‘Will you open the compost bucket? I need to put this in there, and I have it all over my hands already.’
Hesitation. And inward tug of panic. A sigh. I walk over, and hold open the bucket, then close it after she has dispensed of the boiled vegetable (from dying eggs).
‘Can I wash my hands?’ She moves over a little, so that I can use the running water to wash my hands (with soap, of course). The water is hot, but I’d rather get my hands washed than mess with anything else.
I only had to wash my one hand, so I air dry it easily enough, and wipe it on my clothes for good measure, as I walk away from the sink and kitchen.
‘Crap. Will you just move the whole thing over here? This is all just going to drip, if I try to move it over there.’
A shudder runs through my insides, and a brief sense of paralysis overcomes me.
‘Oh, come on. I just cleaned it.’
‘That doesn’t matter,’ I snap. ‘I’m still going to wash my hands again.’ And so I walk back over, move the bucket to the sink, where I know she wants it set, but about which I purposely do not think, and I step away again quickly. She blocks the sink, and asks for more paper towels on the plate. I can barely breathe, but I carefully pull off two layers of paper towels, without touching anything else but those specific paper towels, and I drop them on the plate. As I rush away, she fusses that they aren’t placed correctly. I almost begin to cry, but manage to return and to lay them the way she wants them lain. Finally, as I can feel the panic and the tears brimming, she moves to the side, and allows me to wash my hands.
I leave immediately afterward, because I don’t want her asking/demanding my help her do anything more. I need to get somewhere where I can breathe. Somewhere clean.
The kitchen is a dirty place, and I dislike being in it. Even thinking of it is a source of anxiety for me, so I do my best to avoid letting it spend any time in my mind. Now, as I share this, tears caress the edges of my eyelids, and I swallow with difficulty, unintentionally doing my best to breathe as little and as lightly as possible.
But then I remember that I am somewhere clean right now, so it is okay to breathe. I do breathe, and it is comforting. I will pause from this for a moment, so that my heart rate can relax some.
I think my mom just thinks I’m being dramatic, or that I’m making a big deal out of nothing. I know that, for her, it actually is nothing. For me, however, while it can be nothing at times, it usually is one of the most overpowering, overwhelming things I have ever experienced.
I saw a Facebook Memories post from last year just recently, of the time I was trapped in the bathroom at school (work). Well, one of the times, anyway. I’d said something to the effect of, “When you’re stuck in the bathroom, because your OCD saw her not wash her hands.” I eventually washed the door handle, then washed my own hands again, and then used toilet paper from the stash on the countertop (there are no paper towels) to open the door. It took me a while to get to that point, though, because I was mentally battling the situation.
You see, it made no sense that I couldn’t open the door and walk out. I regularly do so. I know that most women in Japan tend not to use soap to wash their hands, and many do not even bother with the water at times. So, whenever I grab the handle to walk out of the bathroom, I can easily assume that it is covered in whatever germs get on people’s hands in the bathroom. It took me a long time to be able to push the thought enough out of my mind to be able to touch the handle ever, let alone often. But, I typically succeed in not letting the thought arise, so long as the bathroom is reasonably clean-looking, and so long as I do not actually see someone not wash her hands and then grab the door to leave.
Once the thought has arisen, there is nothing I can do about it (most of the time, anyway). If it doesn’t occur to me, I am completely fine grabbing that door handle and walking out. I don’t even need a paper towel, the way plenty of women in the US tend to do. So long as the thought doesn’t occur to me. If, in any way, something draws my attention to the possibility of contamination of the door handle, I can not touch it. Ideally, I stand and wait until someone else opens the door, and I sneak through then. If, after a while, no one has come or gone, I’ll find a way using paper towel or toilet paper. However, using toilet paper has its own issues, because the toilet paper comes from inside the bathroom stall, which is where I know hands are not clean, because that’s where they are exposed to the whole dirtiness of the bathroom in the first place. And, if someone has touched the toilet paper already, well, then, those germs are on that paper. not to mention if something else splashed onto the toilet paper or the dispenser, and made its way onto the toilet paper. Plus, I’ll have to touch the stall door in order to get into the stall. All of these are factors that require me to wash my hands again.
So, I have even gone into the stall I had just used (so the toilet seat is cleaned off still), carefully pulled off a full round of toilet paper, thrown it away or into the toilet, gone and washed my hands again, returned to the stall, pushed it open with my shoe sole, removed fresh toilet paper without interacting in any way with the dispenser itself (and not letting the toilet paper touch it either), backed up out of the stall, used the toilet paper to open the door (without touching any bit of the door, and not even through a single layer of the toilet paper), held the door with my shoe sole (ideally what had held open the stall door, so as to wipe it off), thrown away the toilet paper, and then rushed out the door. I can’t take the paper with me that held open the door, because that’s too much time for the germs to have been able to travel on the paper that is still in my hands. I must dispose of it at the bathroom door.
It doesn’t matter that the germs are either there or not, or that I sometimes grab the door handle and sometimes cannot. No matter how I think it through, no matter how I reason with myself, if I think about it while in the bathroom, I quite likely will be unable to touch the door. Period. If I don’t think about it, I’ll grab the door fearlessly, and continue on happily in life. (Unless, of course, I think about it as I am already opening the door, or have just walked out of the door. In such a case, I usually’ll have to find a way to wash/sanitize my hand then, sometimes even by returning to the bathroom to do so, because I don’t much like hand sanitizer – it leaves the germs on you, even if they are now dead.)
And now I am going to stop sharing about this for now. It is exhausting to consider, and it makes my chest tight. As I mentioned, bringing it to mind is the trouble of it all. When I don’t think about it, I’m fine and dandy, breathing freely. So, I want to forget all of this before I next go to the bathroom, because I want to be able to use the bathroom with ease. However, the fact that I am even considering how I want to forget this and why, that is possibly going to prove troublesome later, because I’ve already made the connection between the two in my head. Now, when I go to the bathroom, I am likely to think of how I wanted to forget this before I next went there. This is why I usually do not even allow myself to finish thoughts. For example, this paragraph normally would have ended at that “And now I am going to stop”, because that would have been enough into the thought process of what I shared afterward. I’ll share some more about other parts of the OCD stuff another time, though. Just, I’m finished for now. 🙂