I wash my hands, on a good day about, twenty to thirty times. Not an astronomical amount and depending on your daily activities or work it is possible that this is normal or even less than how much other's may wash their hands daily. Such as a doctor, nurse, butcher, childcare giver......places that you would need to be more conscious of germs and bacteria. I am none of those things. I rarely leave my home, I am surrounded by the same germs and bacteria everyday.
It isn't just about the amount of times I wash. It is about the process in which I wash. And there is always a process for those of us that have OCD germ and contamination fears. A way we wash every time that never wavers or falters.
On some days I love to wash my hands. I love the sickly sweet heady scent of soap that reminds me of helping my great grandmother hang the laundry out in the sun to dry or summers spent as a child blowing bubbles from soap when the bubble solution spilled or disappeared. The smell I equate to cleanliness. I love the texture of soap. The way it bubbles and froths. They way I can cover every inch of my hands to where I know that germs are dying. I often think if I listened really closely I might be able to hear them beg for mercy before the soap zaps them into nothing. I love the calm the washing can give me from the intrusive thought of being poisoned, accidentally poisoning someone else, or getting myself sick. It is hard to describe the pure joy of simply being deemed clean enough by my own mind.
My process consists of almost scalding hot water, hot enough that I can just barely stand it. Then it's the liquid soap. I place it in my left palm. I smear it onto both hands and then I commence the scrubbing. I scrub on the inside of my fingers, on the outside of my hands, and I spend an inordinate mount of time washing and scrubbing the backs of my hands. Mainly because I use these to touch my face when my hands feel dirty when I can not wash. I make the bubbles resemble gloves and then it's on to rinsing. I have a process here as well. I take the left hand and hold it under the faucet in a circular motion, then the right, and so on for a few times until, it feels clean.
This takes several minutes and I don't usually mind the process. Sometimes I even enjoy it. But then there are sometimes where my washing is more like a bad addiction that I can not break. A sadistic painful torture I inflict on myself and am powerless to stop. On these days, I no longer love the feeling of clean hands because my hands refuse to feel clean. I no longer enjoy the smell of soap because it is a reminder that I have already washed over forty times today and I just want to make the disgusting heavy dirt feeling go away. The contaminated feeling. The germ encrusted feeling. I no longer have the release just a chasing of the release like a heroin addict searching for the high. More and more and more and more but still no relief. At this point I loath soap, I loath cleanliness, I loath OCD and everything that is does to me. At this point I am unable to function except to turn on the tap and wash again. Maybe this time it will be enough. Maybe this time it will make the thoughts stop. Maybe this wash, this last wash will calm me and I can stop. This last wash and it will be okay. I can stop for today. Much like the false promise of an addict's last cigarette, last needle prick, last hit of the meth pipe, except my addiction is the last dollop of Dawn, Ajax, Ivory, or Palmolive. I can stop anytime I want..........I can stop right now. Ten minutes later, I am standing at the kitchen sink and scrubbing my skin away again. I am wasting another five or ten minutes chasing something that never truly exists or at least it doesn't exist for long. Peace and quiet, stress relief, lack of negative horrifying guilt ridden thoughts. The seconds used up by washing add up to minutes which add up to hours. I wash for hours. I waste hours of my day standing in front of my sink washing away imaginary germs, imaginary bacteria, and an imaginary feeling that something is on my hands that no one can see. I can't see it either but I feel it, so I wash again and again, and again.
I knew it was a problem at four years of age when my parents slathered my hands in lotion and placed plastic bags over them because the washing had left them so dry, cracked, and chapped that any movement of the skin would make it tear and bleed. This isn't just something we do just to be funny. It is something other's take for granted but to us it can become a personal hell. A place that steals away large quantities of time and yet gives us nothing but pain in return.
Thankfully I have more good days than bad. Thankfully I have been able to not have to use the bag and lotion to re-hydrate my hands in a long time but I do remember it. It can get better and I do have other alternatives. I use antibacterial gel in place of washing sometimes. I have learned to wait to wash and deal with anxiety somewhat. I have done a lot of progress but mental illness is not fool proof and sometimes, I fall off the bandwagon and wash too much. Sometimes I fall back into bad old habits. It happens. I am working on it. I am struggling but I am trying and that is all I can ask for right now. I am not trying for magnificent or fantastic I am just trying for possible. I am trying to make washing less, possible.