Sunday, 20 March 2011

Under the Skin of the ex-Germaphobic

I look back light-heartedly at the story I am about to tell but in reality, it represents a real low point.

I was in India, travelling, when I dropped my  purse onto the floor of the car - something anybody else would struggle to recall amongst all the memories of an incredible two-month stay in Asia.

The purse lay next to my walking boots that I knew had traipsed across the dusty ground - roamed by potentially rabid dogs and laden with the evidence of the locals' tobacco-spitting habits - and I couldn't pick it up. I remember sitting there, staring down at it and being completely paralysed while hiding my face from my friend beside me as my eyes welled up.

I distinctly remember thinking, for the first time in my life, that I was completely pathetic.

It must be an unnatural thing for others to understand - I imagine it seems completely irrational. Sometimes I can't get my own head around it and like I said, I look back and laugh at how ludicrous it all seems now.

The thing is, I have always been quite the logical thinker.

Nevertheless, I can confess that I once used nearly a whole bottle of hand gel in just one day and with every stinging application my eczema-covered hands were becoming more and more red-raw.

So how can I possibly convince you that, at the time, it all made perfect sense?

Well let's say the old me drops her only square of chocolate on to the floor at a friend's (clean) house.

I'd pick it up instinctively, and then my eyes would be drawn to the spot where it had lead for only a matter of seconds and in a cognitive montage of worst-case scenarios, I'm suddenly overwhelmed with reasons to forgo the five-second rule.

The floor before me would now appear as only a platform of potential contamination. Dozens of pairs of shoes will have trodden over that space and before that moment those shoes will have walked over all kind of terrain. The soles of those shoes will have - at some point - traipsed over chewing gum, cigarrette ends, mud, spit and dogs mess.

From their time outside, those shoes would have walked on pavements no doubt roamed by the occasional wild animal. Rats, mice, foxes, badgers and the untameable paralytic party-goer could have left their mark on the very soles which may have wandered over the very spot I was staring down at.

And as much as I would have wanted to rationalise and eat it like more easy-going guys my age, as much as I would have painfully longed to satisfy my sweet tooth, I would have weighed up all that so-called evidence and cast it aside. Then I would have hand-gelled, just for good measure.

When you can justify a compulsion in that way, it takes a lot to break the habit. You have to re-learn what you thought you knew for sure. And if you had quite understandably thought  that Germaphobic's were just fussy clean freaks, perhaps that has opened your eyes a little because - believe it or not - I can't even class myself as ever being an actual Germaphobic.

I never sought consultation, I was never assessed to be a Germaphobic and that's important to establish because as a medical condition (Mysophobia) it exists in its own right. But as they say, admitting you have a problem is the first step to overcoming it so my experiences were a case of total self-diagnosis.

I forced myself to see the back of a very punishing frame of mind, knowing there were bigger fish to fry and realising that I'd never get anywhere if I was too worried about the pan being dirty.

And if I dropped that same square of chocolate on the carpet today I wouldn't think twice about dusting it off and eating it regardless. I'm a firm believer in the five second rule and my fears of people judging me would be far outweighed by a disproportionate sense of pride and achievement.

It's completely against our instinct to put our flaws out there for the world to see, but I'd come to the conclusion that Germaphobia has for far too long been treated like a dirty word and if nothing else, I just can't stand that level of irony, so it was time to lift the lid on the social taboo.

No comments: