Follow Up: An Obsessive Compulsive’s Take On The Coronavirus Crisis (3 Months Later)

These past couple of months during the COVID-19 lockdown have been some of the most mentally challenging months of my life, as I’m sure they were with many other people. As someone with obsessive compulsive disorder, centered around a phobia of germs, this whole experience has been extremely bizarre. I wouldn’t say it was solely a positive experience or a negative experience. It was a combination of both, and in the strangest way possible.

I expressed in March how uneasy I felt as the world just began to descend into germaphobic chaos in the following blog post: https://valerieparente.wordpress.com/2020/03/17/an-obsessive-compulsives-take-on-the-coronavirus-crisis/
I remember when the coronavirus was officially declared a National Emergency many people with anxiety disorders and OCD were expressing surprising feelings of calmness. A lot of these people said that they had been prepared their whole life for some kind of disaster like this, so when push came to shove and it actually happened they were more mentally prepared and stronger. I totally understood that concept on paper, but for me personally I didn’t at all share this feeling. I’m sure it has something to do with my ego and that I don’t like being compared to other people, but I hated that everyone was freaking out about germs and feeling the fears that I’ve felt for the majority of my life. It was totally irrational to feel somewhat threatened by “normal” people experiencing my catastrophe-centered mindset, but to be perfectly honest I think that’s how I felt. It was confusing to understand how I felt because I was absolutely terrified but more than anything else I was depressed by the isolation. I wound up taking the lockdown extremely seriously, cooping up in my home, not seeing a single soul outside of my immediate family, for about a 2 and 1/2 months. Mentally, it was exhausting, as I’m sure everybody else felt. As I said, I didn’t leave the house, but I heard through my family members that did take quick trips to and from essential stores that people were wearing masks, employees at the food store were wiping down and spraying carts, limiting customers that could enter the building, and tape was on the floor to separate people by 6 feet. Officials were recommending we don’t touch our face (something I’ve always avoided because of OCD), no sharing food or drinks, limiting socialization to no more than 5 people. If anything, this should have been a dream come true for someone like me that’s terrified of germs. But I didn’t see it that way, I saw it as the world descending into a madness that I individually had the luxury of entertaining but the world as a whole, as I saw it, couldn’t afford to function like this.

When I finally snapped at said “Screw it, I need to go back in society” I started small, grabbing a coffee at my local grocery store or coffee shop. Gradually I started seeing friends again, but only in outdoor settings where we weren’t breathing right on each other. And I’m shocked to say (and maybe this is my all-or-nothing OCD mindset) that I’m extremely “over” the whole virus situation. Obviously I understand it’s still a danger, but as I take appropriate precautions with face masks and bringing wipes and hand sanitizer in my car, I’ve become completely un-phased by the fear of the virus. After one time finally going back into the real world I at ease again. I felt like everything was going to be okay. I felt like there was nothing to worry about as long as I was doing my part to stay sanitized. I think this is a perfect testament to how well Exposure Therapy works with obsessive compulsive patients. I hated Exposure Therapy as a teenager, but in my adulthood, when these circumstances in the world were dire, I sucked it up, held my breath, and I faced my fears. I can’t tell you how afraid I was in the 2 and 1/2 months; I kept telling myself that the second officials said it was safe to go out again that I would probably wait an extended month after that. And guess what? I didn’t. I didn’t do what my fears wanted me to do.

So, going back to my original statement in this post, I was not comforted by the idea of the world becoming more OCD like me when this all started. Now, 3 months later, I understand what people were saying. I understand why the world’s anxiety lessened those already with anxiety. I get it now. Because when I go out and I touch something or drink my coffee in the park, I’ve instilled in my mind through the exposure of going out that first time that nothing bad is going to happen to me. Is that true? Maybe not. But is it a healthy mindset to have now that the virus is on its way out? Yes, I think so. And when that little OCD voice in the back of my head says “You should be scared to leave the house” I just remind myself this: the world is a safer place today than it was 3 months ago. I went over a decade of my life afraid of germs but still going out in public and taking precautions with hand sanitizer and gloves, and did the germs kill me then? No. And today I’m going out with the exact same OCD rituals in place PLUS the rest of the world now has rituals to keep me safe too. Did people wipe down the carts at the food store before? Not to my knowledge. Did cashiers specifically change gloves at the ice cream shop when they accepted your cash? No. Did people judge you for not touching your face even if there’s a piece of hair in your eye? No. These were little stressful quirks that I had that were now socially acceptable. Those were things I did to stay clean, and now the rest of the world (for the most part) is doing these little things too. Things that I always thought were necessary for survival. So, if anything, the world is cleaner and safer because of the coronavirus. That’s what I keep telling myself every time the OCD voice creeps in. If anything, you are safer now than you were 3 months ago. And its this very thought that made me understand why those with anxiety felt comfort when the world addressed COVID-19. I get it now. It took a couple of months and exposure to a new world, but I get it. And this is much different than the tune I was singing in March when I made my first COVID-19 post from the perspective of someone with OCD.

If there’s anything I want anyone to take away from this blog post it’s that the mind is extremely resilient. We are so strong as human beings. And you may feel afraid now of something, but I promise with the proper mental exercises (for me, Exposure Therapy), you will see a day when that anxiety is put at bay. It’s not going to be permanent, and you don’t have to understand how it will feel before you experience that peace, but just know that it is possible even during what seems like the apocalypse.

