Yikes! Company—And My OCD—Are Coming! - OC87 Recovery Diaries

Yikes! Company—And My OCD—Are Coming!

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Listen to Executive Director Gabriel Nathan read this post aloud:

When people come to stay at our house it triggers my OCD and anxiety. Germaphobia, my imperfect housekeeping, and the anticipation of my guests’ potential unhappiness dog me prior to their arrival. I sit on the couch and stew. Whirling and twirling, my mind becomes an aerialist. Thought 1: It’s flu season, help! Will I, or a guest, come down with something? Will we all end up sick? Thought 2: I scrubbed with Resolve spray on the older carpets, but many stubborn, ugly spots thumb their noses at me. What an embarrassment…Thought 3: I need our company to have an absolutely spectacular time. How can I ensure this? Will they be bored if we play Pictionary? These three fears are the trifecta of misery.

For Germ-Fear, I open the front door and the back door a bit, so fresh air circulates, thereby mitigating illness contraction while we chat in the living room. December 25th is chilly. Brrr! My poor guests needed blankets! For Ugly Carpets, I lament that, at the moment, we cannot afford new ones. This makes me so insecure. For Happiness, I spend way too much on Christmas gifts, absolutely busting the budget. During these compulsive mental gymnastics I do not allow logic to penetrate my brain: my loved ones would not care if I caught something and went down for the count. They would not judge my ratty carpets, and they would not want me to hemorrhage too much money on presents or expensive outings! But in the throes of my issues, logic has left the building.

We have had four rounds of company this year. It’s an understatement to say that my anxiety has spiked repeatedly over this, to the point of being unable to eat or sleep adequately. My OCD knows that my typical routine gets shot; there are too many things I cannot control. The first night with guests, I lay staring at the ceiling, counting the days until the ordeal would end (so sad, I know). The next morning, sipping cafe mocha while connecting with our precious ones, I become light-headed. I know I have to sleep better in the next few days for my immunity. Acting less healthy makes no sense at all. I wish I could control this self-sabotage. I feel like it all swirls around me, and I am swept up in the OCD vortex. I remain very hungry when company stays over.  I know I need to calm my “company stomach” down so I can eat better for strength. Such a Catch-22, knowing I need sleep and nourishment, and not being able to get either when my home is full. This renders me a nervous wreck over something as innocuous and potentially joyful as people coming over. I am so frustrated I am this way. Many times I dream of being a different type of person, who loves to entertain, and relaxes completely while doing so.

Being who I am, I would much rather meet my favorite people at Olive Garden or Starbucks for a brief outing. I can carefully wash my own hands. I am not in charge of the venue’s spic and span presentation or lack thereof. It is, gloriously, not my home, so I don’t need to control the happiness-o-meter for my friends and family. Also, my car is close by in the parking lot so I can make quick excuses and escape due to an unexpected panic attack. I remember once while eating a sweet potato at a steakhouse I suddenly became grossed out by it, and my heart started racing. I quickly wrapped up the meeting with my friend and headed to the safety of my car, just in case the inklings of the panic attack became full bore.

There are no clean getaways when people are staying over 24/7. After all, where could I go? I feel trapped for the duration of the visit. I’m panicky about whether or not I’ll have a full-blown panic episode while guests watch. How humiliating: pounding heart, nausea, pacing nonstop. It’s not pretty. Once in my twenties I had a party at my apartment. The enchiladas I served sat like bombs in my stomach. I began to panic and told my boyfriend it might get bad. He managed to deftly scoot everyone out. I was relieved. But still to this day I recall what a bummer that was, just when the partygoers were settling in, post-meal, to hang out some more. The disappointed looks on their faces still haunt me.

