Mysophobia/contamination: Does anyone out... - My OCD Community

My OCD Community

6,873 members2,770 posts

Mysophobia/contamination

Catlady27 profile image
18 Replies

Does anyone out there suffer from contamination thoughts so badly that they are afraid to touch so many areas of their own home? There are objects and surfaces that I avoid like the plague because they cause me so much anxiety. It is also hard to go out to public places as well. Public bathrooms are completely out of the question. I just wish that I could wash most of my house with soap and water to clean everything that has become contaminated, but news things will just get contaminated and the fears and process start all over again. It feels like there is no possible escape. I have had this issue for about 30 years, with it growing more intense with many new intrusive thoughts as the years go by. I am a frequent hand washer and take extremely long showers, to the point that my skin is irritated often. The shower issue has gotten alot worse with covid. I am seeing a therapist for the first time on Saturday and I am terrified. I know that will I have to go through ERP but I don't think that I have the mental/emotional strength to do it, despite wanting nothing more in the world than to stop the madness and try to live like normal people do. Anyone else out there who can relate? I am beyond depressed and just want to curl up in a ball and stay in my bed forever.

18 Replies
MothFir profile image
MothFir

I don't think my contamination OCD is as bad as yours, but I can relate. It is exhausting to keep straight what is "OK" to touch and what is "contaminated," and it always feels wasteful to own things you can't even use.

ERP can do wonders for you. It won't be a walk in the park but it also might not be as bad as you think. Your therapist should help you approach it gradually so you are not overwhelmed. You will have to experience some anxiety to get better, but as your brain learns that objects in your house are not going to kill or sicken you, and that there's nothing wrong with touching them, you will feel less anxiety and get a great sense of freedom. That will motivate you to do even more.

I believe contamination OCD is one of the more straightforward types to treat. Tell your therapist all about your reservations, as I'm sure they have heard them all before and know how to help you.

One thing that has helped me very much in my treatment is establishing at the outset what is a real concern and what is OCD. If you have a healthy immune system, you know deep down there is nothing dangerous about even using a public bathroom, one of your biggest fears. People do it all the time and are fine. There are a few more precautions with COVID around, but it is still not some huge risk. (In fact, all the people who apparently did not realize that one should wash one's hands after using the toilet might actually be doing so now!)

So realize that your extreme anxiety is a false message. Even though it feels real, you can trust your therapist and do the exposures if you categorize the anxiety as only an unpleasant physical feeling. In other words, you can't use a bathroom as long as you really believe there's a real risk of dying from it, but you can use a bathroom if you know you are only feeling that way. Feelings are not reality.

I've been doing ERP for contamination-related OCD for about a year. It's still a work in progress but ERP works. Feel free to ask any specific questions you want and I'm happy to share my experiences.

BTW, I noticed your name -- do you have cats? I was just curious how pets might affect your contamination anxiety.

Catlady27 profile image
Catlady27 in reply to MothFir

Thank you for the encouragement as I have mentioned that I am petrified to try and fight this with a therapist's help. I don't have a fear of getting sick or dying, that is the weird part of it. I actually taught preschool/kindergarten for 20 years where kids cough/sneeze all over you and even spit in your face and bite you, sometimes on purpose when they are tantruming. They aren't the greatest at washing their hands effectively either and often put their hands down their pants or fingers in their mouths and noses right after they washed. I swear they crawl all over the bathroom floors, even in the stalls around the bottom of the toilets, just to give me panic attacks internally. Of course I know they have no idea that they are emotionally torturing me. I have cleaned up more messes created by infected little bodies than I can tell you (with gloves of course). I cleaned up puke and held little sick people during N1H1 in 2009 and although it was worrisome, I survived. I have changed the pullups and clothes of many students who had parents who never toilet trained them despite sending them to preschool. I even worked with infants and toddlers for two years and had to change their diapers and got puked upon more times than I can tell you. It was typical to go home with dried spit up or old boogers on my shoulders or back. The only time that germs really caused me extreme anxiety was the day I picked up a child who I knew needed changed by the smell coming from her. She apparently was sick and had lots of diarrhea. It squirt out of the top of her diaper in a blast and ran all down my forearm and front of my work shirt. Time could not go fast enough for that day to end so I could go home and strip and take a hot, long shower. That shirt was heavily bleached! I would have thrown it out but it was part of my limited work uniforms. I think even many people without OCD would be disturbed by that experience, as several of my coworkers who also cared for kids and cleaned up their messes appeared to be emotionally appalled by observing the scene unfold. Some even stayed away from me for the rest of the day. I'm sure I didn't smell good.

