Some OCD-Adjacent Insights Into Avoiding Contamination

By OCD-adjacent, I mean I’m in a long term relationship with someone who has been diagnosed, and getting treatment and support for OCD. While I don’t have it, it’s a major part of what I live and breathe on a daily basis. 

If there’s anything my husband has been preparing me for over the past five and a half years that we’ve lived together, it’s this. 

Hello, hope you’re doing okay with whatever degree of isolation you’re dealing with at the moment during this, our viral outbreak of 2020!

Personally, as an introvert, I am thriving. At the same time, as someone with The Anxiety, I’m a nervous wreck. Am I worried about running out of toilet paper? A bit, thanks to all the panic buying. Am I worried about stocking up on bottled water? Not now that our water pump has been fixed (after breaking while I was in the shower, thanks Murphy’s Law) and the water has stopped running yellow from sitting in the pipes for a few days. What I’m really worried about is running out of sanitizing wipes, sanitizing spray, and hand sanitizer.

Not for the reasons you might think. I’m not worried about catching the Coronavirus, and I’m reasonably optimistic about members of my family not being exposed. What I’m scared for is my husband’s mental health, which on some fronts is being propped up by the ability to sanitize things on an everyday basis. None of these behaviors have increased because of the pandemic; in response to the current availability (or lack thereof), we’ve even made compromises to decrease our use of sanitizing products in order to conserve our supplies. 

With concerns about contamination being more or less mainstream right now, I feel like I have some experience I can share. 

Before California’s shelter in place orders came through, it was interesting to suddenly start hearing people talk about how hard it is to not touch their face—something I’ve had to think about on a daily basis for about half a decade now. (Ngl, it’s still hard not to touch my face.) 

How long to wash your hands was another one. Now, in my house we don’t count seconds so much as use bar soap to wash for a certain number of times. Classic OCD, right? Well, we’ve been washing our hands for well over twenty seconds for years, so we’re all set on that front. And I can tell you right now, if you’re using a pump soap to wash up and you pump more soap at any point during your twenty seconds because you didn’t get enough soap to maintain a meaningful amount of suds, you are resetting the clock and need to start over… or switch to bar soap, which is more self-cleaning and incidentally less quick to dry out your skin. 

Image of LEGO man literally washing his LEGO hands in a LEGO washing machine.

With this experience in mind, I have some overboard cleanliness tips that are, for the time being, maybe not so overboard after all. 

Things to sanitize after being in a public place:

Cell phone. 

Keeping track of what you’ve touched before touching your phone, or what surfaces you might have set your phone down on, is right up there with keeping track of how many times you’ve touched your face. Do you put it in your pocket or purse with your car keys or wallet? Did you wash or sanitize your hands before touching your car keys or wallet? Are you coming home from a grocery store? Congratulations, you could have cross-contamination between the grocery store and your cell phone. 

Many cell phones come water-resistant these days, but even if yours doesn’t it’s still relatively safe to wipe it with a sanitizing wipe. Just try not to scrub too much moisture into the charging port or any buttons and don’t wipe too many times, especially considering how hard it is to buy sanitizing wipes right now. 

Laundry machines.

Dryers aren’t as important to sanitize, but when was the last time you wiped or sprayed down your washing machine? If you’re coming from the grocery store and shedding your outer layers, that outer layer touches your hands and possibly some of the outside of the machine as you’re loading it. You touch the laundry soap, the lid of the machine, and the controls of the washer to start it. Then, when the laundry is finished? You touch the lid in the same place to move the washed clothes into the drier, and touch the same laundry soap and washer controls to start the next load. 

Once you’ve started the wash cycle, give the outside of the machine a quick wipe and/or spray. Then you won’t have to worry about any of that overlap.

Important Note: Don’t spray the control panel or do anything that might get too much moisture dripping down in there. It will disable the machine, and getting the panel fixed or replaced is a huge pain. 10 out of 10 would not do more than once.

Door handles and doorbells.

This is another class of stuff that people don’t always register how many times and under what conditions they touch. I wouldn’t advise using sanitizing spray on a doorbell, but just give it a thorough sanitizing wipe every now and then—especially if you have a higher volume of deliveries coming to your home right now. 

Similarly, you’re touching the same boxes and bags that have just been delivered. 

Dealing with the results of using Purell and washing your hands constantly:

The best time to use lotion is right after drying your hands—and if you can pat dry instead of rubbing dry, that’s better. 

Avoid air hand dryers because, while scientists disagree on whether they spread pathogens (source: New York Times), some models are difficult not to bump your hands on while using. If you’re bumping your hands while drying them, you’re basically shaking hands with everyone else who’s done the same thing and should wash your hands again. 

