What Are You Afraid Of?

A man went to a psychiatrist for his phobia.

“Doc,” he said, “I’ve got trouble. Every time I get into bed, I think there’s somebody under it. I get under the bed, I think there’s somebody on top of it. Top, under, top, under. You gotta help me, I’m going crazy!”

“Just put yourself in my hands for two years,” said the shrink, “Come to me three times a week, and I’ll cure your fears.”

“How much do you charge?”

“A hundred dollars per visit.”

“I’ll sleep on it,” said the man.

Six months later the doctor met the man on the street.

“Why didn’t you ever come to see me again?” asked the psychiatrist.

“For a hundred buck’s a visit? A bartender cured me for ten dollars.”

“Is that so! How?”

“He told me to cut the legs off the bed!”  (-Robert Graves)

 

A phobia is a fear. According to dictionary.com it is a persistent, irrational fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that leads to a compelling desire to avoid it.

“Unconscious or emotional learning takes place to keep us safe. In primitive conditions when coming into contact with something dangerous, the mind/body would create the optimum state for survival – a panic attack. This type of learning is not of the intellectual, or rational type; this type of learning takes place at an emotional level so that the response can bypass the ‘thinking brain.’ To become phobic, all you need is a high anxiety state paired with an object. The object does not have to be causing the anxiety. Robert Graves the poet, for example, had a phobia of phones because he was using one when a bomb went off near him during the war! You can also generate a phobia through the misuse of the imagination. Children often get phobias this way, or by seeing a phobia parent.”  Mark Tyrrell- HGDip, DipHypNLP(BHR)

Phobias are fears that are constant and something people who have them, are constantly on the lookout for their potential and perceived danger. It is not a onetime thing, but stays with you from day-to-day. So, then what is fear? Also according to my trusty online dictionary site, fear is a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid. Now, that sounds a lot like a phobia, doesn’t it?

How about a couple of examples to show the difference. The local news station has been broadcasting for the past three days that a hurricane has formed off the coast of a state just two below the one you live in. Every time you hear more about it, it has picked up force, hit hard the places in its path, caused millions of dollars in damage, and the death toll is rising at an alarming rate. You have been getting calls all morning from family members, on the other side of the country, begging you to evacuate. As you ready yourself to do just that, the wind is blowing with such force that it literally knocks you off your feet, not once, but three times. You realize, with panic in every part of your body, that you may have waited too long to try to get to safety. That, my friends, is fear. Now consider this: the sky is a gorgeous blue and the sun is shining so brightly that you can see its beams dancing on almost every surface you see. It is a beautiful day and there was nothing in the forecast that pointed to anything but perfection in the atmosphere. However, you are so afraid of storms that you look to the sky every 15 seconds to reassure yourself that a cloud hasn’t managed to appear out of nowhere. Just before rounding the corner on your attempted morning walk, you can hear water droplets hitting the sidewalk, (just a sprinkler you would have seen if you had been able to get around that corner) and you are suddenly paralyzed with certain dread and doom. You look again for the clouds that you are just sure are there, and when you still don’t see a single one, you feel you are losing your mind. You can think of nothing else but to get home to safety. That is your only hope and last chance at surviving before a storm sets in and somehow, as you are sure it will, kills you. Now, that is a phobia.

Let’s look at one more comparison, and in this case, I will use a personal experience of my own for the fear side of things. My mother had a freak accident out in her yard one day after church. The shattered bones in both of her legs landed her in the hospital. Many surgeries would be needed to repair the damage, but after the second operation, things began to start happening that caused the remaining procedures to be postponed. Within days, the doctors decided to put her into a medically induced coma and place her on a respirator until she was strong enough to proceed. But, she was not getting stronger and with the bones still being broken, the potential for danger was rising. When I got the call that my mother had developed an embolism in her lung and they discovered undiagnosed emphysema, though she had quit smoking 15 years prior, I was also told that it was touch and go and they were uncertain if she would improve. With that I became very frightened that my mother was going to die. That was a valid fear. Had I been unable to function throughout most of my life because I was in constant and desperate fear of my mother dying, unable to leave her side to go to work, have a family, or go to school, that would have been a phobia.

An estimated 18 million US adults suffer from a phobia. Do you? I, personally, have a few, but fortunately, they are not severe enough to require treatment. However, I would be really interested in finding out where my fears and phobias have come from. We are born with only two fears; the fear of falling (which has never left me) and the fear of loud, startling noises. All other fears such as the fear of flying, the fear of change, the fear of growing old, and the fear of spiders are learned. I had the most bizarre fears as a child. I will only share one or two, as not to completely embarrass myself. This first one, when I think back on it, really was kind of silly…but not at the time, I assure you!

