I read a study one time many years ago that a disturbing amount of paper money from the United States of America tested positive for having human feces, drugs, and the bacteria of deadly diseases on them. For years because of this, I have been deathly afraid of handling paper money because it is obviously hazardous. Why is everyone ok with touching money? Do they not know the danger they are in? Why did that person just rub their eyes after paying in cash? They are going to get sick now. Everything they touch is going to be dirty. I hope I haven’t touched anything that these dirty people have touched. Everywhere I went, these thoughts would flood my mind nonstop.
Preparing for An Outing
There was an intricate process behind my handling of paper money due to this. When I was younger and before I owned a wallet, I would take as much money as I needed for my destination and put it in a plastic bag. This way, the money wouldn’t contaminate whatever pocket I put it in. Thus, making every item that is also put in that pocket infected.
I didn’t want to go through the stress of touching the filthy bills, so I would ask my family to put money in a bag for me. I would open the bag wide to prevent bills touching the top or my fingers as much as possible. More often than not, they carefully set the bill in the middle and we all got on with our day. However, sometimes they would just drop the money in and both of these things would happen. I would feel a tingle shoot through my spine and waves of intense anxiety would hit me.
This is bad. All of these germs and bacteria are now on me. How fast does bacteria travel across your skin? Where does my soapy tourniquet need to reach to cut off the germs from spreading further?
I had to run to the bathroom and wash my fingers with soap, often multiple times, to be safe.
If the intrusive thoughts caused me anxiety intense enough, I would also “wash” the bag. I would have to wet a paper towel with warm water then wipe the parts of the bag that were touched, or close to the part that was touched, or a part that germs could have already spread too. Sometimes the obsessions were so bad that I’d wash the whole bag because I didn’t want this hazardous material to make me ill or infect my other possessions.
On some occasions, I would break down crying and/or have an anxiety attack because they let the bills touch the corners. I know they never meant to; but the danger felt so real to me. I don’t want to die or get sick. Why don’t they understand? How can they be so calm when touching money?
Thankfully, I got a bit better over time. I even started to put money in bags on my own. I would prepare a path to the nearest sink ahead of time with no obstacles to make sure I could wash before the germs spread too much. Then, I would prepare my bag and mind to touch the disgusting money. Pinching the smallest bit of a corner needed to lift the bill, I would gently lower it past the top of the bag into its new temporary home. Then I’d zip up the bag with fingers that hadn’t touched the money and make sure that air in the bag didn’t hit me. Washing my hands with soap helped the now immense stress disappear. I’d also make sure now not to touch the area where the money had been previously; as that spot was contaminated. Anything put there would now be a fraction as dirty as the money was.
The Internal Struggle at the Register
Of course, I knew I would have to touch the money again when I needed to pay at the register. I rarely went out alone; so I would push this responsibility onto whomever I was with at the time. People I went out with a lot knew the drill and would ask for me to hand it over so they could get it over with. I was always embarrassed explaining it to someone for the first time. They found it strange, but since they were using my money they would go along with it.
Overtime I realized “I need to stop having others do this constantly” and I tried to take steps to be less burdensome to my friends. I would try to pay on my own with great care. I had to try and move the money to the top, operating only on the outside of the bag, to be easily grabbed. I couldn’t reach my hand in because my entire hand would then be contaminated. The bill and the air inside were infected, after all. When the bill was in prime position, I would pick it up by again pinching the smallest bit of a corner necessary. I would then pass it off to the cashier like a nuclear scientist passing a uranium rod.
Then the worst part of the ordeal: change. Coins stacked on bills and handed off to my terrified self. Immediately the anxiety would spike and I felt like I needed to puke. It took a while to get control of this gut reaction. After, i would hastily toss the change in the bag without usually caring what it touched. I needed to get to the nearest public sink, bottle of water, of cold drink with condensation that I could use to feel cleaner. Many factors determined what I would do next, and it was all situational. Every monetary transaction was hellish and exhausting.
It was always a relief to get home, throw my filthy money bag away (sans change), and take a shower to “restart” my dirt levels.
Eventually, I did get my own wallet. This changed a lot for me. I didn’t have to waste so many plastic bags now. I also needed a new set of mental rules to comply with or else.
The bills had their own secluded pouch, but edges would stick up regardless. Rubbing against the interior of the opposite side of the billfold and potentially touching any cards I had in there. Making those cards and anything else inside dirty. It was a new set of intrusive thoughts to be mentally torn down by.
Thinking about all of the stupid rules is making me a bit exhausted as I write this, to be honest. It was just such overwhelming anxiety that made everyday life difficult and made me suffer. I really hate paper money because of this.
It was no surprise, then, that I was incredibly excited to get my debit card when I was 16. I didn’t have to touch money every transaction, this was life changing!! However, there were new rules around cards I had to follow to keep them clean. They couldn’t touch bills or places the bills may have touched inside my wallet so they didn’t get dirty themselves. Else, I would have to clean them, sometimes with soap, in the nearest bathroom.
I knew that other people put less care into bills not touching their cards. This caused a new concern: the card readers at the register. Other people’s cards touched their bills in their wallets, and now the hazardous germs from those bills are on the cars which are put in the chip reader, and mine is going in the same place. My card is now as dirty as their money is. Why don’t they care about this?
As ever-present and horrible as these thoughts were and are, therapy helped me conquer this obsession a bit.
“Forced” ERP Therapy
I worked as a cashier which forced me to handle money. There was no way around it. Crisp bills and wrinkled up old ones, I had to deal with it all. I was incredibly thankful for the hand sanitizer available to us. I over-relied on it, which went against ERP, but the relief was very worth it.
Over time, it weaned off the hand sanitizer a bit. Partially due to us running out often because I used so much. This forced me to sit with the anxiety. I’d touch my clothes and skin after touching money and before cleaning my hands. It was painful and mentally exhausting.
I am glad for the experience, as it helped me overcome my money contamination obsession a little bit. I still struggle with it; but I mainly use my debit card so I recognize that I’m doing avoidance. I also no longer live in the United States and I am not really concerned about Norwegian kroner being contaminated.
I know that this is still a subject of my obsessions, but I am very glad that I don’t have to deal with it much anymore.