Sarah Mergens showed signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder long before she was diagnosed with it as an adult. It initially took the shape of harmless quirks, like organizing dinosaur toys by shape and color. More debilitating symptoms crept in as she got older, such as being afraid of public doorknobs or worrying that she’d use a bad egg when baking and cause someone she loves to become ill.As an adult, Mergens, 27, held her OCD symptoms at bay through exposure and response prevention therapy, supportive friends and family and internal pep talks. Then COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, began to spread and threatened to set her back on the progress she’s made in convincing herself that her fear of circulating an illness is overblown. The virus, she said, is her “personal nightmare.””I can’t think of another event that’s hit me like this has,” said Mergens, a psychotherapist who lives in the Minneapolis area. “Suddenly everything that I told myself again and again until I believed it was true is in direct contradiction to what my boss, the government and the community were telling me.”Her thoughts became an endless stream of “what ifs.” What would happen if she was quarantined?


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