Until a few days ago, I’d gone the entire school year without ever touching my bathroom’s doorknob. I avoided this by either leaving the door cracked enough to let me use my feet to open the door, or I grabbed the doorknob with a designated washcloth that I kept nearby. Unfortunately, I often don’t touch any other doorknobs or handles of any kind in the rest of my apartment, either—not the refrigerator, not the microwave, not the cabinets, and not even the doorknob to my own bedroom.
I had been bothered by this set of compulsions for a long time, but the idea of going through Exposure-Response Prevention therapy to get rid of them seemed like much more work and trouble than just continuing to follow my rules—until I kept getting texts from my roommate kindly asking me to stop slamming doors.
I was rather confused at first. I had no idea I was slamming doors, but after a lot of thinking, I realized that some of my compulsive behaviors had become completely unconscious. I realized that a lot of the time, the only way I was closing a door hands-free involved slamming it.
To make matters worse, my roommate told me she has phonophobia: fear of loud sounds. Every time I closed the doors my way, she got debilitating anxiety. (We’re quite a pair aren’t we? The OCD girl’s compulsions set off the phobic girl’s anxiety.)
One part of me was mad that anyone would dare ask me to stop my compulsions, and I was embarrassed that they’d gotten so bad that I couldn’t. Another part of me, knowing how disruptive anxiety can be, felt horrible for causing my friend distress.
So this turned out to be my final straw—I now had the perfect excuse to make myself do some ERP to get over the door-closing compulsion.
That night, I decided to do the unthinkable: grabbing the bathroom doorknob without a washcloth and without washing my hands afterwards. As I trudged over to the door, my heart began to pound. My legs started shaking. My hands trembled as I reached for the knob. Before I could talk myself out of it, I quickly grabbed on and then stood there for at least two minutes.
My brain soon realized that touching the doorknob wasn’t dangerous after all, and my physical anxiety symptoms died down after a few more minutes. After a while, the exercise wasn’t unpleasant at all. I did so well with this exposure that I proceeded to go touch many things in my apartment that I’m not allowed to touch.
Although I’ve since reverted back to using the washcloth on the doorknob, I’ve shown myself that it is possible to break free and not nearly as unpleasant as I’ve imagined it to be. However, I’m still rather shocked that my OCD has once again gotten to the point where not doing a compulsion put me on the verge of a panic attack.
But you know what? Even though doorknobs have shut me into OCD again, I’ve realized that if I keep touching them, some day, they will allow me to reopen the door to my freedom.