. If they’re not in my house, they won’t want to use my bathroom.
That’s awful. I don’t want to do that to myself or to my husband anymore.
To give you an idea of how my bathroom fears work, I’ll tell you about when I was in my 20s and living alone for the first time.
Cleaning my bathroom was a weekly ritual that I dreaded. But it would have bothered me more to not do the cleaning.
I slowly wiped down the sink, toilet, tub and floor with a cloth soaked in a solution of water and cleaner. I had to make sure I didn’t miss a spot, not even an inch of space. That meant looking at the surfaces from different angles, making sure each part was wet from my cleaning cloth.
There was never any obvious dirtiness to wipe away, because I was vigilant about cleanliness every time I used the bathroom. I sprayed the seat with disinfectant spray and wiped it with toilet paper after every use.
But I believed that I might have missed something, and I knew that many germs were invisible to the naked eye. So I scrubbed and wiped for hours every week.
After I finished the cleaning part, I doused all the surfaces in the room with disinfectant spray, using it as a blanket way to get any germs I had missed.
Even though I was particular about my own use of the bathroom, I couldn’t be sure that other people would be as careful as I was, and I would have to clean the bathroom once they were through and gone.
It was easier for me and for my peace of mind if I could just keep people from using my bathroom.
One day when I was still in my 20s, a friend stopped by my apartment to pick me up. We planned to go shopping together.
She asked to use the bathroom. I didn’t want her to use it, even though I had no rational reason to believe that she wouldn’t be clean in her use.
I lied to her and told her that I’d just cleaned the bathroom and that it was damp and couldn’t be used.
She suggested that she could wipe the toilet seat with toilet paper to dry it for use, but I still resisted, telling her no.
My friend had to use a public bathroom at the store we went to rather than use my bathroom. I was embarrassed but too ashamed to tell her the truth.
In later years, sometimes I had to share a bathroom, and it was a nightmare. I tried to shut down my senses when I used the bathroom and not notice any possible stains or dirt.
I want to work on my cleaning issues, especially with bathrooms, with my new therapy. I’d like to be able to better handle these fears that I’ve carried for so long and stop them from isolating me.