Trigger warning – if you gross out easily, maybe skip this one.
One of the things that non OCD-ers may not realise is that having OCD can be expensive. It costs a lot to be this crazy; both literally and figuratively. I cannot speak for all types of OCD, but I can definitely speak for my own weird and twisted brand, revolving as it does, around the concept of contamination. To name a few things that I have been forced (by myself) to throw away for fear of them being contaminated with HIV: clothes (you name it, I’ve chucked it – t shirts, trousers, jeans, skirts, jumpers, dresses, shoes, boots, trainers, underwear, socks, tights, jackets, coats, scarves, gloves, everything), jewellery, food, handbags, purses, money (actual money), books, CDs, DVDs, a bike, travel tickets, mementos of special events, multiple bags of shopping, an mp3 player. There was also a mobile phone and an iPod (both gifts), which I technically didn’t throw away, but I did wash them until they were ruined and beyond repair. Nothing is safe. I have cut chunks of my own hair out and, whilst it didn’t cost me a penny, it did cost me a small ray of hope that day. I will never attempt to quantify how much money I have spent on this condition, because I am in no doubt that the grand sum total would render me speechless. As someone who watched her parents work themselves into the ground to provide for their children, knowing that I once deliberately left a £5 note on the toilet floor – just because it had fallen on the floor – makes me hang my head from shame.
So, here are a few examples of when OCD cost me dearly.
1. My Bike
I was, until a few months ago, the proud owner of The Most Beautiful Bike In The World. It wasn’t an expensive bike, it wasn’t flashy, it didn’t have a thousand gears, it did not have a romantic woven basket with daisies on the front. It was a simple, understated, beautiful bike. And it was mine. It gave me the freedom to dart across my city at leisure, free to come and go as I please, sweet freedom from the slings and arrows of outrageous public transport! In short, I loved that bike. One of the best parts of my day was leaving the office, hopping on my bike, putting my headphones on (health and safety officers, restrain yourselves) and just zoning out for the short ride home. Just me and my music, my heart rate pumping, skin flushed pink from the exercise, whizzing past a packed bus feeling wonderfully smug that I was on this side of the grubby window! Ha!
That was until someone thought it would be an awesome idea to leave a used condom on the pavement. That’s right, a used condom. Because, apparently, people are pigs.
Brakes on, music off, dream over. I went back to check that I hadn’t actually imagined the whole thing in a state of OCD sensitivity. No, there was no mistaking it, the disgusting shiny floppiness confirmed that it was indeed a rubber. Now, I am not sure if my bike rode over or anywhere near the bastard condom, but it didn’t really matter, a condom is tantamount to a little pouch of HIV in the mind of me. I am alone, in the street, and scared for my fucking life. What the fuck do I do? Get off the fucking bike! Do not go anywhere near the wheels, be careful not to tread anywhere that the wheel could possibly have been. Hold the bike away from you with one hand. Call Dad.
Don’t throw away the bike, he told me. It is not dangerous to me. Anything that could be on that condom will be dead by now. He told me to put the bike somewhere out of sight for a while and come back to it in a few weeks to see if I felt differently (this was something my Dad suggested in the early stages after the diagnosis. It can work very well – if I put something out of sight, usually carefully wrapped in several plastic bags, by the time I come back to it months later, one of two things may have happened. Either, I have dealt with the anxiety of that particular incident and it no longer holds the same fear for me; OR, I have completely forgotten why I hid the thing in the first place so I reason that it can’t be that bad after all. Besides, by that point, there is usually a bigger obsession to focus on (nb. at any given point in time there is usually one ‘lead’ obsession, to accompany the many ‘supporting’ obsessions) that seems ten times worse). I agreed not to throw away the bike. And technically, I didn’t throw it away because I didn’t actually take it to the tip. Instead I hid it somewhere I didn’t think anyone would find it and left it to rot and rust away.
In summary, fuck you condom litter person. Fuck you!
2. Jeans + Boots + Tampon + Rain
So I’m walking home from work feeling pretty chuffed with myself because I have just walked past the Blood Donation Centre. The reason for my jubilation? I walked right past without crossing the street. A year earlier I would not have been able to do this; I would have walked all the way home on the opposite side of the street for fear of becoming contaminated by what may or may not be lurking on the pavement (discarded blood-speckled cotton wool that a blood donor may have casually tossed on the floor perhaps?). But no, I walked straight past. My imagination, despite itching to indulge in the suggestion that was just simmering at the back of my mind (blood bags that had somehow fallen out of the back of the Blood Van and had burst onto the pavement), was well and truly kept in check. I keep walking with – as ever – music in my ears. La la fucking la.
