I love seeing my extended family, but it brings along some unique challenges that leave me completely exhausted and emotionally drained. Everything boils down to a lack of understanding, and I chose to shove down my feelings and go along with what the family is doing instead of explaining how it is affecting me. They try to understand, they really do, but it’s hard to explain the complexity of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) unless you live with the disorder or live with someone who has it. Three specific aspects of Christmas this year triggered my OCD and made it rather difficult for me to enjoy what should’ve been a fun filled time with family I hadn’t seen since Thanksgiving.
The first activity my family decided to do was going to a fitness center, which should’ve been a blast. They had a pool, basketball courts, a track, racquetball courts, and all sorts of exercise equipment. There was something for everyone, well, except me.
I wasn’t willing to go in the pool because of all the germs I know are in the water, in addition to all the harsh chemicals that I would be soaking my skin and hair in. In addition, I lack the self confidence to wear a swimming suit, so the pool was out. I won’t use exercise equipment because people can see me, and those machines have been saturated with sweat after countless uses, and there is no way to get all of that out. Basketball should have been fine, but the track goes above and looks down on the courts. If I played basketball, people could watch me epically fail. I ended up playing basketball with some of my cousins and uncles (even though my anxiety was not happy with it), while others went to the pool and track.
Pretty soon my family started to break a sweat, and for me things went downhill. Basketball is a physical sport, and I already have a hard time with physical contact (although I am working on it and have improved quite a bit). Adding in sweat pushed me farther than I was able to handle. I can barely handle my own sweat, with the feeling that your skin is getting saturated with oil and chemicals. Sweat from someone else is one hundred time worse, full of their own unique mix of chemicals to contaminate me. So I played basketball with as little contact as possible, freaking out internally each time I touched someone, trying to wipe off the spot they touched me without them noticing.
The game of basketball ended and I thought the worst was over. I was going to play racquetball, which seemed like a major improvement. No need for physical contact, I just had to worry about getting pelted with a little ball. However, I was wrong. I was already feeling my usual feeling of suffocation that comes with being in a building, and worse than usual because gyms are stuffy and smell like sweat. I’m surprised I was willing to go in the building in the first place, given all the sweat and bacteria that were bound to be flying around in the air to be breathed in. Racquetball is played in an enclosed room, which is what caused my downfall.
After being in the box a little bit, I felt my feeling of suffocation increase. Having experienced this a lot, I knew I wasn’t actually suffocating, so I ignored it and kept playing (even though I was pretty terrible at it). After a while (about two hours after arriving at the gym) I couldn’t take the feeling anymore so I went outside to get a moment to breath before suffocating once more. The outside air was wonderful, I was actually able to get a full breath of the crisp, cool air. I sat outside until I felt my breathing return to the regular depth that it should be, then I headed inside to face the suffocation for however long was left.
The gym was not a great experience, but it was down and over with after about three hours. My next issue was one that continued through the rest of the holiday. Food is a central part of every American holiday, which is rather difficult for me. I’ve made great progress regarding food, and I’m proud to say that I do not limit the kind of food I eat anymore. The issue with Christmas is there is a whole bunch of my fear foods all together that I’m supposed to be eating.
I can handle an occasional treat or having pizza once and a while, but having platters and platters of sugar, gluten, and dairy filled food and more dessert than I could imagine is very stressful for me. My past issues with food resurface, and I have to once again fight my OCD to be able to eat whatever I please. My OCD tells me about all of the negative health effects of the food, and how I’m poisoning my body. Every day, after I went to the hotel to wind down and prepare for the next day, my OCD would strike and I felt like I was being poisoned, like the food I had eaten was penetrating me, spreading the sugar and fat all throughout my body, and I was unable to stop it.
I felt like I had to do something to try to get the feeling to go away, so in the bathroom I started to scratch myself. It started with just my wrist, as a way to try to get some of the oil and sugar from the food right under my skin out. I never broke skin, because that could get infected, but red marks were up and down my arms and stomach, signs of my inability to fight OCD at the time. Thankfully, I only had three nights of scratching “the bad food out” (yes, I know it sounds ridiculous) and things have settled back to normal and food is no longer an issue.
My third big fight is with choices, and a few unfortunate events that occurred. The first involved my cousin being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and getting hit in the head with a present. There were not injuries or tears, but I felt responsible anyways. My choices (yes, going back to my battle with being unable to make decisions) lead to her being in that place and getting hit in the head. If I had sat somewhere else or done one things different, she would not have gotten hit, and I wouldn’t be responsible.
The next incident involves my uncle getting bitten by the dog while trying to get a tootsie roll out of his mouth that he wasn’t supposed to have. Once again, all of the choices I made led up the that event. I could have chosen to sit somewhere else, to have been playing with the dog, etc. While I know other people have choices too, I can only control my choices, so therefore it is my responsibility. Naturally, I had to have my mom make a lot of decisions for me (especially surrounding food), but that still wasn’t enough to stop the guilt. I still made decisions about what to say and where to be, so I still have the responsibility of the incidents.
While Christmas was a challenge for me in multiple ways, I still enjoyed seeing my family and spending time with them. I won’t let the negative experiences I had because of my OCD take away all of my joy and happiness. Even though most of the time there I had to put on a fake smile, I would not trade the time spent with them for just staying at home.