Time to consider OCD contamination when looking at COVID-19
From the moment we are born, we aspire to be touched. Physical touch is one of the five languages of love, and for good reason, because it is a universal way of communicating. No matter where or who you are, we all understand what a heartwarming touch is and how it makes us feel. I want you to close your eyes and imagine your fondest memory, along with all the senses that came with that moment, focusing specifically on touch. Running our hands through the fur of our favorite pet, holding a newborn baby, or jumping into a pool on a hot summer day, it’s all about touch.
Now I ask you to imagine living without it. Imagine that your best memory always happened, but touching couldn’t be involved. I ask you to imagine being unable to knock over a restaurant card, unable to open a door in your home, powerless to get dressed in the morning. A scenario as unorthodox as it seems unprecedented; we think this can only happen in a hypothetical world, and assume that it would be impossible to live your whole life without the absence of touching.
Disturbingly, this situation is not a hypothetical situation but a reality for many. About 1% of the population of the United States struggles with OCD contamination, a subcategory of obsessive-compulsive disorder characterized by an obsession with spreading and being in contact with germs. In my own non-dictionary definition, I describe it as decreased opportunity to touch. Since germs are present on virtually every surface, this condition can render a person completely unable to function in society for fear of being contaminated.
A person suffering from this mental illness may experience a variety of compulsions rooted in their fear of contamination. They may take showers for more than three hours because they may feel pressured to take exceptional precautions to kill every germ in their body. From washing their hands forty to fifty times a day, their skin is covered with cracks and bloody cuts. The individual may feel so helpless that he even considers himself a burden to others. Most miserably, a condition as isolating as this can make them feel so removed from society that they experience thoughts of suicide. This is not to simplify each case of OCD contamination to the examples I provide, but rather to illustrate some of the potential consequences in an effort to educate and raise awareness about the subject.
Living with OCD contamination deprives the affected cohort of many opportunities to socialize and build relationships with other people, especially due to the nature of our culture. We live in a society where being able to kiss, kiss, shake hands and go out in public with the people we are closest to is very normalized.
Ironically enough, this state of normalcy was interrupted during the COVID-19 pandemic. The lifestyle of a person with tainted OCD echoes how many of us were and are being forced to live during the height of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As we move closer and closer to normal over time, many of us have been forced to revert to withdrawn socialization and lack of contact. This way of socializing happens to be the way infected people live every day of their life.
Although it is not obvious to the naked eye, students living with this mental illness surround us every day on our campus. We need to be mindful of the idea that we don’t always know what other people are going through, respectful of each of our peers’ mental states, and compliant with COVID-19 guidelines in a display of compassion for those who need it most. Getting up and going to class every day while petrified of germs is a feat of bravery most of us will never know or understand.
For those of you who have not been affected by OCD contamination, the mental toll of the pandemic has certainly not escaped your notice. I congratulate you on your calm and perseverance. We should all be proud of ourselves as individuals and as a student for having persevered through these difficult times.
On that optimistic note, I can promise you that one of my deepest bond with another person is with someone I can’t touch. It gives me confidence in the human ability to touch someone with more than your body, but rather with your mind. I hope this also renews your faith in these intangible human relationships.
We live in a time of false reality, where we can be as little as six feet apart, which is more like six light years. Having the human connection we so desire in front of us without being able to act on it is arguably one of the most heartbreaking feelings. Despite this, I believe we can find peace knowing that we are and have been strong. There are so many ways to express emotion that don’t involve touching.
My best friend with OCD taught me to listen to others with my heart, to read their eyes, and to perceive their feelings out of empathy, all with the intention of breaking down the barrier of isolation between myself and others. Tracing every inch of someone’s soul is easy when trying to understand.
If you ever feel distant and isolated from the world during this time, remember that our student body is diverse and tolerant, and we all want to feel love. Don’t hesitate to do it in a way that transcends physicality.
Anna Trupiano is an opinion columnist and can be contacted at [email protected]