It was time again for one of the most dreaded tasks: taking my car to the mechanic for maintenance. Not only is sanitizing my car afterwards one of the most daunting cleaning jobs that I have to do, I risk …
I have read that people with OCD are prone to holding grudges. That makes sense. It’s obsessive behavior: We can’t let go of a feeling. I struggle against this tendency, but the janitor at the office where I work is making it difficult.
The poor, innocent janitor. What did he ever do to me? He has done plenty! But it’s not intentional, so how can I hold a grudge against him? His intrusions into my cubicle to “clean” it have caused me many hours of agitated disinfecting. When I see him or see what he has done, I feel resentful towards him. I try to put on a pleasant face anyway, but it takes effort. And as I left on Wednesday, he put my resolve to the test.
I’m one of the last ones out of the office on most days. Often, the supervisors will start turning out the lights in an attempt to get us stragglers moving along. So it happened that day, and I hurriedly gathered my belongings to leave before total darkness enveloped the building. I saw the janitor a few feet away as I rounded the corner. Smiling may have been my mistake. I made it halfway down the hall when he called out to me. He needed the lights on in the area he was working, and he asked if I would flip the lights back on. I’ve worked in that building for several years, and not once have I thought about the light switches. I am neither the first one in the building nor the last one out, so I’ve never had a need to think about them. Now I was giving much thought to them. The janitor does most of his work after hours, so he touches the switches every day! They are horribly filthy. And now I was being asked to touch them.
When someone asks me to do something out of my comfort zone, I deploy the stalling technique. I acted as though I hadn’t heard him clearly, hoping to think quickly of a way out of it. But I was blank. I was close to the switches, so I didn’t have an excuse. To keep the contamination at a minimum, I used only my last two fingers. I didn’t know that that was a bad choice. The switches were stiff, and I had difficulty getting them to move. That easily could have caused my fingers to slip and my hand to hit the switch panel or the wall, but I am grateful that they didn’t. But I did have to walk out to my car with my dirty fingers extended outward so that they wouldn’t touch anything clean. And I had to take out my packet of wet wipes and clean my fingers multiple times. This delayed my commute home. This was not helping my perpetual grudge against the janitor.
Also doing nothing to foster a good working relationship between us was the janitor’s recent cubicle intrusion. I move the trash can out from under my desk at the end of each day (with my shoes). But on this occasion, he came through the office a few minutes early when I was away from my desk. He moved my chair, and likely brushed against my keyboard and touched my desktop in the process. It was a sickening feeling when I walked back into my cubicle and saw what had taken place. A major cleanup ensued, which began that day (shortly before leaving the office) and continued the next morning.
Next time the janitor calls out to me, I’m going to pretend that I don’t hear him at all. I’m going to walk faster!
Twenty years is a long time to wait for anything. The wait I am about to describe was, in fact, somewhat longer than that, but I don’t quite recall the exact year it began. I do know that the event that set if off occurred when I was in my late teen years, or twenty at the latest.
My mother has always kept a neat and clean house. True, her house is not germophobe clean, but it’s very clean by just about anyone else’s standards. And my mother is helpful. She has always been quick to lend a helping hand. And that’s what she was doing on the day that she entered my room and found two small photographs on the floor. Faithful readers will know that the floor is my mortal enemy. Anything that comes into contact with it is doomed to exile from all that is clean. That’s not exactly true, as some things can be cleaned. But an object that is delicate in nature, such as a piece of paper or a photograph, has little hope of being redeemed. That is why I had left the pictures on the floor. When I dropped them, they had to remain there until I could find a place to store them.
This took place in the early days of my OCD, when my mother did not have a clear understanding of my disorder. (I wish that I could say that today her comprehension of it has deepened, but there has been little progress in that area.) Therefore, when she walked into my room and saw the pictures on the floor, she thought that she was being helpful by picking them up. The real problem wasn’t that she touched them but where she put them. She placed them on a bookshelf, on top of my beloved books! I had no immediate need to read the books. I had read them many times and was keeping them for their sentimental value. But now I couldn’t touch them at all. In fact, I was so concerned that I would forget and touch them accidentally that I left the pictures on top of them as a constant reminder.
