It all started the night before. I was in the shower using the last of the conditioner, preparing to toss the empty bottle in the trash. In that same moment I remembered my sister was away with friends for the week. Then this thought popped into my head. “If I threw this bottle away when my sister wasn’t here we would be separated and, somehow, she would be stuck in an alternate universe.” I threw the bottle out anyway and the thought came and went.
Lindsay: 1 / OCD: 0
This would be the beginning of a very long and exhausting 48 hours.
The next morning I got on the LIRR to the city with lots of stress for the workday ahead. On top of this, I was anxious about plans I had made to meet up for a friend’s birthday. The constant back and forth of whether or not I should go, knowing that my friends were not as strict as I was about wearing a mask, was exhausting. But, I decided it would be good for me to go because I hadn’t seen them in so long and I reassured myself that I would deal with whatever happens as it comes up in the moment. Great!
Lindsay: 2 / OCD: 0
The workday had gone on a little long and I was an hour and a half late to dinner. My friends offered to order something for me ahead of time, but of course I hesitated: “What if someone had covid and breathed on my food without me being there to control the situation?” So, I decided against it.
Lindsay: 2 / OCD: 1
On my way to the dinner they mentioned there were some leftovers they were saving for me. Another internal battle was about to begin. “What would be my excuse if I didn't eat this food that had been picked at and shared by everyone?” If I didn't eat the leftovers, the OCD would win. Again.
I decided to tell them that I was feeling anxious about the food. They reassured me that they didn't share off the same plate. I decided to eat the food and put the thought out of my mind.
Lindsay: 2.5 / OCD: 1 (0.5 point deduction for seeking reassurance)
This reassurance seeking just gave the OCD more ammo the next time around. “What if after we got up and went to the car I stepped into traffic and hurt myself because I was so exhausted from the day? Why would I be thinking this? Does this mean I am suicidal?” I texted my mom for reassurance – telling her about the food so maybe she could calm my thoughts.
Lindsay: 2.5 / OCD: 2
The following day, I had to go into the office again. I was getting a ride from a coworker. As I got into the car, I immediately smelled weed. My mind goes into overdrive: “Did she smoke weed? Do I say something? Did I accidentally touch the remnants of weed that I saw in the door handle?” I asked her if she knew there was weed in the car and she said no and that she was surprised to learn of my discovery.
According to the OCD, I am now contaminated. We stop at Dunkin’ for some food and I go straight to the bathroom to wash my hands. I had already used hand sanitizer, but, because OCD doesn’t care about rationale, I had just made the assumption that the sanitizer wasn’t good enough and I definitely needed to follow up with actual soap and water.
Lindsay: 2.5 / OCD: 3
OCD is not satisfied – and never will be – by any of these compulsions. It just finds other things to latch onto. I’m now thinking that I need to be careful and hold my phone and wallet in the crease of my arm because I had contaminated those as well.
At this point I am starving and would love to grab something to eat. I try to push the thoughts out of my head and go to the counter to order something small. I decided to get a muffin because I can eat it inside the bag without using my hands. Genius?
Lindsay: 2.5 / OCD: 4
The cashier has no change to give me and I have to purchase a box of 25 munchkins to spend all $5 I handed her. Bonus treat! This day is looking up .. I’ll share this with my coworkers back at the office!
As I get back into the car, my excitement quickly subsides. “Hold up! How do you know that when you opened the car door you didn't knock some of the weed into the muffin bag or the box of munchkin.” Seriously!?
I have seen this scenario play out a million times before. Except this time was different because I didn’t know who the weed belonged to. “Could it be laced with something poisonous? Would it have an even stronger effect if a piece was actually eaten?” The anxious thoughts continue to swirl. I can’t focus on anything else. It's not looking good.
As some time passes I try talking to my coworker about work to redirect my attention elsewhere. A couple minutes later, another thought arrives. “Wait, risking my own safety is one thing, but how do I give the munchkins to my coworker knowing that there could be possible contamination?” The rumination continues. We arrive at our destination and I’m clutching both the munchkins and muffin so tightly in my hand, making sure to not to get anything else near the food.
As I’m walking down the street, my mind is continuing to calculate if it’s safe to eat either the munchkins or the muffin. Here comes another thought: “There are two holes on either side of the munchkin box, could someone I walked passed on the street have Covid and contaminate my munchkins through these holes in the box?” Noted. Weed. Covid. Anything else?
I reach the subway station, get on the train and my mind goes into “what if” mode. "What if I give the munchkins to my coworker? Do I tell her there may be traces of weed in it? If I don't tell her what if she has some sort of reaction or gets high from the weed? What if something happens to her when she leaves work because she got high? What if the munchkins are the reason she gets into an accident? What will I do then, knowing that I could have been responsible for the entire incident? Could that be traced in her autopsy? Would I be able to know if it was my fault entirely?”
This false irrational scenario gets interrupted when I see this woman board the train with a large shopping bag. She doesn't look suspicious, except for the fact that she is talking to herself (nothing out of the ordinary for NYC). But I keep an eye on her, watching as she drops the large shopping bag in the middle of the car and then walks away from it, occasionally looking back at it from afar. Things are getting a little weird. I can see other people observing this woman and the bag which makes me think it's not just me who thinks this is strange. “Why did she leave the bag alone? What if there is a bomb in the bag? I can't possibly stay on the train knowing that could be a possibility, right?” We arrive at the next stop and I immediately get off the train.
Lindsay: 2.5 / OCD: 5
I can take the local train on the opposite side of the platform. As I see the train approaching, a new scenario emerges in my mind. “I must leave the subway station right away and get outside, above ground. If there was a bomb on the train I was on then it could potentially cause the train nearby to explode as well, right?” At this point it should be no surprise that I was definitely not taking that chance.
Lindsay: 2.5 / OCD: 6
So now I have to walk to work in the blazing heat in a dress and sandals that are already causing blisters. Don’t forget, I still holding the muffin and munchkins tight in my hand. I am so over this day and I’ve had it with my thoughts. I arrive at my office and immediately threw the munchkins and muffins into the garbage.
Lindsay: 2.5 / OCD: 7
Exhausted yet? Because I definitely am.
Giving into the OCD the first time had triggered this domino effect of obsession and compulsion after obsession and compulsion. When we allow the OCD to take over – even just once – it opens the door for it to come back again and again and again.
Even after years of therapy and a box full of tools (and munchkins), days like this happen, where you let your anxiety take over. It's frustrating, defeating, and exhausting.
But, there are more days that look the exact opposite. With all of the tools and therapy I have in my back pocket, I’m able to look back and learn from these situations.
If I decided to not give in to the OCD in that first moment – if I had allowed my friends to order food for me ahead of time – my day might have looked a little different. The next time, I’m not going to let the OCD win so easily.