The Aspergirl Explains

The Aspergirl Explains: What Is Mysophobia?

It’s been a few weeks since my first update, and I know that I said I was going to post more frequently….. and then real life and work once again reared their heads at me. However, I do hope to be able to continue posting more frequently from now on, and if I’m not able to, I’ll try to  give a heads up as well on both this blog and on my social media accounts. So, without further ado, let’s get into my actual first post to officially start things off for this blog.

In the past, the categories of “Understanding Aspies” and “The Aspergirl Explains” categories were dedicated to explain things more related to autism and autistic spectrum disorders, but this year, I decided to open it up a little bit more so that I could talk about mental health issues in general, and more specifically, those that I also experience. So, with that in mind, the very first mental health issue I’ll be tackling for the very first post of the year for this category is something that is very much close to home for me as I have it as well- mysophobia.

Before I talk more about it and my experiences having it, let’s first define what it is. Mysophobia is the excessive and obsessive fear of being contaminated with germs and bacteria to the point that it actually affects their daily lives and activities. Mysophobia can manifest in different ways, but some of the symptoms that it has include excessive hand washing, avoiding certain areas or people for fear of getting contaminated, excessive cleanliness, and excessive use of sanitizing products. It is also linked to OCD and anxiety. So people who have anxiety problems have a higher chance of having mysophobia, as the fear of contamination actually stems from overly anxious thoughts about things being dirty and contaminated.  It can also range from mild to severe, with its manifestations and side effects being different from person to person.

To be honest, I thought that I would never actually talk about this or ever try to seek treatment for it. But a certain Korean drama called “Clean With Passion For Now”, whose main character has mysophobia, actually helped me to become more aware of my mysophobia and actually inspired me to get to the root cause of what triggered me in the first place, and to want to actually overcome it. I’ll be talking about that drama in my next blog post, and the first post in my “Aspergirl Reviews” category for the year.

Clean with Passion For Now Poster
An unexpectedly life-changing Korean drama for me. Image Source: JTBC

In the past, I knew that I had some kind of obsessive compulsive disorder when it comes to cleanliness, and I’ve seen characters like this in movies and television before, but I never actually connected to any of them on an emotional level.  It was nice to know that I wasn’t the only one who was obsessed over cleanliness, but it didn’t motivate me to do anything about it. I didn’t really see it as a huge problem that needed to be overcome or fixed, even though sometimes my family members would get annoyed because of it, or sometimes life becomes a little bit more stressful for me than it already is. I just thought it was a part of me that I just had to deal and cope with as best as I can, although I do admit that sometimes, it is a bit over the top. However, for me, doing a little bit more sanitizing than what most people do really does give me a feeling of relief and assurance that I now know that this particular item or place is clean. Without doing that, I feel like I cannot move on with my life, and that those anxious thoughts about whether I’m clean or not would never go away.

During my teenage and now adult years, this has come up MANY, MANY times, especially as Metro Manila isn’t exactly the cleanest place; and it has sometimes become an issue when I travel around my own country. Some examples include excessively wiping down any item several times with alcohol and sanitizing my hands several times before thinking and feeling that it is clean already if it falls on the floor or street; sanitizing any affected parts of my body if I bump into people, especially if I am in a very public place; refusing to step foot in any wet market; not being able to stay in hotel or inn rooms especially if unwanted pests (ex. cockroaches) make themselves known; not being to sleep in my own room or bathroom and not being able to touch anything there for a few days even though I know that everything has been cleaned and dusted when cockroaches make unwanted visits; and not being able to go to the bathroom if it is not clean enough and most especially if it smells a lot when on long drives or trips. That last thing isn’t really that healthy, and there was one trip in which I actually held everything in for more than five hours.

Dirty City
A nightmare to walk in for someone like me.

