How Do I Overcome This Phobia?

Question:

I am very excited today to purchase the new Alice book! While I am waiting for the bookstore to open, I am writing for a bit of advice. I am fully aware that you do not profess a career as a psychologist, but your insight is always sound and legitimate. When I was younger, I went through an obsessive compulsive period (feeling a need to touch objects a certain number of times, etc.) but eventually outgrew most of these characteristics. Although I was able to surmount this disorder, I now possess a phobia to sickness. Any time someone around me is sick, I become very selfish and defensive because I do not want to catch whatever ailment a person may possess. For example, my sister (who gets sick very often) is sick right now with a fever and cough, and I am constantly trying to avoid contact with her in fear of catching her sickness. I know that no one truly enjoys being sick, but I feel that I am taking it to the extreme and severing an otherwise healthy relationship with anyone who is sick. I feel terrible, because I try to be a loving and caring member of society, but my phobia to sickness has served as a real impediment in bringing out this side of my consciousness. In a large part, I attribute my elevated phobia to last year, when I was terribly sick with the flu and missed my last week of senior year. I suppose I simply do not want to miss out on all the joys that life has to offer, and I feel obliged to attend every day of school, work, etc. I could very well speak with a psychologist about this, but I wanted to know if you had any ideas in overcoming this awful phobia. I will be writing to you soon to relay my reaction to the newest Alice book!!!

Phyllis replied:

I’m glad that you recognize I’m not a psychologist, because I can only answer as an enlightened grandmother.  I can well understand because I went through a period of being obsessive compulsive when I was young.  (I had to touch everything twice because my touch was a little person, and if I didn’t leave two little people, one would get lonely!!!)  And I also understand being distressed that you were sick and missed the last week of senior year.  That must have really been hard to take.  A few sessions with a psychologist would help, but I can offer at least two bits of insight:  first, you need to make peace with the fact that this will happen, rather than trying forever to avoid it.  It doesn’t take being sick to make you miss out on something big.  You may have to postpone your wedding because your future partner was in a car accident.  When you’re a parent, you may have to cancel your vacation because your child broke a leg.  You may be in charge of a large event and not be able to attend because an elderly parent needs help.  As they say, life is what happens when you’re planning something else.   Think of plays that have been canceled on Broadway because an actress was ill.  Think of a President being sick at a state dinner.  It happens to the best of us, and when you face this head on and accept that when it happens, you’ll deal with it, but not before, you won’t worry so much about it.  Second, if you add up all the worry and special effort you go to trying to avoid someone who’s sick, worrying about catching the sickness, and feeling guilty about it, think of the hours of the day you’re already ruining.   You don’t even have to get sick;  you’re ruining things now!   Chances are, with or without additional help, you will eventually grow out of this as most of us do.  Life has a way of teaching us things whether we want to learn or not.

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