you can’t touch this

I just received the following note from a fellow OCD-sufferer in Pennsylvania:

i type with two unsharpened pencils… my fingertips never touch that dirty keyboard covered in germs and bacteria….

I’d always wondered why he never capitalized. Now, I know.

On the subject of OCD, I was in group therapy a few years ago with about a dozen other people. As we began our first session, the doctor in charge handed around a small plastic box of nametags and a purple magic marker, asking us each to make one and then pass them along. Everyone, without exception, took the box and the marker when it came to them, wrote their name, put on their sticker, and then handed them on to the person sitting beside them… I remember being absolutely amazed by that, by the fact that not one of us, many of us serious germ-phobes, balked at the idea of using the communal marker.

I guess to really appreciate that story, you’d have to understand OCD, and just how truly debilitating the disease was for some of the others in the group. One fellow, for instance, rarely left his home, and, in the process of a single day, would go through several roles of paper towels, as he was afraid to touch anything, even in his home, directly. Another woman had to leave home and break off all relations with her family because she feared that she might one day act on her intrusive, violent thoughts of doing them harm. We were a serious bunch (it was as though someone had picked an all-star team for OCD), and it still blows me away that that marker made it all the way around the table. My guess is that we were all just too preoccupied at the time with our social anxiety. (There is a hierarchy of fear.)

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  1. ChelseaL
    Posted July 14, 2005 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    Funny thing about that. I can only speak for myself, of course, but I hate to be “read.” So, in situations like that, I usually try to hide my symptoms best I can and break out the Wash ‘N’ Drys later.

    But here’s something that concerns me: touch-screen voting! *I* could probably manage OK, but how many would-be voters will stay away because of it? (FWIW, a wise acquaintance suggested a Band-Aid.)

    Question: did the therapist do that to make a point or because of ignorance? Mine gave me her hand to shake as soon as we met. I almost stopped going after that. (But stayed for 5 years and can now shake hands all right, as long as they’re dry. :-)

    Cheers, dears.

  2. ChelseaL
    Posted July 14, 2005 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    There is, indeed, a heirarchy of fear. In a wonderful “Monk” scene, the detective (standing on a tabletop) explains that the fear of snakes trumps the fear of heights, which in turn trumps milk, et cetera.

    It occured to me that my earlier post might not have made sense. After all, if someone already knows you have OCD, why try to hide it? I don’t know, but I do. It’s less of a problem when no one knows, because I can (probably) get away with activities that would look strange to anyone paying attention. I don’t mind people knowing I have OCD, but I don’t want them to see me having it. FWIW.

  3. mark
    Posted July 14, 2005 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

    I’m more on the obsessive side. For the most part, my OCD presents itself in the form of unwanted thoughts. I do, on occasion, act on my irational fear of germs and such, but, for the most part, I just worry. And, the action that I do take aren’t really noticable to others, at least not people that don’t know me. I’m pretty fortunate in that regard…. As for the hierarchy of fears, I’ve never sat down and worked it out, but there clearly is one. The thought of sharing it, however, in a format like this where someone could one day use it against me, terrifies me though.

  4. ChelseaL
    Posted July 15, 2005 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    Well, of course it would. ;-P

  5. Posted July 15, 2005 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    I’m so sorry, Mark. I forgot completely and shook your hand…I’ll try to be better!

  6. Tony Buttons
    Posted July 15, 2005 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    And I’m sorry I snuck up behind you and licked your neck, Mark.

  7. mark
    Posted July 16, 2005 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    I’m not adverse to shaking the hands of most people. (My OCD manifests itself in other ways.) As for my neck, it was made to be licked. I couldn’t stop people if I wanted to.

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