By Ratih Nugraheni of Yogyakarta, Indonesia
Living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) has never been easy for me. The twenty years of enduring struggle have become extremely exhausting not only for me but also for my family.
Living with OCD is clearly not just about cleaning the house every single day or pushing oneself to always be immaculate and germ-free. To suffer from OCD means that I am extremely anxious, cautious, and wide awake all the time. I always think about what if there are bugs or other animals coming inside my house. I have declared constant war against any creatures like cockroaches or centipedes for years. What about if they were coming out from the drainage or how about if I had woken up in the morning, I have found lizard droppings on my dustproof floor. The intrusive thought of those kinds of threats are tangible and I have envisioned it into something like an archenemy. At some point, if God had given me the ability to communicate with animals, I wouldn't have felt so agitated all the time and would have taken some precautions against what would happen. I desperately had hoped for having a full control of my own world and the surroundings. I would have been very upset when the rain comes impromptu, causing power outage and hampering the water supply when I'm in the middle of my cleaning rituals. Everything has to be under control based on my own particular terms and condition.
I spend more than 2 hours on routine cleaning every morning including mopping the floor and brushing the toilet. My floor has to be extremely wet and all covered up with a mixture of floor cleanser, antiseptic liquid and disinfectant. The smell of that mixture all over my floor calms me down and it makes me feel safe and secure. When it comes to a deep cleaning time (no strict schedule for that), I spend about 15 hours a day (usually it takes 1-2 days), I would spend most of the time to mop the floor over and over again. Unlike many OCD sufferers that use old toothbrushes to clean the grout, tiles, and every hard to reach spots, I’d rather effortlessly flush the bathroom and all of the essentials with soapy water instead. The whole floor in the house has to be wet mopped until every nook and cranny spotlessly clean.
Post-grocery shopping day is somehow tiresome and is one of the most complicated cleaning times in my monthly routine. I spend all day long washing the groceries. First, I drop them one by one into a large round bucket full of soapy water until they're fully covered up (I will do it for at least three times in three different buckets). I will take them out of the water and put them on the cleaned table until they dried themselves. I some of the items like vegetables, fruits, and eggs. Other steps that I wouldn't have forgotten are polishing all the handles and knobs. Wipe a number of doors, windows, and furniture. Wipe all the light switches, power sockets, and any surfaces. I never use a vacuum cleaner, because it has nothing to do with water. I never believe in dry cleaning, it has to be only soapy water mix with any antiseptic cleansers that's best to handle germs and other dirt agents. Basically, shopping is the time when you have to bring stuff coming from every place into your house. Those items for sure have been touched by many other people.
Deep cleaning would have applied in particular circumstances, for example when I had people come into my house for fixing things like home appliances, air conditioner or the water pump. Again, if only I had been given the ability to fix them myself then I wouldn't need to have people entering my house trailing dirt and germs from all over the city. (I hope I’m not condescending anyone for being honest. I'm just sharing my own stories and the amount of struggles behind them).
Similar to other people with the same disorder, I've always wanted to have a full control of everything both inside and outside my house. I have wished for having a place that is free from animals and other dirt agents lurking around inside my house. Everyday life is basically living in a battlefield, being prepared for a war with monsters. And if something goes wrong after a huge effort of cleaning then I would have become very irritated, very complaining and demanding to whomever caused it, even animals or God.
I spend more than $170 a month on floor cleaners, antiseptics, disinfectants, soaps, alcohols, and others. I've been trying to control the desire every time, but the moment I see those liquids on a store rack I can’t help it. I'd be very irritated if one of these must have items nearly runs out of stock. I need to be well-prepared and armed whenever the stressors attack and troubles come my way.
There were also a number of rules outside the house. Family members were not allowed to pick up items that have fallen on the ground, no touching railings and shoe laces, or touching the trolley without first being sanitized. No one should touch the door knobs in the public area (if necessary, I would do that for them because I only trust myself to do the dirty tasks. I would always bring hand sanitizers, using the 70% alcohol ones, not the moisturizer added one. Our car has to be sanitized also, I would spend 2 hours wiping and polishing both the interiors and the door handles with alcohol. My husband took it to the carwash when needed but for me that's never enough, I would redo the immaculate cleaning preferably for the interiors.
I'm not taking any drugs at the moment to control the obsessive and compulsive behavior, instead trying to overcome the obsessive thoughts and feeling of anxieties with couple ways called distraction or namely relaxation. For instance, when a stressor appear which leads to anxiety thrive into compulsive behavior, then I tried switching the thought that caused the upsetting feelings into something I am very much fond of, for instance reading, writing or learning bunch of foreign languages. If the anxieties had told me to clean the floor like ten times or more, my brain would have responded it with, “Ratih, you need to finish reading the Agatha Christies novel today,” or, “Ratih, your French lesson app is waiting for you, and today is time for learning new vocabularies.” It may not always work in my case, since it also depends on the level of stressor, but I have always been encouraging myself to repeat the same method every time and I truly believe that with persistence and perseverance, I'm going to be an expert in dealing with OCD.
I read many stories about OCD sufferers struggling all over the world and each of them has been so encouraging. It has inspired me to write down my own. I believe that sharing our stories with others will make a huge impact in the lives of those suffering from OCD. Instead of keeping the struggle out of the spotlight and hiding, why don't we just show up and speak out loud about our struggle. Let people out there hear our voices, as the form of courage and gallantry—not seeking or begging for any of sympathy or attention, but just to send a clear message that anxiety disorder sufferer (like any other people in this world) are fighting against something real. To show that it doesnt matter if not everyone can understand, that is not the point anyway, because for me the point is, To live is to survive living in your own picture and to deserve life as yourself.
As a fellow OCD sufferer, I can relate to the anxiety you face on a day to day basis. Thank you for bringing awareness to OCD an illness which is just can be debilitating if not treated properly. Thanks you for telling your story and making it ok to talk about this openly and reducing stigma. We are survivors who deserve a full and rich life.