PROBLEM #1: I AM THE GERMAPHOBE QUEEN

Otherwise known as Mysophobia, my fear of germs is all-encompassing. This scourge began in childhood. In ballet classes, the teacher and fellow students would look at me funny, as I would only breathe into my elbow, so as not to pick up any viruses or bacteria in the air. Pondering this now, I chuckle, because how can one execute beautiful dancing arm positions, when one’s right elbow is bent awkwardly for the entirety of the class? And, duh—how could elbow-breathing help anyway? It’s not like I wore a hazmat suit over my tutu. I remember wishing I could just be “normal,” like my fellow dancing classmates. They just breathed the air. They just lived their lives. What was wrong with me?

My OCD issues continued into marriage. I used to bleach our front door knob (as if I could control all the little microorganisms entering our house?). After my poor husband had to replace the third corroded doorknob, he finally bellowed, “Do you think you need some help?” What a pivotal moment! I knew his words rang true.

God bless him, he tried. Our youngest daughter picked up Coxsackie B Virus at five days old. (A fly landed on her lips while she slept in a bassinet on the porch; flies carry those microorganisms on their feet). Our baby’s symptoms came on an hour or so later, breathing problems and no appetite. To this day, when I go to a picnic and see flies landing on the food, I won’t eat any of it. Our little one had to be in the neonatal ICU for a week until she turned a corner.  Infants’ immune systems do not kick in adequately until they are two weeks old, so at only five days, our daughter fought hard. When we returned from the hospital, my better half calmly noted, “See? This event, though awful, was designed to show you, you don’t control everything.”  Indeed. Too bad I was not ready to take his gentle and insightful words to heart. I attempted to create a sanitized bubble where our restored-to-health baby and preschoolers would never get sick again.

Who did I think I was? God’s Assistant? Trying to control the uncontrollable is dabbling in insanity.

When houseguests arrive from all over the country on planes, trains and automobiles, my hyper-fright goes into overdrive. I got my flu shot; did they? And doggone it, I don’t want to miss out on hugging my loved ones. Here we go, time to squeeze my soulmates…Lordy, what did I just catch? Will I be able to be the Hostess with the Mostest when I’m potentially out of commission? Mayday! Mayday! This will be mortifying.

 

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PROBLEM #2: MY IMPERFECT HOUSEKEEPING

My kneecaps are chafed from bathtub scouring. With elbow grease, I scrub back and forth, I chant, “I hate this! I hate this!” I don’t detest my special friends and family. I just like them much less, when they become…well, company. Aw geez, I forgot to replace the stainless steel cleaning wipes. Dirty smudges on the fridge. Visitors will think I’m a slob. Judge, judge, judge. Did I miss picking up a stray piece of my dyed hair, in the shower? Dang it, my husband ran out of time after landscaping to pressure wash the mildewed bricks along the front walk. Didn’t I just dust that end table? Why those smears? My guests’ Yelp review for our little “air bnb ” might be zero stars. AAARRRGGGHHHH! Why is my “performance” relentlessly lacking?

 

PROBLEM #3: I TAKE ON THE BURDEN OF BEING RESPONSIBLE FOR EVERYONE’S HAPPINESS

After the last round of home-invaders (oops! I mean beloved visitors) left, I once again ruminate about the festivities. No one got sick. Hallelujah. I might’ve died if that happened. Was my chili, salad and quiche with fried potatoes 3-Michelin-stars -level delicious? Was taking a walk and feeding the ducks delightful enough? Was my conversation smart and witty enough? Was the fun quotient worth everyone’s travel here?

God knows we tried to make the time memorable. My husband made French press coffees every morning for the guests. He called the kitchen “Café Daddio” and had fifteen flavors of fresh beans to grind, including yummy Coconut Cream, listed on a cute little chalkboard, for all participants to choose. (And, yes, I baking-soda-ed the older mugs, so they were pristine enough for me to relax, briefly).

 

THERE’S GOTTA BE A BETTER WAY

Later on I reflect on what I do to myself with the threat (I mean anticipation) of invitees to the house. My anxiety spikes to about a nine or ten. My constant hand-washing has rendered my skin so dry and flaky it peels and cracks. I accidentally lose pounds due to a nervousness that erases my appetite. I know my obsessive and compulsive shenanigans are ridiculous, but I can’t stop them.

