Panic: Life as Germ-Phobic Mom


Panic: Life as Germ-Phobic Mom

It starts as a normal day. Then…boom. A text, a mention of stomach virus on social media or at the ball field, and I immediately panic. My mind begins to race. I feel nauseous. I wonder when it will hit my house. All I can think about is the fact I forgot to buy toilet paper. Do I have enough paper towels, gloves, bleach? I’m embarrassed and ashamed at my reaction to this common illness. I try to understand why my mind tailspins into a full on panic attack. Fear and being alone, when something like this strikes, are the only answer.

As summer ends, my anxiety builds.

Children returning to school can only mean dirty hands and sickness. As winter approaches, I prepare for a full-on invasion. But, it’s all bottled up in my mind. I maintain a calm exterior, but the bottle top is ready to burst. All it takes is that first mention of a child vomiting in my child’s classroom or in the lunchroom. Ironically, the boys and I recently read Miss Daisy is Still Crazy by Dan Gutman. One of the storylines are germs. Rather than call the lunchroom a cafeteria, the students call it the vomitorium. Miss Daisy begins wearing a hazmat suit; she is my hero.

I’ve always been an anxious person.

All you have to do is read my post about my first-born child. But the problem looms larger and more foreboding, since having children. Me…the person who traveled and worked in Asia, the United Kingdom, and Europe. I’ve seen bathrooms that were pretty much latrines, and now I would probably run in fear.

My mother’s death from scleroderma, an autoimmune disease, also plays into my fears. There is an environmental link to scleroderma which (in my anxious mind) means they’re germs that cause long-term effects. My mother’s death, actually watching her suffer, was isolating and frustrating. It angered me that I couldn’t do anything to help. Even the doctors could only help so much. After my mother died, I read more and learned there are viruses that cause a variety of diseases. In my head, that means ANYTHING can affect the body, linger, and cause a chronic disabling or terminal disease.

Over the years, in order to relieve my anxiety, I’ve tried a variety of prescriptions and therapy. And sadly, nothing seems to completely help. As you can imagine, it’s frustrating. Recently, I read Max Lucado’s Anxious for Nothing, but it didn’t deal with the hot button associated with my anxiety…OCD. Books, such as Turtles All the Way Down by John Green ease my anxiety because they allow me to identify with others and realize I’m not alone. I’m not the only one overwhelmed by the chaos of life.

Being this fearful is irrational. I know.

Germs are a normal part of life. Because it causes me to isolate from others, I decided to write about it. Many people will find this discussion bizarre, but others may understand. I’m the mom who doesn’t like amusement parks, bouncy houses, and indoor playgrounds, and I’m sure you can figure out the reason. Last year my youngest son had a febrile seizure due to a strep throat fever. The week before he played at a trampoline park where he most likely caught the illness. Kids jumped into foam blocks and fell face first onto trampolines. The whole experience exhausted my brain. 

As we all know, motherhood is a lonely road. Sick kids, exhausted moms, and stomach virus cleanup only make the situation more stressful. The cleanup is overwhelming especially when my husband is sick, too. He will lie on the sofa as if in a coma. In my experience, the sick person is literally quarantined to one bathroom. Therefore, it doesn’t spread and the cleanup is less of a burden. As a child, I can remember sleeping, in an exhausted stupor, on the cool bathroom floor with my pillow and maybe a blanket. My mom brought cool washcloths to place on my head and neck. I do the same thing for my boys.

I’m certain the lack of family, living so far from my hometown, as well as losing my own mother, contribute to my anxiety. Who wants to ask anyone but family to help in such a dire situation? I can imagine the conversation. Me: “Uh, could you come over and help clean my kids’ bathroom?” Neighbor: “Sure, let me find my hazmat suit and then I’ll be right over.” The first time the dreaded ‘ick’ hit the entire household, I had to rely on a neighbor to buy crackers, Gatorade, and Pedialyte. As if in a hostage situation, I placed money on the car bumper. She picked it up and replaced it with the groceries. Here’s my thank you post to her.

Life, in general, is more stressful with kids. In ten years of marriage, we’ve moved away from family, we’ve lost my husband’s parents, we’ve had two children, and we’ve comforted my dad as he fights a late stage cancer diagnosis. My husband’s long work hours mean I’m the sole caregiver. When the stomach flu hits one person, there’s a mad dash to keep it from spreading. Honestly, you’d think we had the plague or Ebola. (Don’t even get me started on the newer contagions that circle the world.) If I’m sick, the kids will hover over me. Who will take care of everyone? Who will clean up the mess? As we all know, our children always find us in the bathroom even under the best circumstances. Meanwhile, when you’re hurling your guts out, do you really want to hear your kids fighting or asking you for some more Pedialyte? Mommas are here to calm the chaos. But, how do we find our way out of chaos?

So, there it is. I feel better after emotionally vomiting my anxiety. As the first days of school slowly approach, I’ll be the mom reminding kids to wash their hands.  


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