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.)