I am working to live a more enjoyable life, without all these exhausting gyrations to direct the future. I met with a psychologist while in high school, because my panic episodes caused missed school. In adulthood, for decades, I could not pay for therapy. I recently discovered that my insurance offers it. I was assigned a wonderful therapist who helps me challenge my OCD/terrified-of-germs thoughts, and focus more on that which is truly within my jurisdiction. She helps me say positive affirmations: “I take good care of myself; I am not immunocompromised. I can handle catching something. My body is strong.” I am making progress with her help and hope, like a warm, fragrant mug of lavender tea on a cold night. I must be patient at the time it takes to improve. After all, these fearful habits began when I was a youngster; they will take time and effort to get better.

I remember being in elementary school and watching a boy who had to leave early because he got sick. I wondered when the next time I would get sick was. I thought about how awful it is that we can’t prevent our own illnesses…or could we? And so began my journey of attempting to obliterate the inevitable. I could just cover my mouth in crowds or hold my breath when anyone got too close, to avoid their germs. My sweet, favorite teacher noticed my increasing isolation in the classroom, and approached me to find out what was wrong. She stood close to me so other students would not eavesdrop, but she was whispering in my face. I might get her germs! I held my breath the whole time she spoke and almost passed out.

I recall times as a kid having OCD thoughts while making my bed. I reasoned that if I made myself pull off all the organized covers to the floor and re-made the bed, this extra hassle would insure that I would avoid my next illness. Also, I truly believed that if there was a holiday, i.e., Christmas, I couldn’t possibly get sick that day, because it was a special day. Well, the Universe proved me wrong!  In both seventh and eighth grades, I caught the flu on Christmas, and was ill for the whole holidays!

I wish that as an adult, I could relinquish my childhood fears.

I joined Codependents Anonymous, a Twelve-Step Program, to help with learning that important line where I end and someone else begins. I do not have the power to predict nor prevent an illness! I am not ultimately responsible for another adult’s reaction to my home’s level of cleanliness, nor am I in charge of another adult’s happiness. I can do my best to plan a nice, comfortable time at my home. But at the end of the day, if someone doesn’t approve of something, that’s their prerogative. I am not in charge of anyone else’s opinion. I must remember, what others think of me is none of my business.

It also dawned on me that I don’t need to be a “victim.” I do have choices. If my anxiety cannot handle sleepover company, maybe it’s time to get honest, find courage and speak up. I must become my own advocate. I can spend money booking my guests a nice motel room. If anyone catches a bug, we all have our own space. I’m not in charge of the quality of mattress, linens and towels at a motel, nor my invitees’ joy. That cost would be worth my peace of mind. I’d rather enjoy nice conversations and laughter with my company, than be preoccupied with all my worries, spoiling the experience together.

Acceptance of life on life’s terms is huge. Even though I cling to the tug-of-war rope of control, I must relinquish it. Let go, or be dragged. The world will turn the way it’s going to turn, with or without my permission.

I am on a vital journey to recognize life’s gifts of delight. I can’t have eyes to see the beauty of now, when I am fogged with the terror of later. I will continue my work on staying in the present moment. After all, that’s the only place where the magic is.

​EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: Gabriel Nathan | EDITOR: Laura Farrell | DESIGN: Leah Alexandra Goldstein | SITE ORIGINATOR: Bud Clayman

 

 

Theresa Siller has been a teacher of all ages for 37 years. She has been published in Guideposts, Dance Life, OC87 Recovery Diaries, Grit and Grace Christian Literary Journal and The Magnolia Review Literary Journal. Theresa published 5 books, all on Amazon. She is grateful to God for her husband, Rich, and their 3 daughters, Michelle, Caroline and Christyanne.