What happens when two individuals with the same fear meet one another? What if what they have in common is a fear of germs? I don’t know. I have never met another person who has openly acknowledged his or her OCD, but I have met at least two that I suspected were fellow germophobes, part of the OCD family.
One person I am certain had OCD was one of my college professors. I would see him using a large, plastic bottle filled with rubbing alcohol to spray his computer keyboard and other objects around him. I didn’t know that it was alcohol at first, but I eventually got up the nerve to ask him. I let him know first that I had several alcohol sprayers that I used myself, hoping to put him at ease. He did admit that it was alcohol, but he never outright declared that he had OCD. I don’t think he wanted to say it, but he did ask me if I had it. I said a bit sarcastically that I did not. We were both a little hesitant to bring it out into the open. Although I know that germs bothered him, our OCD was not identical. I saw him at different times tying his shoelaces and picking up keys off the floor, and he seemed perfectly comfortable doing these tasks that would set off a cavalcade of OCD reactions in me.
As long as I am speaking of the family, it is interesting how relatives react differently to a loved one’s OCD. When my father shares food or gives anything else to me, he tells me with eagerness in his voice that he washed his hands thoroughly before he handled it, as if it would make me proud. My mother’s reaction is not quite as enthusiastic. With her, I am reassured that everything is clean and I need not worry, but her tone has a touch of resentment, as if I don’t trust her. And of course, the truth is that I don’t trust anyone. I have never seen anyone else’s washing or cleaning standards come close to my own.
Although I have never spoken in person to someone who has admitted having OCD, I have a close relative who is also afflicted – my aunt. How do I know? By observation? I haven’t been in a position to see her performing any rituals, but my aunt talks with my mother on a regular basis, and my mother is the one that informed me. She describes to my mother what she has to go through to get simple chores done, but she won’t acknowledge that it is owing to OCD. My mother has told her about my OCD, but she still maintains that she does not have it. But her hands belie her claim. She is older now, and her hands and skin are thin. They display the abuse they suffer. They have been scalded and bumped and bruised in her efforts to beat the germs. Her hands are bright red where they are not black and blue. But even as extreme as this seems, she and I manifest our obsessions differently. I see her touch things I would not. She will eat out only at a deli where she can watch her food being prepared. Even though she knows how meticulous I am with my food, she will not eat anything that I have cooked. My aunt will tell me how delicious my loaf of homemade bread was, but when I excitedly ask if that means that she ate some, she tells me that that is what my uncle said. She probably never will admit to having OCD, and she doesn’t need to. She has found her way of getting through this life.
Whether it’s our family of germophobes or actual blood relatives, our OCD family is, indeed, disparate. But being family, we are there to support one another.