21 October 2013

Trigger unhappy

With OCD, you never know what might unexpectedly exacerbate it, or even trigger new compulsive behaviours.

In the years since my diagnosis, I've watched many a documentary about the condition, without any adverse effect. Lately, though, a couple of programmes have put ideas into my head as to potential new 'risks' and associated compulsions.

On one, a woman was shown wiping down every item of shopping before putting it away. I'd never thought to do this, and I don't propose to start, however, it did make me think about my approach to food preparation. I always wash my hands beforehand - as, I imagine, does everyone - but then, inevitably, have to touch the packaging of various products. While watching this woman, it suddenly occurred to me that this contact must, surely, undermine that initial hand-washing?

Even just making a cheese sandwich necessitates handling a bread bag, cheese wrapper and margarine tub, yet I don't wash my hands again before touching the actual food. In spite of doing this all my life - without suffering repeated stomach upsets - I now felt the need to wash my hands more frequently. So far, I've resisted doing this, but the seed of the idea has been sown.
Image courtesy of akeeris/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

More recently, a participant in BBC3's excellent Extreme OCD Camp had to face his fear of drinking from a glass in a café. Seeing the difficulty he was having, I found myself thinking, 'That really is revolting. Why would anyone drink from a glass someone else's lips have been on? What if it hasn't been cleaned properly?' You'll know from last week's post that I don't usually have issues with using crockery in public venues. Again, I haven't changed my behaviour, but the thought could resurface at a later date and lead to a new compulsion.

It's not just programmes about mental health that are a hazard. On a recently broadcast edition of QI, a question came up as to what was the most effective element of hand-washing in terms of killing bacteria: the answer was the vigour with which you rub your hands. For weeks afterwards, I rubbed mine harder, once more ignoring the fact that I generally have good digestive health. Fortunately, I've since been able to go back to my usual level of hand-washing.

While broadcasters use content warnings to protect viewers from unwittingly coming across subject matter that might provoke upsetting or damaging memories or reactions, they could hardly be expected to predict that a comedy quiz show might be a risk.

I certainly didn't anticipate that these programmes would mentally ambush me in this way. It just goes to show how little it can take to push someone further along the OCD spectrum.


Unknown said...

Don't mean to upset you further but it's not basically tummy aches you can get from touching items while preparing food. What about colds and flu or any number of other viruses and bacteria?

I'm not a OCD sufferer but always wash my hands when I get home, after every client contact and several times while preparing food. While it can be overdone, it's still the best way to keep healthy.

Thanks for another great post!!!

Helen Barbour said...

Thanks for the comment, Karin. I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

You're right about the variety of bugs around - and don't get me started on handling raw chicken and all the cleaning up required after that...