Friday, June 13, 2014
OCD and Hyperawareness
A few days ago I had a REALLY bad OCD day. Most of my days are pretty consumed with OCD, but sometimes I have really hard days which almost push me to a breaking point. The good news is that it ended with a successful exposure, something I didn't think I would be able to do. I will get to that at the end of this post. This is a good opportunity, with many examples, to discuss hyperawareness with OCD. OCD brains are like sponges. They soak up and remember everything. It also makes you very hyperaware of everything going on around you. Problems and situations presented can lead to engaging in compulsions/rituals and even cause you to avoid that situation in the future because it's now "burned in your brain". OCD causes me to notice everything around me and have lots of thoughts about what COULD have happened or the possibility of something happening. For instance some random thoughts I might have: The person 2 rows ahead of me is coughing at church. Did that person brush up against my sweatshirt or not when I was standing in line? The guy behind me in line just cleared his throat hard and didn't cover his mouth. Did my T-shirt touch the shopping cart handle when I put that grocery item in my cart? The kid swimming 3 feet next to me in the pool is spitting water out of his mouth as he's playing and that spit is going into the pool. Is that construction worker really going to eat with paint plastered all over his hand? My husband just let the dog lick his hand (a full out lick several times) and then just resumes going back to what he was doing on his phone/tablet without washing his hands. When someone is standing close to me at the store, I take note of their clothes--are there stains? Do they look clean? The cashier at the grocery store just itched their nose while bagging my groceries. The clerk at the department store just licked their finger in order to open up a plastic shopping bag to put my newly purchased clothes into. I could go on and on all day, these are just a few examples to give you the point. Eating is particularly hard for me too, because I've seen too many things at various fast food places and restaurants and I don't want to go back to those places. It also accounts for a lot of why I don't eat at family gatherings. I've seen people do things and I just can't take the thoughts/anxiety that follow those and I don't want to be exposed to other people's germs. I've seen my mother in law lick her fingers as she's serving cake. I've seen my mom set spoons on the bare counter that she is using to stir things on the stovetop. I've seen my sister pick up topping off a casserole on the table one time with her fingers before everyone ate. One of my cousin's kids grabbed a cracker off the counter at a gathering and gummed it in his mouth, and put it back on the table and someone else ended up eating eat. My aunt stirred some corn in the microwave at a holiday gathering, then tested the temperature of the food with the spoon, then used it to re-stir the corn later (after she had eaten of it!) Now let's stop and be honest here. Many of these things are VERY unsanitary. Probably no one is going to get hurt or sick because of it, but the OCD mind can not let these thoughts go. I notice that I do better eating at places where I can't see what is going on the kitchen. Once I've actually seen something disturbing, then I tend to avoid that place in the future. Thus why I was down to 3 take out places for awhile...the only places I felt comfortable eating. As I've mentioned in previous posts I am trying to expand the places I will eat again and become more comfortable in doing so. I've had a particularly hard time with a sandwich shop in the past. They assemble your sandwich in front of you, and they do wear gloves. But why, can I ask, do people automatically think that gloves on their hands makes for a magical germ barrier, and they can still do anything with gloves on their hands? The point of gloves when food handling is to keep the food sanitary, and is a step above and beyond normal handwashing (which should take place anyway). But I'll get off my soapbox now....This is where my exposure comes into play. I had already had an especially difficult day with clothing contamination (my #1 issue right now) and I was just mentally exhausted. I decided that for an exposure to end the day I would go get sandwiches and try to eat at that place again. I've had a hard time eating here in the past because I've seen the workers do things that I feel are "unclean" when their gloves are on, and then they continue to make my sandwich (for example wiping down the meatcutter with a washcloth/solution, then immediately starting to make my sandwich when I walk through the door with those same gloves). It is gross, right? Right? But again....most people with OCD wouldn't even think about this or even notice it. Probably the food worker doesn't even think it through. I do think about though and I can't get it out of my mind. If I can catch them doing something "unclean" before I have to pay, then that is good--I can simply make up an excuse (don't we all get so good at making excuses with our OCD to sound normal?) that I left my cash