Being A Biology Student With Contamination-OCD

As a student passionate about learning Biology, developing Contamination-OCD felt as devastating as a surgeon losing his ability to work with his hands.

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What Is Contamination-OCD

Contamination-OCD is the fear of germs and diseases.

Those experiencing Contamination-OCD often avoid objects, people, and places that they feel might get them sick.  Contamination-OCD can include some of the following compulsive-behaviors:

  • Avoiding touching certain objects handled by other people (like door-knobs, elevator buttons, pens, phones, etc).
  • Avoiding sick people.
  • Avoiding crowded places, bathrooms, or places like hospitals and clinics.
  • Avoiding bodily fluids such as mucus, blood, saliva, urine, etc
  • Avoiding food & beverages prepared by others.
  • Excessive hand-washing.
  • Throwing away things that is thought to be contaminated.
  • Wearing protective gloves and facial masks to avoid germs.
  • Excessive health tests in fear of having contracted a disease.

Well, that is just to name a few; for that individual experiences vary.

My Contamination-OCD Fears About Cleaning Products

Although diagnosed with Pure-O OCD, I occasionally experience a bit of Contamination-OCD with cleaning products, as it falls under my OCD’s common theme: The irrational fear of having harmed others through some form of negligence.

An example of my Contamination-OCD would be the time I kept throwing away sugar.  We used to keep a sugar bowl on the counter to sweeten our tea.  One day, my husband left an open-box of powdered dish detergent on the same counter as the sugar bowl.    Intrusive thoughts flooded my mind that somehow the dish-detergent had gotten into the sugar bowl and I was convinced the sugar bowl was then contaminated with dish-detergent (because both were white and similar in texture).  I always assumed it was best to be safe than sorry and so, I always threw away the sugar whenever my husband forgot to put away the dish-detergent.  Let’s just say, I ended up wasting a lot of sugar, before realizing it was just my OCD brain being OCD.

My Contamination-OCD Fears About Germs & Disease 

However, I did go through a short phase where I was afraid of every known disease in the “Universe.”  It was so bad, that it even made me uncomfortable standing near a moon rock, displayed in a glass case at NASA.  Seriously, You don’t know what unknown terrible alien-brain eating, glass deteriorating, diseases are on the moon!   It was a terrible experience, because I absoultely love science!

Sadly, the worst part, was being a Biology student who was about to begin a semester of lab courses; where not only was I going to be exposed to sheep brains and twitching dead frogs, but also human bodily fluids like urine and blood.  I was also signed up for mandatory volunteer work at a hospital as a transporter (transporting sick people from one department to the other).  I wasn’t sure I could handle it!  But, hey, the things we do for science, right?   

Talk About Effective Exposure Therapy – Lab Class

In the beginning, my science lab classes barely involved any “lab” work at all.  Chemistry 101 was more math than test-tube experiments.  Geology lab was full of rocks.  Physics dealt mostly with physical objects.  Biology; well, Biology in the beginning was a snore.

The first couple of Biology lab classes consisted of long boring lectures with plastic model body parts.  The only thing in my earlier lab classes that totally set off my Contamination-OCD, were the students bringing in their drinks and food into the lab.  All different kinds of lab classes took place in this lab, so who knows what gross dead thing or toxic residue was left on the tables before we came in for a boring lecture.  

However, I remember a very particular and extremely uncomfortable lab session in which we had to work with blood and urine.   At the time, I was completely afraid of bodily fluids. Unfortunately,  I couldn’t ditch one lab assignment, for that lab assignments were a big chunk of our final grade.  Instead, I had to force myself through it…

The first lab assignment was more-so gross than terrible, as it involved testing protein concentrations in urine.  One person from the group had to urinate in a cup and each of us had to test his/her urine.  Although gloves and masks were required, touching someone else’s “pee” is really gross, even without OCD.

The second lab assignment was called ABO blood typing to determine blood type.  It bothered me more than the urine.  It involved us pricking each others fingers to draw blood into a tray where we then had to mix our blood with antibodies to determine our specific blood type.  Really neat stuff, when the OCD brain isn’t being so OCD.  Intrusive thoughts of all the different kinds of blood-transmittable diseases flooded my OCD brain and of course, I was extremely worried about leaving lab class with a disease or tracking diseases home on the bottom of my shoe!

Knowledge Is Power Against the OCD Bully Brain 

My OCD brain took full-advantage of my ignorance about how germs and diseases can affect the body.  I was uncomfortable sharing my drink with someone, holding hands, or even pressing the elevator button (try getting your foot up that high).   However, for me, Contamination-OCD didn’t last very long after I began my studies in Human Anatomy and Physiology.  Learning more about how bacteria and viruses actually work and how our body protects itself against their attacks, largely put my OCD brain at ease; furthermore, the lab classes and volunteer work at the hospital was great exposure therapy.

It is important to understand that germs and diseases do not transmit as easily as they do in the 2002 zombie-horror movie, “28 Days.” (I hate that movie!)   In fact, our bodies have an amazingly strong defense system in which requires extremely specific circumstances and conditions for diseases to “successfully” transmit to a person.

BUT, that doesn’t mean jump straight into surgery without gloves, go days without washing your hands, pet a rabid dog, stand in the mucus spray of someone’s sneeze, or go protection-free on your next date; that just isn’t very smart nor hygienic.  Just because the body is designed with a good defense system, doesn’t mean it is 100% effective.

Keep in mind, that on a microscopic level, our bodies are constantly fighting a war against bacteria and viruses; we just aren’t aware of it.  So, regardless how much we try to protect ourselves, we are always at risk of getting sick; but we can largely reduce the risk of getting sick by following the recommended simple precautions to stay healthy.

My point is, staying healthy doesn’t require extensive protective measures, like lathering up on the antibacterial hand sanitizers, scrubbing your skin raw, or avoiding people who are living with preventable diseases.  In fact, some excessive precautions can be bad for your health, (like scrubbing your skin raw that could lead to bacterial infection), something you were trying to prevent in the first place.   Remember, you are the first line of defense, not the cavalry.

Bacteria and viruses have a negative reputation for being the bad guys when it comes to our health, but not all bacteria and viruses are bad.   Each can play beneficial roles in our health.  Click Here To Read More: sciencemag.org.  Microbiology is such a fascinating field of study!

 

Downside To A Smart OCD Brain…It Thinks Too Much

Unfortuantely, the downside to feeding your OCD brain with factual knowledge, is that the OCD brain thinks too much.   The OCD brain likes to debate and if you are not confident with what you know, your OCD brain is likely to win.  You don’t have to be an expert to convince your OCD brain that you are right; instead feel confident that you know more than your OCD brain.  Your OCD brain knows you are smart, but it doesn’t like the way that makes you feel- feeling good about yourself.  The OCD brain is a bully that wants you to feel bad and doubt yourself.  Don’t let it! 

You Can Beat This!! 

Don’t let OCD take away the things you love.   Contamination-OCD was an obstacle I had to overcome to enjoy what I love~ science!  I hope my experience encourages you to beat your own OCD challenges, especially, if it is getting in the way of something you love or enjoying doing in life.  ❤

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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