Heidi, 25, Fridley, Minnesota, USA

That could be blood, I might have touched it, I could get AIDS.

Heidi-no-textI have anxiety just thinking about this time in my life. I don’t want to think about it. I want to forget it. Somehow, I have to move on.

I was married! Life was good! We had a great honeymoon in Yellowstone National Park! What started as the best year of my life quickly turned into the worst year of my life. Not in my marriage, but in my work. See, my OCD had never actually affected my job before. Every once in a while I would worry about something I did or said at work, but not like this. I got to the point where I actually couldn’t do my job.

I had started working at a plasma donation center in January, just a couple weeks after I graduated from college and four months before we got married. Ironically, I actually had no fear of blood. Yes, I had worried about germs in the past, but that was more confined to bathroom germs. Not blood.

Everything started out good. I wasn’t worrying. I was pricking fingers and testing blood and had an okay time at work. I was okay for a couple months. Until I actually touched blood.

It was just a little smudge, but I touched it. So, I washed my hands, reported it, and moved on. But from then on I was more conscious of what I touched. I started seeing it everywhere. And I don’t mean I was “seeing” it. It was actually there. Yes, sometimes I may not have been sure it was blood, but the majority of the time it was. Yes, it might have been little tiny dots of blood, but I had to clean it up because I saw it. There was a handful of incidents that I reported after that initial one. Each one making me more anxious. Once, I went to the bathroom and actually sat on a drop of someone else’s blood. TMI, but it’s true. So, I reported it. (Embarrassing). These were spread apart, but each one made me more conscious of where there was blood.

I was constantly worried about if I touched blood, if a donor touched blood, or  about cleaning up blood. I would obsessively look for it and of course when you look for it you find it. One girl actually gave me the nick name “blood queen.” Great. She actually didn’t mean it negatively. She just said I saw blood more than anyone else. Awesome.

I eventually moved up to sticking donors in the arm with the actual needle used to remove their plasma. I actually had a good time doing this and was proud that I could. But now there were more things to worry about. Don’t touch the iodine or you’ll contaminate the area. Don’t touch this connection or you’ll contaminate the plasma. On and on. I was constantly nervous that I contaminated someone. That someone was going to die because I might have touched something or seen something. To help me not worry, I would ask someone above me if what I did was okay. Is it okay that I touched this with my gloves? Yeah. It’s fine. Sometimes I would feel better, but sometimes it didn’t help.

I hate thinking about this time in my life. It was the most horrible thing I have been through. Before this, I could hide my OCD. No one knew when I was worrying. And here, EVERYONE KNEW. Everyone saw me clean. Everyone saw me do iodine scrubs three times. I asked everyone above me questions about things I did. I HAD to or I would go home and worry until I did. People looked at me like they were annoyed and I was crazy. I cried so often at home before work. I HATED going to work. I was ashamed. I was not able to give myself grace. I was not okay with not being perfect.

There were two supervisors that understood what I was going through and were kind and patient with me. They would walk me through my concern, think about it, and tell me it was fine. But it didn’t make the worrying stop coming.

One time, I worried about something I did for two weeks. My supervisor said it was fine, but I couldn’t let it go. I was constantly anxious. My chest would get tight because I wouldn’t take deep breaths. I was terrified. Aaron was out of town and I was afraid to stay home by myself because I was afraid I would have trouble breathing in the middle of the night. If I think about it too much now, I actually still have to tell myself that I did what I was supposed to by bringing it to someone above me. It was on them now and I had to let it go.

Sometime in November or December Aaron and I talked about medication. I had others counsel me to not take it because it would cover up the real problem- which was that I couldn’t trust God. Aaron didn’t really want me to go on medication and I wanted to respect him, but things were getting so bad. I remember a conversation we had in the car. He was saying that I was smart enough to make the right decisions. That I could do it. That I was smarter than most of the people who worked there. That I didn’t have to worry. I rose my voice because of my frustration and said “tell me how! I don’t know how! I try! I know I don’t have to worry but I can’t stop it! Tell me how to stop it!” It was then that Aaron realized I couldn’t control it. I knew what I had to do, but I wasn’t able to do it.

Around Christmas time, things were bad. I was anxious all the time and I was even making donors anxious. I prayed. I prayed every day, but it didn’t make the worrying go away. It didn’t help me stop thinking about things. I couldn’t control my brain. No matter how much I prayed. I was even having dreams about being contaminated. It was permeating my life. I was beginning to be unable to work. My manager told me to go home and think about what I was going to do. I was ready to get help. I HAD to get help. I couldn’t go on like this forever.

That day, I decided I was going to go see a doctor, a counselor, and my Pastor for help.

I had a plan.

A note from the editor

Heidi also has a blog where she writes about her OCD.

Categories: The Wall

1 reply »

  1. I understand this. I had some problems like this too, especially to do with worrying about things that cannot really be completely checked (high uncertainty) and then confessing to others I am worrying about this and trying to get reassurance. But no matter how much reassurance I got, it didn’t help. And I think the clue is in your writing “I couldn’t control my brain”. I think the tight control we try to exert is what causes the issue. When I stopped trying to control my brain and admitted to myself that there is no way of knowing if my worst fear is true or not, that’s when I started to get better. I think the key is in accepting the idea that it might be true (e.g. in your case, it might be true that you infected yourself or someone else) and going on regardless, trying to accept that possibility (whilst knowing it is low). I know it is not easy though.


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