At this point I’d like to thank the woman who thought it would be a truly excellent idea to leave a used tampon applicator in the middle of the street. Yes, you read that just fine, a used tampon applicator. Thanks, sister. Stumbling across a blood soaked used tampon applicator is never a good experience, even for those who don’t have OCD. It’s disgusting. But for those of us whose own menstruation causes anxiety [sorry but I’m not making any effort to dress this up], stumbling across evidence of someone else’s on the walk home is just one sparkling hamper of bone crushing fear, wrapped up in a big fucking red bow.
So, did I walk on it? No. Did I walk near it? No. I walked past it. So what’s the problem? Let me count the ways. First off, how do I know that the offending object wasn’t thrown a few feet from where it currently is? What if it fell somewhere else on the pavement but has since been kicked/blown/rolled to where it is now? There may as well be blood all over the fucking pavement. Secondly, it’s raining, hard. The significance of this? Water carries shit from one place to another. What if the rain has washed traces of blood towards me and it is now on my boots? Also, the hems of my jeans have probably touched the floor so they may as well be soaked in blood too.
I’m sure you’re noticing the element of perhaps/what if/maybe in this little story – and that is just one of the cunning little devils of this bastard condition: the what if, the fear of what may have been. Can you tell me that it one hundred per cent could not have happened? Can you eradicate the 0.0000000001% chance? No? Then, to my mind, it as good as happened. Only 100% will silence the wild as fuck banshee that is my imagination – otherwise you can bet your arse that I will find a way to connect that object with my transmitting HIV, I don’t care if it involves acrobatic blood particles, magical thinking or telekinetic activity. If I can see it in my mind’s eye, it’s End Game for today.
When I reached my front door, I proceeded to take off my jeans and my boots. Feeling grateful that the bin port was right next to my flat, I threw the offending items away, before heading into my flat for a shower. Some months later I was walking down that road again – the anxiety relating to the Tampon Applicator Incident had reduced and I was ready to walk on the path and face the thoughts. I had just been into town, I had treated myself to a few nice things (which I don’t often do, mainly because I know there’s a chance I will one day throw it away) and started the walk home. I was dealing with the anxiety, I was walking on. Predictably, I accidentally tripped on the uneven surface, which caused me to drop my bag of treasured shopping onto the pavement. Immediately I’m seeing that tampon applicator from months ago on the pavement up ahead, covered in blood. Here we go. What if the blood had been carried along on someone’s shoes and deposited exactly where I dropped my bag? I calmly picked up the bag and threw the whole thing – contents and everything – in the bin. In full view of a mile long line of rush hour traffic.
3. Trail of Contamination
I’m standing at the bus stop with my nephew who, at that time, could not have been more than nine years old. We’re on our way to the cinema for some precious and wonderful auntie-nephew time. Dishing out the bus money, I accidentally dropped a £1 coin on the floor. My nephew, noticing the money on the floor, goes to pick it up. I tell him to leave it where it is. He asks me why. I have absolutely no answer. Well, I do, but not one I can share with him: the answer is the Trail of Contamination. Here goes the trail: we are standing at a bus stop that is one street away from where I once saw a used condom on the floor (amazingly, not the aforementioned used condom, this is a completely separate Condom Incident. Apparently, among the many inhibitions that one loses in the throes of passion, keeping our streets litter-free is now one of them).
My fear is that someone may have walked on or near that condom. Whatever was on the condom was then transferred to their shoes, and subsequently deposited all over the pavement, wherever this person happened to walk. I don’t know where s/he did or did not walk, so I have to assume that s/he walked everywhere, including past this bus stop. Which means that whatever was on that condom is also now at this bus stop, on this pavement. That is why I cannot let him pick up the coin.
As an auntie, I make a point of always explaining to my nephew why I am asking him to do or not do something. I don’t buy into the ‘do it because I say so’ approach, partly because, as a kid, it used to piss me off. Mainly it’s because I want him to know my thought process, so that he understands why he is being told to do or not do something. This time, however, I came up so short. I had no fucking answer for him. So I said nothing and willed the bus to hurry up. I will never forget that moment, and there is a part of me that will always feel so much shame because of it. For me, the incident at the bus stop illustrates the biggest price of OCD – the people I love. In that moment, I could not be his auntie, at least not the auntie I try so hard to be, because in that moment I could not be honest and open with him. Furthermore, I loathe the message that my actions may have conveyed: that money is disposable; that you do not need to respect money, you can go right ahead and throw it away, just like a piece of trash. If my actions in that moment have taught one of the most precious people on this earth such an irresponsible and stupid lesson, I will hate that part of me until I die. OCD stopped me from being his auntie. I fucking hate it for that.
A Little Irony
Whilst I have been composing this post, I dropped my glasses case on the floor. Into the bin it goes. It would take too long to explain that one.
To sum up…
On that note, probably best to wrap this up. I’m aware that I have written fairly extensively, so I am going to keep my conclusion to three key points.
- People with contamination OCD spend a lot of money having OCD. When I ask myself where my money goes, often the answer can be found in three letters.
- People with OCD spend more than money on these three letters.
- Don’t litter. Use a fucking bin.