31 March 2014

Planes, trains and automobiles

In several posts, I've mentioned that I have contamination issues, but that these are secondary to my need for order and symmetry. I've realised, though, that these impact on my life more now than when my OCD was at its worst.

This is particularly apparent with regard to travelling on public transport, to which I apply a hierarchy of cleanliness. For example, I will happily sit on a plane or overground train without feeling 'dirty'. Using a bus or Tube train, however, necessitates washing any clothes that come into contact with the seat.

If I have to travel that way, I make sure I wear something washable. So, in winter, I'll put on multiple layers topped with a fleece rather than my down jacket, which is actually much better suited to cold weather. And if I suspect the inner layers have been 'contaminated' by brushing the seat, they go into the wash, too.

This hierarchy may arise from my perception of the clientele using each form of transport - the more expensive the ticket, the better the class of passenger, perhaps? Yet who hasn't encountered a drunk on an overground train, spilling beer everywhere?

Visibility to those in authority is another possible factor. On a Tube train, anything can happen; on a plane, an air steward is likely to intervene if someone starts peeing in the aisle. 

I didn't always have this problem and happily commuted to a previous job by public transport - I currently drive. I can't pinpoint exactly when or why my attitude changed, though I do remember once getting up from a Tube train seat, to find my jeans were damp...
Image courtesy of Feelart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This year, I've made an effort to catch up with some old friends, which has meant using the Tube and buses more than usual.

One get-together only entailed taking a bus two miles up the road, but even that proved problematic. I chose to stand, holding on to the metal pole, to avoid the usual clothes' washing later. All was well until one of the canvas hand straps overhead swung into my just-washed hair. The strap was filthy and its touch made me recoil. The incident also made me consider washing my hair again, when I got home, rather than have my now contaminated head touch my pillow. In the end, I didn't, but I was concerned that the thought had even crossed my mind.

It also now makes me uncomfortable if people brush against me in the street. The discomfort is fleeting, but such feelings can grow and, before you know it, a fear of contamination could stop you going out at all.

The first step for me, in avoiding that fate, is to acknowledge the true level of my contamination fears, rather than downplaying them as a secondary issue. If I don't, OCD might shrink my world and my life, and I value both too much to let that happen.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this. Well done for not washing the hair, not sure I could have done that!

Anonymous said...

I think this is a really positive post. You considered washing your hair again, but you didn't. Way to go! You might not be able to control your thoughts, but you can control how you react to them.

Helen Barbour said...

Thanks, Anon! As mentioned above, things might have been different if I hadn't had people waiting for me - or if I had been in a worse place with regard to my contamination fears...hence I don't want to let them get a stronger grip.

Helen Barbour said...

Hi ocdtalk - I think the dinner acted as an enforced exposure and response prevention exercise! I couldn't let my friends down by not turning up and by the time I got home, the anxiety had subsided...as it would in ERP. The distraction of socialising was enough to push the thought away for long enough for it to lose its impact.