Nothing Is Ever Clean

Nothing Is Ever Clean.

Janet had been housebound for 5 years since she resigned from her job as an accountant. In her early 50s, a mutual friend referred her to me, as they had graduated together from the local university. Her resignation resulted from her obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), which had escalated dramatically until it caused her severe embarrassment in the office when colleagues began noticing that she was constantly washing her hands and going through several boxes of tissues each week; just cleaning her table and office files. She had been diagnosed with OCD since she was 20 years old and had been on increasing doses of prescribed medication for anxiety.

When she first came for counselling, her condition was dire. She was suicidal and would only venture out of her apartment when she had to keep her quarterly appointment with her psychiatrist. Her foster father did most of her marketing and catered for her meals each day. From sunrise, she would commence scrubbing her apartment and would only stop at sundown. Her water bills were in the hundreds of dollars, and the water authority called regularly on her to investigate her extravagant water consumption. No one was allowed into her apartment for fear of contaminating it, not even her parents. To conclude that it was a battle for her to keep her appointments with me was an understatement. Initially, she would stand outside the office and refused to press the doorbell or knock on the glass door, due to fears over germs, until someone noticed her from the inside. She would rather stand than sit on any of the comfortable chairs in the counselling room. Any challenges to her perception of what she considered ‘dirty’ elicited an expression of incredulity.

Her daily scrubbing of everything in her home that she perceived as contaminated initially began in the bathroom several years ago; it started with the wash basin, then progressed to the taps, and eventually included the entire shower area and its taps. Then one day, she noticed that water would splash onto the bathroom door, and the door got washed. After some months, she started cleaning her cooker, advancing on to the kitchen sink, cupboards, walls and floors. Soon, her bedroom and the lounge were included in this daily cleaning ritual. In between sessions, her hands would be washed seven times with soap and a brush applied between her nail crevices seven times. Soon, everything had to be cleaned seven times over. She showed me her severely chapped hands; discoloured, dry, and cracked. Janet was totally cognizant that her OCD condition was out of control, and her medication level was at its peak; her daily intake could not be increased further. She was desperate!

She had been put through her church’s inner healing and spiritual deliverance sessions, with no improvements. Her obsessive concern for cleanliness began soon after she was sexually molested one night by her foster father as a teenager. She paid little attention to her initial symptoms till after her graduation, when the stress level in her workplace increased, and her OCD became full blown, exacerbating her washing and counting compulsions.