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Sight Loss & Germophobia in a Pandemic

Image is described in the body of the post.

“Going through a pandemic as an introverted germaphobe with sight loss is extraordinary. Before sight loss I went to great lengths to avoid invisible threats…”

Editor’s Note

The following piece offers my personal insights and experiences as an individual dealing with introversion, germophobia, and sight loss amid the pandemic. It’s my hope that I’ve effectively communicated my anxiety and struggles through storytelling, using humor and relatable anecdotes to enrich the narrative. Additionally, the post underscores the significance of compassion and kindness in these unique times. Enjoy! ~Steph

A Claustro-Germophobic Nightmare

Computer artwork of the H1N1 influenza virus.

As a highly sensitive introvert, one would think ‘physical distancing’ would be heaven right about now, right? Wrong! Allow me to elaborate.

I’m an anxious and quirky person full of phobias, rules, and overthinking. Take elevators for example, whenever I get on one I try to prepare for how I’d react if it got stuck. In my imagination, I’m the calm, unflappable, take-charge type but I know the reality would be totally different. In reality, I’d be on the floor in the corner, rocking back and forth, sobbing and hyperventilating. I’m so fearful of being stuck on an elevator I’ve jumped off when too many people try to squeeze in. Honestly, doesn’t anyone care about weight restrictions?

Then there are microbes. Microscopic anything, especially germs, sends me straight over the edge. Heck, when I learned dust mites existed I had nightmares for years; seriously, some things are best unknown. Obsessive hand washing has been my norm for as long as I can remember.

So imagine my distress when a global call was broadcasted telling everyone to wash (I mean, really, really wash) their hands—EEWWW! And don’t even get me started on cell phones and bathroom stalls—I really can’t! The more important question however is, what were people doing before the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak? Nope! I take that back I don’t want to know.

Even though I avoid germs like the plague (granted I probably coulda used a better reference here), I contracted H1N1. Yup, the same year I was declared legally blind I caught swine flu. The odd thing here is no one else in my inner circle, including family, friends, and co-workers, caught it.

Introvert’s Pandemic Adventures: From Dog Walks to Grocery Run

A beautiful young black woman with her hands at her temples appearing frustrated.

If being an introvert weren’t enough, we’re in the midst of a global pandemic and I’m beside myself, literally. Social isolation isn’t anything new for me because this is my comfort zone! But here’s the thing, when all of my neighbors are also safe at home it sort of defeats the whole purpose. Not to mention the anxiety-inducing walking of the dog or checking for my mail. My preference would be for my dog to check the mail while walking herself but she’s a little diva. Then there’s my brother.

I never thought I’d see the benefit in my brother’s passenger car door not working until now. While we aren’t six feet apart as I ride in the backseat, I’m lovin’ it! That is until he asked me: “do you need to stop by the grocery store?” Now keep in mind, I live alone and my sons have been great at physical distancing-thank heavens. Even though I’m an H1N1 survivor, asthmatic with hypertension my brother seriously asked if I needed to go to the store. So against my better judgment, of course, I said yes, I needed groceries! When all I really wanted to do was to go home or at the very least sport a blinged-out hazmat suit. 

Here I was with my white cane trying to keep up with my brother wishing like hell I was anywhere else. Then the unimaginable happened; I lost him. I must have been looking quite disoriented because this older gentleman asked me if I needed help. Choking back tears all I could think was ‘please step away’ but I held my composure. Eventually, my brother came to my rescue and all was right with the world, well, almost.

Extraordinary Sight Loss Challenges

Blurred image of a road with a dark spot in the center representing central sight loss.

Going through a pandemic as an introverted germaphobe with sight loss is extraordinary. Before sight loss I went to great lengths to avoid invisible threats, barely stopping short of ordering a personalized glass bubble. Who am I kidding? A glass bubble wouldn’t work well with claustrophobia—Duh!

Seriously though, when you rely on navigating the world through touch, sight loss during a pandemic is extremely difficult. I’ve been more aware of my sense of touch, my sight loss, and germs since the beginning of the outbreak. Hyper-awareness comes with the territory when you lose your sight, thus making physical distancing an additional burden. From the time I wake until I go to sleep at the end of the day, I’m always ON which triggers my anxiety. When I’m safe at home these anxiety levels, for the most part, are bearable. However, the moment I go outside just to walk the dog, my internal alarms are activated.

If managing sight loss, germophobia, and physical distancing weren’t enough, try doing it as an introvert. I’ve always needed my space and now more than ever I’ve had to put in place additional boundaries. Since most people rely solely on communicating virtually, I feel sort of trapped and have to shut down mentally and physically. It seems like I need to recharge my batteries more frequently which leaves me feeling a great amount of shame.

Text on a rock reads "Rock Bottom."

You know the feeling you get when you’re on the top of your game? Well, the feeling I have right now is the exact opposite. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, I think the appropriate terminology is “rock bottom.” Yes, I’m feeling a heaviness, scared, overwhelmed, powerless, and my thoughts are so chaotic I think I’m losing it. The mere action of typing these words provides some relief because I’m acknowledging my vulnerability. Now is not the time to pretend I’ve got it all figured out. Truth is I don’t and I’m more than sure I’m not alone.

Last week was particularly difficult and it wasn’t until I read one of my favorite blogs that I understood why. I was wearing shame like a blanket and once I was able to name it the clouds began to clear. This “stuck between floors” feeling may last through the entirety of this epidemic and I understand it’s natural to feel some angst.

I’ve been cycling between the basement and the top floor really since before the outbreak. The important thing for me is to keep things in perspective. Fear won’t solve anything and, when I can, the way I combat it is to practice being present. Some days I don’t have the energy to wrestle with my feelings so I give myself permission not to.

Compassion and Kindness in Extraordinary Times

What I find helpful is respecting other people’s personal journey especially through these extraordinary times. A friend of mine put it this way: “We are not all going through this together but we can be there for each other.” We have to be mindful that everyone isn’t experiencing this global event the same way. Remembering our humanity by exhibiting kindness, compassion, and patience will help ease our burdens. 

Enjoy the little things because it’s our moments that matter most. All we have is right now and we can choose how we will spend it. Take care of yourself and your loved ones.

Image Description:

  • A photo of a woman behind a frosted glass wall. Her face and body can barely be seen however her hands are braced against the wall like she’s trapped.
  • Computer artwork of the H1N1 influenza virus.
  • A beautiful young black woman with her hands at her temples appearing frustrated.
  • Blurred image of a road with a dark spot in the center representing central sight loss.
  • Text on a rock reads “Rock Bottom.”

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