Instead of fearing germs, I just get a feeling of complete disgust or revulsion that produces incredibly high levels of anxiety and even can paralyze me in my tracks at times. This seems even harder to deal with because you can tell yourself that you won't get sick but that doesn't matter to you because it really isn't the fear of germs specifically that is the problem. It is just the grossed out feeling of touching something (your body or your clothing/shoes that you are wearing) that you view as being "contaminated". You want to scrub all of it intensely to get rid of the nastiness and your feeling of high distress. So, I spend lots of time trying to just avoid these kinds of triggers. I feel like I just exist, I don't actually live life.

And yes, I have two cats. One came in as an ill and starving stray that showed up on my porch during the huge snow storm we had in 2010. The other I got from my brother whose wife was allergic to cats and we didn't have the heart to send her back to the shelter that she came from originally. They aren't thrilled about each other, but we make it work. I find them to be very calming when they allow me to sit and pet them (this happens on their terms only since they are finicky cats in the truest nature). I do struggle with the fact that they touch things in my home though that cause me distress. For example, one likes to jump up on top of the toilet seat to get up to sit in the bathroom window. This freaks me out since she touches the toilet that others have used. I don't like when they "explore" through my bins of shoes under my bed which I view as dirty or in the garage where the garbage cans are kept. I really don't like if I come home from somewhere and I feel like I desperately need to take a shower to get off contamination and the one wants to rub all over my leg to say "hello". I don't enjoy seeing her rub on other family member's pants or shoes either. When I feel dirty, I usually scoot away from her quickly which makes me feel terrible because she is trying to show affection and welcome me back. So, having pets while having OCD is helpful but also causes some new intrusive thoughts too. I wouldn't give my pets away for the world though.

MothFir profile image
MothFir in reply to Catlady27

I have heard of people who don't really fear germs themselves but just have an awful feeling of disgust about things. I'm sure your therapist will be able to guide you.

Just remember that even though the ERP will be unpleasant at times, so is OCD, and as you work through it you'll start to feel better.

We have 3 cats and a dog and that is sometimes a challenge when I feel like I need to control everything that's going on in the house. But on balance I like having them around and the uncertainty they create is good exposure for me.

Also you have my respect for working with small children! Even without OCD that takes a level of patience most of us don't have.

3BirdLover profile image
3BirdLover in reply to MothFir

MothFir,Do your dogs and cats create any "issues" for your OCD? I have a thing about "cleanliness" so am just wondering. Down the road would like to get a dog or cat, but this makes me wonder.

MothFir profile image
MothFir in reply to 3BirdLover

Pets definitely add more uncertainty into the mix, but that's probably good for me. I've really only had major contamination issues when I was around 9 or 10, and then again since last year. All those other years it was different themes. Even now pets are really probably only a small part of my concerns, and we like having them around.

In the past we've fostered cats (tried dogs, but our dog hates other dogs), and that might be a good way for you to "test out" different animals. The program in our area allowed foster families to adopt animals if they wanted; otherwise we usually had them for only a few weeks at most, and less if they didn't work out. Maybe something for you to look into if you're not ready to fully commit.

3BirdLover profile image
3BirdLover in reply to MothFir

Great idea!!!! Will keep this in mind for future decisions! :)

Oldbury1 profile image
Oldbury1 in reply to MothFir

Wow your message was explained so well you sound like a therapist. What if I cannot do ERP I mean I'll try to do it in infront of my therapist and my husband but if im back on my own I'd struggle to control my thought cus I'd never flush a toilet and not hand wash afterwards. I just want to learn how to reduce the excessive handwashing and that few mins of handwashing is fine, but with me it Nevers feels 'right' or ok that's enough handwashing my brain struggles to switch off and I carry on and on until it feels like I'v washed and lathered my hands enough times. I can seen I've washed them for hours it's the mind not allowing me to think like that and if I do stop and it didn't feel right I do try to walk off but after awhile I get the urge to go back and rewash my hands again to get some sort of relaxation from it so I can sit down without getting up again to rewash. So is there anything else as well as trying ERP, CBT that would help with OCD?

Catlady27 profile image
Catlady27 in reply to Oldbury1

I know how you feel. I also have the feelings of discomfort come back to me after I walk away as well. At my weakest, which is lately, I have gotten back into the shower just 2 hours after getting out because I just can't stand it anymore. Then I just loathe myself further for giving into the anxiety part of it and letting the ocd monster win. I don't really know if there is anything else that can be done other than just sitting with the anxiety feelings and not allowing ourselves to do our rituals/compulsions. If it makes you feel not so alone, I would never touch a toilet without washing either, yuck!

MothFir profile image
MothFir in reply to Oldbury1

Thanks -- I'm not a therapist, so keep that in mind...but I think what has helped me most is separating the anxiety from the content, as I indicated in the reply to Catlady. In my case, I am worried about spreading disease, getting sick, etc., and as long as I believe there is truth to that, I can't stop washing.

