Out of an Abundance of Caution, Micro Terror, OCD, OTS, and My String is so Stuck

When your main wishes fall prey to imaginary threats you risk living a gloomy, self-restricted life as suggested by the following:

The mass of men leads lives of quiet desperation. (Henry David Thoreau, Walden)                       

Alas for those that never sing, but die with the music in them. (Oliver Wendall Holmes, The Voiceless)  

Out of an Abundance of Caution seems to be the prefix to a variety of of unusual event announcements, cancellations and strict orders to ‘remain in place’. I am reminded of my own life-long fear of the invisible, no, microscopic germs, portrayed reel-to-reel, was it 3rd grade? ..maybe 2nd..         

Diagnosed OCD* at an even younger age, these invisible little terrorists haunted me, an invisible army all over every surface, every person, every morsel of food and drink, especially uncooked animal products, and the only good bugs were the ones inside yourself, albeit disgusting.The world, it’s people, and even my family, mom, dad and two brothers, and everything they touched, were and was crawling with tiny bug-like germs!                                           

My mom said “..because we are from the same family, we had the same germs.” And I, old enough for logical thinking, knew this as a reaching to cover for a really gross reality. 

I think it was in 3rd grade that Chicken-pox took over the school and the absence that led to an empty desk that was much closer to the blackboard..

…my teacher wanted me to move forward and inhabit that disease encrusted slide-in desk. If I had the forethought and the gift of maturity I could have articulated something like “What? It is my right as an observer of scientific fact to NOT put my books atop that desk, to not cross my ankles below and make mine a most certainly unwashed desk.” But instead I just downright refused, welling to tears! I was incredulous! There was no way I would even walk by this desk, let alone sit in it.                                                  Why do adults refuse to see and hear the world through the eyes of a child? Why didn’t anyone really explain this horrible foe?                    I absolutely refused to move to that desk, and with tears and screams, I was escorted to the principles office.  “Has the desk been cleaned?” I screamed, beyond consoling. “What?” she asks as she phoned my mom, my poor unprepared for a neurotic child, mom. She had been present everyday since the year I learned about germs. All I could guess suggested she advised letting me stay in my seat, in a very colorful way, angry that they had  challenged her daughter and that it had gone too far. (only she can bully her children!) But deep down I knew I was a pain in their asses.                       So, suspended, I had a two day vay-kay. As if not to mention some street cred, and that was fine with me. I had come to think that they sent me home so to punish my mom, not me, for being such a bitch- and I felt used.                              Two days after my return, everyone had a new location to be seated, and not in the same familiar desks. (The whole desk pattern had altered due to very low attendance). Before lunch I was in the crowded nurses office- the dreaded ‘pox eating through the hides of an overflowing room full of crying children.                     “Well.. it’s good to just get it now and get it over with.” they said. Again my mom said                                    “At best you saved yourself a few days, but its good to get it now and get it over with.” In the three weeks it took me to recover, I read everything I could find on all kinds of diseases, and ways of transmitting them, and what they looked like under a microscope. Back then families had encyclopedias- and full sets!-bought through TV ads or door to door.                                                     I believed that if I read the entire set, book to book, I would know everything there is to know in this world! And I certainly aspired to do so.                                                      In our Encyclopedia Britannia’s, I learned there were little bug-like germs in the meat we eat, but don’t worry, you can’t see em or taSTE EM.  AND MOST OF THEM WE JUST POOP OUT.                                      UGGH….Then there were siblings to consider.                                          My brother thought my fear of these very real germ-bugs was silly. This coming from a boy that had his peanut butter on one slice of wonder bread and his jelly on another, but separate. They could not touch because that was gross… He would then proceed to take a bite of peanut butter on bread and a bite of jelly on bread and chew them together anyway-                       that’s not bonkers.                       But knowing the fact that there are tiny germs on everything and being cautious to that fact, is frowned upon and thought to be crazy by those that profess to care for us.                                                  Lets consider my brother for a moment….. Often if he got to the ice-cream man before I was able to retrieve my treat, he would take it out of the package and put the whole thing in his mouth, and then hand it to me.                          UGGGH! I never got a second chance and I was told to eat it anyway. “He’s your brother! He doesn’t have germs. And he is teasing you, which is perfectly- NORMAL.”                                                                                                            I loved the chocolate eclair ice-cream bar. It was a bar of milk chocolate dipped in vanilla ice-cream, dipped in chocolate and rolled in pastry crumbs. I loved this treat so much I would slowly pick away at each layer, savoring the mass of frozen chocolate below…I would be 30 minutes into the methodical removal of the pastry, little chunks of gooey chocolate and vanilla pastry, then the thin chocolate dip carefully separated from the ice-cream below, and finally the ice-cream…and BOOM! he would grab it in a run by, slobber all over the coveted and meticulously cleaned chocolate bar center, then deliver it covered in slime and tiny germs back into my trembling and angry fist! I despised that piece of crap that was my brother for a mounting list of despicable acts ..but this was tantamount. This was war.                                 No, this was an untouchable, let alone inedible, not quite frozen milk chocolate center now dripping around the edges and mingling with my brothers frothy spit. So I’d recoil every time and he’d say “oh well, guess I’ll have to eat it”. And my complaints got answered with some kind of “family doesn’t have germs” croak and “all brothers tease” bull that just did not suffice and sent me to eating my ice-cream and other treats hiding in a closet or under a bed…adding to the list of of quirks I sample each day ever since.                                           I am still miffed after all these years that she couldn’t at least protect me from this atrocity. It was unforgivable.                                    And since we are sharing gross things, my brother, 8 years older than I and the younger of the two, was disgusting in many ways! He would eat tomato soup with so much saltines crushed into it, it would be a paste that he would slowly scrape off his spoon, layer by layer, savoring it like a sweet treat- but it was pink slop! I gag to this day. All I need is to picture him, the slop, and I gag right into action. (Well, at least he gave me that). And that, and many other attacks on logic, impales any true understanding of reality.                                                                                        As a people, we just don’t talk about these things. Don’t even think it. That’s how most people handle the invisible things in life, I guess, and my refusal to do so may be why I am so inconsolable.                       This is the difference between being perceived as a little odd or eccentric and crazy. I have a good friend that likes to say, “bat-shit crazy” when I try to discuss a conundrum such as this. How this pertains to the situation we all are experiencing right now is what I am trying to work out as the world becomes woke to the reality of microscopic terrorists, also known to the lay man as the “invisible enemy”. But there are people who deal with OTS* and close their mind and hide from what they fear. When asked how I am doing during this scary time I feel I’m doing ok compared to most, and find social distancing second nature because I’ve had more practice.                                               I do not like sharing germs. This ugly happenstance is unavoidable in a society that seems to want to abolish the concept of personal space… For instance, there is the stranger in line at the grocery,  inching closer in too much of a hurry to acknowledge that standing on top of the person in front of you will not get you to the cashier faster. Or a close knit community of amazing artists and musicians celebrating after a successful run at a festival. Both of these examples, and the many in between, have been a burden on my concept of well being…to the point of learning how to enjoy life and all its parties.. its all the hugging. And sweating. And all around too much sharing that in a utopia would be beautiful, but in reality was really quite alarming if you tracked the germs shared person to person..                                               to person.                                             I can visualize this contagion as a line from person to person until the intersecting lines overlap and obscure- and that is what is scary. As a child I would see many concepts, like the passing of contagions, as having to do with “my string”, my connection to everything I touched, each a snag- and I would visualize my string (trailing behind me) wrapping and interlocking in an ugly mass.  I am realizing now that that string, or chain of connections with others, is not unlike the way germs spread, and how it is tracked on a map, graph or chalkboard. My string as a child would stream continuously behind me all while I was living my life, and the further I went, or live, the longer and longer my string. I visualized my string catching on corners and through doorways… I then started to worry my string would catch and get stuck in structures in which I went in one door and out another- causing my life long desire to exit the door in which I came.           Grocery stores and movie theaters made leaving through the same door untenable, leaving me, often, inconsolable.                                         I remember thinking, if the string is a constant and connects to everything going forward, I could somehow lengthen my life by going backwards and retrieving that string.  Two steps forward, two steps back, a real ‘reeling in the string’ kind of life plan.                        Then if you were to blend the two fears of ‘germs’ and the ‘string theory’, it’s a truly toxic mix of inconsolability. And I was laughed at for both of these fears. Of course I sorta grew out of the string theory but the germs and the fear of contagion remains an absolute and fact-based concept.                         The man behind the curtain at the dance party weeklies once told me, when I asked him to stop kissing and hugging me, (because he kisses and hugs everyone in the room and its gross), he told me that my “..fear of germs, was not real. You know that, right?”  UHGGG ..and really in my community, turning down a hug, drink or smoke, is considered rude, but none of that is based on fact, but community adherence. “Germs are a fact, daddy-o”. And speaking of community…                            Social distancing and populous  adherence, in theory vs. practice, is an interesting experiment and one I had never heard of as a legal directive until just weeks ago, but has now become a way of life.      I’ve spent most of my life wondering why more people do not fear germs, which until now has been billed as a concept mired in lunacy, another example of eccentric or crazy, the difference being- one is said aloud. THE COVID-19 is an example of the reality behind a phobia such as is. But I assume people who deal with OTS*  close their mind and hide from what they fear. Germs. The ‘Invisible Enemy’.                                           Some folks are selfishly thinking “I’m not worried, I don’t know anyone who’s sick.”                        Did you know Ostriches put their head close to the ground to hunt and eat, not to hide. But when humans metaphorically put their head in the sand, it is perhaps to hide from reality, statistics, and authority. It is also a cruel indifference to others. (The unsuspecting grandmother at the grocery store or her new 2 month old grand child- to put a face on it is responsible).                                 People with their metaphorical asses up in the air are a detriment to public health.                                 STAY HOME ALREADY.         What they can’t see is … “walking through is an eerie feeling,” the EMT said. “Nurses, physicians,and respiratory therapists running around, everyone is on a vent, every vent is beeping, patients are on multiple IV drips. You would have thought it was a military hospital in a war zone.”                                                  I didn’t have any idea that was how it would go down, a pandemic, and I was made to think that to even worry about germs, backwash and kissing at parties, let alone a pandemic, is some-how a neurotic tick.                                                 On a personal level, I enjoy the distance. Finally… people are understanding the concept of personal space, and it’s none too soon for me. But the horrible spread of a very contagious pathogen is no joke, and I feel for the horrible losses to so many. A lesson learned, and how the world adapts to that education will make interesting history.

 We as people have a chance at transforming back into a life changed! Maybe a more caring life in an engaged society with a better healthcare system with universal access, with more social justice, and more care and dare I say love for each other. That would be a good normal to go to.            

 *OTS:Ostrich Trap Syndrome *OCD:Obsessive Compulsion Disorder

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