“You’re unique.” I’ve heard that more than once in my life. Perhaps the individuals who said it were not referring to any characteristic that could be attributed to OCD, but if you are a germophobe, you will have to agree that you are not like most other people.
As a germophobe, I will go so far as to say that, not only am I not like everyone else, I go out of my way not to be so. My fear of germs began at age fourteen, and by my late teens I was looking for ways to manipulate doorknobs that would limit my exposure to germs. I studied the round doorknob and concluded that most people likely gripped it from the top. That’s when I started turning them from the bottom. I did this for quite a while (thinking how clever I was), until one day I saw someone –whose cleanliness I questioned – turn a round knob from the bottom, the same way I was doing it. Thoroughly discouraged, that’s when I began using folded tissues to turn knobs. That was not ideal either, as at times they would tear apart.
When I first encountered the long door handles that are now common, I faced the dilemma of how to touch it. At first I chose the curved end at the tip. Then, to my chagrin, I saw others using that end, also. At that point, I switched to the end where the keyhole is located and doesn’t turn much at all. This required more effort, but that was good, because who else would choose to grip the handle that way? But then I saw people who grabbed the long door handle and essentially covered most of it (including the part I was using) with their dirty hands. So that was out, and I start using tissues to touch those handles.
How about the soap dispensers in public restrooms? The type that has the square lever located directly below the soap compartment seemed relatively easy to use. A normal person pushes the lever in the middle, right? So all I had to do was push it on the side. But washing in public was never easy. I didn’t simply push the lever, lather, and rinse. I had to dispense a large amount of soap into my palm, and then let the liquid drip onto the fingers that had touched the dispenser. Even though I touched a less-used area, I wasn’t taking any chances. I had to let it drip onto my fingers eight times and rinse, and then start all over until I had gone through the procedure eight times. I became skilled at doing it quickly, but it was still quite a spectacle if someone else was around. In fact, it was common for a string of people to come and go while I was standing there.
There was a time or two or three at work when I felt that my hands had become ultra-contaminated, which at home would have required dousing with alcohol between soaping up. But I couldn’t take a bottle of rubbing alcohol into the office restroom, so I had to compensate. I had to use the soap dispenser fifteen times, but I couldn’t touch the lever in the same spot more than once, so I would start at the filthiest part (the middle where everyone else touches it) and slowly inch my way around the lever. On these occasions, I felt the contamination was so bad that I would work my way up my arms also. The water was scalding, and I would walk out of the restroom with bright red hands and arms. OCD can be embarrassing and painful. Now I can avoid such events most of the time by using gloves and rubbing alcohol.
One handle that I still do touch is on the refrigerator at work. I pull it up at the top where no normal person would think to touch it. It surely looks odd, and it is not as easy as pulling from the middle, but as the handle is quite long, I feel confident that I am the only one touching that part of it.
Yes, I go out of my way to do things differently, working hard to outwit the people trying to contaminate my world.