By Michael Hill
Giovanna Couillard visits her therapist twice a month in Cherry Hill all the way from her home in Bensalem, Pennsylvania.
When asked when the last time she had someone in your house other than herself, her husband or son she said, “It’s been approximately five years since I let people come in to my house,” said Couillard who suffers from OCD.
Recently, her in-laws came, but they had to go through a ritual.
“They had to come in, take off their shoes, put on booties, wash their hands, I had to clean their phones and they were only allowed to sit on the floor and play with my son and his trains and that was it. Then they had to leave,” Couillard said. When asked why she said, “I have a fear of germs coming into my house.”
Couillard has depression and obsessive compulsive disorder — OCD — a psychiatric disorder of unwanted intrusive and distressful urges, thoughts or images.
Before therapy she would clean for four hours a day. Now, about an hour and a half. But on Mondays everybody’s out of the house so she can clean for about seven to eight hours. That includes vacuuming the bed — rituals to ease her anxiety — to the tune of $300 a month in cleaning supplies.
“I dread Sunday nights because Monday mornings I have to get up and I have to clean and I dread that I have to spend the entire day cleaning,” Couillard said.
There’s no question that practicing cleanliness is a good thing. But research shows too much of a good thing in this case is a bad thing.
“Unfortunately we’ve become a very sterilized society to some extent,” said Dr. Ashwin Jathavedam, infectious disease specialist at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center.
Jathavedam says we’re over doing it; cleaning and disinfecting to our own detriment and destroying some germs and pathogens that build immunities that could help fight infections. And that could be the reason studies continue to find increasing rates of asthma, allergies and other ailments.
“Everything these days tends to be antibacterial, from the soaps we use to the Purell to detergents, everything. It’s kind of an in vogue thing. And we’re find more and more these things do contribute to the development of bacteria becoming more resistant to a lot of the antibiotics we use,” Jathavedam said.
When asked about the germaphobes who say “but it’s clean” he said, “It’s clean in one sense, but in the grand scheme of things it may come back to haunt us.”
“I totally believe that,” said Couillard.
Medicine and therapy could help Couillard and others who obsess compulsively over cleaning.
“They’re always going to be vulnerable to it so they might have a stressor that might come up later on that may exacerbate some symptoms that they might have to address but they can minimize the effect on their lives,” said Dr. Marla Deibler, clinical psychologist for The Center for Emotional Health of Greater Philadelphia.
“”Well, I’ll always have it. It’s just the way you deal with it,” said Couillard.
And the doctor says the same holds true for germs.
“Some exposure is not necessarily harmful. We have bacteria all around us, on our skin and surfaces. It’s not realistic to expect to get rid of all of them,” said Jathavedam