Anatomy of a Phobia

Lala at Seasons Change, and so have I reminded me this morning of some very sensitive subject matter that I often overlook.  See, I’ve programmed myself over the years to minimize my fears.  Fears are just another expression of weakness.  Or so I’ve been inadvertently taught throughout the course of my life.  Fears are irrational little demons that have no place in reality.  They are something to be ignored.  Fear is an overreaction and another possible way to be overdramatic about events that occur in life.

Fear is just another excuse not to do something.

There are a million reasons those phrases fail to sit well with me.  First, I am a person that has a complicated relationship with authority.  If fear were allowed to conquer my own free will, then it would become an authority figure.  I would become conflicted against my own self, and come to fear and loathe myself.  I can see the fallacy in the contradictory nature of all of those statements.  Because, I experience it regularly.  And the experience of fear complicates itself and entangles itself into my psyche.

I have phobias, whether I want to admit it or not.  At this point, I would rather come clean than try to diminish these symptoms any further.  It seeks to compound the confusing presentation of these intense fears.  Worse, I can’t readily dismiss fears like I used to.  As life progresses and my experience expands, I’ve come to situations that force a confrontation.  And the effects that the denial and repression produces are intense.

I fear planes and cars crashing into my house.
When I was a child, a plane crashed somewhere near my hometown.  The only reason this event was significant hinged on how it affected my area.  I lived near a fire department, a highway, and two interstates.  It seemed like there were people and sirens all night.  It was a hot summer night, and all of the windows and doors were open.  People had their eyes skyward.  And the thought of a plane falling out of the sky had never crossed my mind before.

In case I didn’t mention recently, I live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  At the time of 9/11, I lived about ten miles from our local international airport.  And we are the closest city to the crash site of Flight 93 that went down in Sommerset County, a few counties over from us.  That day was similar to the night of the crash from my childhood.  Only this time, it wasn’t an accident.  It was a terrorist attack.

I also lived by an Air force and an Army base.  When all of the planes were grounded, the skies were filled with military planes.  It was like living in a military state.  Other than those planes, the sky was empty.  The winds were unusually quiet.  And my best friend and I laid in our adjacent yards, staring skyward for the threat.

Somehow, throughout the years of being a pedestrian, the definition of “crash” came to include cars.  And Xan always joked with me about how silly it was.

In May 2010, a drunk driver crashed his jeep into the front of my house.  It was the day after Mother’s Day and only five minutes after my husband had left to put our one-and-a-half year old son into the car to come get me from work.  Had it been five minutes earlier, my son would be dead.  The impact to the front of the house sent the sofa into the middle of the room.  The impact would have been enough to serious maim Xan and kill, then 27 lb, Beast.

Since then, I would cringe every single time I would hear a car make an awful noise outside my home.  It is among the dozens of reasons I moved from 511 to 106.  Except, 106 is only a couple of miles from the airport now.  Instead, I cringe at low flying planes, and look skyward to their shiny metal bellies.

I fear enclosed spaces and crowds.
This comes to include any area that could become cramped or would be difficult to maneuver out of. I fear being crushed.  I have dreams about it sometimes.  I’ll go in after Beast in one of those kids tubes, and it will start to collapse on me.  Or, I’ll just get stuck.  And there will always be something threatening happening.

This definition expanded after the Columbine School Shooting.  It came to include areas where I would be “trapped”.  That means classrooms, buses, shopping malls, lecture halls, and unfamiliar cars.  Anywhere where I was not openly permitted to leave, or wasn’t easily escapable became suspect.

This was compounded when I was pregnant with my son.  I was afraid that I was going to be accidentally harmed in a public place by someone careless.  And, it was made even worse when Xan was involved in a serious car accident in June 2011.  People get hurt by the negligence of others all of the time.

