From 0 to 100: COVID Obsessions in Eight Hours

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Monday’s article was supposed to be about how compulsions form. I’m still writing that article—and I’m really happy with how its coming along—but I need to write about what happened to me today (so welcome to a single edit article written at 0130).

I started “OCDVID-19: Of Suicide and Self-Harm” with the line “I have been debating about whether or not to write this article since COVID-19 has not triggered my Contamination OCD.” This sentence is no longer true. I feel the fear of COVID on my skin.

The COVID-19 pandemic requires a continuously stringent response. Salt Lake County announced a stay at home order last week: the order shuts down many businesses and requires non-essential companies to work from home. While I don’t live in Salt Lake County, I work there and fully respect the decisions made by our health department and local government. The aquarium I work for has been closed for weeks, but employees could still come to work. Husbandry continues to care for the plants and animals while guest services and education deep clean and update programming. Management effectively enforces constant sanitation and physical distance between employees. With the new stay at home order, only husbandry and a few select individuals can work within the walls of the aquarium. Everyone else now works from home.

COVID-19’s impact on my life hit hard this morning. I am on indefinite furlough from one of my jobs and haven’t seen many amazing friends and coworkers for weeks now. Losing half my income and not seeing my friends hurts badly, but all my concerns and anxiety existed in the realm of normality. While work at the aquarium changed, I could interact with my friends there—at a six foot distance, of course—and got to see the life around me. Getting cut off from even more friends, coworkers, and lovely animals (I miss you already Uno) ripped out some major heart strings. After our meeting, I ran straight to my phone to distract myself. My family is selling our home and we had a viewing, so we went on a drive for awhile. I played games the whole time. When I got home, I had another meeting with a team at the aquarium, then I played more games. (Un)fortunately, I can’t remain completely hidden at home.

My family’s home acts as a node for many kids in the neighborhood. I have a lot of younger siblings and they typically have their friends over at our place. Sometimes it feels like we house every kid within three blocks. Of course, the pandemic put a stop to most of these congregations, but a few select kids still come over regularly. I constantly tell every person who enters and leaves the house to “wash the COVID off their hands,” and remind them of how to properly wash their hands periodically. Their regular attendance does concern me, but today became far worse.

Thoughts are pacing, they go ’round and ’round and ’round

“Leave Me Alone” by NF

Today is my brothers birthday, and he shares it with a neighbor. They decided to have a combined celebration at our house. When it came time for dinner and cake, I made my way up from my dungeon slowly and the kitchen crawled into view. Two entire family’s sat around the tables—eating, laughing, exhaling, existing, existing within a few feet of each other, exhaling. My brain went into overdrive and thoughts about breaking social distancing sprinted while tethered to a peg. When people tried to make conversation, I answered minimally and blankly. Then got lost in a violent flurry of intrusions. Uncomfortable physical sensations followed the thoughts. My skin crawled and felt…almost…itchy, almost like being buzzed but without the sense of warmth. A fuzzy discomfort flooded my skin, and that discomfort has to go:

I need to shower.
I need to shower now.
Go shower.
Shower NOW!
Your forearms.
Your forearms are unclean.
Itch your hands.
Wash them.
Scrub them off.
Your forearms.
They’re wrong.
You’re forearms, they must be wrong. Its wrong.
Its wrong.
They, they, they…
Pick them. Pick them. Pick them. Pick them.
Rip the disease off.
You can scratch it off.
Pick it off.
Kill it.
Stop it!

I’ve always struggled with excoriation disorder, compulsive skin picking, but oh god does it burn right now. The compulsion to pick and scrape borderline overwhelms me.

This morning, I had no obsessive fear of COVID-19; now its all I can think about. From the constant obsession with how to better isolate myself to the need to remove my diseased skin, I can’t think about anything else. So far, I’ve managed to resist picking at my arms and showering (though I’m about to take my nightly shower, so I’ll need to fight to shower “normally”). I hope so badly that I’ll wake up and feel perfectly fine. I hope that today is simply a particularly bad spiral, and not a full-blown newfound obsession. Utilizing all the coping skills and tools I’ve been taught will be a massive challenge in the hours or months to come. Stay safe.

Have a great day and always practice self-compassion!

A Fantastic Friend of Mine

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