This far into the global panic about COVID-19, we’ve pretty all heard the recommended hand washing guidelines about a billion times:

“Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says people should scrub their hands for at least 20 seconds to effectively curb the spread of germs. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers that contain at least 60% alcohol can also be used to rid your hands of germs, though they are not as effective as soap and water at removing visible dirt or harmful chemicals. Sanitizers also do not get rid of all germ types.

Frequent hand washing, though a reliable way to ward off illness, can lead to and exacerbate dry skin issues, according to dermatologists.”

(source: Time.com)

Invest in a good, healing, unscented cream-lotion. Scented products feel fine going on, but usually end up irritating more than they help in the long run. Lotions are more water-based, which will also dry out your hands; creams are more oil based, which don’t. Personally, I like Lubriderm. 

If your hands are already dry and cracked, go for vaseline or Aquaphor, another favorite. Basically, anything recommended for eczema is going to be your friend!

Just make sure not to clear the shelves, because people with pre-existing eczema are really going to be hurting right now (from both the extra hand-washing and stock-pile buying). 

If you end up having to use a public restroom

When there’s no other option, these are things my husband does regularly in the interest of not having a panic attack in public when using a public restroom. I’ve picked up most of these habits by osmosis and, lately, it’s become more and more practical. 

  • Go in, lock the door, wash your hands, and use the paper towel you dry off with to turn off the faucet. Throw it away. 
  • Roll out the toilet paper out a little and rip off the end that the previous person using the restroom might have touched. Throw it away. 
  • If you can’t (or don’t want to) hover above the toilet without touching while using it, put a paper cover or toilet paper on the seat. 
  • Use toilet paper (a square or two) to flush. Throw it away. 
  • Use toilet paper (a square or two) to turn the faucet on and pump the soap dispenser. Repeat as needed every time you have to pump more soap, otherwise you’re resetting the level of contamination. 
  • Use the paper towel you dry your hands with to turn off faucet, unlock the door, and exit the bathroom. Yeet it into the nearest trash can when done. 

These habits are… intense. I know it is; so does my husband, and this is less intense than it has been in the past because he’s constantly working on it. Using a public restroom has not always been an option at all, it’s a big step that he can do this, and these are the obsessive-compulsive tics that made it possible. For now, they’re training wheels until we get to the next step of less intense, whatever that might be. I am hugely proud of him. 

Again, I want to stress that none of the above is a requirement for most people, even now.

But some of these practices might help, at least with peace of mind, if you’re in any of the high risk categories.

If a credible source offers advice that directly contradicts mine please let me know. This is just the balancing point my husband and I have been able to reach for the sake of his mental health, and the only change that COVID-19 has brought to the table is a greater scarcity and higher price point on sanitizing supplies. 

Anyway… That’s all I’ve got off the top of my head, but feel free to ask questions and I’ll do my best to give an opinion. Otherwise, let me know in the comments what your favorite 20-second hand washing song is!

(Mine, then I use that method, is I’ll Make A Man Out Of You from Disney’s Mulan.)

IWSG April: I’ve got insecurity, You’ve got insecurity, We’ve all got insecurity!

Here’s some advice I recently came across on tumblr, which is apparently the source of most of my critical thoughts these days. (Which is… terrifying, honestly, because the site is kind of a dumpster fire. Oops.) Technically it was referring to sending emails at work, but it applies to any kind of writing.

Edit out “just.”

As a word, just strives to lowball the statement it’s attached to. “I just wanted to check in to see…” “Just saying!” “It’s just that, I was thinking…”

No. You’re checking in about something for a reason! You said something for a reason! You were thinking something for a reason! Be firm, don’t let that insecurity shine through! And yet, I write this way all the time. Women, especially, tend to be socialized to apologize for any strong opinion or statement they have. There’s a whole bit about it in Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens, where the girls stranded on a dessert island vote to eject the word “sorry” from their vocabulary. (And then forget, say it, and are like, “Oops, I forgot. Sorry. Oops!!” Because hey, it’s a comedy.)

As I’ve recently started a new set of duties at my part time job, I’ve gone through the email templates and phone call scripts to… well, check the basic sentence structure and stuff, do my usual “too many of these sentences/paragraphs start with the same word and it’s driving me up the WALL” thing… but I’ve specifically edited out every instance of “just” I can find. The results are messages that sound a lot more sure of themselves. Especially when it comes to leaving voicemails, which, while often preferable to the hassle of having to utter words to a live stranger, actually records whatever comes out of your mouth for posterity.

