Clean Hands. Obsession. Madness?

This past week I've been struggling to uncover the reason for a new compulsion that seems to have crept up out of nowhere. It's not a bad problem, per se, aside from the amount of water it uses. That said, I do have concerns that it may be seeded by a deep-seated, subconscious issue that is starting to surface. My (new) problem is that I wash my hands too much.

Running Water

Over the last twenty years or so I've had the terrible habit of keeping my fingernails and toenails incredibly short not by using clippers, but instead tearing at them with other fingernails. I rarely take "too much" nail off, but very rarely will people see more than 1.5mm of whitespace at the tips … unless I'm incredibly relaxed. During incredibly rare periods, my fingernails have been permitted to grow out a few millimetres, right up until they start to cause problems when typing. But this has rarely happened since high school, though. The Demons of Self-Doubt are quite good at stirring up anxiety about just about anything, and that is part of what drives me to keep trying to accomplish things; It keeps my feelings of inadequacy at bay¹.

The excessive hand washing is a little different, though.

I noticed this over the weekend when sitting on the sofa in my living room. Like many people, I don't like the feeling of sticky things on my hand. Normally small bits of dirt can be scrubbed out with friction, but I couldn't for the life of me get my hands to a point where they felt clean. So I went to the bathroom sink and started cleaning … and cleaning … and cleaning … until I recognized the futility of continuing and returned to the living room, where I fought the urge to clean my hands. This is something that is seen in movies and books when a person is beginning to go crazy or is otherwise teetering on the event horizon, but I don't think I'm going crazy. Sure, I really want to eat sugar, I'm feeling dizzy often during the day, and I'm under a great deal of pressure at the day job to deliver results against all odds … but this is normal for many people … isn't it?

Since the weekend's excessive use of hand soap, there hasn't been a repeat of the incident. That said, it's at the forefront of my mind as I go through the day. Am I turning into a hypochondriac? Is this just a nervous reaction to the various things going on at the moment? Is this a sign of something else?

Putting all of this down in words has me wondering if perhaps it's time for a break. A real vacation away from everything² where I just spend time with the people in my life. None of the "professional" goals that I'm working on will disappear or become impossible to complete if I step away for a while. If anything, the time away would let me re-evaluate some of the decisions and directions these projects are taking. Perspective is a wonderful thing, and I mine is both narrow and biased.

The question now revolves around how to accomplish this.


  1. for the most part, anyway.
  2. a real vacation? What's that? Haven't had more than three consecutive days off work in years …