My sister, Ginger, still teases me about them, which is always good for a laugh. One summer, when I was about seven or eight years old, just before my Memaw passed away, my father’s parents came to stay with us girls while Mom and Dad went on a little get-away. Both my Nana and my Bumpa were overweight and were going to be sleeping in my parent’s room on their water bed. I remember, very clearly, freaking out about it and kept asking my mother and my sister, “Won’t the water bed pop?” I was just certain that their combined weight would be more than the thick water filled mattress could handle and that it would burst like an over-filled water balloon. Like all my fears, then and now, I felt it in my belly. It was a feeling of both a tightening and an uneasy nausea, similar to the feeling of the wild sea sickness that comes from a steady, but certain rocking of a boat on a restless ocean. A lot of fears now have names, usually derived from Greek or Latin words that describe the specific thing the fear is of, followed by the Greek term phobia, meaning fear. In this particular situation, I believe that anxiety was at play more than anything, especially since it was one, single, isolated incident. This anxiety plagued me for days on end and I could not shake massive doom that clenched at my heart muscle. The good news is, the water bed didn’t pop during their visit. As a matter of fact, it didn’t actually pop at all, but years later, one of the children my mother sat for was so angry that he had to take a nap, that he bit four holes into the mattress and caused it to drain nearly half of the water onto Mom’s carpet.

Another fear I had throughout my childhood was the stirring of air inside the house. Whether it was the wind blowing through the windows and rustling the curtains or rattling the mini-blinds, or that of a fan, a box one on the floor, oscillating from a stand, or mounted on the ceiling, really made no difference, as they all caused the air to blow around, moving things that would otherwise be still and at rest. No matter how subtle these movements, they caused me great anxiety. I had to either turn the fan off, close the window, or leave the room, and because we lived in South Florida, where the temps were not only extremely high, the humidity was just as much so, it was an awful thing to be afraid of and to intentionally avoid. Unfortunately, this fear has followed me into adulthood and my only reprieve is that I now live in Pennsylvania. Here, the house I live in is surrounded by very tall trees that both block the wind (which by the time the breeze reaches the window, there is not enough gusto to cause the curtains to flutter)and keeps the home cool during the summer months, so no fans are needed. On the few days that may get higher temperatures than are comfortable, we have an air-conditioner, mounted high up on the wall and nothing light enough near its air flow path to be affected with any motion. The strange thing about this is that when I am outside, the wind and anything it moves does not bother me. Wind socks, wind chimes, branches on the trees, or swings can blow and sway to and fro and I don’t even notice.

If that fear isn’t strange enough for you, maybe this one will be. I could not handle a ball being thrown in the house. This included using a punching balloon. Whenever these objects were being thrown or pounded from the fist of the one holding the large and hollow sounding balloon to the limits of the rubber band attached, my stomach would flip each and every time and made me very sick. I would cringe as if about to be attacked, and raise may arms over my head to protect it. I find it mildly strange that this fear too, has the involvement of objects moving through the air around me. It is not so much the air itself, but the traveling of items through it. This fear, believe it or not, has a name; Kinesophobia. This is an all Greek word, kine meaning move or set in motion, and of course, phobia meaning fear. I really do not understand where this comes from or what could have caused it. I do know that fears are learned, so not knowing the why or what behind the fear leaves me feeling a bit troubled. Fortunately, there are no balls, balloons, or any other number of flying objects anymore, now that the boys have grown up some, but yes, this too has continued to catch me off guard to this day. I will always wonder what happened that has instilled this strange fear into my bones.

I have two more fears, both of which are more common. The first of these is that of rodents, of any kind. They are icky and creepy and I cannot even see them on the television without squirming. How can anyone not freak out in the presence of those nasty little creatures? I am not bothered by snakes, or spiders, or frogs, or even roaches (OK, yes, roaches are disgusting and filthy little, and sometimes not so little, insects), but I come crawling out of my skin at the sight of any type of rodent, even from afar. I have recently learned the term for this particular fear is called murophobia (a coinage from the taxonomic adjective “murine” for the Muridae family that encompasses mice and rats). Luckily, we have a cat and a very hyper and curious little Boston Terrier, so I am feeling pretty safe.

The last and final thing that I am afraid of, the fear I was born with, as we all are, is of falling. I am ever so cautious when going down stairs or walking anyplace there may be the potential of slipping, such as on icy sidewalks, slick floors, or wet grass. But the real panicky kind of fear comes from being afraid of falling from high places. Now, let me clarify, I am not afraid of heights, known as Acrophobia. Being up in high places does not bother me, but if there is not a guard rail, a wall, or some other type of protective barrier between myself and the distance down from the high place, that is where my phobia lies. It is not in the getting to the high place, but rather the getting down without falling. The name for this is Bathophobia, which is the fear of depths, of falling from high places, or being consumed by deep spaces. The origin of the word bathios is Greek and means deep or depth. Depending on the situation, it can sometimes cause me to freeze where I stand and I hold my breath without realizing it. True to the definition of a phobia, I avoid being in any situation that may cause this phobia from kicking my anxiety level through the roof.

 

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