And there they sat. Year after year they remained untouched because I had no good solution for the problem. I lost track of the time, but I know that they were there for many years. I finally removed the photos because I was concerned about the dust that had accumulated on them. I used gloves to place them in a plastic bag and put them away in a box. But I still couldn’t touch my books. More years passed, and clean space was at a premium in my room. I needed more space to either temporarily or permanently store objects. The space on top of my books would be useful for temporary storage. I reasoned with myself that there couldn’t possibly be any germs left on the books, but I was still uncomfortable touching them. I did eventually decide to place items on top of the books when I had no other place for them, but I always gave them a spritz with alcohol when I took them down. This, too, went on for several years.
In the last year or so, I have been telling myself that spraying or wiping the objects that had been on top of the books is illogical and a waste of time. Wouldn’t it be easier to clean the books themselves? I believe what was holding me back was, again, that the books were delicate, being made of paper. But in the past few years, I have discovered that, as long as a book is closed, the ends of the pages can be lightly wiped. So, I finally reached the point where I had tired of dealing with this situation and put an end to it. I took an antibacterial wipe (for good measure) and cleaned off the tops of the books. Done. I can now touch them freely or place a pen (or even a photograph!) there for a few minutes if I need to.
And it only took twenty years or so.
Life can be a balancing act with OCD. But I’m not here to speak in generalities. There are times when keeping our literal balance can be the difference between dodging a bullet or being catapulted into a crisis. Let me give away the ending to this story: I didn’t dodge the bullet.
People with OCD are peculiar. Or to put it a better way, we seem peculiar to everyone else. By definition, we have unorthodox habits. But there is another class of people that shares some of our habits. They might be called hyper-clean. Even though they may not meet the standards of a germophobe, they go beyond what the average person does to stay clean. A place where this naturally occurs is a public restroom. As far back as my teens, I can recall friends and acquaintances of the family discussing the lengths to which they would go to avoid restroom contamination. Some of these measures included using the elbow to open the door (not germophobe-approved, unless desperate), squatting (no explanation necessary!), and using the shoe to push the lever to flush. It’s this last one that is pivotal to this account.
From hearsay and sensory input, I know that the foot flush is fairly common. (In case anyone is wondering, the foot flush tends to make a loud clunking sound.) I dare say that most of my fellow germophobes are familiar with the technique. For this reason alone, I feel comfortable relating what took place. And this is how it went.
Though not strictly a public restroom, the workplace restroom is one of sorts. There are dozens of people using it that I know nothing of other than the brief nods and greetings that we exchange. Contrary to what management would have us believe, we are not one big family. And so I take precautions. Being no novice to the foot flush, I take it for granted that the procedure will go smoothly. But on this particular day, it was not to be. With my foot in the air, heading for the handle, I lost my balance. Most of the time, I can correct my errors in balance with ease, but not that day. My reflexes went into action, and to keep from falling, I extended my hand to the wall: the wall directly behind the commode. I suppose it was better than falling, which in such tight quarters would have meant that my upper body would have hit the door or another wall. True, that would have been worse than a hand. A hand is easier to clean. But, oh, what a dreadful spot to touch, the spot that gets the powerful spray from every flush.
I felt that I had all manner of filth on my hand. I knew I would need to wash with soap and water, not simply wipe with alcohol. I needed to do that at the sink in the break room, which has a regular faucet with a handle. The automatic faucets in the restroom are impossible to use. But here was the challenge: This happened only minutes before noon, and the break room was about to be overrun with people. When I got back to my desk, I had three minutes to take care of it. But I first needed to disinfect my hand with alcohol. I’ve had so much practice, I can do this quickly. So I sprayed and wiped and sprayed and wiped, racing against the clock. If I could get in there even right at noon, I likely would be able to wash up before it got too busy. And if I was lucky, it would be one of the quieter days when most of the employees go out to eat. But it was not to be. I wasn’t able to make the deadline, and the place was immediately teeming with people.
My desk is close enough to the break room that I can hear people coming and going, and sometimes I can determine where certain individuals are located in the room. Unfortunately for me, the counter next to the sink was a popular spot that day. I needed to do a thorough washing, and I didn’t want any observers. So I waited. My hand was ice cold by that time from being sprayed many times. But I had to wait for a lull in the activity. Just when I thought it was clear to go in, I would hear another voice at the counter. I paced back and forth in my cubicle, unable to do anything else with my contaminated hand.
