A girl with too many thoughts...

Monday, 27 March 2017

A Fear of Allergic Reactions?

TW: I go into detail about my experience with contamination OCD, my fear of anaphylaxis & briefly mention suicidal thoughts.

Is a fear of having an allergic reaction a specific phobia? Has it got a name? If so, I think I might have it. This isn't something I speak very openly about with anyone (online or offline) because, if I'm honest, I'm quite embarrassed by it. I more than anyone know how completely irrational it is. However, this is a fear that has had (and still has) a significant impact on my life and has accompanied my experience with mental illness for some time. Therefore, it only seems right that I'm honest about it on my blog.

When people think of contamination OCD, they instantly assume a fear of germs. Yet for me, it wasn't bacteria that I saw covering every surface - it was potential allergens. My life revolved around a fear of going into anaphylaxis; the thought of it plagued my mind every waking hour. I was so petrified that it was going to happen that I developed relentless rituals to try and prevent it. It took over every aspect of my life, to the point where I could no longer function.

I soon began to avoid all foods that are well-known for causing severe allergic reactions; all types of nut (particularly peanuts, something which I still fear to this day), egg (who knew egg could cause anaphylaxis? I didn't, until I devoted my entire life to avoiding it), certain types of seafood and even specific materials such as latex gloves. Any food that possibly contained these substances in any way, shape or form were out of bounds.

I obsessively checked food labels, scanning the back of packets until I found the 'allergy advice' section and instantly putting it back down if there was any mention of nuts, sesame seeds or egg. The phrases 'May Contain...', 'Not Suitable For...' or 'Made in a Factory That Handles...' soon became a great source of dread for me. In fact, these foods were forbidden from entering the house altogether and just to be sure, I would open all of our kitchen cupboards with a piece of kitchen roll to avoid potential allergens transferring onto my skin.

This wasn't enough to reassure me, though.

I began to take it even further when presented with the realisation that, in theory, absolutely anything could cause an allergic reaction. Therefore, the only things I could consider truly 'safe' were the things I knew for certain (or as certain as I could be considering that with OCD, nothing is certain) wouldn't cause me a reaction; the foods that I ate and clothes that I wore every single day. And so the obsession, along with the tireless compulsions that accompanied it, spiralled.

My diet became limited to a few, very specific 'safe' foods (namely coco pops, pasta and cheese...not all together, that would be too far). I wore the exact same items of worn out clothing every day, and these would have to be be washed several times per day as they easily became 'contaminated'. I had to shower if I thought any allergens had come into contact with my skin, my hair, my mouth. This meant that if I left the house, no matter how briefly, I would have to shower when I returned. In the end, I barely left the house to avoid spending most of the day in the shower.

I could no longer sit downstairs with my family; the sofas were covered in far too many potential allergens. I wouldn't let my family (including the dog) come too close to me or my possessions. Not even my Mum, the person I trusted the most in the world, was allowed to hug me. My bed became a safe haven free of contaminants and so I would spend the majority of my time there (only if I was 'clean' enough, of course).

I would wash my hands until they bled, getting through an entire bottle of soap in a day or two. I would get stuck in what me and my Mum deemed a 'hand-washing loop', where I could wash them 30, even 40 times at once to the point of tears. Every time I attempted to stop washing my hands and get back into bed, something would contaminate them again. Did I touch the door handle on my way out of the bathroom? Did I touch the door handle on the way into my room? I couldn't use any cream to heal them, however, as this was also a potential allergen.

I started to severely neglect my appearance. Everything could possibly cause a reaction and so shampoo, shower gel, deodorant, toothpaste, skincare products and make-up became too 'dangerous' to use. Basic self-care went out of the window, along with any shred of dignity I may have had left. I can't even begin to describe how embarrassed I am to think back to the state I was in, or what those close to me must have thought of me. By this point, it was too much for my family to handle alone and it started to seem like the only option would be for me to receive inpatient treatment.

I had become unrecognisable - a ghost of my former self. I had no personality, I didn't care about anything (apart from fear) and the only way I could express this was through constant outbursts of anger and crying. Living in a constant state of terror completely destroys you from the inside out and to be quite honest, I wasn't sure I wanted to live anymore - not like that, anyway.

On that note, I'm going to wrap things up. If I was to describe any more of my rituals, this post would quite literally be never-ending. It was a real eye-opener for me to go into that much depth about my past experience with OCD. It tends to be a period of my life I try my best to block out - mainly because I'm so embarrassed by it, but also because it's not particularly something I wish to remember.

Writing this post is the first time I've admitted to myself just how bad things became. I've since undergone CBT and still take medication to control my symptoms and so, even though they still affect me daily, they aren't anywhere near as severe. I can function now.

If anything, I hope this post will make more people realise just how detrimental OCD can be to a person's life. Many people continue to ridicule this illness, whilst remaining completely ignorant to the awful impact it can have.

OCD is a serious mental health condition, and it destroys lives. So please, don't make it even harder for sufferers to access support by making light of it.

Thanks for reading (and congratulations if you made it to the end).


  1. All the best to you as you continue this journey. I'm glad it's gotten even just a little bit better.

    1. Thank you, this means a lot. :)

  2. I think it's great that you're sharing your experiences with OCD and I'd actually love to read a post about your CBT and how that all went for you/what it entailed etc?

    Julia // The Sunday Mode

    1. Thank you! That's a really good idea. I hadn't considered writing a post on my CBT experience before but it's definitely something I'll think about doing now, thanks for the suggestion! :)

  3. i have this exactly, i cant even drink a gatorade or eat i have to be forced every few days to eat something small. Im very weak and sometimes my mind even psychs me out of drinking water. Did you go inpatient? if so what did they do for you?

    1. I'm really sorry you're experiencing this too. It's exhausting. Luckily I didn't have to go inpatient though. My Mum took me to see the GP, which I was really reluctant to do at first. My GP referred me onto CAMHS as I was under 18 at the time, and I underwent almost a year of CBT and was also prescribed antidepressants which I still take. Taking the pills was a problem in itself but with the CBT I found ways to rationalise such fears. I still struggle with it but not to the same extent as I did before. I hope you are able to receive some support as there is help available and you don't have to let this fear control your life. I know it probably feels impossible to get out of this now but it's incredible how we can actually teach our minds to work differently so that we can control our thoughts, rather than let our thoughts control us!


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