Some weeks seem longer than others, and the seven-day period doesn’t have to be a calendar week. The workplace carpet cleaning nightmare started on a Thursday and lasted well into the next calendar week. The stress of it really threw me for a loop. And that is what I’m going to say led to an uncharacteristic lapse in memory.
It was Monday, and I was still in the throes of decontaminating my cubicle. By the latter part of the morning, I was finally making headway on the monumental task. That meant that I was beginning to relax a little, if that can be called relaxing. Not since childhood have I felt true relaxation, but the tension had eased just enough that I let down my guard.
The lapse in memory that occurred involved the large scarf that drapes my office chair. Regular readers will know that I cover my chair because it is not unheard of for the janitor and others to enter my cubicle and move my chair. To ensure that I have a clean surface on which to rest my back, I keep the scarf open during the day and folded at night. This proves to be invaluable after such invasions, saving me tremendous amounts of time and energy. And, indeed, during the extensive work space decontamination that day, having a clean chair and clean keyboard (which is also covered) prevented a considerable amount of work.
But the same object that decreased my stress unexpectedly became the source of it. Once I was able to get back to doing my job, I got in a rush to get a task done. Getting out of my chair quickly caused the chair to spin. I didn’t know what consequences this would have until I walked back to my desk. That’s when I saw the back of the chair facing my computer and the tassels of the scarf dangling on my keyboard. None of the edges of the scarf are clean. The outside of the folded scarf had been befouled more than usual by the janitor and carpet cleaners. How did I know that it was worse? There was a clod of dirt the size of a quarter on it. At least I think it was dirt, but it wouldn’t brush off when I used a glove to try to remove it. Whatever it was, it seemed to have hardened. Now this foulest of scarves was contaminating my keyboard.
Cleaning the keyboard was fairly straightforward. It meant eight rounds of spraying and wiping. The only factor that complicated it a bit was that the irregular surfaces of the keyboard don’t dry as quickly as the flat desktop. Still, I felt I had it under control. I cleaned it once, twice, thrice, and a fourth time in quick succession. It was going as well as it could. But it was getting close to noontime, and there was a particular work task I wanted to finish before going to lunch. I made the decision to leave my desk and let the alcohol finish drying from the fourth round of sanitization. Noon came, and I went to pick up a few things at the store. A few minutes later I emerged from the store in my usual state: frazzled. But matters were about to worsen. The realization hit me that I never finished my eight rounds of keyboard cleaning! And I had touched the keyboard before leaving the office. This was disastrous for me. It wasn’t a brief lapse in memory, where I could correct my mistake soon after it occurred. No, I had touched dozens of objects at my desk, in my purse, in my car, and while shopping. Even my face and hair were not spared. The list was long. What was I going to do?
Enter secondary contamination. There was a time when this situation would have resulted in a meltdown. It’s not as though I don’t have my share of crises; I wanted to panic. But I had already been through so much with the carpet cleaning that I was mentally exhausted. I felt that I couldn’t handle taking apart everything I had been in contact with and going through the rituals again. It wasn’t as if I had done nothing; I had stopped halfway through the routine. I reasoned with myself that all of the objects I had touched – including my hair and face – hadn’t come into direct contact with the dirty scarf. They were all suffering from indirect, or secondary, contamination. It’s not quite up to standard, but perhaps items that have had indirect contact with the source aren’t as dirty and don’t require as much cleaning.
I didn’t succumb to the meltdown, but I did spend another day feeling uneasy. Every time I touched a contaminated object, I had to spritz my hands with alcohol. If I brushed the hair out of my eyes, I spritzed again. I sprayed the inside of my purse, but it still felt dirty. For several hours I went through this. I didn’t feel better until I had had a shower. It didn’t make anything else cleaner, but I felt as if I had a fresh start. Does this mean that I am going to reduce my decontamination ritual? Not likely. Minimizing an OCD violation to secondary status helps me to deal with a stressful situation, but completing the ritual is much more satisfying!
I have had similar lapses a time or two in the last year. This never used to happen. Should I chalk it up to being in my forties? At the rate I’m going, maybe my OCD will totally disappear by the time I’m eighty!