I have yet to really wade neck-deep into editing “just” out of my fiction. There will definitely be exceptions, because a statement like “I just started a few days ago” doesn’t lowball so much as indicate that something happened quite recently. It’s going to depend on where the emphasis is.

What do you think? Are you prepared to go on a crusade against “just,” or any other words?

IWSG March 2019 — Perspective

img_4985

Thanks to Alex for hosting this each month. Here is the complete list of participants.

Whose perspective do you like to write from best, the hero (protagonist) or the villain (antagonist)? And why?

I usually err on the side of the protagonist, because I think it actually depends more on which character I like the best, aka whichever one comes easiest to me most of the time. Which raises a question of my own…

If it’s from the antagonist’s POV isn’t that just a combination of anti-hero and unreliable narrator?

In real life, every person sees themselves as the hero of their own story. This is also true for any well-developed, well-written fictional character, so I feel it’s incredibly relevant when considering what a protagonist and an antagonist are.

I was haphazardly googling around for inspiration in writing this post and I found this thought:

“Protagonist and antagonist are not point of view characters but are character functions. The protagonist is the one who is the prime mover of the effort to achieve the goal. The antagonist is all about preventing the protagonist from achieving the goal. In our own minds, protagonist represents our initiative – the motivation to affect change. Antagonist is our reticence – the motivation to maintain the status quo, or at least to return to it.” ~ The Storymind Writer’s Library

But that still leaves it as a matter of how the story is written, and the reader’s perspective on what’s happening. Here are some dictionary definitions, also found via google:

Protagonist

  • the leading character or one of the major characters in a drama, movie, novel, or other fictional text
  • the main figure or one of the most prominent figures in a real situation
  • an advocate or champion of a particular cause or idea

Antagonist

  • a person who actively opposes or is hostile to someone or something; an adversary
  • (biochemistry) a substance that interferes with or inhibits the physiological action of another.
  • (anatomy) a muscle whose action counteracts that of another specified muscle.

So “protagonist versus antagonist” has been explained variously as “initiative versus reticence,” “motivation to affect change versus motivation to maintain status quo,” and/or “leading character versus someone opposing/counteracting leading character in some way.”

What if it’s a character who’s trying to save the world versus a character trying to return the world to its less complicated, pre-human state? Or, to put it another way, a character who’s trying to destroy the world versus a character trying to stop them and maintain the status quo?

Frodo trying to get the One Ring to Mount Doom and destroy it vs Sauron and minions trying to stop him? Or, Sauron trying to conquer Middle Earth vs the Fellowship setting out on a quest to keep it free?

Raise your hand if you had instinctive knee-jerk answers to the previous two paragraphs, because I know I do. Most of the stories that I can think of at the moment are that first way around.

Now consider, if you’ve seen it, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.

doctor_horrible_banner
Wikipedia

On one hand you have the obvious good guy Captain Hammer, who’s as much of a tool as his name suggests and who gets the girl because, duh, he’s the good guy. On the other you have Dr. Horrible, aka Billy, an aspiring super-villain whose application to the Evil League of Evil keeps being rejected and who doesn’t get the girl because, duh, he’s the bad guy. Without giving any outright spoilers, let’s just say that in trying to get his crush to break up with Captain Hammer by proving that he’s actually a selfish, self-involved jerk, Dr. Horrible accidentally causes a death, is finally accepted by the League, and is so emotionally shut down by what he’s done that he accepts.

Who’s trying to accomplish something? Dr. Horrible. Who’s the main character and champion of a cause? Dr. Horrible. Who do we see the most of throughout the story and who does your heart break for by the end? Dr. Horrible, even though he could easily qualify as an antagonist under different circumstances — i.e. if you didn’t get primarily his side of the story.

… I haven’t really answered the IWSG question, have I?

Or maybe I have. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective.

Top Surgery Part II

Top Surgery Part II

https://musingtopieces.wordpress.com/2019/02/17/top-surgery-part-ii/
— Read on musingtopieces.wordpress.com/2019/02/17/top-surgery-part-ii/

My beau wrote a poem about his top surgery! ❤️

And for the record, I would like to add that during his recovery he’s been a very agreeable patient. The wedding’s still on!

IWSG February 2019

I missed posting this on time, but whatever. Here’s my answer for the Insecure Writer’s Suport Group prompt.

Besides writing, what other creative outlets do you have?

Writing has been my main creative outlet for a long, long time — second only to daydreaming, probably, which is absolutely where my drive to write started. Some of my other creative hobbies have, similarly, come out of writing, and others have come in on their own.

