My OCD Makes It Hard To Enjoy Anything -- Even Vacation

by Abbe Greenberg
Originally Published: 

I’m not proud to say this, but sometimes, when I think about having obsessive compulsive disorder, I feel a bit sorry for myself. Why can’t I have something less disruptive and more easily cured, like say, excessive ear wax or a hammertoe? Then I start pondering the removal of said excessive ear wax and, suddenly, I am grateful for my OCD. Besides, I remind myself, it’s not that bad. I can still lead a pretty normal life. And I don’t have to wear orthotics.

As I write this, I am lounging by the hotel pool on the first day of my five-day vacation. It’s quite a lovely facility—one of those huge infinity pools with fountains spraying all around it. Some guy is coming around handing out ice cold water with fresh strawberries floating in it and warm towels. I am intermittently reading a wonderful book and working on a challenging word puzzle. It’s as close to paradise as it gets.

Except for that child whose voice keeps piercing my reverie: “Help! Mom, Dad look. Help! Look at me! Help!” Clearly he has not read The Boy Who Cried Wolf. I glare at him, hoping to convey my contempt, and that’s when I see it: the mother of all boogers he is extracting from his nostril. He holds it up triumphantly, and I find myself silently praying eat it please eat it. No such luck. He is flicking it into the water. The very same water in which my husband is beckoning me to join him. I am going to have to wade through the snot to get to him.


I decide that, if I enter the pool from the other side, I can reach my husband without contracting whatever childhood viruses the Screamer is harboring. So I do this frenetic jig (the deck is really hot) around the perimeter of the pool and swim to my husband from behind him. He turns to me, surprised.

“Why didn’t you just get in at the stairs [in front of our chairs]?”

“Oh,” I replied. “I just wanted to sneak up on you. I was being stealthy.”

“Then you should have reconsidered the hot coal dance. Everyone was staring at you.”

He wraps his arms around me and carries me through the water. At first I am loving this—I cannot remember the last time we were alone in a pool. But then I find myself scanning the surface for The Booger. Could it have made it all the way to the other side of the pool? Is there a current in here?

“Did you hear me?” my husband asks.

“No,” I said truthfully. “I was distracted.”

JGI/Tom Grill/Getty

“By the baby?”

No. By my desire for a Hazmat suit.

“What baby?” My eyes dart around searching for a chubby-cheeked cutie to block out images of a giant blob of snot devouring me in one gulp.

“Over there,” my husband says. “Playing on the steps.”

I spot the baby—more of a toddler—sporting a diaper sagging so far down his thigh it had to be loaded. I lift my head up higher onto my husband’s shoulder and try to make my hair stay on top of my head. I clench my Kegel muscles against the onslaught of E. Coli that must surely be headed my way and try to figure out the safest way to escape this cesspool.

“Can we get out?” I plead.

“So soon? It’s so nice.”

“I know, but I’m burning. I should get out of the sun.” (And out of this Petri dish.)

Reluctantly, my husband—so accustomed to my “issues”—releases me. He has learned in the past quarter of a century that reasoning with me will not help. That OCD is not a rational illness. My brain is wired in a way that causes me to obsess over germs and health issues, and, although I have greatly lessened my compulsions through medication and therapy, the idea of soaking in boogers and feces is more than my anxiety can handle. No amount of Purell will solve this dilemma. I’m going to need a full-on nuclear shower.

I close my eyes and splash toward the stairs across from Poopy Pants. As soon as I’m out of the pool, I run upstairs to shower in the hottest water I can stand and shampoo twice. After I’ve washed my suit in Woolite and hung it to dry on the balcony, I am suddenly so tired. I need a nap.

I strip the bed of its comforter and decorative pillows (hotels never wash them) and then inspect the sheets for signs of contamination. God I wish I had one of those Luminol lights the CSI people use! Do they sell them on Amazon? I sit, legs outstretched, on the bed with my computer on my lap, and that’s when I notice it: the slightest curling of my second and third toes…

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