What goes through your mind when you’re getting ready to go to a concert or out to dinner with friends? I bet you are thinking about what to wear and if traffic is heavy. Maybe you are wondering what songs will be performed or what to order for dinner.
I think about those things too, but only in the back of my mind. Instead, I’m focused on worrying about if the person sitting next to me will be sick. I’m trying to stop myself from playing a horror movie of me falling down the arena stairs to my untimely death. I’m wondering if the chef is coughing into my food or tasting something and then sticking the spoon right back in.
People think it’s easy having OCD and germaphobia, the two best friends I never wanted in my life. They go hand in hand, and I really can’t imagine the germaphobia existing for me without OCD. For me, OCD makes me very observant. This can sometimes be a great thing when I notice mistakes quickly in emails or skim a recipe and know how to make it, but most of the time, it doesn’t benefit me in the slightest.
I can hear someone cough from a mile away. I notice if people look pale or even just “off” and convince myself that they are going to contaminate me. I examine food before I put it in my mouth and can spot an irregularity anyone else would not notice. This symptom of OCD has created fear of any and every illness and the ability to detect potential hazards at every turn.
“Oh, I bet your house is so clean,” people say to me. While, yes, my house is clean enough, I don’t fit the OCD stereotype many people have in their minds. Sure, I have obsessively checked to ensure the stove is off before I leave the house, but not everything is organized and in its proper place and I don’t have classic rituals.
My OCD manifests itself almost entirely in the form of germaphobia. Even worse than the stereotypes is that people think germaphobia is a phony fear, when in reality it is just as real as a fear of flying, dogs or spiders. By the way, I am afraid of flying, but not because I don’t want to be up in the air or because I think the plane might crash, but because I’m afraid I’ll get sick. The same goes for hotels, so I haven’t traveled in about fifteen years.
Maybe I was born with OCD and germaphobia, maybe not. All I know for sure is that starting around third grade, I became terrified of getting sick. And when you are in school with a bunch of kids who get sick a lot, life is daily torture. It leaves you not fitting in since you avoid others who are not feeling well, don’t want to play games at recess for fear of getting dirty and spend a lot of time hanging around adults.
For a multitude of reasons, the primary ones being fear and failure to assimilate, I began homeschooling in my junior year of high school. I still work at home now, blogging and writing, trying to take the next step in my career.
It can be very isolating. I try very hard to meet people and show that though I am different, I am a caring, compassionate person and will be fiercely loyal to my friends. Despite that, people don’t seem to want to be around me. They don’t text me back. They turn down any chance to make plans to possibly get to know the real me. They give me dirty looks when I offer an elbow bump instead of a hand shake.
It’s OK, really, because I know one day others will accept me. If only because, at this point, I have accepted myself. I wasn’t always OK with me, but now I am. Although life is often difficult for me, I have learned the hardest and most important lesson in life: to be me above all else. I have to stand up for me, all of me, even the OCD and germaphobia which are no longer parts of me I wish to hide or run from. I am who I am, and I don’t think I’m so bad.
I choose not to shake hands or keep plans with people who are sick not because I am being rude or snobby but because it will cause me so much worry that it will keep me up at night, because I am so afraid of getting sick it has frequently brought me to tears. So the next time someone doesn’t want to shake your hand or acts in another way that you deem odd, think about what you are afraid of and how you would feel in a fearful position. Then instead of judging them, treat them like the kind and caring human being they probably are.
We all have fears, and that’s OK. We need to accept each other as we are, and if by opening up I have changed anyone’s mind, then it was worth it.