How COVID-19 Affected People With OCD and Anxiety

OCD can feel absolutely massive, so I discovered it reassuring to talk with others who have it for this story. Jeff Whitmire, who is 44 years of ages and resides in Lititz, Pennsylvania, has actually had OCD because he was a kid. For him, it frequently manifests as overanalysis of occasions and interactions. Years back, when Whitmire struck a stick on the roadway while driving his vehicle, he couldn’t stop considering the reality that he hadn’t really seen the stick. Which implied, he believed, that there was a possibility that stick might have been an individual. Whitmire drove 30 miles in distress prior to choosing to turn the vehicle back around to examine.

Whitmire’s obsessions relaxed substantially when he entered his 40s: He had the ability to go off his medication and stop going to treatment. However when the pandemic hit, his stress and anxiety soared, and the obsessions came flooding back. “It was like going back to square one,” he told me. For a while, he was too anxious to call his best friend on the phone, because he didn’t want to spend the rest of the day overthinking their conversation.

For some people with contamination OCD, the pandemic has complicated their fears about germs and viruses—and many of them have become overwhelmed, Pittenger said. Chelsea Ridener, a 24-year-old pediatric nurse in Tulsa, Oklahoma, had mild contamination OCD before the pandemic. When the world grew fixated on a highly contagious virus, her obsessions became almost debilitating. Ridener now wipes down her grocery cart for 10 or 15 minutes before shopping and scrubs her hands with sanitizer after touching anything in a public space. (Scientists have concluded that the coronavirus is much more likely to be transmitted through the air than on surfaces.) At Walmart recently, Ridener’s 2-year-old son touched something in the bathroom and then immediately grabbed her hand. Picturing the germs spreading from his body to hers sent Ridener into a panic attack. She sat in a back hallway of the store, shaking and crying for nearly an hour.

Surprisingly, although the past year has been terrible for some people with contamination OCD, others have not experienced an increase in contamination-related thoughts and behaviors, Pittenger and Szymanski informed me. People like me, who don’t have compulsions related to health, have been more likely to report exacerbated OCD symptoms, at least according to preliminary research, they said. This could be because people with contamination OCD actually found a strange relief in the pandemic: They were exceptionally well prepared to live through a global health crisis.

“My therapist said, ‘You’ve been prepping for this your whole life,’” says Dotty Dart, a 30-year-old who lives in Detroit and who has rituals associated with germs and a fear of vomiting. “It was weirdly comforting,” she told me, to know that other people finally understood the daily panic she’d always felt. Seeing people take public health seriously, wear masks, and wash their hands more often made her feel less distressed. But when Dart thinks about the world opening up again—individuals crowding dining establishments and bars and shops, coughing and sneezing and touching things—that relief vanishes. “It makes me a little nervous, thinking about people just going back to being gross adults.”

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.