When Your Inner Germaphobe Becomes Your Outer Germaphobe.

Okay, hang onto your hats, wash your fucking hands, and welcome to (one of) my major psychological malfunctions.

Confession time: Hello, my name is Borys and I am a lifelong germaphobe.

Always have been, probably always will be. Part of this stems from obsessive personality traits, diagnosed some time back in the early 90s… and part of it results from spending way too much time on the Internet and researching the fuck out of “things that can, and probably will, go wrong”. Yes, I dare say germaphobia and innate pessimism go hand in hand.  I have always been careful to make a distinction between me and my diagnosed ‘obsessive personality traits’ (germaphobic, huge equal helpings of being overly meticulous, finickity, and fastidious about way too many things), and that of people who really suffer from full-on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, who experience debilitating and controlling compulsions because I think a lot of people are too flippant with the ‘OCD’ tag. I don’t suffer from compulsions…  Or at least I have not in the past.

When I was really little I used to hate the feeling of mud squishing up between my toes when we went pumping yabbies on the mudflats at Straddie – it turned my stomach because it felt like stepping in dog shit… something which happened semi-regularly when you spent your childhood roaming the neighbourhood barefoot and people weren’t required by local laws to pick up after their pets back then.  I’m fairly confident it got much worse when I was about 15 and I contracted glandular fever.  Either picked up from sharing a drink with some random or (more likely) from snogging Alan Medland at a Blue Light Disco, seeing he came down with it several days before I did.  Anyhoo… it laid me up for about six weeks.  I was really really sick, fever, aches, coughing and spluttering and spitting up gunk. Multiple blood tests later, I found out I have shit veins. Secondary infection meant I lost my voice and an entire term of school work. It was pretty miserable.  My capacity for solving simultaneous equations never recovered but, ‘meh’, I survived.

About four months later my sister, BigSal, got chickenpox – and I was determined to do everything in my power not to get sick again!  I disinfected everything. Repeatedly. I refused to use the phone if she’d been on it.  I wouldn’t be in the same room with her. I wouldn’t touch things that she had touched, I wouldn’t eat my meals near her and insisted she shouldn’t be allowed near the kitchen – basically forced everyone to treat her like a complete leper.  Anyway, I was successful and managed to avoid getting chickenpox even while living in the same house as an infected/contagious individual for about a month. As it turns out my fastidiousness in avoiding it was a bit of a mistake – spending your entire adult life worrying about getting a dose of chickenpox as an adult is not fun  😐   Yes, I’ve been vaccinated of course – but still.

Ever since then, I’ve been somewhat, err… hypervigilant in the hygiene department?  How hypervigilant?  Well pernickety enough that when I was in Turkey and stuck in the tight confines of a double-decker bus with 23 people – when more than half of them got sick with a really aggressive case of gastro – I didn’t get it.  And again when on a cruise ship with a whole bunch of people down with norovirus – I didn’t get it.  My mum used to say I have a cast-iron gut when people all around me were getting sick and I wasn’t. But truth is, I have always just been really really anal retentive about my hand/face hygiene habits my entire life, and no more so than when travelling.

I got even more germophobic in 2003 after I picked up a very serious (read: potentially fatal) staph infection in my abdomen after a laparoscopic surgery that landed me back in a different hospital from the one that gave it to me, with a burning abdomen, high fevers, delirium, two infectious diseases specialists, some ‘let’s nuke this fucker from space’ IV antibiotics that they hold back especially for these types of infections, and a newfound hatred for hospitals. :/

My particular brand of germaphobia is usually somewhat like a subterranean aquifer – it’s well hidden but it runs pretty consistently unless diverted.  Long before this coronavirus outbreak, I had a hundred and one little hygiene little habits. I can’t sleep if I haven’t showered, the idea of getting into bed ‘dirty’ (yeah, dirty from sitting around on a computer in the air-con all day) feels completely ‘ick’.  I’ve always washed my hands so often and aggressively that the fingerprint reader on both my previous iPhones never worked (god bless facial recognition!). I make mental notes of who’s drinking what and to never drink from someone else’s cup. It angers me to try and make even something simple like toast in my kitchen if there are any dirty dishes lying around from the night before.  People double-dipping at social gatherings makes me want to scream at them, and yes, I am judging you fuckers (unless it’s someone you’re snogging, don’t double-dip with them!).  I can’t use moisturisers on my hands or face (or massage oil on my back) without feeling like my skin it is ‘suffocating’. The idea of a dog sleeping on my bed literally makes my skin crawl.  I can’t/won’t use someone else’s iPad or device if I can see it’s got greasy fingerprint marks on the screen. I hate hate hate pimples and can’t stand those ‘popping’ videos full of pus. Even the suggestion of using someone else’s toothbrush when desperate, is enough to make me gag.  Catching a whiff of someone’s bad breath literally makes me want to throw up, and up until now, one of the worst times of my life was when my son was in nappies. Urgggh… *shudders from something akin to PTSD*.

