John Junior, from Wilmslow, is so afraid of eating with his hands that he always carries metal tongs with him.
The 34-year-old man’s phobia developed a decade ago when he became unwell after eating cooked chicken.
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This made him believe that touching food would kill him and others, and he started using cutlery all the time.
But John’s fears spiraled out of control and eventually spiraled out of control in March 2018.
The unexpected death of his father has sent his health anxiety level high, meaning he now only eats with metal tongs.
“Even when I go out in restaurants, everyone looks at me,” he told the Manchester Evening News. “It’s so embarrassing.
“I have to go to a place I know and where they know me because the ruling is terrible.
“I went to Pizza Hut and they gave me a knife and fork. I told them I had to eat with tongs and (all the other guests) were staring at me.
John’s phobia, a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, became so severe that it pushed him to the brink of suicide.
He added: “It’s terrible. I’ve dealt with suicidality, which is the feeling of wanting to get rid of (OCD) but you can’t. It has made me feel suicidal in the past, as I would go out to eat.”
Obsessive-compulsive disorder, commonly known as OCD, is a mental health condition where a person has obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors.
OCD can affect men, women and children, and symptoms can begin in people as early as the age of six.
The disorder can manifest itself as unwanted and unpleasant thoughts, images, or stimuli that repeatedly enter the mind. These can cause feelings of anxiety, disgust or uneasiness.
It can also lead to repetitive behaviors that a person feels like doing in response to an obsessive thought, such as excessive cleaning or hand-washing.
John has struggled with other mental health issues since childhood, including depression, health anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and more recently Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder, where someone experiences volatile emotions.
His mental struggles began when he was diagnosed with a chromosome disorder at the age of eleven.
John started self-harming after leaving primary school, but was severely bullied in high school.
His mental health deteriorated when other children began teasing him for being overweight and walking differently.
John’s struggles continued into adulthood and he attempted suicide three days after his father’s death.
At home, John relied on a soft toy for comfort in the shape of a large, fluffy duck named Charlie.
He incorporated the gentle sidekick into a campaign called the John and Charlie Journey Project as a way to end the stigma against mental health, and he takes the duck with him wherever he goes.
Since November 2019, John and Charlie have traveled the country sharing their personal mental health experiences in order to help and inspire others.
Although he supports others through his mental health work, he still struggles with his nutritional concerns throughout his life.
“During Covid, I was too afraid to eat anything. I thought anything in the air would kill me,” he added.
There was a time when John was so afraid to eat anything at all, he would only eat Fox’s biscuits for a week straight.
“I wasn’t feeling food much,” he continued. “I was shaking. It’s a habit and a routine of eating biscuits out of a package. I only eat things that are easy to put into my mouth right away.
John says he has visited doctors about his phobia and tried to seek treatment.
He has found a course in Amsterdam but will need to take tablets as part of his treatment, something John cannot do.
John added: “I cannot touch the food or else I will die and others around me will die.” “It causes anxiety and I sometimes have panic attacks while out and about.
It’s not nice. It feels like you are constantly in control. It made me think about suicide a lot.
“The fear of touching food is a phobia, a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder. I have intrusive thoughts that the food will kill me too.
“This disorder affects my daily life greatly, and it is debilitating most days. I wish I could eat and touch food like others.
“It makes me feel lonely and constantly causes me anxiety when I try to eat.
“I hope it’s better. I’ve been trying, and I always say you have to get comfortable with the uncomfortable to change.”