Learning to swim – pandemic plus OCD plus anxiety

I don’t know about you but I know I’ve been dealt my fair share of anxiety and panic attacks in the last few weeks. I think this is a topic that isn’t thought about enough amidst all the other shocking scary stuff going on. So, here I am shedding light on just that. You don’t have to particularly belong to the group of OCD sufferers to feel corona’s noose tightening around your neck. Existing during this period is enough.  

Personally, I have dealt with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) from a very young age, whether it regarded cleaning, tidying, or obsessing over workload; I let it swallow me whole more than 100 times. I have always been that annoying friend when it comes to hand-washing and keeping your bedroom tidy, prepandemic! On that note, not that much has changed for me and my personal routine, other than experiencing anxiety in bulk. I always thought that having OCD was something worth keeping to yourself and burying as deep as possible; not once did I think this was an actual diagnosisNow, for someone who feels intense unrest at the slightest inconvenience, change in plan or in health, as is happening right now is the prime of stress. 

There’s too much to obsess about – you’ll be fine 

I had a headache the other day; my eyes were itching and my nose was running despite the warm weather outside. It is difficult to define what exactly caused these effects but I put it down to a mixture of pollen, too much screen time, and not eating enough fruit and veg that day. Usually I wouldn’t so much freak out about this but I’d definitely taken more notice than what is considered normal. Put Covid-19 in the mix and you’ve got a whole sea of anxiety coming your way. ‘It could be anything’ you tell yourself as you try to send your mind off on distraction in whatever way possible. I was typing up some work when the headache swarmed me out of my seat. I couldn’t concentrate, it felt like someone had unloaded a ton of bricks directly onto my generously big forehead. It was then that I was groped with terror. The more I thought about it, the tighter my chest became, and the sooner I began hyperventilating. I’d started mentally preparing myself for death believe, it or not. Just by doing this to yourself mentally ruins you and leaves you feeling more drained than ever.

Now its completely normal as a human to get curious about what will happen next in any situation. But what isn’t considered normal is getting, or shall I say, allowing yourself to be entirely consumed by the things that worry you. What doesn’t help is that Covid-19 and panic attacks share some similar symptoms that are worth talking about. In the midst of this anxiety fuelled frenzy I followed my go to steps which were 

Drink a glass of cold water. Focus on breathing. REASSURANCE (yes literally, I checked the statistics for people my age falling sick) and then taking a brisk walk. Some water again.  

OCD can be agonising as it aims to turn actions into compulsions. I aim to stay clear of superstitions. For example, I try not to let myself dictate which hand I use to pull or push a door or how much water exactly I’m supposed to drink daily but OCD is like the evil alter ego that follows you around like your own shadow. And when you tell it to leave it smiles in your face. OCD is the person who offers someone on a diet McDonald’s and takes a reformed gambler to the casino with a couple of spins on the house. Don’t forget, it’s always there to offer a quick remedy for when things get overwhelming and in that same instance it’s also there to complicate your routine. Right now, as things dabble into difficulty, it can seem like the perfect escape. But it isn’t. OCD varies for different people. For me it’s about counting, ticking things off and superstitions. When it gets ridiculously bad, I count the rhythm of which I do things in. Whether Im going to the off license or running late to a meeting, this is my go-to. Judging on how well the challenges I set myself turn out, I utilise myself as an indicator of how well I will do or what will happen next. Regarding superstition, I stick to all the basic ones you would’ve heard in primary school and get really agitated when I fail to do so. Ladders, broken mirrors, and drains you name it.  

Whatever you feel is yours to feel 

When the pandemic hadn’t yet progressed and still seemed unbelievable or unreal, my anxiety was mainly dormant. Since it has become very much real, Ive seen that spike massively. Every decision I take in a day feels heavy; from picking the wrong knickers to overcooking dinner. By making these minor mistakes, Im convinced that something is or will go wrong on a larger scale as wellSome people have confided in me, saying that theyve had quite the opposite reaction to this. Some even find that their anxiety has completely abandoned them since it has become a global emergency. Its true that some people find calmness and serenity in knowing that they aren’t the only ones feeling a certain way. Others feel guilty for finding this period of time ‘easier’ than usual. Some are content because they get to carry out activities that they never got time to do previously or have the space to focus on their mental health. Yet others are in the pit of darkness feeling more alone than ever. The spectrum is broken. And a reminder that there is no specific emotion or way to feel about this, other than letting yourself feel what you need to feel.  

Now, a lot of people who appear to be feeling ‘better’ since lockdown are also feeling guilty about it, which is quite illogical. Anyone who has their anxiety on a firm leash right now should feel free of guilt and embrace the respite. Experts state that this is a matter of control. When having none or little control over a situation, putting arbitrary measures in place like obsessively arranging your space or sorting your cleaning aids in alphabetical order, craft the illusion that you very much have that control. This might explain why you personally do certain things or follow a specific routine every time you get stressed. 

Make a pact with yourself 

In regards to treatment for OCD (anxiety comes under this umbrella), you can attend therapy or take antidepressants. You can engage in CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), hypnotherapy or even NLP (neurolinguistic programming), but you can also have standard talking therapy. It all depends of how deep into it you find yourself. Some specialists even suggest going against your compulsive instincts. If your mind is telling you to do one thing a certain amount of times, break the pattern and do it half the amount of times. In doing this, the logic lays that whatever fate you’ve imagined for not following it, will not arrive. I suggest making a pact with yourself about how you handle your OCD; how much of it will you allow, up to which extent, for how long; this will set boundaries in place regarding how much harm you cause yourself or those around you through your condition. Sometimes its simpler to manage something than defeat it, remember this. Other tips on ‘managing’ right now that have helped me not go completely insane are: 

Keep busy, stay (positively!) distracted, avoid social media and consume news in small controlled dosages.  

Do you have a particular topic in mind that you’d like me to discuss in my blog? Do let me know! PM Drive Forward on instagram and share your idea. See you next week! 


Maya Barach

Maya is 21 years old and currently studying English Literature and Philosophy.

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