It seemed like an eternity; it was one of the busiest days in recent weeks. Then finally it was quiet. I peeked in, and the counter was clear. There were three or four co-workers left at the tables, but my back would be to them. I made a beeline for the sink, clean napkins tucked into my collar and a cup with dish soap inside in my hands. I used the cup as a pretense to wash my hands, as it would draw less attention from the remaining people in the room. The sweet relief of soap and warm water enveloped my hands. And how long did it take for me to get to that point? Thirty-one minutes!
Being a germophobe requires the patience of a saint. I still have a lot to work on.
Togetherness. It’s a word that brings up good feelings. Most people don’t want to be alone. Many individuals thrive on interaction with others. I had a day of togetherness last Friday. I’m not sure it lives up to the hype.
My elderly mother needed a ride to her dental appointment. Although I was happy to help, it’s nerve-wracking to have anyone in my car. I was anxious, but it hadn’t been that long since I had taken her to another appointment, and that one went smoothly. I was hoping for a repeat of that day. The drive to the office was fine, but Mom had a surprise for me after the appointment: She needed to go to a pharmacy. That sounded easy enough, but the situation was fraught with problems. Mother didn’t feel like going into the pharmacy herself after having an invasive dental procedure. If I went in, she would be alone in my car. There was no way I was going to leave anyone alone in my car. I suppose if it came down to it, and I had no choice, I would come back to the car and assume that everything had been contaminated. I would put on gloves to drive home and begin my extensive cleaning rituals. But I desperately wanted to avoid that. Was I being overly paranoid? You decide.
My mother wanted to go to a new pharmacy, and I can’t describe how elated I was when I saw that they had a drive-up window. Problem solved! Oh, if it were only that simple. I knew I was going to have to sacrifice a clean hand to the germ gods. I would have to take the prescription slip from Mother (sitting on the passenger’s side, which I can’t even attempt to keep clean) and hand it to the person at the window. I prepared myself mentally for this as I pulled up to the building. I was maneuvering the car into position, when Mom became overanxious and whipped out the prescription slip, eagerly extending her arm across the front of the steering wheel. I think she thought that she might be able to reach the window somehow and that she was making it easier for me. But it did not make anything easier. Quite the opposite. Now my stress escalated exponentially. Not only did I have to take the slip from her to hand to the pharmacist’s assistant, I now had a contaminated surface to deal with.
I asked how long it would take to fill the prescription and was told that it would be a half-hour. Here another complication presented itself. Too far from home to go wait there, we had to stay and find a shady spot to escape the heat while we waited. I found a tree to park under, and how did I pass the time? Cleaning my steering wheel. That’s not an easy task with only one clean hand. I pulled wipes out of the packet with my clean hand while holding the end with the dirty hand. My mother didn’t ask any questions – she’s used to it.
When the time had passed, we drove back to the pharmacy. There was more tension. There was a different assistant at the window, and the first one had gotten Mom’s name wrong on the paperwork. Identification had to be passed back and forth, as did payment and the medication itself. All the while I was trying to keep my dirty hand from cross-contaminating my clean hand or my newly cleaned steering wheel.
Finally we were on the way home. I tried to chat a little, but it’s difficult when I’m tensed up after an experience such as that. Mom didn’t say much either. My anxiety stresses her out. Oh, and she had gauze in her mouth. But we had togetherness that day. We spent time together and shared our lives. And then I spent a long time cleaning the rest of my car when I got home.
Have you heard the term “mosquito magnet”? I have the misfortune of being one. In a crowd, the miniature vampires ignore everyone else and seek me out as a choice meal. Being bitten is bad, but they also find other ways to make me miserable.
I have written on my disdain for flies and having them land on me. Who knows what filth they were in before alighting on my skin? I don’t have the same type of aversion to mosquitoes, but I still don’t want to be bitten. If one lands on me while I’m outside, I can brush it away, use my alcohol hand sanitizer, and feel okay. But if it’s in my house (where one would think I’d feel safer), I worry that it may have been resting on an object in the house that I am unable to keep sanitized. That includes the walls. How am I supposed to disinfect walls? I know this is unreasonable when I think about the size of a mosquito’s legs. Their footprints, so to speak, are practically microscopic. Yet it bothers me.