I fear having an episode in public.
I know Bipolar Disorder isn’t as episodic as an anxiety disorder.  Maybe I have an anxiety disorder.  I just don’t know, and I’m not qualified to make that determination.  I’m afraid of being overtly symptomatic in public.  I just have this severe anxiety that I am going to have an unrelenting panic attack and do something, for lack of a better word, crazy.  Or that I’ll break down in hysterical tears over something practically benign, like losing my scarf or breaking a pencil.  Or worse, I’ll go out and binge eat to suppress some other urge.

I fear elevators.
Combine my fear of catastrophe, a mild fear of heights, and a severe fear of enclosed spaces, and a torrent of anxiety develops.  That’s what an elevator represents to me.

I have always been afraid of elevators, because the motion doesn’t agree with me.  I don’t like that moment of weightlessness when ascending and I don’t enjoy that feeling of plummeting to doom when descending.  I don’t like the jolts and starts.  And I especially don’t like being knocked off balance.

Compound that fear with actually getting stuck in an elevator.  It was my freshman year in high school, and I was assigned a dorm room on the sixth floor at camp.  We were children, and we were stupid.  The elevator clearly stated that the maximum capacity was 14 people.  Instead, we had closer to twenty, all jammed in that elevator.  When it opened, I could clearly see the floor between the fifth and sixth floors.  We were stuck in midair in a rickety old elevator, where no one could immediately get to us.

From then on, I took the stairs.  I dragged my footlocker and luggage up flights and flights of stairs to avoid any similar occurrence.  Of course, it never happened under their watch again.  But the singular experience was enough to have me fit for stairs and hiking stairwells for the rest of my life.

My doctor’s office is on the third floor of an office.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been running late, and I arrive at that check in desk breathless and sweaty.

Then, there are the sillier fears.
The aforementioned are just huge fears that have come true for me.  There are fears that have absolutely no grounds in reality.  For instance, I fear toilet snakes.  I know there is no such thing.  I don’t know if there has ever been an incident of someone getting bitten by a poisonous snake while using the bathroom.  And if there has, don’t tell me.  I don’t want to know.

I fear lightning strikes.

I fear bugs in the bed.  Or just bugs crawling on me in general.

I fear the apocalypse.  Irony of ironies.

I fear being touched by a stranger.  There are a million different reasons why that’s a serious fear that has no grounds.  All my brain knows is that sometimes touch is bad.

Then, there are the more common ones.
I fear judgement.  I fear failure.  I fear unfamiliar social situations.  I fear being alone.  I fear dying alone.  I fear getting hurt and having no one there to help me.  I fear strangers.  I fear germs.

I know that some of these are rational, and these are things that should be reasonably feared.  But most of the time, they strike me, and I’m left with the deer in the headlights feeling.  That is unreasonable.

What are the most common fears out there?  What are the most uncommon?  Which are ones that my mind made up?


11 thoughts on “Anatomy of a Phobia

  1. I can so relate to some of the things you have mentioned. I too had an elevater incodent. In my senior year of High school, we went on our senior trip and stayed in a motel. We had to take the elevater, and I got into one of those “lets see how many we can cram in here” situations. I was already leary of them anyway. But we got stuck and when they finally got the door to open, we were between two floors and I could see the space between the shaft and the long drop to the bottom. That got me from riding one again. escalators scared me as well after I saw a news story of someones coat getting caught in the rolling stair and it almost choking them to death. They had to quickly tryand cut them out of the coat.
    I am pretty much scared of going anywhere for fear of panic attack and just being seen by people from the past, even though my looks are totally different now. I go to Kmart instead of Walmart even though Walmart is cheaper, I can not handle the crowds at walmart and you couldn’t pay me to go there. Basically, I don’t go anywhere unless I have too and I only go to certain places that I have somehow deemed safe.
    I fear trains because I grew up by the train tracks and the noise terrified me. It sounded like it was coming right for my home. I too have a fear of germs. Especially when I found out why the Meningitis scare and it’s origin. Those fears seem halfway rational to me however.

    • Trains are fine for me, because my Pappap used to work on the railroad. My sister and I used to play on the tracks by our house all of the time when we were kids. Trains rarely came past.