It’s mostly something that I’ve just been quietly but acutely aware of my whole life, but that I’ve been largely able to keep to myself. No one really notices or cares when you politely refuse to share a cup with them, or choose to wait out in your car instead of in a doctor’s waiting room, or if you go out of your way not to sit near someone coughing in a cinema…  At the moment, however, we are being bombarded with ‘Coronavirus this’, ‘Corvid-19 that’ and it’s getting harder and harder to maintain some semblance (pretence?) of equilibrium.

Mr K was in Sydney last week for work, and even though I know logically that given his movements there, he’s at minimal risk of having been exposed – I’ve relegated him to the back of the house to his bedroom and his office, banned him from the living room or from touching ANYTHING in the kitchen or refrigerator until I’m comfortable that he’s still asymptomatic by the time the median incubation period has passed.  In the last week, he came into the living room and sat down out of habit – just once.  It took only a few minutes before I felt my heart starting to race, my chest started to tighten with a feeling of wanting to scream but can’t (probably can but, you know, shouldn’t). I was mentally assessing when/if I should just get up and leave, and knowing all this was totally irrational but feeling it anyway and feeling powerless to control it, meant that I very rapidly felt the prick of oncoming tears.  My idiotic brain is causing my body to react with alarm/panic in the absence of genuine danger. It’s not fun.

Given the low probability of contagions in my own home, I KNOW I’m overreacting and I’m well aware of it.. but I can’t seem to help it. And I’ve been over-reacting for weeks now.  I haven’t left the house for anything social (with the exception of one dinner out on the 12th of March at a totally empty restaurant), since Feb 22nd.  Nooooo, I’m not paranoid at all… but I did just quietly locked myself in over a month ago.

Grocery trips have been done, but nothing else.  I’ve never been glad for self-checkouts before, but at the moment ain’t nobody needs other people handling their groceries more than necessary. It’s bad enough that we have no idea if the people on minimum income stocking the shelves are healthy. So, it’s been out with the hand sanitizer after touching trolleys, or bags or well, fucking anything at all. And again before getting back in the car and then scrubbing hands again at home with soap and water, before *and* after unpacking groceries.  More hand scrubbing before, during and after prepping meals.  Using cloths to open the dishwasher or touch the kettle (one for me – one for him). These are the sorts of precautions I normally only exercise when travelling in third world countries and I’ve taken to deploying them in my own house since the number of confirmed cases in my state was a grand total of TWO.   😐  This virus, how contagious it is, and the progression of the disease on the body scares the living shit out of me.

But apparently, it doesn’t scare everyone. Watching my Boomer and Gen Z friends, family and colleagues not taking this seriously is honestly doing my head in – Aunt (currently partway through breast cancer treatments) and Uncle (over 70, long time smoker, had a heart valve replaced a few months ago) spent last weekend traipsing about visiting friends and going out to the pub for lunch!  Fav 20-year-old niece recently returned from Sydney was out at a party last Saturday night… WHAT-THE-EVER-LOVING-FUCK!?!  Some households with both parents working from home are still dropping their kid to DAYCARE!  I’ve seen the pictures of people at Bondi Beach, people lining up at Centrelink (it’s so shit that that has become necessary), friends still reporting plenty of foot traffic in retail apparel stores because people are ‘bored’, and so many others still trying to find ‘loopholes’ to keep getting out and keep doing things over the last week or so?  WTF people!

Pretending I’m not freaking out that everything I touch, or anyone I come in contact with, could be infected is exhausting.  For me, over the last month, leaving the house has felt like steeling yourself to go for a supply run in an episode of The Walking Dead.  Watching our government with their incompetent mixed messaging on what is allowed and what is not, and what’s considered ‘essential work’ and what’s not – all the while leaving schools open and risking the lives of all our friends and family who work in education or healthcare is equally angering and terrifying to every fibre of my being… especially in light of the fact that our PM has had his own kids safely ensconced at home for over a week?  The mongrel fucking bastard.

EVERYONE, PLEASE JUST STAY THE FUCK AT HOME – STAY AWAY FROM OTHER PEOPLE… AND WASH YOUR GODDAMN HANDS. THEN WASH THEM AGAIN, AND KEEP WASHING THEM UNTIL YOUR DAMN FINGERPRINTS ARE DISAPPEARING!!!

For the first time ever, we don’t want to be like Italy.  :'(

PS: If you see me wearing this on a t-shirt… in my defence, I did buy it before this thing started to spiral out of control. It’s now very relevant content – you can buy your own at Teeturtle.

PPS: If you have any weird friends who get miffed when you don’t put their DVDs back in the ‘right spot’, or they sort their books by genre then by author or by height, or who keep their sewing pins in clumps by pinhead colour, or who may sort their wardrobe by colour, or who have meticulously got everything in their pantry in Tupperware containers, or who stand around tidying dump bins at JB HiFi while you’re actually shopping, or who … well, you know the people I mean.  Go check on them – they’re probably not doing great.

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