So instead I mindfully wash my hands, paying attention that I use soap and do a good job, and then I know on some level that my hands are clean. End of story. There are no significant germs, contamination, or disease at that point. It doesn't matter if I still feel contaminated, because the feelings do not reflect reality. When I get the urge to keep washing, or wash again 30 seconds later, I try to reframe the OCD urge. I tell myself that if I wash again it's not going to affect how clean I am in any way. Instead, it's just a meaningless action that only makes my mental discomfort go away in the short term. I know if I choose to wash, I will reinforce the compulsion and make it stronger, and it will come back worse. If I don't wash, I'll feel very uncomfortable in the short term, but I will start to break the cycle and make the compulsions weaker. Remember that the decision has nothing to do with cleanliness -- you could just as easily be trying to lessen the anxiety by touching something 3 times or repeating a meaningless phrase. It's all OCD, and if you've already washed like a "normal person," the mental discomfort really has nothing to do with washing.

I know this is all easier said than done. The urge to wash can be incredible. Not long ago I was washing my hands and got this vivid image of contamination and my hands felt filthy to me. All the time I could see water and soap running over them (and they weren't all that dirty before I started). This shows how powerful the urges are, but it also shows how stupid they are. There is no way my hands were dirty, despite how I felt at the time.

Have you tried cutting back on the time you spend washing, or the number of times you wash, and do you track it in a journal? It helps to see yourself making steady progress, even if you're just chipping away at things in small ways at first. I have found disciplined, consistent ERP to be effective; when I slack off and "wing it," I get into trouble.

Also, have you tried medication (an SSRI) to make the ERP easier?

I hope this helps!

Oldbury1 profile image
Oldbury1 in reply to MothFir

Many thanks for your reply. I know your not a therapist but I said you sound like a therapist with the good advice you give on here. Yes I have just started taking fluoxtine medication this week as I've previously tried strepaline, paroxtine but didn't notice any improvement or benefit from it. I know it can take 12 weeks to notice any benefit so I'll see how I get on with this medication.

MothFir profile image
MothFir in reply to Oldbury1

I take fluoxetine too and I think it took at least a couple months before I noticed improvement.

LuvSun profile image
LuvSun

I can totally relate to you. The reply from MothFir is very good. I myself have not practiced ERP like I should but I do believe it can help. Please do not hesitate to post your feelings as a lot of us feel the same.

newmercies profile image
newmercies

Hi there, I relate to you, I have contamination OCD as well and most of my obsessions are related to my home too. Im glad that you are going to be seeing a therapist and starting ERP. ERP is hard work, and it can be so helpful. Take it in small steps. Over time you can learn to tolerate the anxiety and uncertainty that OCD brings up.

You are worth it.

Oldbury1 profile image
Oldbury1

I can so so so relate to you. You sound exactly like me. I open doors, fridge door, light switch, stair bannister the thought my hand has swiped it I try to use my elbows too avoid touching them. Even eating a packet of crisps I have the urge to wash my hands immediately due to the greases from the crisps. I can't touch my own shoes or my children's feeling they are very dirty from the bottom I would wash hands excessively even if I had outdoor gloves on it touching if shoes knowing they have been on the floor or mud. Practically most things I touch post, kids toys, pen remote, as for public toilet is a no no no for me. I try not to stay out too long so I get back home. I can hands wash for hours as washing both sides equally can take upto an hour in one go. Shower takes me one hour 45mins due to the ritual off washing evenly and equally all areas. So exhausting and time consuming and waste of life as I know I'm clean with that much washing it's the comfort feeling to feel it's right I've done in a particular way. I've been doing various OCD from checking, counting, phrases, thinking, cleaning to now severe contamination. OCD has been with me for over 37 years. I am doing CBT put not feeling much benefit. I am on medication called fluoxtine which I've started this week but takes 6 weeks to notice any benefit. I think I will be put on ERP which I'm dredding the thought of flushing a toilet without washing hands will get too me. I doubt think I could do it maybe Infront of therapist but on my own it's a no no so I'm not sure how that will work? I want to learn how to reduce it in my mind handwashing but at a slight reasonable time. OCD is so crippling and I hope we conquer and beat it one day so new Generation to come dont have theses ocd problems and can live normal lives. I hope sharing this with you helps your not alone I get it I understand you completely. I hate when people say just stop handwashing if only it was that simple. Let me know how ERP works for you or of other OCD methods if any helps going forward.