– Valerie Parente (6-9-2020)

My Timeline

I’ve always been told I have a problem with envy. I’ve always known this. It’s my vice. It’s my greatest obstacle. It’s the source of my insecurity. For too long I have let envy control my entire outlook in life. Someone I graduated high school with is starting a family? I panic. Someone I used to be friends with has thousands of followers on Instagram? I get mad. My first crush is getting engaged? I feel hopeless. What kind of person gets upset at someone else’s positive milestones and accomplishments? Not one who will thrive in this world. And it took me a very long time to realize this. It’s odd, because I’ve been told my whole life not to compare myself to other people, but I never really listened until now. What changed to make me suddenly hear this advice? Honestly, heartache. Hard work and heartache. Working full time. Making memories with friends despite my agoraphobic exhaustion. Falling in love with someone and having to learn to let go. Learning and living and becoming a well-rounded member of society despite my mental shortcomings.

Now that I’ve shifted my thinking from envy to acceptance everything in life feels better. Has my life changed? No. Has my attitude changed? Absolutely. And I know it sounds cliché to say that you create your own reality but it really is true. My circumstances have not magically changed overnight, but over the course of a month, all complimented by the previous years of learning how to grow up and overcome multiple mental illnesses, I see my life as nothing but uniquely perfect to me.

There were always roadblocks that kept me from accepting myself and being at peace with myself. Then suddenly, after months of stress and heartache, one word seemed to be the magic that dissipated all my roadblocks…  timeline. That was it. Timeline. My timeline is not the same as anyone else’s.

I’ve always looked back on my life and been in awe of how perfectly timed every single moment of my life has been to sculpt me into the human being I am today. Accepting my past was never a problem. Accepting my present was. Accepting the future was. I had so much anxiety when I thought about my where I “should be” by now in life. Why haven’t I been in a serious relationship yet? Why haven’t I moved out of my parents’ house yet? Why haven’t I become a famous author yet? And every one of these anxious thoughts can be extinguished with the sole belief that my timeline is not the same as anyone else’s timeline. My life unfolds as it is meant to for me and does not adhere to anyone else’s standards. This was the antidote to the envy I have let control me throughout the entirety of my life. My timeline is mine. I know I am not meant to be in a serious relationship right now, so who cares when it happens? Who cares if people I graduated high school with are getting married? Seriously, who cares? How does that have any effect on me? It doesn’t… unless I let it. And that’s where the choice comes in. The conscious choice to say “I will not let someone else’s path in life govern how I perceive mine.” There is literally no point in being jealous of someone else. And I could say I don’t know why it took me so long to figure this out, but the truth is I wasn’t meant to up until now. My life and my successes or idiosyncratic and unique to me. I cannot be compared to anyone else. My life cannot be measured by someone else’s timeline. To do so is to be a slave of envy. And I have no room in my heart for that.

I can confidently say that ever since I came to this “timeline” epiphany I have been able to eliminate all of my anxiety about my place in this world without a second thought. This has been the key. I am infinitely happier with myself than ever before. Worrying about where I am or where I will be truly feels like a waste of time. I have trust. I have faith. I have acceptance. All because I was able to rid envy from my life.

playing dress up

– Valerie Parente (8-13-2019)

Switching Perspectives (Analysis of In Touch) [Part 1]

Why is it so much easier for me to write from the point of view of a male? In Touch, being the third story I’ve completed, was by far the most effortless piece I’ve written to date. One could claim this is because the themes of In Touch were purely an autobiographical experience against the backdrop of a fiction story. The odd but magical part of writing this book, though, laid in the fact that I was writing about obsessive compulsive disorder from an outsider’s point of view… a male’s point of view. Sitting in this Starbucks, for the second Sunday in a row, now writing scenes for another story through a male narrator, I find myself asking the question- why is writing from a male’s perspective so much easier for me? My guess is that it has something to do with the prisons we call ego and expectations.

If you’ve read any of my poetry and prose work then you’ll quickly realize it is no secret that I am extremely tied to my female identity. So you would think I would write more effortlessly from the female point of view, but from a personal standpoint that just doesn’t feel like the case.

In Touch was honestly the easiest book I’ve written to date. Was it the “best”? I don’t know. But it was certainly less difficult. Most notably, it was effortless. The words flowed from my brain with no hesitation. I barely had to think. I just wrote. I remember lying in bed scribbling dialogues between the main characters, Jef and Lacey, with no interruption of thought. I remember phrases and comments popping in my head when I was working my retail job and jotting them down on scrap pieces of paper. Many brief but key comments unraveled into beautiful chapters and concepts that I genuinely do not feel took any brain power. They just popped into existence and my mind acted as the translator between wherever art spawns and where it is destined to be recorded. Bringing my daily thoughts and imaginary conversations alive on paper was as easy watching TV.

In Touch (Cover, No Binding)

Writing as a person who is so obviously not me, that being a young man, brings no pressure. There’s no ego conflicts or stress to “get it right”. Any expectations I have on the identity I project to the world is irrelevant. All that matters is writing meaningful passages. The ego that haunts “Valerie” is no longer in control. It really is freeing. I imagine this kind of disconnect from the self but connection to the collective consciousness that is the rest of the world is what it is like to feel free. And for this reason I think I not only have a more effortless experience purging the words on paper through a male narrator’s voice. The idea that it is easier to write as somebody who is not me is rich with irony, and that fascinates me more and more every day.

When I have writer’s block I look at that 488 page novel and wonder how the heck I did that. Then at moments like today when I started writing from another male narrator’s perspective new words flowed instantly and I remembered what it was like to be inspired.

Yes, I identify with all my narrators to some extent. We do share the same brain after all. But there’s something flawless and liberating about writing without Val’s ego and Val’s expectations breathing down my throat. No interruptions. It’s easier to write and write and write until the thoughts dry out. I feel more “natural” writing as a different gender and identity, and I think that’s why In Touch came out exactly as I dreamed it would.

To purchase In Touch you can go to Amazon.com!