Why the floor is lava: A day in my life with OCD
It was like any other Thursday. I woke up at 4:30AM to get a workout in before proceeding to clean the house. A cloud of dread had hovered over me the entire week around this day. But when Thursday morning arrived, I wasn’t prepared for the relentless anxiety that consumed me.
The irritability surfaced first, causing me to feel on edge. My thoughts raced as I frantically searched for any excuse to just call into work that day, growing more resentful with each moment. I felt trapped.
I’ll just blow off my class and all my appointments.
I never call into work, so who cares, right?
There was a CPR training that I was required to attend that day. The training itself hadn’t bothered me. However, a few days earlier, I received an email notifying me that the training was in the gym and that we would need to inform them if we could not sit on the floor and needed accommodations.
Immediately when I read the email, I panicked. A mixture of emotions emerged from anxiety to anger to powerlessness.
I can’t sit on the floor.
Why am I forced to sit on the floor?
I won’t have time to go home and put on clean clothes before my afternoon and evening appointments.
How can I escape this?
I imagined myself having to continue my workday in dirty, germ-infested clothes, potentially cross-contaminating everything in my office and in my car from the pants that had touched the gym floor.
I had tried to push the intrusive thoughts aside. But when I woke up on Thursday, it exploded. That’s when the checking started.
I walked into the bathroom, staring at the toilet seat. We use bleach in our toilet to keep it clean, but with six cats, I always fear that they will drink the water and get poisoned. So, I pressed down on the top of the toilet seat, covering my fingers with my shirt even though I had just disinfected the seat an hour before.
Then I proceeded to the stove, another fear. If the stove is on, the house will burn down, and my cats will die. I looked intently at the stove knobs, ensuring that they were set to off. I chanted to myself.
The oven is off.
The oven is off.
But none of it was enough. Back and forth, bathroom to kitchen, constantly checking. Just when I thought it was good, I had to check again.
I don’t want to check.
There’s that tightness in my throat.
There’s that gagging sensation.
There’s that sense of no control.
I must go check.
I curse at myself as I give into the feeling pushing me to check again. The entire time, there’s the intrusive thoughts about the training. I had decided to just stand during the whole event, if needed. But I hated the idea of standing out or worse, having to explain why I wasn’t sitting.
Everyone is going to see me not sitting.
They’re going to think I’m weird.
They’re going to think that I’m judging them.
They’re not going to understand.
They’re going to think I’m crazy.
That’s the prison I find myself in during these moments. Unable to stop the images of germs and the powerlessness I feel when I must touch things that I don’t want to touch. The cycle of checking consumes me because I can’t stop the compulsion to circulate back and forth, checking, checking, checking.
This is a day with OCD. Fortunately, I have a very understanding spouse who supports me when he sees me this way instead of judging me and just making it harder. Mostly, I cope with it. I didn’t call into work that day. I attended the training. However, experiences like this just remind me that the world isn’t accommodating for OCD people. I’m not suggesting that the world needs to enable my tendencies; nevertheless, I fear getting negatively judged for it instead of receiving some compassion. Worse, I don’t want people to think that I am judging them just because I don’t want to touch their hands, eat their food, or sit on the floor. Because none of this is about them. It’s all about me. And when I can feel accepted, my anxiety, intrusive thoughts, and compulsions are significantly reduced.
I have spent many years of my life casually mentioning my OCD but not really accepting it. I haven’t written or spoken about it publicly. But I am OCD. While it is stressful during moments like these, it is not always a negative attribute. My OCD contributes significantly to my work ethic. I push myself. I take on lots of tasks, and perhaps I obsess about the quality of my work. As a result, I have a Ph.D.; I run marathons; I am about to be a published author; I teach a heavy load of classes while counseling students; and I am always seeking new goals. Likewise, my OCD helps me pay attention to details that others either miss or ignore. My OCD may even help me empathize with others as a mental health counselor because I know what it is like to live with and manage a chronic mental health condition.
My OCD is part of who I am. It is not something to be extinguished or shamed. However, I must manage it. For example, I know that I cannot give into the urges to stay in my home all day long to avoid any germs—an urge that does manifest now and then. Regardless, I refuse to stomp it out because it also brings strengths that have made my life good.
I hope this blog post can help people understand the internal struggles that I experience at times even with something that seems so trivial to others, such as sitting on the floor or shaking hands. I also hope that maybe other OCD people can relate to me because it helps me. I don’t want to feel alone.
Note: This post only shares my own personal experience. It does not represent all OCD people.