Saturday, January 21, 2012

Please don't use my bathroom

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.


  1. Dear Tina,

    I get this. It is so comforting to know I am not alone in this.

    Goodness, when you said you have to look at the surface at different angles to make sure you haven't missed a spot. Gosh, I so get that.

    I hate when other people use my restroom but it can't be helped most days. My bathroom is on the first floor of the house so naturally, it doubles as the "guest bathroom." This is one of the reasons I clean my toilet every day (as I mentioned in a post on my blog). I also have a huge supply of disposable latex gloves on hand at all times because of this. I can't quite relax in the evenings until any drop in family visitors have left and I can wipe down my bathroom. I use lysol scrub type wipes for the floor, clorox wipes for the toilet and sink and it's my daily routine to get my bathroom back to my standard of cleanliness before I go to bed each night.

    I just can't give that up and I don't want to. There is no way, I could relax if I don't do this each night and believe me I've played around with trying. It's just easier for me to do my cleaning rituals.


    1. Elizabeth, It's comforting for me to know I'm not the only one too! It doesn't sound like your cleaning habit is causing you undue stress and adversely affecting your life, so I understand your not seeing a need to change it. I think we all have some rituals that aren't causing damage and are OK in and of themselves, if that makes any sense.

  2. Tina,
    I know too well the OCD battles that rage in us. While mine is 'under control' the compulsions are still in us. One Day at a Time...and don't set yourself up in expecting you to be perfect...

    1. Good reminders for me, Tracy. I may not mean to be a perfectionist, but I become easily disappointed in myself if I don't "catch on" to something or become proficient quickly. Yes, one day at a time . . . it's so hard!

  3. Oh, this is an oldy but goody for me. I have not had any visitors to my house (other than my parents, just a couple of times) mainly because of this reason. Well, a few other reasons too, but mostly this. I have several really good friends in our Bible study and I've never held study at our house (we rotate houses). Thankfully, I think everyone in our group has figured it out because no one says anything (and most of them know about the OCD). My doc's been bugging me to invite people over. Not sure I'm ready yet. I know I have to do it at some point though. I REALLY feel your pain on this one.

  4. Sunny, Thanks for your comments. I really felt ashamed for not wanting to have people over to my house. It's comforting to know that other people avoid this too! I think at some point, I will have to take the leap (a huge one for me) and have people in, but I want to work on my fears first. We can encourage each other on this one! :-)

    1. Yeah, I feel ashamed too. I mean, it is pretty weird of me. I did forget one other person - my adult child does come home to visit. Even that makes me nervous and takes significant focus and prayer, but I refuse to give in to that one. I would hate myself if I gave in to that one! Yes, we can encourage each other with this. That would be good.

  5. Hi Tina,
    I found your blog from someone else's blog and have enjoyed reading from it. I was reading your post, "Fearing Depression" from earlier in the month. I definately fear depression the most right now. I might fear OCD more if it felt more immediately real to me, if I had a big flare up in harm OCD, but then, the depression might still win. I think that the Depression and OCD have some deal worked out between them, though, taking depressive thoughts and repeating them with OCD frequency, leaving me wanting to be dead and scared of dying in a tangle of thoughts and feelings, when the depression gets particularly bad. If it gets too bad, it wins over the OCD pretty easily. I also have probably changed meds more often because of the depression, too. But only my last two OCD meds have made a dent in the OCD, so that played into at least one med change. I hope your depression stays small and far away. Mine at least isn't severe right now. :)
    And thanks for writing. I get encouraged reading about other people's experiences, especially other Christians, as I have stroubled with how my OCD and my faith co-exist inside of me.

  6. Abigail, Thank you so much for writing. And I can't believe this. I was reading another blog and then linked from that to yours when I heard the "ping" that I had a comment on my blog. And it was your comment! So I was connecting to you at the same time.

    I feel the same way as you about reading about other people's experiences. It makes me feel less alone.

    Now I'm going back to your blog to read.

  7. I have faith in you. I don't even KNOW you and I have faith in you. You are strong...I can tell...and you are going to take this and run with it. I'm rooting for you.

  8. Melanie, Thank you so much! Encouragement form others really does help. I don't always feel strong, but I do believe I can become stronger.

  9. That’s truly understandable, Tina. Cleaning the bathroom can be dreadful, not to mention those dirt and germs that are hiding every corner. Anyway, it’s good to hear that cleaning it helped you get used to being inside it. At least, it slowly eases your fear. So, how are you now?

    Bo Tolbert


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