9 June 2014

Playing chicken

My contamination fears mean that I won't eat food that falls onto a cafe or restaurant table, unless its surface is covered by a pristine cloth. However, I also need 'wholeness' in what I eat, which means I can't bear to lose any item from a meal. 

Whenever possible, to avoid this dilemma, I spread a paper napkin under my plate, to create a safe spillage zone. This is particularly important when the plate is full, or has a cargo that is prone to escape, like peas. I'll happily do this in company, and even tell my dining companions why, rather than risk having to consume something incomplete. Even eating a sandwich at work necessitates a trail of protective napkins from my food to the table edge.

For many years, I bought a pot of fruit salad from the canteen to have after lunch. Usually, I would eat it at my desk, and, usually, at least one piece would end up on the floor. Rather than ruin my pudding by throwing that piece away, I would surreptitiously take it to the kitchen - some 30-40 feet away - wash it thoroughly and wolf it down at the sink. Many a time, a colleague would walk in on me while I was washing the fruit and I'd have to hide it in my fist.

Most people would recoil from doing this, whether they had OCD or not, but the compulsion to achieve wholeness was far stronger than any contamination fear and made this perfectly acceptable to me.
Photo: Helen Barbour

Dry products, which can't be washed, are another matter; I won't eat any that make contact with the table surface, let alone the floor. 

There has, however, been one recent exception to this rule.

I'd bought my lunch sandwich early and asked for it to be wrapped in clingfilm, rather than greaseproof paper, to stop it drying out. There were layers and layers to unroll and my sandwich ended up atop a slippery slope of the stuff. No sooner had I started eating than I noticed one quarter had slid off the film, and the entire length of one crust, and a piece of chicken, were touching the table.

Now, I couldn't tear off the 'contaminated' bits, as that would have left two-thirds of the quarter - and a total consumption of an unsatisfactory 11/12ths of a sandwich. I toyed with the idea of abandoning the whole piece, but that would have made for an insubstantial lunch and, frankly, three-quarters of a sandwich is no better than 11/12ths when your goal is wholeness.

Instead, I picked it up and ate it, trying not to think whose dirty fingers might have touched the table, or whether the cloth that had last cleaned it was, well, clean. I felt as if I were gambling with my stomach and expected to be vomiting within 24 hours - needless to say, I wasn't.

Unfortunately, I don't think this victory will help me to win future contamination battles. My OCD brain tells it was just luck that I didn't get ill and that the more chances I take, the worse the odds.


Tina Fariss Barbour said...

Helen, good for you for taking that chance! I think you can build on that. Just take it one exposure at a time.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Tina, Helen. I hope you can try to see this as a positive development in the contamination department, anyway.You are stronger than you think!

Anonymous said...

I sometimes feel that I beat a compulsion by chance too Helen. But we have to keep trying to overcome them. Be strong. I have recently started my own blog on my experiences with OCD and would love to hear what you think.

Helen Barbour said...

Tina, thanks for the support. As you say, one step (exposure) at a time.

Helen Barbour said...

Anonymous, thanks for the comment and the blog link - looks good. Can I subscribe to follow by email, or are you on Twitter?

Helen Barbour said...

ocdtalk, thanks also for your encouragement. Any deviation from my (OCD) norm has to be a good thing.

Letters to my Bipolar Mom said...

Wow what a huge step! I also have food contamination issues and those who eat with me the first time are often baffled at how I eat or why I won't eat certain pieces of food.everything must be examined to make sure it's ok then rechecked after what is deemed bad is removed. Yes it makes for uncomfortable looks at dinner parties but I must do it to ease my mind and utensils are also a issue.

My step wasn't as big but I tried a piece of micro popcorn leaf at the Farmers market today along with fresh strawberries.

Helen Barbour said...

No Doorknobs OCD, well done for sampling the food at the farmers' market. I invariably turn down offers of free samples in shops/markets, not just for hygiene reasons, but also because I need 'wholeness' in what I consume: eating bits of stuff just doesn't feel right!