“I am not my germaphobia”

I have an intensely obsessive, compulsive case of germaphobia. For my friends who know this about me, they are probably laughing out of pity for my seemingly silly idiosyncrasies; or rolling their eyes at how often I wash my hands, how I carry around pieces of napkins so I don’t have to touch doorknobs, and how I don’t let anyone touch my phone, laptop, towels, bed, clothes, or anything. If you didn’t know about my germaphobia, I am relieved that I was able to hide it – until this point at least. You might be wondering how something as surface-level as germaphobia could be cause for a deep insecurity.

I am incredibly ashamed of my germaphobia. I don’t know anyone else who has as severe a case as I do. It causes me to dread handshakes. It causes me to bark at my friends whenever they joke and go into my room to touch my bed (and I’m talking about real, shrill barking. Ask any of my neighbors or roommates). If I can’t avoid a handshake, I keep my hands far away from any of my personal belongings, my face, and my hair, until I find the next opportunity to wash them. If I can’t avoid my laptop, phone, purse, or backpack getting “contaminated”, then I use disinfectant wipes at the next opportunity. I avoid carrying cash around because I hate touching it. My hands are almost always dry, red, and sometimes my skin is cracking because of my overuse of Purell and soap. I sometimes wash my hands two or three times because of my paranoia that the first time did not adequately wash away the germs. It has taken a disproportionate amount of my energy, emotion, and time, yet I can’t “just get over it”.

I squirm inside out of discomfort when someone touches my face, hair, or arms. I do love hugs very much, but my germaphobia challenges my love of hugs. I am terrified of bathrooms and make every attempt to avoid touching the walls of a stall. A bathroom with no paper towels for me to use, to turn off the sink or open the door, builds a wave of anxiety in me, as I use soap to sanitize the sink handles and improvise ways to avoid touching the doorknob. If you see me after I have showered, before I go to bed, you’ll notice that I stand stiffly, avoiding any contact with walls, doors, and people.

While I do struggle with many other insecurities that might seem more personal, such as sensitivity, neediness, rejection, my germaphobia is the one thing that I personally hate exposing. My other insecurities are common and relatable; they would be met with compassion and understanding. My germaphobia is something that nobody I know understands. This is the insecurity that would be met with judgment and distance. I hate bringing attention to my habits and mental issues regarding germs, but I respect and honor the mission of the What I Be project to challenge us to be honest, vulnerable and to trust.