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I have a confession to make – I have become prone to alcohol abuse. Hang on, not the stuff you drink. I mean the slightly alien stuff you slather over your hands.

I am addicted to hand gel. It kills 99.99% of bacteria. Well, that’s just so appealing isn’t it – why wouldn’t you use it?

I have never been more germ aware. I go about my daily activities always with the background goal of maximum germ avoidance. You might say that sounds like hard work – it is! But it is part of who I am. It is perhaps a little sad to have a part of yourself defined by your relationship with germs. It’s not like I live in a part of the world where each passing day carries a risk of death by infection. I recognise that I am fortunate to live in a pretty sanitised environment. But in my defence I haven’t always been this way – it is something that has gradually seeped into my consciousness to the point where, not only do I have a little tub of hand gel on my person at all times, I also find I am using the stuff at least 20 times a day, probably more.

It all started in my early twenties – I was forever catching colds, and I blamed this entirely on the bus. People are disgusting. Everyday I would watch them sneeze all over the place, use their hands as though they were tissues (why don’t people carry tissues?! WHY?!), and then clamp these hands all over the railings, stairs and handles. And then I, unless I wanted to hurtle to my death, would have no choice but to touch those handles myself. So I took control with hand gel. The problem is that the more you use it, the more you become aware of potential germs.

They’re everywhere, germs. Door handles, kettles, chip and pin machines, money – the list is, of course, endless. Once you are on the alert it is really quite shocking how much people touch things, often just for the sake of it. Us hand gel-ers, we only touch a surface if we really have to.

I am loathe to use the word OCD because I don’t want to make light of a serious mental health problem. People seem to throw this word around as though it is fashionable, a desirable condition almost. But with that said I do sometimes worry, is my behaviour ‘a bit OCD’? No. I don’t think so. I’m not distressed when I’m doing it, more embarrassed. But the act has certainly become a compulsion.

I can’t imagine life without hand gel now – and this becomes a problem in that you start to find yourself wanting those that share your life with you to use it, too. Otherwise, what’s the point? You can’t effectively manage the germs coming into your home if your other half waltzes in from the newsagents with a fistful of germs swabbing at the light switch, the fridge door, your face. You can almost see the fluorescent green blobs – like the kind used in adverts for bleach – lighting up their hands like a Belisha beacon. HAZARD!

None of this is exactly good news for your relationship, let alone your mental health. It’s probably safer to just embrace the germs and put up with a cold for a week – I’m sure your other half would rather that than suffer with your issues for eternity.

Although in my case this isn’t entirely true, because I have now passed on my little addiction to him – like a germ itself. He too takes hand gel to work. He too is constantly navigating the gauntlet of the outside world. You’ll see us, clumsily opening doors with our elbows, pressing pedestrian crossing buttons with coat sleeves pulled right down over our hands teenagers in new school blazers. You’ll find us at cash points using a loyalty card to jab at the keypad instead of our fingers.

All this exertion and contortion results in weird bruises and injuries to places like the side of our thumbs, toes and shoulders. And seems as both of us have had colds this last week I don’t think it’s worth all the effort…

It makes me wonder – is it just us? Or, as a society, are we all becoming more germ aware? The very fact that hand gel is sold as a run-of-the-mill hand care product in Boots etc must be proof that it is cemented into the mainstream social psyche now. People must be buying the stuff, there must be a real demand. But when you think back to the Bird Flu masks of recent years and now the Ebola hysteria exploding over the globe it all gets frighteningly dystopian.

I worry that I have placed myself on a slippery slope – am I just a few years away from wearing a mask myself?

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When did you stop being fearless? Can you remember?

I remember. I can pin it down to the exact moment.

I was eleven. I was on the Pirate Ship at Alton Towers, something which I’d loved being on since I was tall enough to be allowed on it. I’d go as far as to say it was my favourite of all the rides. (Unfortunately for my Dad, who was consequently subjected to a string of back-to-back trips on it…)

And then, out of nowhere, I hated it.

Everything was normal until the third swing, and then I started crying hotly. I thought I would be sick.

My Dad, sat next to me as usual, was oblivious to my abject terror. He just thought I was enjoying myself. Not that he could have done anything to stop my terror had he been aware of it…another frightening thing I learned that day.

My stomach swung up and down with the movement of the ship. I used to love that.

I gripped on the measly railing, miles away from my actual body, which I scrunched up like a contortionist, one knee up by my chin in an attempt to contain the lurching sensation inside me. No use.

I remember thinking I was going to fly right out of the seat, that colossal and hostile ship taking over what little control I had of my small body.

And the worse thing was it seemed to last forever. Well, at least MUCH longer than it had ever lasted before. Like the ship’s operator was in on it.

I haven’t been on a ride since.

pirate_ship1

Image courtesy of adventureland.us

It’s when we start thinking about stuff, isn’t it? That’s when the fear sets in. Too much thinking.

I went out on a boat, a real one, recently. It was a little boat, the kind where you are close to the water. The conditions were mildly choppy. I was totally fine as we lurched about a bit, enjoying it even – whooping and whee-ing with the toddlers, actually (I have no shame). But then the Pirate Ship popped into my head, as things do when you don’t want them to, and I instantly started to feel sick. A ghostly nausea.

When I think about it, and I do a lot, I’m scared on a regular basis.

Pretty much every day. An irrational fear, mostly, about things that aren’t even a reality. Just potential realities, looming darkly on the horizon.

And whilst I don’t think this fear ultimately stops me doing things, making decisions, progressing in life, it does make for a great deal of unnecessary stress. Stress I recognise I impress on to those around me, involuntarily.

But I just can’t help it. Fear is almost a reflex for me now. An element of my personality.

Never mind fairground rides. Its terrifying just being alive.

Wine helps. *She says, as she types this blog article, wine glass in hand after a hard day at work… But this obviously isn’t a wise life choice.

I can’t imagine what life must be like for those who are unfortunate enough to not possess as many of the coping skills as others do – as I seem to, despite it all. Daily life must be a genuine struggle.

There’s still hope though.

One of the reasons today was such a challenge at work was because we welcomed students, returning and new, for another academic year. Whoopee!

But it strikes me in this job, too regularly, just how damn resilient kids are. I know, you hear it said all time.

But really – kids, especially the older teens, are absolute fighters. After nearly ten years in this job I am increasingly aware that some (an alarmingly high number, it always seems) of our young people have to cope with horrors much more vast, complicated and intimate than a slightly nauseous experience at an amusement park could compare to. It sounds like a tired cliché, but I doubt most of the young people I’m thinking about have even been to a bloody theme park.

And long may they steer clear! Maybe then there’s hope, hope that they’ll hang on to the last shreds of bravery they have. Perhaps they will go on to be even stronger in their adult lives, leading the way for others. A good deal braver than I am.

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