Drawing

I guess I’ve always been a doodler, always been very fussy about my crayons and color pencils and markers. For a long stretch I didn’t do anything with those because I was too much of a perfectionist, and the colors weren’t going down consistent enough. Have you ever looked at something you colored in with a Crayola marker and didn’t like it because the pen strokes were at slightly different angles or overlapped to much and made a dark/light/dark stripe effect? That sort of thing. Anyway, in college I ended up taking a life drawing class and I loved the control of graphite, the messy straightforwardness of charcoal, and, omg, my fave, coloring in a sketch with watercolor.

But oddly enough, what really made me feel like an “artist” was making fanart comics. And because I’m a fan of the economy of simple lines (and I can’t draw backgrounds for the life of me, lol), I got into the habit of drawing stick figure comics. While it wasn’t exactly High Art, it was a really entertaining way to convey a story. And I did do other, mostly watercolor based fanart as well.

Baking

For some reason, my grandma and I are the only people in my family who seem to really enjoy making pies. I probably started because of the apple tree in my parents’ backyard, and because I knew my dad’s friend Jane also baked and was willing to share her pie dough recipe with me. (A few years after doing so she made me cry over not refrigerating the dough in the right shape… and that, more or less, is why she’s not invited to my wedding this summer. Life’s to short to make a nineteen year old cry over spheres vs disks, come on.)

I do follow recipes. I think partly because I started in baking, where ratios and things tend to be Very Important, but also because I’d rather produce something tried and edible than an experimental disaster. The more I learn about spices and different flours and lower carb options, the more I’ve become willing to experiment. Started with tweaking the spiced sugar mix on the apples, and so far I’m up to subbing a mix of almond and coconut flours for regular flour because my grandpa has celiacs. (Coconut flour burns, like, at the drop of a hat though, so maybe I’ll do a 3:1 blend or something next time.) And, branching out from this, there’s also…

Cooking

Again, I follow recipes. But I spend a lot of time googling substitutions. My spice rack grows in fits and starts, but if I don’t have something I’ll try something else instead.

There’s a thrill in trying a new recipe and discovering a new favorite. I’ve made keto tortillas several times, made cauliflower fried rice a lot, made a keto French onion soup not often enough because it’s amazing. There’s a pride in creating edible things. And I’ve even started collecting the recipes I tend to reuse into my own recipe binder for future, plastic-sheet-protected reference. Someday it might even rival the massive Holiday Recipes cookbook my grandma gave me one Christmas (each of the grandkids got one) with every cookie, candy, chocolate, and brittle recipe she has (and possibly also my great granny had) ever made.

Plus, getting more into cooking has allowed me to get more into healthy foods, and it feels really good to have kept off the thirty pounds I lost last year. Hashtag confidence boost.


Overall, I think a creative outlet is something that should boost you up. Having a finished product afterwards is nice, but not always necessary because it’s more about how you feel. Like, clearing out the cobwebs and putting good, accomplished feelings in their place.

IWSG February 2019

I missed posting this on time, but whatever. Here’s my answer for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group prompt.

Besides writing, what other creative outlets do you have?

Writing has been my main creative outlet for a long, long time — second only to daydreaming, probably, which is absolutely where my drive to write started. Some of my other creative hobbies have, similarly, come out of writing, and others have come in on their own.

Drawing

I guess I’ve always been a doodler, always been very fussy about my crayons and color pencils and markers. For a long stretch I didn’t do anything with those because I was too much of a perfectionist, and the colors weren’t going down consistent enough. Have you ever looked at something you colored in with a Crayola marker and didn’t like it because the pen strokes were at slightly different angles or overlapped to much and made a dark/light/dark stripe effect? That sort of thing. Anyway, in college I ended up taking a life drawing class and I loved the control of graphite, the messy straightforwardness of charcoal, and, omg, my fave, coloring in a sketch with watercolor.

But oddly enough, what really made me feel like an “artist” was making fanart comics. And because I’m a fan of the economy of simple lines (and I can’t draw backgrounds for the life of me, lol), I got into the habit of drawing stick figure comics. While it wasn’t exactly High Art, it was a really entertaining way to convey a story. And I did do other, mostly watercolor based fanart as well.

Baking

For some reason, my grandma and I are the only people in my family who seem to really enjoy making pies. I probably started because of the apple tree in my parents’ backyard, and because I knew my dad’s friend Jane also baked and was willing to share her pie dough recipe with me. (A few years after doing so she made me cry over not refrigerating the dough in the right shape… and that, more or less, is why she’s not invited to my wedding this summer. Life’s to short to make a nineteen year old cry over spheres vs disks, come on.)