      We did the cram in the elevator thing, like I said. Thankfully, I wasn’t close enough to the door to see down. I do have to ride elevators from time to time with the stroller. It is never, never pleasant.

      What else do you find brings anxiety?

  2. I have developed a fear of enclosed spaces. When I was a child, I loved them. I used to hide either behind my bed or under it. Once I was in an elevator at college and too many people crammed in. The elevator got stuck between floors. I still take elevators but I don’t like it when more than four or five people are in it. I’ve had dozens of MRIs but the last one I had, I panicked. I could not stand being in the enclosed space. I had to take a Klonopin and my husband had to sit with me.

    I have a fear of heights, but not if I am taking pictures. When I was little, my mom, dad and I rode on a Ferris wheel. It stopped when we were near the top. Dad did his best to make it swing. I got so scared. I don’t know why he did that because he has a fear of heights too.

    I am afraid of germs. I wash my hands incessantly (OCD) although medication has helped with that. But I still get panic mode about some cleanliness issues. I sort my laundry by dirt level. And I do wash my hands all the time while cooking or baking or planning to eat.

    Don’t worry about toilet snakes. You can get toilet scorpions if you live out west. But you don’t live out west, so you don’t have to worry about that. I hope I didn’t just give you a new fear!

    • You know what I said out loud when I read about the toilet scorpions? “No! No way!!!” It literally came out of my mouth. From what I understand, scorpions are serious pests out west. I saw on TV about this guy who kept a blacklight on at night, because they glow in it. He just wanted to be sure that he didn’t step on them.

      And I will never live out west now. Something worse than toilet snakes. Ugh.

      I’m glad to know I’m not really too alone here. While I’m relieved to hear about other people’s fears, I’m not glad other people have them. It’s seriously intense stuff. And it’s all too common things, so it’s not like a person can just ignore it.

      The heights aren’t too bad for me. It’s not the heights so much as it is the falling part. Or, when I’m in worse states, that urge to jump. Funny, because as a teen, I played around on a railroad trestle. That was the same trestle that my husband and I fell in love at.

      The germs are getting bad for me. I noticed a steep increase in hand washing, which is already pretty frequent. Do you know what’s the worst? Shopping carts. One year, I got a vicious stomach flu from a cart at Walmart. Never again.

      Public toilets? No. No freakin’ way. Unless I’m really, really drunk. Otherwise, I’ll hover, and then wash myself up to the elbow.

      I don’t like touching things in public at all, now that I think about it. I hit buttons with my sleeve or my elbow. I’ll grab doors with my scarf. That’s why I wear one. And if something is smelly, I’ll pull the scarf up over my nose. I’m always worried about getting an infection from something out there.

      It’s so much easier to stay in my own house with my own germs! And toilet snakes!

  3. I sincerely love the way you articulated all of these! Sometimes we have fears that we don’t even reallize. I’m wondering how beautiful life would have been if there were no fears. I wonder why we can’t just say to ourselves, “what’s the big deal being stuck anyway?” or “what is even the worst thing that can happen if there’s a crash?”. Life is just a funny mystery. I personally enjoy the thrill in daring. I enjoy the way my heart seems to jump a bit when an elevator takes off. I feel the same excitement when a plane is taking off. My eyes open wide, in probably fright, then it quickly converts to laughter or thrill. Diving into a large pool has the same effect. It feels like I’m just going to drown, then some sweet sensation follows! There’s a thrill in stepping out, irrespective of my fears but does daring come easy? I really don’t think so. One could die in a quest for the thrill, another may never know what a thrill feels like but what really is the difference between the two. Everyone gets what they want. Life is amazing, full of mysteries and surprises. It is best to live life in the best way we can. My own definition of best is unique to me, and so should yours! Lovely post!
    Check out what I wish:
    by the way, I also wish you a unique November and beyond:

    • Life would be absolutely wonderful without some fear. But, there are certain fears that keep us in check. I fear running out of money very much. I also have a kind of irrational fear of being completely destitute and living without necessities. Though I know it’s not likely to happen, it’s happened before to me. I don’t take heat and food for granted at all, because there was a day in my life where I didn’t have those things.

