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.)

Affirming each other’s feelings

Affirming each other’s feelings

https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2018/07/13/affirming-each-others-feelings/
— Read on druidlife.wordpress.com/2018/07/13/affirming-each-others-feelings/

“Acknowledging that something doesn’t have to make sense to you for it to be real, is powerful.”

Overcoming our own thoughts

Overcoming our own thoughts

https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2018/05/26/overcoming-our-own-thoughts/
— Read on druidlife.wordpress.com/2018/05/26/overcoming-our-own-thoughts/

This raises a very good point about internal vs external sources of stress and anxiety.

When I’m going through a rough patch, I sometimes have a hard time sorting out how much is in my head/body responses and how much is in my environment. Often, I’ve found, it’s both, and they feed on each other and get all tangled up. The first step is sorting out which is which.

#AtoZChallenge — Your happy place

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.


Find your happy place. This could be anything that gives you happiness. For me, my happy place is Harry Potter fanfictions. I have been a Potterhead ever since I read my first book. I took this craze to another level when I started reading fanfictions. (A fanfiction is a fiction written by a fan presenting his own PoV and his plot within the main storyline). I have never failed to read a few pages of a fanfic in the last 20 months.

You are in charge of your life, Musings of a Mother


My fall-back happy place is fandom participation. Mostly I write fanfics, and occasionally I do doodles — either way, I create. I do a lot of reading too, and commenting, and replying to comments, and feeling like part of a community. It’s constructive validation, because there’s always a special niche of people who will read what you want to write.

I am definitely in charge of my life. I’m broke and in debt to my parents, but I still have my freedom and make my own decisions. Sometimes those decisions gravitate towards being at home with my cats… because I’m an introvert anyway and why not spend my recharge time with furry little goofbutts.

When I quit my job back in August, it was because I was miserable. I’d seen my dad go through that for years, at a similar kind of job too, and I didn’t want to go down that dusty road. It was a hard decision, but it was one I had to make for my own sake and ultimately I still don’t regret it. Without my partner supporting me, I’m not sure I would have had the courage to leave without something else already lined up, and the problem with that is I was always to exhausted at the end of the day to job hunt for something better.

Support systems are pretty damn important. Without support, it would have taken me a lot longer to limp back to my happy place!

#AtoZChallenge — Quiet

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.


19TH APRIL’18 – A TO Z CHALLENGE – LETTER ‘Q’

https://viewsofpreethib.wordpress.com/2018/04/19/19th-april18-a-to-z-challenge-letter-q/
— Read on viewsofpreethib.wordpress.com/2018/04/19/19th-april18-a-to-z-challenge-letter-q/

I am not very good at quiet. When I’m writing, cooking, cleaning the house, doing just about anything, I need something on in the background in order to concentrate. Sometimes it’s music, but more often it’s tv shows like Friends, That 70’s Show, Great British Baking Championship, etc. When I’m in the car I have audiobooks playing, and when I’m out for a walk I put my earbuds in and listen to audiobooks or call my Grandma to chat.

At night, unless I’m really tired, I have a hard time falling asleep because when it’s quiet, my thoughts are very loud.

But one kind of quiet I’m good at is sharing companionable silence with my partner. We’re together pretty much all the time, which, between my current unemployment and my partner’s part time job, really is most of our waking hours. It’s been that way since… we’ll, since a month or two after we met, really, minus the time he spent studying in London. The way we avoid driving each other bonkers is by allowing ourselves to still do our own things a lot of the time, just in each other’s company.

Which is why I also like this Quiet haiku by S. M. Saves.

There are many kinds of quiet, and all of them are important. I do need to get better at the “quiet in nature” and “quiet in my own mind” kinds, but I’ve known that for as long as I’ve been trying to get back into meditating regularly.

What kinds of quiet are you good at?

#AtoZChallenge — Mindful Eating

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.


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Freshly made pasta is AMAZING. (This photo was taken before I started the keto diet, heh.)

Mindful eating is the practice of cultivating an open-minded awareness of how the food we choose to eat affects one’s body, feelings, mind, and all that is around us.

(source)

When I was a kid, my parents didn’t exactly encourage mindful eating. Eating was something I would always do at great speed, to the point where I would get scolded for rushing through dinner. I just didn’t want to sit at the dinner table any longer than I had to. It was all “What did you do today,” which I always found mind numbingly boring because it didn’t seem like actually talking so much as just going over itineraries.

I’ve also realized, upon reflection, that meals growing up were always very portion controlled and… kind of like being on a diet without anyone ever really needing to or saying the word diet. My dad likes to cook, and when I went off to college I didn’t realize that chicken stock and similar things could actually be bought in stores rather than made at home. Homemade stock, homemade tomato sauce, and homemade burgers cooked in the oven on little racks so all the fat (and moisture, and flavor) dripped out. Desserts were for special occasions, or if we had extra pears that my dad felt like poaching and making a simple syrup for, or sometimes just raspberries from the backyard with a little sugar and cream. If we had garlic bread, there were exactly four servings of garlic bread and no extras.

