Imagine walking alone down a dark, narrow alley in a desolate, unsafe neighborhood. The silhouette of a large person is approaching you. You are scared. Your heart pounds. You want to turn around and run away as fast as you can. Everything about the situation screams DANGER.
Now imagine that your friends, family, doctors, and society-as-a-whole tell you to stay your current path. Don't run away. The danger (which feels so real to you) is not real. Your mind is playing tricks on you. Stay the course. Don't give into the fear.
Imagine living and re-living that scenario over-and-over again, each and every day of your life. Sounds like a terrifying, exhausting nightmare.
This is the struggle that individuals afflicted with Contamination OCD face. Confronting "Germs", Toxins, and other Contaminants is tantamount to confronting an ominous "Bad Guy" in a dark alley way. Every single object in every room - every thing in the whole wide world - can seem to scream DANGER. Don't touch the pen. Don't brush up against the wall. Kick the door open with your foot (whatever you do, don't touch the door). Throw away those shoes; they're definitely contaminated.
The support received by family, friends, and treaters may feel highly unsupportive. No matter how empathically expressed, it comes in the form of "No, we won't enable you to engage in OCD behaviors". Gee, thanks everyone. At the end of the day, the individual who has OCD must face that Baddie all by themselves.
Winston Churchill famously said "If you're going through hell, keep going". That is very wise advice for individuals with OCD who are told to minimize compulsions (such as hand-washing) in response to obsessions (such as fears of being exposed to a life-threatening contaminant). It is only by continuing the exposure - no matter how scary it is - that you will overcome the fear. Don't stop! You know what life is like if you keep avoiding the OCD trigger. You gotta keep going - keep exposing yourself to the dreaded situation - in order to work your way to a better, fuller, happier, healthier life.
Here are 13 Strategies that may be helpful to people who are fighting the fight against Contamination OCD:
1. Commit to a Target Number of Daily Hand Washes.
Healthy = 5 Hand Washes per Day.
At a Minimum, Work towards Single Digits. Single Digits are Magical.
2. Hand-Washing should be Generally Limited to:
- After going to the Bathroom
- Before / After Prepping "Not Simple" Foods
- Visible Dirt
3. Above all else, Minimize Compulsions. They are the Fuel for OCD.
4. Make a Game of Minimizing Compulsions.
Strategize as if you are in a competition. Reward yourself for winning!
Give yourself More Opportunities to Play:
Recontaminate Yourself After Washing Your Hands for any "OCD Reason"!
5. Opposite Instincts:
If an Action is being Driven by Anxiety or Fear, try your Hardest to do the Exact Opposite.
6. Do not Anticipate, Predict, or Plan for Future Compulsions.
You may feel Differently by the time Night Falls.
7. Address Challenging Triggers by the Following Weekend at Latest.
Set aside Dedicated Time to do ERP (Exposure Response Prevention).
8. Do not let "Things that have been Contaminated" Accumulate.
- Put "Contaminated" Clothes away where they Belong.
Or, Put them in the Wash. No "Hanging over the Back-of-a-Chair" Limbo.
- Open the each Package or Piece of Mail the Day that it is Received.
9. No "Double Washing" (that is, No Washing your Hands Again because it feels like you
Didn't Do a Good Enough Job - or Didn't Do it 'Right' - the First Time around).
If you Do a Compulsion Once, Try Not to Do it Twice.
If you Do a Compulsion Twice, Try Not to Do it Three Times.
10. "Mix Things Up" as much as Possible.
The Less Rigid Structure in your Life, the Better.
Try to Do just One Little Thing Differently when you Find yourself Stuck in a Routine.
11. If you Wonder Whether a Concern is "Legitimate", it is OCD.
Reassurance-Seeking is a Compulsion. It Fails to Reassure and Fuels the OCD.
So, when you find yourself wondering whether your concern is legitimate or if it is an
"OCD worry", don't wonder it out loud to someone else in hopes of gaining reassurance
that it's okay. And, don't 'wonder it' in the form of a google search in hopes of finding
reassuring information on the internet.
Reassurance-seeking fuels the OCD.
12. Showers and Baths are for Hygiene Purposes.
They are Not for Safety or Decontamination Purposes.
13. Treat Every Single Thing that you Own as if it is Indispensable.
You will Habituate to Things that are Unavoidable and Cannot be Eliminated.
You will Habituate to Things that you Repeatedly Encounter and Do Not Throw Away.