When I was in middle school, my grandma was diagnosed with leukemia on Christmas Eve, and with her cancer also came a compromised immune system. My mom explained to me the importance of keeping germs away from her as much as possible during this time, because as I was told, what might be a minor cold to me could have devastating effects on her. Basically, I was instructed to be extra diligent about hand-washing, wearing a mask while her counts were low, and not touching my nose, mouth or eyes while I was in contact with her.
As an anxious kid, I took those words to heart and started washing my hands constantly. So much so that I was going to the bathroom in the middle of my classes just to scrub the germs off my palms. At times, I would eat lunch by myself if someone at my table had the sniffles or a cough, and I was falling asleep in class from all of the ZZZs I was losing due to my compulsive worrying. I became so obsessive over germ-prevention and hand-washing that my hands were cracking and bleeding, which only added more onto my worries.
Now, with the COVID-19 in full effect, I’m feeling this familiar germaphobe anxiety of mine all over again.
There is a difference between being a neat freak and being a germaphobe. When someone is a neat freak, they want everything around them spotless and tidy. But when someone is a germaphobe, they want everything around them disinfected, almost to the point of obsession. I can’t say I’m a neat freak (who can be with four kids, after all?), but I am a germaphobe… and it’s a hard season for people like me.
I’m not overly concerned about my family at home catching the Coronavirus. If we were to somehow become infected with it, we would likely recover and live to tell the tale because we are otherwise healthy, but not everybody has the luxury of saying this. My grandpa is 85 years old, and just underwent major heart surgery two weeks ago. He has the greatest risk of not only catching COVID-19, but having a serious case of it and becoming incredibly ill. And it’s people like him, both the elderly and those living with a compromised immune system, who I’m the most concerned for.
I don’t want to be the person who is so dismissive about the seriousness of the novel coronavirus that I wind up killing somebody from my carelessness. So I wash, disinfect, bleach, and repeat. Wash, disinfect, bleach, repeat. Over and over and over. And yes, these are the things we are supposed to be doing in a time like this, but for germaphobes it’s completely different. There is so much damn anxiety that comes from it.
It’s not unusual for me to go a little nutty about germs around cold and flu season, but with the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s taken on a whole new meaning. Because for those who are like me, it’s not just washing your hands, disinfecting, and staying out of contact with others; it’s lying in your bed, almost asleep, only to find yourself wide awake and wondering if the kids washed their hands well enough that day. It’s going to the grocery store with hand sanitizer and using it again and again… then going home and doing it 20 more times. It’s rubbing bleach water around the outside of your canned goods after you’ve bought them, and then not wanting to touch them again until it’s time to use them. It’s a million “what if” scenarios there to fill up your head and rob you of your peace.
You don’t have to tell me that some of these things are irrational and a bit over the top. Trust me, I know. Still, this is what it’s like to have germ-induced anxiety during the coronavirus pandemic. You wonder if you cleaned enough, if you bleached enough, and “Oh my gosh, did I really just pick food out of my teeth with my finger while it’s unwashed?!”
There seem to be two types of people waiting out this pandemic: those who say the novel coronavirus is “just like the flu,” and we should all stop freaking out, and those who are aware of what this virus can do to the most vulnerable people. So by expressing my concerns and very real anxiety, there is a 50/50 chance that I will be condemned because of it. When really, the root of my worry comes from a place of caring so damn much for those around me.
We are all struggling in our own way during this stressful time. Some of us are trying to make ends meet while we’re away from work, and the kids are home from school. Others are quarantined by choice due to pre-existing illnesses like asthma, diabetes or heart disease, which make them more susceptible to COVID-19. For people like me, we are in anxiety overdrive because of the new super-germs we don’t know enough about.
We need to remember that just because another person’s struggle doesn’t look like our own, doesn’t mean it is any less valid. We’re all doing our best to get through our individual struggles. We need to be calm, yes, but perhaps what would help us all out a little more is simply being kind.
Information about COVID-19 is rapidly changing, and Scary Mommy is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. With news being updated so frequently, some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For this reason, we are encouraging readers to use online resources from local public health departments, the Centers for Disease Control, and the World Health Organization to remain as informed as possible.