I do follow recipes. I think partly because I started in baking, where ratios and things tend to be Very Important, but also because I’d rather produce something tried and edible than an experimental disaster. The more I learn about spices and different flours and lower carb options, the more I’ve become willing to experiment. Started with tweaking the spiced sugar mix on the apples, and so far I’m up to subbing a mix of almond and coconut flours for regular flour because my grandpa has celiacs. (Coconut flour burns, like, at the drop of a hat though, so maybe I’ll do a 3:1 blend or something next time.) And, branching out from this, there’s also…

Cooking

Again, I follow recipes. But I spend a lot of time googling substitutions. My spice rack grows in fits and starts, but if I don’t have something I’ll try something else instead.

There’s a thrill in trying a new recipe and discovering a new favorite. I’ve made keto tortillas several times, made cauliflower fried rice a lot, made a keto French onion soup not often enough because it’s amazing. There’s a pride in creating edible things. And I’ve even started collecting the recipes I tend to reuse into my own recipe binder for future, plastic-sheet-protected reference. Someday it might even rival the massive Holiday Recipes cookbook my grandma gave me one Christmas (each of the grandkids got one) with every cookie, candy, chocolate, and brittle recipe she has (and possibly also my great granny had) ever made.

Plus, getting more into cooking has allowed me to get more into healthy foods, and it feels really good to have kept off the thirty pounds I lost last year. Hashtag confidence boost.


Overall, I think a creative outlet is something that should boost you up. Having a finished product afterwards is nice, but not always necessary because it’s more about how you feel. Like, clearing out the cobwebs and putting good, accomplished feelings in their place.

Entry: Walk — A Creative PTSD Gal

This one had me holding my breath. It was as if I was the person in the story. Milliways, another author that kept me interested throughout the A to Z writing challenge. Head over and check out her writing and other awesome posts. If you would like to participate in the contest or share, check […]

via Entry: Walk — A Creative PTSD Gal

I wrote a thing. Mwahaha. 😊

#AtoZChallenge — Voice

This post is part of the April A to Z Blogging Challenge, where I am challenging myself to reflect on other A to Z posts that I come across.


Your writer’s voice is supposed to be something that is uniquely your own. But what does that really mean? What the hell is writer’s voice? And how can you find something when you’re not even sure what it is?

Is it your style of writing? Is it your tone? Or is voice something else entirely?

According to one article I came upon, “voice is not only a unique way of putting words together, but a unique sensibility, a distinctive way of looking at the world, an outlook that enriches a writer’s oeuvre.”

I’m sorry, but that didn’t help at all. “A writer’s oeuvre”? Seriously?

V is for Voice, Fandango

I read this a few hours ago, and it’s occurred to me that since I left such a long comment it might as well become my post for the day. So here’s that comment, with some additions.

My concentration in college was Creative Writing, so I took a lot of writing courses. One of them focused specifically on “voice” — a concept that I’m still a little shaky on, to be honest, but hear me out.

Throughout the semester, the professor and I had a running argument about fanfiction. I am all for as a writing exercise, because it creates opportunities to be creative within a finite set of rules (canon) and a somewhat less finite set of your own personal take on things (head-canon). The professor argued that it was merely taking on the voice of other creators and not exploring my own.

But how are you supposed to figure out what your voice is if you don’t have meaningful examples? The course did attempt to provide some, but none I really clicked with. And I’m saying that as someone who read Grapes of Wrath in high school and couldn’t stop writing like Steinbeck for weeks. I didn’t even like that book.

For me, the iconic example is Douglas Adams — because I spent so much time writing Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy fanfiction. For a while, I had the Adams voice down pat, and that time it was intentional. I’m still not able to articulate what my own voice is, but I wouldn’t exactly be able to describe his either. It’s not something you define, it’s something you feel. Rhythm, content, it all blurs together into this thing that you kind of only identify from a distance, as an afterthought.

You know what I think? I think your own style is something you’re so intimately familiar with that it’s like… the taste in your mouth when you’re not tasting anything. It’s like the air you breath. It’s like water to a fish. Part of why I’ve come to this conclusion is because, if you try to think too hard about “sounding like yourself,” you overthink how to start the next story or the next scene, and you either end up staring at the blank space or forcing out some crap that you don’t really like.

oeu·vre
noun
the works of a painter, composer, or author regarded collectively.
“the complete oeuvre of Mozart”

So maybe your voice just is what it is, and only your readers can properly identify it because they have the necessary distance, the necessary perspective, and usually a fair amount of time to absorb a selection of your work. You can only know your voice when someone else hears it, and tells you what it sounds like.