Rules for being friends with a germaphobe:
• Don’t touch me
• Don’t touch my stuff
• Don’t sneeze near me
• In fact, if you have any contagion at all, don’t even look at me
• Wash your hands when you come into my house
• Do not double dip—ever.
• And for God’s sake DO NOT KISS MY BABY!
The thing about OCD is that people who don’t have it think that germaphobes are paranoid and offensive. People with OCD generally agree that the rest of the world has deplorable hygiene. Sharing a straw? I can see it. Sharing a toothbrush? Now who’s crazy? I mean, honestly?
Tolerance for germs, like everything else, is a graduated scale. I happen to fall pretty far to one side, and am unlikely to waver much. This puts me smack on the borderline between ‘particular’ and ‘obsessive.’
As a life-long germaphobe, I find that the best thing to do is to make my preferences known. Example: no matter how ‘zen’ I’m feeling, I’m still not going to want to shake hands. In fact, I silently praise Howie Mandel on the daily for making the fist-pump an acceptable alternative.
Type As and OCD
Being a Type-A means that obsession is just another word for ‘concentrating.’ OCD can come cloaked in many forms, not just an obsession with germs. As a general rule, perfectionists obsess. That’s what makes our work good. That’s what makes us get up at 5:00 AM to get on an elliptical. That’s what drives us.
But occasionally, perfectionism tips into compulsive behaviour. At what point this happens really depends on the person, but in my personal experience, an OCD-trip feels like getting stuck in mental quicksand. You just can’t shut off the loop. Sometimes it happens without warning, but most of the time, it’s a gradual increase in anxiety and a decrease in sleep that sends me skidding down that road.
And, of course, nothing triggers compulsive behaviour quite like the anxiety of having to fit in quietly.
After a few years, I’ve learned something simple. Don’t like something? Say so. At a party, I will chat and laugh and drink with people, but if they offer me the chip bowl or want to shake my hand, I’ve been known to say flat out “I don’t do germs.” Most times, people get it.
So that’s life in the grey area: manageable. A little bit more work, a little off-beat, possibly requiring more explanation or firmness than the average, but still controllable.
But then we have the black area…
When I had my daughter, my germ paranoia shot through the roof. I could see that I was being unreasonable, but was definitely stuck in a loop. I didn’t even want visitors in my house—including my family.
Because I was trying to manage exclusive breastfeeding while also working full time, my anxiety level crept upward with each passing day. As my wife and daughter slept soundly (my kid slept fantastically) I would pace the house in the wee hours of every morning. Insomnia, my old pal, compounded the anxiety, which made the paranoia that much worse.
Exercise was downright impossible post C-section, when I couldn’t even get out of bed without crying.
In short: a hot mess.
And we all know what happens when you bring home a newborn, right? The entire world bangs on your door in shifts, bringing in strange food (which they’ve lovingly prepared in the hopes of giving you a much-needed rest from cooking, but which you’re convinced contains everything from salmonella to listeria); sit on your furniture, use your bathroom, touch your things, ask to hold your tiny, precious, unvaccinated newborn.
I wanted to scream. All. The. Time.
Luckily, my prior honesty about germaphobia saved me from having to explain myself too much. The conversations were pretty short:
“Wash your hands or don’t come in.”
“Kiss her face and I will end you.”
Unfortunately, the basic opinion about baby blues being normal, and my staunch refusal to give in to anything even resembling post-partum depression made me a rather difficult patient. I’m pretty sure I cried every day for at least six months. I’m also pretty sure that I should have been medicated for part of that time.
Like every other loop I’ve been through, though—some a few hours, some a few months—it eventually subsided.
It was just life in the black. I don’t want to go there again anytime soon, but I survived. It got better. I might have presented bottles of Purel to visitors before they were allowed to take off their shoes, but nobody dropped me as a friend.
Oh, God. One ending note to those who have germaphobe friends:
If you want to stay friends, seriously, don’t pick up their tea mugs by the rim. 😉