Catlady27 profile image
Catlady27 in reply to Oldbury1

Thank you for the reply. It is so relieving to know that there is someone, even if it is only one person in the world, who sort of gets me. It also breaks my heart to know that there are others out there who are also feeling crippled and miserable with just trying to live daily life like I am. I think anymore that I just exist not really live life much. I have struggled for a long time too, about 40 years. I am 45 now and have no memories of ever feeling normal or at ease in my own skin or mind, feel like other people in my world, or just free of anxiety. I remember being 13 years old and not wanting to touch greasy foods either, like french fries. I had to wash my hands afterwards too and eating in the school cafeteria was terrible because I couldn't wash then so the anxiety just traveled with me. Now, I don't just dislike certain things touching my hands, it is my whole body, clothing, shoes, etc. Your opening/touching things with your elbow wouldn't work for me because I would transfer what is on my elbow to other parts of me that I view to be uncontaminated in my mind. I would just have to make sure that my elbow doesn't touch anything else until I could scrub it or my anxiety won't leave - how crazy is that? It also takes me a long time to shower - 45 minutes seems to be the shortest span I can manage when my willpower is up. It is more like an hour and 15 minutes usually, sometimes longer. I have gone from showering being somewhat comforting to my OCD (to rid myself of the "yuck" feeling) to it being more of a nightmare that I dread. I don't have to do things equally like you but I have an order to things and have to make sure that I haven't missed a single part of myself with the water and soap. If I finish but the brain monster tells me that I just "might have" missed a spot, I have to start the entire process over again or the anxiety of contamination is overwhelming and I can't leave the shower. This is maddening and exhausting! I agree that I am more than clean but it is just a comfort issue for me too. I went to a therapist on Saturday to start to talk to someone about my contamination issues. It has taken me since I was 13 years old and realized what I suffer from and being in throws of a pandemic to be able to take this step. The disorder is so shameful and embarrassing that you don't want to tell a single soul and I just run from it nonstop the best that I can versus facing it head on. Like you, I have had other forms of the disorder over the years too along with a good bit of shyness/social anxiety. I take medication but it does nothing for me - like just eating a red skittle every night. I am severely depressed right now with the disorder and living in a world of covid without a job for the past 9 months. I struggle to get out of bed and have had a few days recently where I haven't at all. What a waste of the gift of life. I don't sleep much lately for disturbing dreams and have lost around 40 pounds during quarantine due to little appetite. I have no desire or ability to do anything to harm myself as I could never do that to myself or my family. I just want God to take me peacefully in my sleep sometimes so that the nightmare of the disorder will end. It feels so hopeless at times and like this is the only escape. I just pray that this therapist can help me, even some, and that I can find a medication that helps to take the edge off some. Even though I have reached the point of exhaustion, I just have to find some strength I guess to fight the demon. There really is no other options at this point in life. I pray that you will also find the hope and strength to continue on your work with a professional and the new med gives you some relief. Reach out anytime that you need someone to listen who can probably relate - Faith and blessings

3BirdLover profile image
3BirdLover

Yes, I can definitely relate. Things are much better for me now with meds and therapy, but know that you CAN AND WILL get better.... I'm so glad to read that you are starting therapy.

I know it is hard not to be nervous about it, but a good therapist will take it very slow for you so you are not overwhelmed. They will not push you to do something you just are not ready for.

Public bathrooms still bother me, and probably does to most people. I avoid them when I can. However sometimes I just have to use one. Once you learn some tools to deal with kind of thing, it will help tremendously.

Your therapist will give you many tools, suggestions and tips to help you.

Also be sure to watch the International OCD Foundation videos that are live every week. They are a wonderful way to learn tips and to share with others. These are live so you can also type in questions and professionals are there to answer them. Others watching are also sharing.... so many people that totally understand what you are going through. In the past year I have been watching these and have learned So MUCH!!!

Mamaofocd profile image
Mamaofocd

I’m so sorry that you are experiencing this! OCD is just insidious but I wholeheartedly agree with the other comments that ERP is your best way out of it. I do not have OCD to that extent but my son is overwhelmed by it right now and is also getting started with ERP. It, along with ACT (Acceptance Commitment Therapy, helps you to focus on the life you want, not what the OCD wants) have the highest success rates for OCD. We were sent down many wrong paths for treatment so I’ve been doing a tremendous amount of research to try and relieve his suffering. OCD is such a different animal and doesn’t respond to the same treatments as other mental health issues; in fact, some standard treatments make it even worse. You are absolutely right in the thinking that even if you got everything “clean” it wouldn’t stay that way and or your OCD would create a new obsession for you to worry about. I highly recommend a YouTube video by Paige Pradko called “10 Ways to Maximize Exposure Therapy” I’m new here and not sure if it’s ok to post links so I’ll let you find it (that is the exact title and the channel is her name.) She has many great OCD specific videos. I’ll be praying for you for relief. Stick with it, you will get there

😊

Catlady27 profile image
Catlady27 in reply to Mamaofocd

Thank you for the video suggestion. It is much appreciated. I will definitely look for it online. I will also be praying for you and your son as well. I think that OCD is a constant hell that no one should have to live with, especially for years on end. It must be the work of the devil because I can't imagine or believe that God would willingly put us, or anyone else, through this mental and emotional pain.

You may also like...