The feeling of moistness on or against that part of my body drives me nuts, even when I’m clearly just imagining it
I was first diagnosed with OCD when I was 11 years old.
Even people who know me usually wouldn’t guess it: I am one of the most disorganized people you will ever meet, and in general I probably don’t keep my hands clean enough. My OCD is extremely specific, and its nature makes it… well, embarrassing to talk about.
Put simply, I have intrusive thoughts/compulsions related to keeping my genitals and buttocks completely clean and dry. I especially loathe the idea of my underwear being in contact with wet or dirty areas. In contrast to many others with OCD, I don’t really worry that something awful will happen if my focal areas/clothing are “contaminated.” I don’t think that I might get an infection, and I’m not afraid of urine or fecal matter in general. I just experience this… intense physical discomfort that refuses to be ignored. The feeling of moistness on or against that part of my body drives me nuts, even when I’m clearly just imagining it. I can grit my teeth and bear it for a while, but it’s like working through a bad stomachache: it sucks up your attention like a black hole and colors everything you do until something happens to relieve it.
I’ve had this fixation for as long as I can remember. Apparently I was an absolute nightmare to potty-train, though I don’t remember back that far myself. One of my first “OCD memories” is of getting in trouble with my parents because I had removed my underpants in a fit of discomfort and hidden them between the couch cushions. Looser fabric around the crotch was always better for my OCD… if I didn’t have fabric flush against that area, the discomfort would occur less often and be less intense. I spent portions of elementary school wearing nothing but loose, knee-length skirts (without underwear whenever I could get away with it). I also had a bad habit of removing my underwear whenever I used the restroom, then hiding them behind the toilet if I didn’t have a backpack or large pocket handy. Mom was forever buying me new panties because I kept leaving them hidden behind public toilets after feeling too uncomfortable to put them back on. Nowadays, I look back with chagrin on how the janitors at those places must have felt finding my tiny pink underpants wadded up behind the toilet, and fervently hope that I never got anyone into trouble.
But keeping my pants loose was only half of the battle. I also had to make sure to get PERFECTLY, PERFECTLY CLEAN (and dry) after using the restroom. I would generally take 10-15 minutes or more wiping clean after I’d urinated. After a bowel movement, the cleaning could take north of half an hour. I used to have this rule where at least three wipes would need to come up spotless before I could pull my pants up and leave the restroom. If I got even the tiniest speck of brown, I had to start again. Quite often I would wipe at the sensitive skin around my anus until it bled.
It got to the point where restroom trips were a source of dread, and I would have to plan my days around them. I hated using the restroom at school or in other public places, and I could usually manage to get through the whole school day (8am to 3pm, or 5pm if there was band practice) without using the bathroom. If I had to go during the day, I needed to make sure I would have enough time to get clean. Bathroom breaks went at the beginning of lunch, not the end; otherwise I could make myself late for class. Asking to be excused during class was to be avoided if at all possible; otherwise the teacher might send someone after me after 15-20 minutes to make sure I was OK. (Being under time pressure only dialed my anxiety up to 11 and made it even harder to hurry, a fact which most people steadfastly refused to understand). Bowel movements were only made immediately before showers, unless it was an emergency.
If I didn’t wipe everything precisely clean and dry after using the restroom (and sometimes even if I did), there would be this horrible damp feeling in my crotch as soon as I pulled up my pants. Even if I knew I was dry and made up my mind to ignore it, the feeling would persist. Upon returning to my daily activities, I’d be left squirming in my seat, teeth gritted, trying in vain to distract myself from the discomfort. This could easily continue for an hour, or even longer… if I didn’t succumb to the temptation to do something about it. For instance: I’d grab a Kleenex, make sure no one was watching, then stick it down my pants and give the “problem area” another wipe. This would reward me with temporary relief, but it rarely lasted long.
Soon after – sometimes minutes, sometimes seconds – my mind would be after me to check again, check again, CHECK AGAIN. “You didn’t do it right; it’s still wet; you can feel the moistness festering.” At the peak of my symptoms, in elementary and early middle school, I would feel the need to stick a tissue (or just my hand) down the front/back of my pants periodically throughout the day to check that I was still dry. I tried to do it when no one was looking, but you can imagine how well that worked out. My elementary school classmates, with typical playground compassion, soon saddled me with the nickname Butt-digger. (Add to that the fact that I was very sensitive child, prone to public crying jags and temper tantrums, and my early school years were NOT something I enjoy looking back on). My second-grade teacher was convinced I was masturbating, and sent an irate letter home to my mother to that effect. Eventually I just started keeping tissues in my pants at all times: one held between my butt cheeks, the other wedged between my labia. It was very difficult to wean myself off of that habit… but once I finally started seeing a psychologist, I managed.
Things have gotten a lot better since the elementary and middle school days, of course. I finally started seeing a psychologist in the sixth grade, and together we faced up to the worst of it. My OCD is still a part of my life: I still take longer in the bathroom than most people, and I blow through packs of Charmin Mega Rolls faster than you can say “environmentally unfriendly.” But I no longer dread using public restrooms. I no longer have to plan my day around bathroom breaks. I always wear underwear, and I feel completely comfortable following my stylistic preference for pants over skirts. I can get out of the restroom quickly when I have to. And of course, I am no longer known to anyone, anywhere as Butt-digger.
The OCD no longer rules me.
To be honest, even as a sufferer, it doesn’t bother me that much when people joke about OCD. What bothers me is how difficult it is to talk about OCD in a non-joking context. I have come out to more people as queer than I have as obsessive-compulsive. I feel like people won’t take me seriously; that they’ll think I’m weak-minded or a weirdo; that they won’t understand why I don’t just suck it up and deal. The first time I told my psychologist about my OCD, I was practically shaking with nervousness and humiliation, and stuttered as I tried to describe my symptoms. Heck, I’m even writing this anonymously!
We should be able to joke about OCD, just as we are able to joke about death and heartbreak and other illnesses. But beneath that joking, there must be full societal understanding that OCD itself is not a joke, that it is a real, diagnosable medical condition and not just about someone being fussy or quirky. Until that understanding is so commonplace that it goes without saying, people really should think twice before joking about OCD… and the work done by websites like this will continue to be invaluable in bringing the true nature of OCD into the light of day. Reading through the testimonials on this site, I am reminded of how lucky I am that my own condition is so circumscribed and largely under control. Things could be much worse for me, and my heart goes out to everybody out there fighting with any type/level of OCD.
You are all unbelievably strong, and I know that each and every one of us can make it through.
Categories: The Wall