During my years fighting OCD there has been one thing that I have not been able to think about. Sickness. I am childishly and unnervingly afraid of vomit and all things surrounding it. My ears can pick up any potentially vomitty noise; day or night; and send me into a contamination fearing frenzy. I know that this fear is irrational but that doesn’t stop my day to day life revolving around avoiding being sick. At my worst I stopped walking on grass because OCD feverishly insisted that it would make me ill. This is completely untrue but I was ruled by the fear so didn’t want to take the chance. Thankfully I’ve improved since then, although I still have to have a carrier bag tucked at the corner of my mattress should the vomit demon jump on me in the night. I don’t eat certain foods and sometimes don’t eat at all. I am a walking food hygiene rating encyclopaedia and I never, ever, go on the rides at Alton Towers.
Germs are what my OCD is ‘into’ right now. It flocks around fleeting germ related thoughts like a group of teenage one direction fans would flock around Harry Styles’ dirty laundry. OCD needs a better hobby. I try to encourage OCD into moving on from germaphobia and generally loitering in my mind through exposures: pushing the boundaries little by little and surfing the wave of fear that follows. The idea behind this is that each time you do the same exposure your anxiety will fall faster, until eventually the exposure doesn’t bother you at all. For over a year there has been one challenge I have seen lurking in the shadows and waiting to pounce. Sickness. Being sick out of the blue. Vomit. The smell, the germs. Everything about it.
It happened last week and I dealt with it. I tried hard not to sob and reminded myself that there was air in my lungs and that I was definitely not going to die. That was the most important thing to remember no matter what OCD wanted me to think. I was assisted by the sleepover member of staff who kindly swapped my plastic bags over when needed and provided general moral support. But the most important thing is that OCD was wrong.
The timing of this impromptu exposure wasn’t brilliant- it had been a bad day and I had taken both my night medication and some extra lorazepam to calm me down. Therefore after the first sick session I was completely convinced that the additional medication would render me unable to wake up if I was sick again in the night. I was scared that I would choke as a result and die. That however was never going to happen, the thought would only inflict more panic and ‘Quelle Suprise’- I’m still alive and kicking today.
The beauty of OCD exposures is that they can spring out of nowhere and are the best exercises in optimistic thinking. No matter how dire the situation is, no matter how unfortunate the circumstances, it’s a huge air punch moment when you get to the other side. You now have evidence to show you that should the situation arise again, you can definitely make it through. Therefore the more awful the exposure circumstances the better. For example, I’m glad that a mysterious vomit bug hit me on the night that I happened to have taken extra medication. It doubled my terror at the time, but ultimately I now feel safer. I feel safe in taking my lorazepam if I need it because I periodically know that; should I be sick, I will be alright. By the same token if lorazepam is not involved when I inevitably vomit in the future I can say to myself: ‘Haha! I definitely know it will be alright and I don’t even have to worry about having taken extra sedatives this time! Hoorah!’.
It’s a win, win situation.
Take that OCD.