My family, however, more often than not, does take notice, when the inevitable unwanted cockroach decides to visit, as mentioned above. So, for some time, my therapist and I originally thought that my problem was that I have an irrational fear of cockroaches, especially since there was one time in college in which the townhouse dorm I was staying in was literally infested with them. (I bought so much rubbing alcohol and used around five bottles a week to keep things clean.) However, despite the methods we tried for that, nothing really improved, and at a certain point, there were moments in which there were more pressing issues to deal with in therapy rather than that.

Then a few months ago, I decided to finally watch “Clean with Passion For Now”, and it, in a way, started a process which became a major goal for me with regards to mental health this year.  Not only was I able to relate to this character,, it helped me identify what I really had and showed me that in CAN be overcome. More importantly, it somehow allowed me to understand why I had it in the first place, and the first time the symptoms ever showed up.

Jang Seon Kyul  from JTBC's "Clean with Passion For Now"
Jang Seon Kyul (Yoon Kyun Sang), the mysophobic CEO of a cleaning business,  sanitizing a table before using it. Image Source: Clean with Passion For Now/JTBC

I remember that the first time these symptoms turned up was somewhere in grade school, when I was a pre-teen. I remember washing my hands around ten times in one night at the same time, and I remember that I would wash them around two times, not feel clean enough, go back and wash again, walk away, wonder if I did wash my hands, then repeat the process again. As I got older there were moments in which I washed things (if it could be washed) if it fell on the floor several times, and then my hands several times, until I stopped feeling anxious as to whether that thing and my hands were still dirty or not.

As for the exact trigger and reason why it started, I have a vague idea why, which my therapist and I think is the reason behind it. Back then, and even until now,  I’m often seen as strange and weird, and some people in grade school used to call me not so nice names related to germs, and I also vaguely remember my parents telling me that no one would like me if I didn’t look well-put together or clean (they actually meant well, but it was done in a very old-school way). There’s a little bit of a time jump, and I have no idea how my brain processed these things, but somehow it made me feel like that I’d be more liked if I was clean; and add to that the fact that I do like to control the things that I can take control of, because there are many things that I can’t (like my poor eye hand coordination, my being strange to others back then) and that brings me a lot of anxiety,  and you have the perfect recipe for me having mysophobia.

Washing Hands
Washing my hands w/ a lot of soap is how I’ve been coping recently instead of washing over and over again.

However, things are getting better at the moment, and my therapist and I are tackling things step by step and little by little. Actually recognizing and wanting to overcome this was the first big step, and now, we have come up with little goals, like being aware of my rubbing alcohol/sanitizer consumption for a week and recognizing when and why I use it those times, and to recognize how much sanitizing is too much rather than what is enough. Another thing we also did was to figure out some “hacks” for me to cope with things, while I’m still in the process- for example, if I know I’m riding the bus or going to the cinema, I actually wear long sleeves or a hoodie, and pants, so that I don’t have to take a bath anymore to clean myself. All I would need to do is to change my clothes and do one wipe down of my bag and that’s it.

It honestly may not seem like much, but having those things in mind has actually helped me a lot in the past few weeks than ever before. Sure, I still go a bit ballistic when a cockroach appears in my room, but both my therapist and I do believe that I’m making good progress. And this honestly wouldn’t have happened ithout that drama.

It actually took me quite a while for me to write this because this whole process is still ongoing, and because I never really opened up to others about this before. Hopefully, this little post allows you to understand what mysophobia is, how it affects those who have it, and how I discovered it more and came up with the goal to overcome it thanks to a Korean drama, which had surprisingly good representation about the subject matter.

Hoping to make more of these throughout the year, so please look forward to that!

3 thoughts on “The Aspergirl Explains: What Is Mysophobia?

  1. It can be pretty tough when dealing with all these intrusive thoughts, and know that it’s irrational doesn’t really help things either. All in all, Manila’s a rough place to live regardless of Mysophobia – it can be hard to eke out a living dealing with all the peculiarities of life here.

    But at the end of the day, the challenge I guess is getting into the right mindset of; “Okay, I have this (or am like this) — how do I cope? What do I need to do?”

    Like

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