[Hi all. I’ve been wanting to write a post about this for a while. But full disclosure: I have been very, very, extremely lucky. I was able to leave the city for the country, where I have been for three months. I did touch three airports and then quarantine for 14 days on the other end. Also, I am still employed and working full time from home. And largely, none of my friends or family have died from the virus so far. So my thoughts on this topic are not as panicked and stressed as they would otherwise be. The only negative I feel at all times is anxiety/guilt — because I am so far away from my partner and workplace, and feel I have been more lucky than I “deserve”. And work is super stressful because three people were fired and the rest of us have to pick up all of their work. But that is all for a different post.]
What I want to discuss is this highly contagious virus and my observations from the perspective of someone who experiences contamination OCD on a good day. To me, it feels like a very cranked up version of how I’ve always felt. It’s like my normal tendencies are amplified.
I was born to wear a mask. I was born to avoid touching doorknobs and avoid outstretched hands of greeting. I was born to avoid breathing in another person’s breath. I was born to stand across the street when chatting with neighbors. I was born to avoid standing in a crowded post office. I was born to stay a hundred miles away from a sneezing or coughing person. The amplified part is that I do feel strong anxiety when a non-household member gets very close, particularly if they’re not wearing a mask. And I feel quite upset when I have to go into a store, with double-mask and typically gloves (for which I have a specific routine), and so many other people are not wearing masks at all (if they would wear a mask, there would be less chance of virus in the environment).
These parts of the so-called “new normal” are easy. What will NOT be easy, and may in fact be impossible for me, is going back to a previous life. How will I possibly snuggle in shoulder-to-shoulder with a hundred other people on a dirty train? How will I possibly walk around in a grocery store in the future without a mask and possibly gloves? (How had I ever become so mentally healthy that I was able to do those things?)
Hearing people TALK about hand-washing for 20 seconds, and proper washing technique as though it was a brand new concept was shocking to me. Hearing people actually think aloud about what might be on a mailing envelope or a piece of grocery store fruit or a public railing was a little satisfying for me, I’ll admit. For a brief time, non-contamination-OCD people actually had one second of insight into my mind. There’s never been ANYTHING in public that I’ve EVER touched in my adult life that didn’t cause me to at least briefly consider what might be on it. 99.99% of the time, I’m able to pick up or handle the item anyway, but it’s ALWAYS the first thought. For a brief time, people around the world seemed to take a moment to consider those things, too. It was nice.
I use past tense because a lot of areas within the USA seem kind of done with considering surface contamination. That’s fair enough, because now we believe the virus isn’t as transmittable by surface contact, so even I don’t wash my hands after handling the newspaper (which was delivered four hours before I touch it anyway, so I don’t know if that example should count).
How I’ll deal with life going back to the old-normal, I have no idea. Frankly, I’m probably isolating myself so much that I’m missing out on a lot of germs that would be helping to strengthen my immune system in the long run. But the future will come when it comes. For now, you’ll be speaking to me through a mask from a great distance away.