There was always one protein, one starch, and one vegetable, all of which were mandatory. Concessions were made for my dislike of certain vegetables, so I was never dragged kicking and screaming into eating a salad but I did choke down my fair share of broccoli. And if I took a really big scoop of mashed potatoes, or of rice, or of pasta, I often got a brief reminder not to eat too much starchy, bready things because then I might get fat.

When I savored food, it was in the somewhat rare evenings where we went out, or when I was at my Grandma’s house. Even then, I didn’t think too much of it.

Living in Sonoma County has changed my relationship with food entirely. Most of the restaurants around here have farm-to-table leanings, so everything is fresh and vivid and delicately nuanced with flavor. It’s that moment when you close your eyes and eat slowly, so slowly that in some moments you don’t even necessarily chew because you’re too distracted by just tasting, experiencing the moment.

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Chocolate Avocado Parfaits, with fresh raspberries and Pamela’s gf graham crackers crumbled up.

Kristen talks in her Healthy Eating Blog ‘Eating The Moment‘ post about how “eating often leaves us with feelings of guilt. We don’t listen to our bodies, but give in to our minds that are tricking us into thinking we’re hungry.” I remember experiencing that. But the more I take the time to savor my food, the less guilt I feel.

Also, now that I’m on the keto diet I pay a lot more attention to what I eat and experiment more with healthy recipes that I can make in our new slow-cooker, and that’s a whole new world of appreciation too. I even borrowed a book from the library (volunteer shelving leads to finding some interesting gems, let me tell you) full of low-sugar baking recipes and tips for using less processed sugar. I’ve made chocolate avocado parfaits, low sugar pumpkin cupcakes with honey-cream cheese frosting, dark chocolate coconut cups… Healthy desserts! And they were delicious.

I haven’t read the book that Kristen’s post is talking about, but I’m all for mindful eating. What about you? What kind of eating habits were you raised with, and how have they changed over time?

#AtoZChallenge — It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again

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. 


aerial-view-of-a-lonely-road-in-the-woods-555x370

Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages and Karen Hume’s RAW NEWS framework as examples of a daily routine to support your creativity
— Read on profoundjourney.com/routine-never-too-late-a-z-challenge/


The post I’m featuring today is one I stumbled across through the comments on a blog I follow.

I’m turning thirty in about two weeks, so it’s not like I’m in danger of a midlife crisis quite yet. But I did hit the ejector seat button on my job about eight months ago… and in some ways it’s like I’m learning how to live all over again. Like Karen, “I didn’t do much of anything other than sleep and destress for quite a while,” but now I’m much happier, getting a healthier amount of sleep, being more active throughout the day, and eating a lot better.

Have I settled on my ideal routine yet? Not quite. Every morning I make a list of three things I want to accomplish in the coming day (though sometimes I make the list the night before, or at the end of the day if I forgot and just want to acknowledge that I actually got stuff done). Every night I make a list of three things I’m grateful for (and usually at least one of those things is about food, haha). If I haven’t done either of those by 10pm or so, my Grid Diary app reminds me.

These are important habits, and they’ve helped me a lot with just getting my mind back to a good place and keep it there, but I wouldn’t mind adding to my routine.

“I would be relieved if I made time to….”

  • Write more. 

And to be fair, I have been doing more of this since November thanks to NaNoWriMo. I write when I’m inspired, but I can’t decide if it would motivate me more to carve out a specific Writing Time or if it would just inspire me to procrastinate more.

When I finish my current fanfiction masterpiece I’ll get back to the novels I want to publish someday.

  • Meditate more.

Seriously, I’ve been saying this for years. A few years ago, when my partner went to London for twelve months, I found a meditation group at an LGBT center near my parents house and started going once a week. It was amazing and relaxing and it got me out of the house to interact with new people, which I don’t do on my own very often. I told my therapist at the time about it, and she told me about a meditation-based anxiety group she was running, which was also great.

When we moved up here, I half heartedly looked for other groups to join but couldn’t find anything I felt comfortable with, and the Calm app on it’s own has not been enough to keep me on track. What little breathing exercises I have done recently have all been very short and only thanks to the promptings of the Aloe Bud app I’m helping beta test.

… Actually, I just remembered my old therapist gave me a bunch of cds with meditation recordings. I should get those on my new computer!

  • Go on more walks.

I will do this, once the weather dries up a bit. Because seriously, walks in the rain can be okay if you have an umbrella and a neighborhood with sidewalks, but I currently have neither of those. I’ve been gradually bumping up my daily step goal and am currently at 6k a day — taking long summer walks would be really good for that.

  • Apply to more jobs.

I’ve been a lot better about this in the past week. I guess the A to Z Challenge productivity is catching? But basically, I keep forgetting what day it is and I’m starting to go a little stir crazy. I need to find a job again!


What about your routines? Are there any new habits that you want to start building up?

#AtoZChallenge — Dalai Lama

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. 


 

sleep-dalai-lama
Quote image from Lingering Visions.

I occasionally struggle with mild insomnia — yet another thing that runs in my family, woohoo! It’s usually just a matter of not getting my brain to shut up. I try to distract it by reading fanfiction or playing games until I’m tired enough to just conk right out, but that doesn’t always work.

