When anxiety turns a peaceful Sunday roast into a living nightmare

By Caitriona McMahon         @Caitriona_Mac

I’m going to start by saying I just wanted to cook a chicken.

An unusual start to an article perhaps but nevertheless it is true. Unfortunately one of the things you quickly learn when living with acute anxiety is that nothing is ever ‘JUST.’

You cannot ‘just’ pop to the shop or ‘just’ send an email. The most mundane of chores become what feels like life or death situations and today wanting to cook a bloody chicken was no different.

For most popping on a Sunday roast is probably a simple routine task but for me it is anything but. You see some years back I had the misfortune of watching a TV show on cooking raw chicken and in particular, the effect Campylobacter can have if it gets into your body system.

A normal response would probably be “Well, isn’t it great to know we shouldn’t wash chickens under the tap anymore.  I’m lucky I never got sick before.”  But my response however, can vary from day-to-day depending on my current level of anxiety.

But on Sunday, Mr Anxiety was particularly bad from the moment my foot hit the floor and although maybe not the best idea, I still wanted to eat a roast.

However to perform such a high risk task first some precautions needed to be taken:

1. When I was in the shop I had to be careful to choose a chicken that was 100% not going to leak on any other groceries in the bag, in fact I decided to carry it separately.

2. In the car I could not leave the chicken down on the seat. Let’s face it someone could sit on that seat and then put their hands in their mouths and end up in intensive care.

3. Once home I had to place antibacterial soap next to the tap, and keep the bleach and Dettol spray nearby.

4. I had to turn the tap on a little because once my hands touched that chicken there was no going back!

5. I placed the chicken in a cooking tray and with extreme caution tried to remove the elastic without getting a slap in the face.  I washed my hands, placed the tray in the oven, washed my hands again, disposed of packaging, washed my hands.

I’m guessing you can see a pattern arising here.

6. Now the worst part came. THE WASH UP.


7. I bleached all the kitchen worktops, sinks and taps and decided to clean the entire kitchen to be sure.  I didn’t even forget to disinfect the outside of the Dettol and bleach bottle I had touched.

8. I took a deep breath, focused and washed items that had not in any uncertain terms been within 20 metres of the chicken.  Then I washed the items used to glaze the chicken. After scrubbing them in hot water, I poured boiling water over them to make sure no sly germs survived.

9. I dried everything immediately and hoped nothing interrupted me, as let’s face it, one intrusive thought placing doubt on the cleaning process would mean starting from scratch.

I know this probably reads like some kind of bizarre rambling and in fact I often laugh at myself because if I didn’t I would cry.

I knew deciding to cook the chicken carried an expectancy of frustration, self doubt, low mood and over checking but I did it anyway.

As I write this I’m bloody exhausted and deflated and if someone was to ask ‘what’s wrong, are you okay?’ – could you imagine explaining the cause of my exasperation was cooking a chicken?

Imagine explaining that I allow my thoughts to convince me that I could be the cause of making myself or someone else fatally ill.

There is often an assumption that anxiety shows as someone experiencing a panic attack someplace that may be stressful or crowded but this is not always the cause.

In fact it can be as individual as the person themselves. Anxiety is never ‘just’ anything and to onlookers may appear very strange.

So before rushing to judgement or assumptions about someone else’s behaviour please consider what a person may be going through. It may be the only way they can get through the day for now!

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