Trigger warning: blood, toilets, HIV, contamination
It’s been a long time since I have written about OCD. A lot has happened since then. I have joined an OCD support group, I have been to see the best OCD specialist in the land, I have been put on a transition to new meds. In OCD land, I have been exploring new territories, beyond those confined to Middle OCD Earth. There are a few posts in the pipeline, posts I have been wanting to write for some time, but have just had too much in my mind to even bring myself to put pen to paper. Or fingertips to keyboard. Anyway, today something happened that I have thought of little else all afternoon but getting myself back to my trusted blog.
Half way through a car journey that involved a long motorway and some coffee, I found myself at a motorway service stop, heading for the toilet. Now, anyone who knows what contamination OCD is even remotely like, can understand that the prospect of using a public toilet can be daunting at best, fucking terrifying at worst. I once consciously dehydrated myself for some nine hours at a music event, because I could not bring myself to go and use the toilet facilities (in my defence, they were porta-loos). There is a plethora of things that can go wrong in the OCD mind when faced with a public toilet. There are the many door handles, the floors, the bins, the sanitary towel disposal units, the toilet seats, the toilet roll holders (yuk!), the toilet roll itself (did they store any spare toilet rolls on the floor, or perhaps on the sanitary disposal bin?), the toilet brush, the inside of the toilet bowl, the underside of the toilet bowl, the sink, the taps, the soap. EVERYTHING. Contamination potential is off the scale for me these days (although being able to go into a public toilet is an achievement in itself, it was only several years ago that I just could not use them). As you can imagine, there is some Poirot-esque inspection of all facilities before I can even bring myself to use any toilet.
Initial inspection over, and then comes the indignity of the act itself – to be blunt, I am the queen of the Public Toilet Hover. For as far as I have come, I am yet to be able to bring myself to come into contact with the toilet itself, I don’t care how many times an hour that chart says the toilet is inspected. Unless you are bleaching the shit out of this place after every single user, it’s not clean enough. Who am I kidding? Even if you sprayed the whole thing down with industrial strength bleach, it’s still not going to be clean enough. So off I go. Feeling pretty pleased with myself (no contact with the seat/bowl, no splashing on my skin of any kind from the toilet bowl – apologies, graphic I know, but pee does have a tendency to splash!), off I go to pumice my hands clean with soap and hot water.
I notice a small speck of what looks like tissue and, sure enough, it’s got blood on it. At least I think it’s got blood on it – I don’t know, but I can’t be sure that it’s 100% definitely not blood, so I am going to go ahead and assume that it’s blood. And contaminated blood to boot – of course it is. Live, dangerous, contaminated, powerful, biology-defying blood. Did I stand on it? No idea. Which means that I did. Which means there is blood creeping all over my shoes. I head back to the sink and begin the soul-crushing process washing the soles of my shoes in the sink – trying my hardest to ensure that the water flows DOWNWARDS, and does not go back onto the shoe and through to my feet – blood all over my shoes, blood on my feet. I clean my shoes, clean my hands, clean the tap (in case the water used to clean the shoes somehow splashed the tap). I head towards the door in a haze of WHAT THE FUCK DO I DO NOW WITH THESE FUCKING SHOES AND MY FUCKING JEANS THAT PROBABLY TOUCHED THE FUCKING FLOOR.
At this point I should probably mention that, whenever I use a public toilet, I will always use the disabled toilet if there is one; if, however, the disabled toilet requires a key and the guard of said key is nowhere to be found, then I will go to the next best thing – the family changing room. There are two reasons for opting for the disabled toilet over the regular cubicle in the regular public toilet. First of all, in my head, I figure that the disabled toilet is likely to see far less traffic than your standard row of cubicles. As such, it is – statistically speaking – less likely to be as dirty/contaminated. Secondly, a toilet that has a sink in situ is a dream come true (okay, slight exaggeration, let’s just say that it is an advantage) for those of us that are prone to washing our hands/body/shoes to excess. I recognise that it is not ideal that I – someone who does not live with a physical disability, or have a child – should use a toilet designated for those who really do need it but, I can honestly say, hand on my heart, that in these moments, being able to use a toilet that is not only less contaminated (or at least seems to be, to me), but also more set up for an OCDer, can be a huge respite for my anxiety levels. I am sorry that it must come to that sometimes, but honestly it is all I can think to do. Sometimes, in life, we go for what is easier, for what will bring less distress, for what will make us feel a little less isolated. The disabled toilet, for me, is one of those things. Sounds silly perhaps, but, unfortunately, it’s a truth of my particular OCD, for however much I wish it weren’t the case.
I walk out and, to my embarrassment, there are two women standing there with their small children. I feel guilty and so ashamed that I have used a facility that is reserved solely for them. I apologise to one of the women and proceed to hold the door open for her. She glares at me, frowns and spits, “OH!! You don’t have a child? You just felt like using the changing room?”. Humiliated, upset, sad and angry (mainly at myself), I snapped back, “Actually, I am not able to use regular public toilets” before turning away and storming off, indignant and crushed. I went back to where my partner was waiting for me and burst into tears. I cried because I was scared to death about what could potentially be on my shoes. I cried because yet another day had been ruined by this fucking disease. I cried because I was so ashamed, and so embarrassed that my abnormal behaviour had been called out in the most public of ways. The woman had a point – the toilet is designated for families, for those with children; and of course she has no idea that I was using that particular toilet to avoid contaminating myself (ironic really, given what happened). But I maintain that she did not have to call me out quite so viciously, and with such smug condescension. I don’t regret using the toilet, but I regret that I am at a place on my OCD journey where I feel that I have to use it. I don’t regret snapping back at her, but I do regret not finishing my sentence. Perhaps, next time, I’ll be brave enough to say: