Sunday, April 5, 2020

Welcome to my World

Who had “global pandemic” on their predictions for 2020? 


Yeah, me, too.  As I followed the pandemic from Wuhan, China to my home turf, it has been the world of science fiction authors and dystopian fatalists.  The entire world captured by a tiny ball of protein.  People afraid to leave their homes without face masks and gloves.  Hand sanitizer flying off the shelves.  Radio shows discussing how to decontaminate their groceries and themselves.

Surreal, right?  Well for me, it’s just Tuesday.  Or Wednesday.  Or every day.

My life revolves around elaborate decontamination rituals, making sure that I do not get infected by the bug du jour.  Washing my hands to the point of cracked skin is an every day routine, as are multiple showers a day and constant laundry.  Touch is something I often fear, as it might contaminate me with dirt and germs, to the point where an innocent brush of a door handle or a coffee cup has me rushing to the bathroom to wash my hands.  Sound familiar?

The difference is that I have a diagnosis—obsessive-compulsive disorder—that generates my fear and anxiety.  In “normal” times, I’m considered an outlier, having an unrealistic worldview, unable to sit still until every germ and bug is vanquished, a “germophobe.”  It’s a world where half my energy every day goes to washing and decontaminating and figuring out how to keep people outside my personal bubble, all in an effort to “keep calm and carry on” with a normal life. 

Then a novel coronavirus jumps from a bat to a human, and we’re wearing gloves and sanitizing door handles and wiping down our groceries before we put them in the car.  We’re discussing if uv light can decontaminate, if our mail could make us sick.  Stickers and tape dot the floors at the stores that are open, reminding us to stay six feet apart, as public service announcements blare over the loudspeakers, reminding us to wash our hands.

The fear and anxiety is real.  Something that we cannot see, hear, taste, smell, nor touch has killed more people in New York City than on 9/11.  People are dying by the thousands in Europe every day.  Hospitals fill with patients, unable to breathe.  Others raging with fevers and cough in their homes.  Even after 100 years of scientific discovery and Kuhnian paradigm shifts, the human race is once again brought to their knees by a tiny little virus.

I was asked recently how the pandemic affected me, and I replied that my life hadn’t changed all that much because I was already doing the handwashing and the decontamination and the distancing and the sanitizing.  The difference, actually, was that everyone else was doing it, too.  It’s like everyone is looking at the world through my eyes and acting accordingly, stressed and scared about something that is hard to show really exists.

In this dystopian society, I have found utopia.

Except that I’m out of disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer.