I’m a platinum card carrying germophobic social distancer. Welcome to the club

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Most of the safety precautions you have regularly been doing for the first time since the pandemic took hold in March, our family has practiced religiously since 2009, when we spent three months in the hospital. My water broke when I was 24 weeks pregnant with my son Hill and I was placed on complete hospital bed rest until he was born prematurely at 32 weeks. During our time in the hospital, we were in a constant state of panic that both my son and I could die of a fast-spreading infection, which our doctors warned was a large probability due to my ruptured membranes. Once he was in the NICU and clear of that infection risk, we were told he was at risk of catching a long list of viral infections like RSV, that could kill him due to his compromised immune system. After a few weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) we brought our healthy son home, right as the H1N1 Swine Flu epidemic of 2009 was peaking. Our two-year-old daughter Claire caught the Swine Flu almost immediately, spiking a 104 fever that caused me to practically lose my mind with panic. She is tough as nails so we were more worried that Hill would catch it and end up right back in intensive care. We barricaded her in the guest room with the Disney channel on a 24-hour loop and threw food at her for about a week until she was no longer contagious. The fever passed quickly, she had no other noticeable symptoms, and no one else in the house caught it.

 

To say those three months were a stressful time in our life is the understatement of the century. After that time, I have reinforced my reign as the germophobic social distancing queen determined to continue the infection containment practices we had been taught in the hospital to prevent the possibility a single germ could get even come close to a hair on Hill's head. I have been obsessively washing my hands, not touching doorknobs, sanitizing surfaces, hoarding Lysol wipes, wiping down plane seats and hotel rooms, avoiding any crowds, assuming every stranger is a ‘carrier’, quarantining sick family members, banning shoes in the house, and keeping a healthy social distance a decade before it was in style. 

Nose-picking has never been a thing in my family because the kids would never dream of sticking their potentially germ-infested finger INSIDE of their nose. However, both Claire & Hill had a brief stint when they would slide their hands down the length of every public railing, including when were in London and NYC. I had to tell them that was the equivalent of holding hands with the entire population of that city, most of who did not wash their hands. That did the trick, and potentially some long-term damage. 


You may not realize it yet, but when you are in a constant state of germ stranger danger for months, that fear and anxiety do not leave you when the crisis resides.

You may not realize it yet, but when you are in a constant state of germ stranger danger for months, that fear and anxiety doesn't leave you when the health crisis or pandemic is over. You even become more vigilant as the months tick by, fearing the germ enemy you don’t even know about yet more than the one you have become accustomed to. It’s the reason why when this pandemic began to pick up steam in March, the only difference our family experienced socially was not being able to eat at our favorite restaurants, which was always outside before 5 pm. We were already doing everything else the general population frantically scrambled to incorporate in their daily routine. I didn't even have to buy Clorox wipes or hand soap because my usual monthly delivery came right at the end of February. The disturbing thought that came to my mind when soap ran out: Were all of these people not washing their hands before coronavirus?

I read in a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, that it takes 18 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit, good or bad. And that, on average, it takes 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic. We are now around 90 days into this pandemic, which is almost exactly the amount of time our family was officially in our 2009 personal health crisis and bubble. For those that struggle even remotely with anxiety, all of the fear that has been engraved into your brain will be almost impossible to erase. While many will argue the practices of good hygiene should be carried on in perpetuity and will prevent the spreading of all illnesses. The underlying mental health epidemic that will plague millions of people who may not even recognize they are at risk could be catastrophic. Before 2009, I was one the last one to leave a party. Now I’m a platinum card carrying germophobic social distancer. Welcome to the club of millions, now please remove your shoes. 


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