Let me preempt this piece by saying that I hate the coronavirus pandemic. As a professional magician and freelance writer, the uncertainty of the pandemic led to me losing all my work. I had to work gruelling shifts in a granola factory during the worst of the pandemic until things became a bit more normal. Sure, the factory smelled amazing and I felt like a background character in an L.S Lowry painting as I left work each day, but manual labour is not for me. I’m not in any way pro-pandemic. But I have found one plus point of the ‘new normal’ that has benefitted my personal OCD.
I’ve felt abnormal for as long as I can remember. As a child, I recall wanting to take a party bag from a birthday party I was attending. But I was terrified of touching it because I thought the handles were dirty. In my teens, my parents took me and my brothers to a football match. We were allowed to drink Coke in the pub before. It should have been the greatest moment of my adolescent life. My brothers swigged their bottles of brown carbonated bubbles with glee and got high on the caffeine. I didn’t want to need the toilet as I was too scared to carry out my lengthy hand-washing ritual (as described in my previous blog) in a crowded pub toilet. So I snuck my bottle to my brother to secretly drink for me. My football team lost and I was dehydrated all day. But at least I managed to go 14-hours without urinating.
I avoided rooms if I could see dust particles floating around, walked on the sides of carpets to avoid the centre space where other people’s feet had been, and constantly had my hands in my sleeves. This was all to prevent me from having to wash my hands non-stop. I was either washing my hands or doing something weird to avoid washing my hands.
I was such an annoyingly weird child that even my atheist father once despairingly said “God gave you hands for a reason, to touch things.”
Despair for my mum was different. She went to see our family doctor. Her relationship with Dr. Dobson was akin to the fan of a football team that always loses yet they support them week-in, week-out. High blood pressure. Stroke. Hernia. Tonsillitis. Broken shoulder. Broken arm. Dr. Dobson dished out nothing but bad news yet mum came skipping back through the door enthralled by her visit to our charismatic GP. Dr. Dobson diagnosed me with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in my teens. Mum reassured me that I wasn’t alone and that OCD was a normal thing other people suffered from. I’m pretty sure she was so relaxed because she associated OCD as standing for Outrageously Charismatic Doctor. Honestly, Dr. Dobson can do no wrong in her eyes. He offered mum some Ritalin — typically prescribed for ADHD — as a potential way to calm my OCD. She refused even though I was running up a large water bill.
I worry that if I get dirty I will create widespread contamination of the planet that can’t be cured. It’s for this reason why I still protect my hands with sleeves or gloves, carry a hand sanitiser, and wash my hands at every opportunity.
Fears Came True
My fears seemingly came true when the COVID-19 pandemic happened and exposed how easily a virus could spread across the globe. I struggled with my OCD initially in the Spring of 2020. I started to do new things that I hadn’t done before. I’d change my entire outfit when I returned home from outside. I’d avoid public transport. Then, the world started changing. People were encouraged to wash their hands for at least 30 seconds. In the past, pub toilets have been a nightmare for me. At best someone will comment “I think you’ve washed them for long enough”, at worst I’ll be ejected from the pub for wasting water. Now, lots of people are carrying out hand-washing rituals.
Builders sing the ‘Happy Birthday’ song whilst washing their hands. Punk rockers diligently follow along with a Government-prescribed laminated card for effective hand washing. I, for the first time in my life, feel a level of normality when I wash my hands in a public place. People no longer look at me as some sort of freak but instead just someone that probably doesn’t want to get his nan sick.
I worry this will pass and people will go back to not washing their hands in line with the government guidance. People have despised the ‘new normal’ but it has helped me feel normal for the first time in my life.
Shortly after Dr. Dobson’s diagnosis, I began carrying hand sanitizer and baby wipes to ease my OCD anxiety in the times when I couldn’t get to running water. I was everyone’s second favourite festival buddy as I was practically a walking tap. I was almost as popular as the guy who had little bags filled with things that would make you forget you even had hands. Outside of the festival season, I’d still get questioned why I was using hand sanitiser with every cleansing squirt of goo. That was until the ‘new normal’.
Giant, glorious vats of hand sanitiser sit outside even the dingiest of venues. Hand sanitiser has practically replaced ID as being a requirement to enter most premises. Regardless of if you want to catch a train, sip a coffee, eat out to help out, or just eat a Twix — you have to sanitise. It has made my life dreamy. No longer do I have to rely on packing sanitiser for trips outside my home. It is on every street corner and free.