Several years ago, when I found a therapist that I actually liked, she got me into meditation. At one point she ran a small anxiety group that focused on trying out different meditation techniques throughout the week and then discussing how they felt and whether or not they helped with our anxious feelings. It was very cool, and something I keep meaning to get into but somehow never find quite the right headspace to do so.

Anyway, what helps me (when I can remember it) is to lay on my back and relax into some breathing exercises. In four, hold four, out eight. The more I relax the more I begin to sink into my body, sink into the mattress, and consciously let go of whatever tension I’m still holding from the day.

Going to sleep totally is the ultimate meditation.

Self-Care for People Trying to Adult Good

This guide was meant specifically to help people with ADHD and ADD. While I don’t have either of those (as far as I know, I am increasingly less and less sure of anything about myself these days), some of the self-care tips struck me as Really Good Ideas. Halfway through reading it I stopped and downloaded the Grid Diary app. Sam’s examples of his own questions he’s set for himself to answer at the beginning and end of every day are, after some slight tweaking, a good reminder for me to be more mindful. Some of these are (tweaks included):

  • What are some strategies I can use to be effective and get shit done today?
  • What’s one way I can support my mental health today?
  • Am I worried about anything?

And one suggested by the app, which I decided to keep:

  • What problem did I encounter today? How did I solve the problem?

As Sam comments in there somewhere, these tips won’t be perfect for everyone but work for him as he spends a lot of time on his phone anyway. My partner, who most likely does have ADD, swears by bullet journals and didn’t seem as interested in this app as I am when I mentioned it — but then I’m more of a phone person, and any time I spend on my phone that’s not noodling away on Candy Crush Soda Saga or Solitaire Tri Peaks is probably a good thing.

 

That’s when I knew: I didn’t want to live like this anymore.

via ADHD Survival Guide: How I Stopped Procrastinating and Got My Sh!t Together — Let’s Queer Things Up!

Walking With Giants

Thank you to everyone who commented on my last post. Your words have helped me feel a little lighter, a little more inspired. Plus, I had a kitty lounging on my chest and purring for quite a while this morning, which was nice.

The day after I made that post, we had already planned to go to a nearby redwood forrest and do a nature walk. My energy felt so sapped that I almost didn’t want to go, but between my partner’s infectious enthusiasm as sheer momentum I went. This particular park has an amphitheater area that we’re considering as a wedding venue, and I really wanted to see it. Temperatures have sometimes climbed to the 100s recently and that day was no exception, but at least the forest was full of shade.

“Green spaces are known to be good for mental health, and beyond that, there’s the powerful business of encountering.” —Nimue Brown

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With that, I felt a little better too. And this past weekend, as a delayed birthday present, my mom took my to Disneyland! It was very hot and very crowded, but even that helped clear my mind of non-immediate concerns. The Jungle Cruise was still there, despite some rumors we had heard of it being closed down permanently, and Space Mountain and Indiana Jones were as wildly enjoyable as ever. Plus, Disney is astonishingly good at accommodating allergies and I found gluten free bread here and there when I least expected it. (Grilled cheese and tomato soup, om nom nom!) Not for nothing is it called the Happiest Place on Earth, and although most of the happy glow wore off once I came home and returned to real life I do feel better for the three days of mental relief. I am extraordinarily lucky and grateful for that.

I don’t think I’m depressed. There are a lot of things I need to adjust in my life to get to a better mental place — I am too stressed, I am too anxious, I am worried about my upcoming endoscopy and the single Ativan I will take to keep myself calm that day, I don’t get enough exercise, I don’t eat enough protein, and I need to carry on with purging gluten from my system.

For the first three, I have started talking to a therapist again. I’m going to try and get back into meditation and breathing exercises, which might be a little easier to remember to do once the endoscopy is over and done with. I’m also taking some steps to reduce the stress in my environment… Work stuff. It’s a process.

For the last three, I have my Fitbit. I bought it for myself a few months ago and have been gradually bumping my step goal up from 5k as I build better daily habits. Currently my goal is 7k and I’m doing a pretty good job of hitting it. The app also tracks exercise and food/calorie/macronutrient intake. In the past week I’ve been using it as a food journal, in case I need to look back and figure out if I ate anything that wasn’t gluten free by accident. It tells me what percent of calories are from protein, too, so I can be more mindful of that.

There are probably other things I can do, but this is where I’m starting. I’m already taking vitamin D every day along with my anti-anxiety medication, which I believe isn’t giving me as much burnout from side effects as it was a few weeks ago. When I remember, I take gummy multi-vitamins. Once I get though the endoscopy, perhaps I will turn more of my focus towards meditation, vitamins, and writing more often.

And my partner and I definitely plan on taking more nature walks. We even bought matching water bottles for the purpose. 😊

Overall, I am not at my best, but I am better. I hope all of you are doing okay.

“Heal yourself first. Get what you need, do what you need to, first, always first, but after you have made some progress and stored up some strength yourself, go out and help the rest of the world heal.” — Lisa