Not just cleaning

I can't be the only person who saw the programme about obsessive compulsive cleaners last night. Once again it showed 'typical' OCD sufferers who go around their homes washing, cleaning and bleaching. It's no wonder then, that so many people question my OCD diagnosis when this is almost the polar opposite of myself!

When I was a teen, my OCD was primarily germ focussed, but even this didn't cause me to reach for the bleach. Another part of my obsessive worrying was of chemical contamination! Just the thought of accidentally spilling disinfectant or bleach on my hands or arms (gloves were not an option!) could cause me to hyperventilate. So I was basically in a catch 22 situation. Instead, I became terrified of getting in the family bath in case it had chemicals or other people's bodily fluids in it. I once went for months on end without bathing once because I was so scared of contamination.

My bedroom showed my illness as well although again, most people wouldn't have thought that it was OCD. I was on the rocky road to becoming a compulsive hoarder, keeping crisp packets, yoghurt pots and worst of all, thousands of little 'bits' which I was convinced 'went to' something. As my drawers were packed full of these bits, I had nowhere to keep my clothes which often ended up strewn across the floor or in piles. Getting from the door to the bed was difficult as it was not possible to do without treading on something. Quite often, small bits of lego would be part of the mess and would embed themselves in my foot! Talk about painful. Worst of all I felt like a prisoner, both to my OCD and the chaos which surrounded me every day.

It took a long time, but I managed, through CBT (mostly self administered!) and medication, to rationalise my germ phobia and chemical phobia. At first I acquired 'safe' chemicals which I didn't feel terrified when I held them or spilt them by mistake. I literally yelled 'STOP IT' out loud when I started to ruminate about germs. Ok it was kind of weird yelling it out loud and it did cause some embarrassment (although Tourettes usually does that for me!) but after a while and persistent self-nagging, it stopped! I still get germ ruminations, but I can usually shift them quite fast.

But then I was left with something else. Something that I felt I could not attribute to OCD. Intense, disturbing thoughts. See I, like many people had been told that OCD was 'cleaning' and germ obsessions. It took months of obsessive thoughts that I was developing schizophrenia, manic internet searching and eventually stumbling upon the OCD UK website before I was able to accept this as part of my illness. Sadly, this part of my OCD is still haunting me on a regular basis, often causing intense anxiety and depression. A family member recently went for an operation and my OCD convinced me that because I thought of the word 'die' that she would die and it would be my fault. I get the same thoughts about random celebrities as well and have to go online as soon as possible to make sure they are okay!

So next time someone tells me that OCD is 'just cleaning' I will make sure to correct them because it might help someone like myself one day.

4 Replies

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  • Excellent blog - although the cleaning side of OCD can be very, very disabling (I know people who have burnt themselves with bleach or scrubbed their hands raw), it is only one of many, many different 'flavours of OCD'.

    Have you had any CBT specifically geared towards the intrusive thoughts that you're experiencing? I think that it would be worth asking for some - Pure O is really tough to live with.

    Lottie :)

  • I agree with you cleaning is only a small part of ocd .

    That programme stereotyped ocd it didn't show the other aspects of this illness

  • Not always cleaning 'household'items - perhaps trying to be rid of much larger 'household' or lesser commonplace matters - family relations/relationships, a personal history or longtime ties both real and 'embroidered'? The need to cleanse oneself or eradicate 'stuff' that, owing to time having had to be connected to it, may perhaps make the need to irrationaly 'clease'.

  • My OCD is also germ/illness based and I also hate chemicals. I feel like my experience of OCD is not typical. My kitchen surfaces are a mess and probably germy but I always wash my hands and the chopping board thoroughly (soap and water - not chemicals). I've been strongly advised by professionals to take medication for anxiety/OCD but I can't because the tablets are full of strong chemicals that could make me ill.

    I've been so scared of people germs that I wasn't able to have a relationship for over 10 years. I have a boyfriend now I'm a bit better but kissing is still very difficult (yet I kiss my cats several times a day). Sounds strange maybe - but nobody ever said OCD was rational!

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