Not long ago, a mosquito managed to gain entry to the house. I hate seeing them because they are so elusive, and I cannot rest comfortably knowing that there is one lurking about. I saw it only once or twice that evening, and then the tiny escape artist went into hiding. I couldn’t be at ease in my chair because of concern that it would bite me. I couldn’t stand in one spot without constantly shifting my legs and looking around for it. My entire evening was disrupted by it. Even if I suspect that there is one in hiding, I never have problems with them once I turn the fan on high and get in bed. So, I slept peacefully, but I was up the next morning for only a few minutes when it made its first appearance. I had to start the mosquito dance again, never staying still for a moment. It kept coming at my head, but I couldn’t get it. The only benefit of this was that I was moving as fast as I could to get ready for work and get out of the house, away from the little monster. I was ahead of schedule when I went to the mirror to check my makeup. There it was, smack-dab in the middle of my forehead!
My instinct was to wave it away, because I don’t want a smashed bug on my forehead or my hand. It disappeared again. I thought I was moving fast already, but then I kicked into high gear. I considered using one wet wipe to clean off any germs from my forehead, but the more I thought about it, the more wipes I wanted to use. I pulled eight of them out and rubbed them over my forehead. This was another instance of a bug using up my time and money. But I didn’t see it again before I left the house.
This is mosquito season, so that was not the last one I saw. Earlier this week, I once again had a winged visitor while in my room. It was another restless evening for me, doing the shuffle to avoid the mosquito. It was a similar pattern, in that I saw it only briefly a couple of times, but it was enough to leave me unsettled. I saw it shortly before I headed for the shower, and I wished that I could have squashed it so that it wouldn’t have the chance to ruin my cleanliness after getting out. After the shower, it seemed like a good idea to wave my arms around on my way back to the bedroom to prevent it from landing on me. I reached the doorway, and bam! My hand smacked into the wall. The mosquito hadn’t landed on me, but I got something worse. With my clean hand now contaminated, I had to march back to the bathroom and do a super-wash of my hands and arms. There went more time and money down the drain.
I usually don’t like cold weather, but winter sounds appealing right now!
It was a sultry day, and I was in my car. I had many places to go, but I was hit with pangs of hunger. Chinese fast food struck my fancy that day. After picking up my food, I found myself in the car without an eating utensil. Or did I?
It’s not as though I didn’t have the opportunity to get a fork or spoon at the restaurant, but they weren’t wrapped. They were all out in the open, loose and picked over. That was not an option for me. I checked my to-go bag to see if a utensil had been placed inside, but there was nothing. As I drove to my next destination, I thought of my options. I could drive through another fast food restaurant and order a small side dish that they would give me a spoon for. Or I could search the storage boxes in my car for a spoon. I didn’t want to go to another restaurant; that was ruled out. Before running my next errand, I wanted to eat, so I found a shady spot to stop in a parking lot. I was going to start searching for a spoon, when I spotted something that changed my mind.
The lowly sandwich bag: I have waxed poetic about its attributes. Or maybe I haven’t. But references to the tiny, plastic bag with the folding top dot my stories. I have come to rely on them to the point that I feel panicked when I am close to running out or I don’t have any with me when I’m away from home. All is not a bed or roses because of them. At times they are friends; at other times, foes. But my appreciation for the baggie was renewed on this occasion, when it became my latest method of eating.
It’s true. Rather than make a lengthy, and perhaps futile, attempt at finding a utensil somewhere in the car, I took a baggie, turned it inside out to ensure that I was using a clean surface, and chowed down! It actually worked out better than using a spoon, because I was eating pieces of chicken with vegetables. Those morsels would have been difficult to balance on a spoon, but they were turned into finger food with the baggie! It worked so well, it might be my method of choice in the future. Of course, it wouldn’t work as well with rice or noodles, but it is perfect for any food that can be picked up with the fingers.
As I said, there are times when the baggie feels more like a foe than a helper. When I’m using them as pseudo-gloves, the flaps are notorious for bending or folding when I don’t want them to. If it happens while I have one on my hand, it means that it ends up contaminating my hand rather than protecting it. But, all in all, they make my life easier and get me out of jams.
Long live the baggie!
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