out in my car and leave. BUT....many times I've had to end up paying and throw out the food when I get home because I feel it is contaminated. This time I walked in the door and there was already a fairly large line which was good because it gave me a chance to "scope out" what was going on before it was my turn, time to leave if I needed to, even though I desperately wanted to follow through on this. I only had to stand there for about 10 seconds before I saw a problem. The kid making the sandwiches kept brushing his gloved hands on his shorts (which who knows if they were clean?) between customers...as he was going from one sandwich to the next. Then the paper that the sandwich sits on as it's being assembled kept brushing against his T-shirt. And I knew at that moment that I did not want whatever was on his shorts or T-shirt in my food, so I left. Bummer. I knew I needed to get something else to eat so I decided to revisit a hamburger drive thru that I used to avoid. I went there a couple of weeks ago as an exposure just to prove to myself that it was okay to eat there, and I managed successfully at that time, so I thought...hey, I can do this again, right? This hamburger joint caused me the same issues as the sandwich shop in the past...the whole glove issue. I stopped eating there awhile back because I saw through the drive-thru window that someone with gloves was pressing something down into the garbage can (probably to make it fit)--and then my mind started worrying if he was going to go right back to making food after he put his hand in the trash? I don't remember that far back, but I'm fairly sure I probably threw my food away after I paid and haven't been back there until 2 weeks ago. Anyway, when I did go 2 weeks ago (for a small exposure) I allowed myself a 5 second look through the drive thru window, just to make sure nothing totally gross was going on. Nothing appeared to be, so I paid for the food, came home, and ate it. And everything went well. So I thought this would be no big issue this time. I remember sitting in the drive-thru and they were taking awhile to get my food. I kept telling myself not to look into the window, that would only make my anxiety worse, but of course the longer I waited....I just had to look. So I did look in, and I saw 2 things right off the bat that bothered me. Both involved gloved employees. One was standing at the fountain pop dispenser at the drive-thru window, filling up his own personal cup with pop. The other was using a broom and dustpan and sweeping the kitchen floor. Both were wearing gloves, so of course I immediately fretted that these people were making my food with really dirty gloves. Of course once I started looking, I couldn't stop. I tried to watch them to see if they would go back to the kitchen. The guy sweeping continued to do so the whole time, so I know he wasn't making our food. The guy getting his pop was gone for just a moment but then I saw someone hand him the burgers and he put them in a sack. So I know he touched the packaged burgers, but I don't think he actually made them. The thing is though, I wasn't 100% sure and that bothered me. I was so ticked off at that point because I'd already paid....I told myself there was no way I was going to be able to eat those. Then I thought about all the food, dishes, clothing, shoes, etc...that I have been throwing out recently and I was so mad at myself and so mad at the OCD. I decided I would go home and my daughter and I would eat the cheeseburgers after all. The best way I've found for me personally to do an exposure is just to get it done as quickly as possible, that way there is no turning back. I remember opening the cheeseburger and just eating it as fast as I could...and then there, it was done. I remember my anxiety going up to about a 9, and it took about an hour for it to get down to a 3, but since then it has not bothered me at all. I still don't like what I saw, but I'm not fixated on it anymore. And I should probably go back there sometime soon to eat a cheeseburger again, just to reinforce the point. So at the end of the day it was a pretty successful exposure for me. It sounds so ridiculously stupid that eating a cheeseburger would cause me so much stress, but this was pretty huge for me. The point being that I didn't allow myself to give into the OCD at this time. And usually I do give in to what the OCD tells me. It was amazing to me that I went from "no chance am I going to eat that" (giving into the OCD) to eating it and being okay with it today (a big gain in my book). I'm hoping that as I continue to do more exposures, I will become less "hyperaware" of what is going around me, and maybe just take on a more normal awareness level. For those of you that are way beyond where I am in treatment (which is still self-treatment at this point), did you find that the level of hyperawareness you experience goes down? Do you find that the things that once bothered you immensely, you don't even give a second thought to anymore? Does anyone have any good exposure ideas for how to continue with my eating/restaurant contamination issues? Thanks for reading! Hope you all are doing good and keep on fighting the fight against this nasty OCD!