Germaphobe In a Pandemic

Updated: Jul 17, 2020

My entire adult, and adolescent, life I have had a major issue with germs. I’m not sure exactly when it started; I can remember times, as a child, when it didn’t bother me at all. I do know that it’s been a very long time, and that it’s only grown worse over the years.

When the Covid19 pandemic started, before the actual quarantine, I saw all these posts online from people talking about how stressful it was, how it made them feel crazy and paranoid. They talked about how they were afraid to go into crowded places, how having people stand too close to them gave them terrible anxiety, how they were afraid to touch things, how they had to disinfect everything they bought at the store before putting at away, how their hands were dry and chapped from washing them so often.

Every one of these things was normal for me. Being in large groups of people gives me the feeling that my chest is being constricted. Sometimes I try to alleviate this by focusing on breathing slowly and deeply, but then I think about the fact that I’m breathing air that all of those people have been exhaling, and it only makes it worse.

If someone stands too close to me, it takes every ounce of my willpower to not either run away from them or punch them in the face. During conversations with people, I find myself slowly inching further away from them. I try to smile and listen to what they’re saying, but I always wonder if they can see the paranoia in my face.

As far as touching things, I have become very adept at using my pinky finger for opening doors, drawers, cabinets, etc. If I do have to touch something that I deem germy, there is an actual physical sensation that will not go away until I wash my hands. I am fully aware that this is psychosomatic, but it doesn’t matter; I can feel it, almost a numbness or tingling on the surface of my skin. Sometimes I will even forget, on a conscious level, that I have touched something germy. Then I will notice the feeling and have to make an effort to remember what it was that left that psychological residue on my skin. “Oh right, it was that door handle at the gas station.”

Everything I buy something, whether in a store or online, it gets disinfected before I use it. It doesn’t matter what it is, food, toiletries, books, whatever. It all has to be wiped down with cleaner. I have a designated spot where I leave everything until I have a chance to thoroughly sanitize it before putting it away.

I saw a couple of people actually post pictures of their hands to show how dry they had become from all the washing. I thought to myself, “That’s nothing.” I have to slather my hands in thick, highly effective, lotion every night when I go to bed (I recommend Cake brand, by the way. It’s cruelty-free, vegan, and works remarkably well.) Otherwise my skin will literally split open and bleed. In the winter it makes it difficult to even function, because the entire surface of my hands becomes raw and painful.

I probably wash my hands twenty times a day. I’ve never actually counted because, quite frankly, washing my hands takes up far too much of my time and mental energy the way is, but I don’t believe that to be an exaggeration. If it is, it’s not by much. Of course, it varies by the day, depending on what kind of things I’m doing that day, but also depending on my mood. Sometimes I just feel like they’re dirty, no matter how many times I wash them. This is also not taking into account the fact that I almost never just wash them once at a time. It’s always two, if not three or four, times. Lather, rinse, repeat.

So, when I saw people complaining about all of this, I felt two things. I felt one- vindicated. I have tried to keep my neuroses somewhat in check, to not let others see how much of an effect it has on my life. When I did say anything about it, people would act like I was being ridiculous, or annoying, or dramatic, or all three. Suddenly, everyone understood what it was like to feel that constant, obsessive awareness of every single thing, or person, they come in contact with.

Two- I felt like my whole life had been preparing me for this. While everyone else was losing their minds, I just kind of thought this was business as usual. For the first month or so, it seemed that I was dealing with this whole thing much better than the people around me because, well, I was used to it.

The problem (above and beyond the obvious world-wide problem of the fact that some people are still not taking this seriously, while other people are dying from it) is that all the behaviors that I had been trying so hard to control have now become socially acceptable. This sounds like a good thing, right? I thought that at first too. The thing is, now that I have fully allowed myself to wallow in my neuroses, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to break out of them again. I feel like, eventually, everyone else will be able to go back to their lives, go out in public and spend time with other people, without feeling like their skin is going to crawl off, but I don’t know if I will.

I guess we’ll see what happens when, and if, this pandemic is finally under control but I feel like there’s a good chance that I will spend the rest of my life hiding behind my computer, even more than I used to. Just know that, if I never see you in real life again, I’m thinking of you. Please, be safe, be good to each other and, for all our sakes, wash your damn hands.

Whitney Metz

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