Living with OCD in the Middle of a Pandemic

Worth Living Ambassador Katie Campeau

My name is Katie Campeau. I am 23 years old and have recently completed my Master’s degree
in sociology at Acadia University (Wolfville, Nova Scotia). My research focused on mental health
and severe mental illness. I live with severe Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and an eating
disorder.

Living with OCD in the Middle of a Pandemic

We’re living in the middle of a nightmare—otherwise known as a pandemic. There is global
panic. Society is changing from day to day, hour to hour.

Yet, in my case, my OCD treatment has prepared me for this very event.

I know that sounds strange. How am I prepared for a pandemic? It’s not that I’ve anticipated
the COVID-19 outbreak. What I mean is that I have been trained to deal with uncertainty.

Right now we are living in a perpetual state of uncertainty. Will I get COVID-19? Will my loved
ones get COVID-19? What if I die? What if they die? What if the pandemic goes on for months
or years? What if out of food? The list goes on and on. As human beings, we seek control. Right
now, COVID-19 is completely out of our control, and we don’t know what’s going to happen.

I have spent my whole life seeking control. I had (and still have) intrusive thoughts about my
parents and loved ones dying. These thoughts began well before the pandemic started. I was
terrified that “the Universe” was against me and going to steal my loved ones. After four years
of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, I learned that life is incredibly random and scary. I have
control over very little. My compulsions were not going to change whether my parents and
loved ones were actually going to die—those compulsions would merely alleviate the anxiety
that came with those thoughts.

I had to learn how to be okay living in a constant state of uncertainty.

Living in uncertainty is uncomfortable and inevitable. We have been living in a state of
uncertainty before the pandemic began. It’s important to remember this. We never had control
over whether or not we could get sick. We’ve never had control over our loved ones being safe.
In some ways, there is nothing new about our circumstances regarding uncertainty. The rise of
COVID-19 has heighted our sense of helplessness. But we never did have control over the state
of our mortality. Yet, somehow many of us have made it up until this point in time. I’m one of
those people.

That is why I am feeling okay in the middle of this pandemic.* A lot of people expect me to be
more panicked because OCD is strongly associated with fears of contamination. Don’t get me
wrong, I have some fears of contamination, but not everyone does. My contamination related
fears are not as severe as other people’s OCD. With this in mind, there are many people with
OCD (and other mental illnesses) that are struggling, regardless of whether they’ve been in
treatment or not.

I am not trying to downplay anyone’s struggle. I’m just here to highlight how living with OCD
has been helped me to manage my own concerns about COVID-19.

For those of you who are struggling, I encourage you to focus on things that you do have
control over. Maintain your routine (to the best of your ability) and following the COVID-19
guidelines. Make sure to self-isolate, wash your hands (when necessary), keep your distance
from others, and so forth. By focusing on what you can control, you can start to reduce the
“what if” mentality.

By being mindful about uncertainty, you can get through the panic you’re currently feeling. I
know this isn’t a solution to the pandemic. It’s only a solution to diminishing your distress
during a stressful time. Challenging uncertainty and being mindful about what is within your
control will not happen instantly. It takes a lot of time and practice to be okay with what is not
within your control. I had four years of practice, so I’m aware that mindfulness is much easier
said than done.

However, I can say with conviction that everything gets better with time.

*Just to be clear, I am young and do not have an immune-deficient illness, so I recognize that I am also in a state of privilege here.  

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