OCD and Covid-19: Not a Good Mix
My need for perfection sent me in a tailspin.
As someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), I am obsessed with perfection. I have to be perfect at whatever I do, whether it’s being a mom or wife, working at my business, running my home, or taking care of my health. When I’m unable to live up to my expectations for myself, it causes me a lot of grief.
Before COVID-19 came around, I pretty much had my life together and I was indeed living up to my self-imposed expectations. I hired a babysitter to take care of my four-month old daughter and had a housekeeper come on Fridays so I could focus on my work. I was taking continuing education classes and feeling mentally stimulated and creatively fulfilled. I went to the gym to run on the treadmill every day and relieve my stress, and I could go to synagogue on Shabbat to feel spiritually fulfilled. On top of it all, I was an outstanding wife (hey, ask my husband) and new mother. I felt balanced and happy.
Then my city, Los Angeles, started shutting down and so many of my good habits went out the window. I started spiraling. I could no longer fulfill my high expectations of myself.
I couldn’t exercise. I didn’t get all of my work done. I stayed up until 5 in the morning looking at the news. I didn’t put on makeup anymore; in fact, I didn’t really care how I looked. I stopped eating healthy. I felt less connected to a Higher Power. Being a mommy and a wife were now incredibly stressful.
I didn’t cut myself any slack. I thought I was a failure for letting the chaos get to me.
And then came the guilt and the anger and the frustration with myself for not being perfect. The world was so insane, and I felt like I couldn’t even control my own life in the midst of all the chaos. One afternoon, a month into the quarantine, I went into my daughter’s closet and cried hysterically until I got sweaty and I couldn’t breathe. My husband had to talk me down from my panic attack.
I had my meltdown not only because I was stuck inside the house and the world outside felt scary and intense and crazy, but also because I was obsessing over my standards of perfection. Just because the world had gone upside down didn’t mean I had to as well. I didn’t cut myself any slack. I thought I was a failure for letting the chaos get to me.
No matter how many memes I came across about being kind to yourself during COVID-19 or friends’ posts about how difficult of a time they were having, it just didn’t help. I thought they just had lower standards for themselves. I wouldn’t let that happen. If I let one thing unravel, my whole life would unravel, too.
Then I found something online that really helped me. I learned that when you have a baby, like I did last October, you’re suddenly in a “season” of life. During this season, you’re not getting much sleep, you’re eating comfort foods, you’re not working out as much, and you’re generally neglecting your self-care. And this season would soon pass. I would survive and funny enough, I’d probably miss it one day when I looked back on it with some perspective.
I started thinking of COVID-19 as a season. I’d just gotten through a season of having a newborn baby when COVID hit, and I wasn’t hard on myself then. I allowed myself to be imperfect, to go weeks without exercise and days without washing my hair. I lived in the moment of having a beautiful new baby.
I thought of COVID as a season where I could spend more time with my husband and baby, cook delicious foods, watch my favorite TV shows, explore nearby beaches and hiking trails, and feel like a kid again when I stayed up late. I didn’t have to function normally during this time or be perfect. No one else was. Everyone’s world had been turned upside down overnight. Why did I still have these high expectations for myself in the middle of a pandemic?
I slowly came to peace with my situation. I wasn’t going to let my OCD win.
I’ve come to a place where I am back on track with most of my healthy habits, but I try not to feel guilty if I don’t finish everything in one day. I accept that some days I’ll be bloated because I ate poorly, while other days I may get to take a lovely walk and clear my mind. I won’t always check off my to-do list, and that’s fine. Nobody can accomplish all their goals all the time.
I’ve learned that the world is out of our control and only God knows what’s going to happen. No amount of obsessive thoughts or compulsions can change that fact. That’s not a bad thing; it’s comforting. COVID-19 has reminded me that the Almighty has the power and everything will be for the best in the end.
I may never conquer my OCD. I might continue to struggle with not being perfect. But now, I’m okay with that.