Growing up, I was a bit of an anxious child, but in some ways, not like other children. I wasn’t afraid of monsters under my bed. Rather, I caught every single sort of bad news and imagined it happening to me.
At the time, early to mid-1990s, the Leprosy Foundation apparently had enough money for large television funraising campaigns. I hardly hear or see them now, so maybe people are more interested in a disease that affects people in the Western world, like ALS. In any case, leprosy was “hot” then. It’s this big, bad disease that magically causes your fingers and toes to fall off. That’s scary to an eight-year-old!
With my fear came rituals to counter the fear. I have never been diagnosed with OCD, but it might be that I had a mild case of it when I was young. So to counter my fear of catching leprosy, I’d sit up at night for hours counting my fingers and toes. Later, when I heard that leprosy causes loss of sensation first, I would make sure I was very aware of the sensation in my extremities.
The fear of catching leprosy got less when I was around ten or eleven, when my father convinced me no-one in the Netherlands gets it. Just then, I met a girl who said she’d had it and a classmate who had a mysterious disease with what I thought were similar symptoms. I had by this time heard that the bacterium that causes leprosy takes two to eight years to become active, so I wasn’t too worried of acutely losing my fingers or toes. But the fear remained at the back of my mind.
Other fears and compulsions took over by my teens. I remember I had this bad fear of getting CO poisoning, so I’d make sure my heating was off and my window was open even in the midst of winter. Maybe now I need some of that fear back as people complain I don’t air my room frequently enough.
Some form of fear and compulsion stayed with me for many years. Some are too embarrassing to discuss here, while others are more ordinary – like the fear of someone breaking into my apartment at night. The fears, however, almost completely disappeared when I was admitted to the psychiatric hospital. I still experience some health anxiety, but it is manageable, and the compulsions have completely disappeared.