The Exposure Lifestyle Day Three: Picking Up Litter

I was walking to facilitate a support group for OCD. On the way I figured it would be a great opportunity to conduct an exposure that might be relevant for contamination OCD. I don’t mean to over-generalize, but with contamination OCD the obsession often involves fear of becoming sick, and the compulsion can include a whole range of actions such as handwashing, cleaning, or avoiding touching things.

By touching something that might have germs or some other type of contamination, I am completing an exposure. By then resisting the compulsion (e.g. to wash hands), I am doing what’s called response prevention. This is the key because it allows new learning to occur.

I Found Evidence Of A Crime!

I decided to do an exposure that helps more than just me. I often like to do this as it’s a two for one. Specifically, I decided to spend some time picking up litter, including cigarette butts. I put them in my hands, carried them for about a block, and then put them in the trash. Pretty gross? Maybe, but at the same time, for someone with contamination OCD this might be exactly the type of exposure that’s needed. Why? Because it’s taking a risk of getting sick and tolerating the uncertainty of that risk. We take these risks all the time without realizing it, and treatment involves bringing these to the forefront. For example, when you shake someone’s hand, where has it been? When you open a bathroom door, who else has touched it? When you use a sponge how many germs are on it? If you’re living the exposure lifestyle to keep OCD at bay, it’s very important that these uncertainties are tolerated without the need to do a compulsion.

While I was doing this I saw a bottle by the side of a building that I went to pick up. As I got closer I found a wallet, keys, phone, and a switchblade on the floor by the bottle! Someone either dropped a lot of stuff or this was evidence of a crime! Continuing with the exposure I figured I had better take it and drop it off with the police. I picked these things up and put them in my bag too. Just goes to show that if you do something a little different sometimes you never know what you’ll find.

Oh yeah, I don’t think I washed my hands for at least a couple of hours afterwards, and I made sure to eat with my hands way before then.

What Did I Learn?

First, that there is no way to guarantee that I won’t get sick but that this isn’t going to stop me from living my life. Although being uncertain can be tough, because I like to know things for sure, I can tolerate being in that space. Second, I didn’t end up getting sick at all. Yay!

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