There are things I don’t want to touch. There are places I don’t want to go. There are things I don’t want to see.
I have contamination OCD.
Over the years, it has morphed from an obsession with germs on my hands that led me to compulsively wash them to an obsession with bathrooms.
That obsession led me to clean my bathroom compulsively for hours at a time.
Over the years, the length of time it takes me to clean the bathroom has become a lot shorter.
But one obsession has remained, and that is one about public bathrooms.
I hate to use them. I hate to even go into them because of what I might see.
I used to wonder what it was that I was so afraid of about public bathrooms. I didn’t have the same fear I used to have about hand washing, that I’d pass along germs to others and make them sick. I wasn’t afraid of getting sick myself. So what was it?
Months ago my therapist mentioned that I could be afraid of feeling disgust. But I didn’t really relate that to OCD.
Then I read what Jonathan Grayson wrote about contamination OCD in his book Freedom from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: A Personalized Recovery Program for Living with Uncertainty.
Grayson wrote, “Most obsessions have consequences that you are afraid of” (p. 29). Considering contamination OCD involving bodily fluids like saliva sweat and blood, he named “four different feared consequences that can appear singly or in combination: (1) harm to oneself; (2) harm to others; (3) finding the idea of contact with bodily fluids overwhelmingly disgusting; and/or (4) feeling that having thoughts of contamination is too awful to contemplate” (p. 29).
Numbers three and four fit my contamination OCD. I don’t want to touch or see anything disgusting. I don’t want to even think of anything disgusting.
And there can be plenty of disgusting things to see in a public bathroom.
I’m not talking about things that I imagine are contaminated. I’m talking about stains and smears that I can see.
I’m having a problem with the public bathroom in the building where I work. It’s on the first floor of a building that houses several businesses and gets a lot of traffic. The bathroom is not cleaned often enough.
That’s not just my opinion. Other women in my office also find the bathroom unclean.
But sometimes I have to use it. I have to spend hours at work without leaving sometimes.
When I do go into the bathroom, I try not to look directly at anything. I glance around and try to quickly measure which is the cleanest stall. I cover everything in toilet paper and don’t touch anything barehanded except the water faucet to wash my hands.
I dread going to the bathroom. I get anxious about it. I avoid it when I can.
And I sometimes make plans about going somewhere based on whether or not I’ll have to use a public bathroom.
I know I should do some kind of exposure.
At this point, I am not willing to go into a public bathroom and touch a stain or smear that someone else has left behind. It makes me want to throw up just writing it. I’m not going down that exposure road.
But since I’m trying to avoid feeling disgusted, would it help to put myself deliberately in positions of seeing something I find disgusting? To not turn away, but to stare at it?
I’m frustrated with myself and wonder if I’m not willing to do enough to overcome this obsession.
How can I deal with this aspect of contamination OCD? Any suggestions?