Learning to shake hands
Early this year, I set myself a goal; that by the end of 2016, I would have trained myself to shake hands with people without flipping out. Now, that may not sound like a difficult thing, but when you have OCD, shaking someone’s hand can be the equivalent of an arachnophobe picking up a tarantula.
I don’t mean to sound derogatory or judgmental towards others, but whenever someone offered me their hand to shake, my OCD would kick into overdrive, and all I could think about was “you don’t know everywhere that hand has been and everything it might have touched” and “what if they forgot to wash their hands after going to a toilet” and “what if they sneezed into that hand or wiped their nose with it a few minutes ago?”
The fear would kick in like a shot of liquid nitrogen, and I’d tell them that sorry, I don’t do handshakes. It was nothing personal, I just would rather not deal with the anxiety that would inevitably result.
This year I resolved to confront this fear, using the same techniques I used to acclimatize myself to hugs, rubbish bins, public toilets, and public transport; gradual controlled exposure. I made a point of shaking hands whenever I met someone new. At first it was terrifying, but I forced myself to keep doing it, and over time, it got less and less scary.
I can’t say it’s completely lost its bite, but I’ve reached the point where I can cope with it reasonably well, and I no longer avoid it. And so, another battle is won in the ongoing war against anxiety. Now to decide which fear to target next. There are still plenty to choose from, but slowly yet surely, the list is shrinking.