      Most of the time, I love new experiences. But, sometimes, like right now, I go through these episodes where the fear is just crippling. I’m kind of in hiding right now, because it’s so incredibly intense.

      I have panic attacks when I can’t breathe. Interestingly enough, panic attacks make me feel like I can’t breathe, so it’s a vicious cycle.

      I wish it were a little easier to conquer my fears, but it’s just not. Some hang on, and others don’t. One of the advantages of having bipolar disorder is some aspects of the mania. In mania, I fear practically nothing, and it’s liberating.

      Thanks for the comment. You’ve really given me some perspective on taking chances and just diving in. No pun intended. LOL.

  4. You are welcome, dear. I’m glad you could pick some perspectives that could help.
    We are not our thoughts, neither are we our feelings.
    But our thoughts and feelings determine our perspectives.
    Certain things may never happen, no matter how much we feared them, and certain things that we never even feared may happen, but the opportunity cost of staying with fears may be really high.
    Building hope and confidence may not be as easy as it sounds, but it sure increases the chances of fulfilment.
    Keep hope alive and be strong. Think more of things that you love and enjoy. Ignore your circumtances and take a break to dream. Breathe in fresh air, stretch your arms and legs. Forget about reality sometimes and fantacize of being a warrior. Play around intentionally with courageous thoughts for a while and try to experience the associated feelings. Do a lot of this in your most comfortable location and position. Make it a routine excercise. It should bring some occasional relief. You could just do it for the fun of it or consider it a therapy.
    I may not be a very conventional person, but I’m a very hopeful person. I often relax to wish and I often end up responding towards the direction of my wishes when emergencies surface. Enjoy the wishing exercise. Whoever said it’s a waste of time to wish (just thinking out loud). I wish the best for you, since that’s all I can do at the moment. Wishes make me feel good. Good feelings make me act right. Right actions make me win. Winning makes my wishes true. Could it be that wishes come true? I really don’t know what to say but, expect something better than the best of your expectations and wait for it. Enjoy!

    • I wish that I could get untangled enough for a moment to actually believe that we are not our thoughts and our feelings. Generally, I identify with myself through my thoughts and feelings, because there’s really no other definition for me at the moment. It provides a certain advantage, because it makes me feel like there’s a certain changeable nature. Of course, there are also disadvantages to that too, like a rather unstable personality.

      When a fear comes true for me, I am usually pretty good at handling the crisis while it is happening. For instance, I was very good at handling the fallout from the car accidents. Something about my brain turns off, and I’m very good in a crisis. But, once the crisis is over, I fall to pieces.

      So, when these fears come true, it compounds the fear and embeds it as a real possibility. I try to remind myself that “lightning doesn’t strike twice”, but I know in some cases, it does. People get into car accidents all of the time, whether they are good safe drivers or not.

      On the street that I used to live on, there were accidents caused by drunk drivers regularly. (Another reason I had to get out of there). Most of the time, it was with cars that were parked on the street. But, I had actually been hit by a car as a little girl. I watched another person trying to cross the street, and I watched them get hit by a car as well. It’s hard to shake a fear that keeps recurring like that.

      Interestingly enough, I take a martial arts class three times a week so that I can relieve the stress and feel more powerful. Endorphins are a powerful thing. They have the ability to naturally take away all of the bad, even if it’s just for a moment.

      Between having a husband that works 12 hours a day and practically raising a young child with autism alone, it’s hard to find time to relax. Most of my relaxing time is spent on catching up on sleep. My schedule is very hectic, and it’s difficult to find the time, and even more difficult to make the time. There are so many demands, and these fears spill over into every day life.

      I am working hard to get my son into a program to hopefully relieve some stress from raising him single-handedly. All I can really do at this point is take proactive steps to relieve the stress so that I might be able to work through these things.

  5. Pingback: This Week in Mentalists – The Predictably Original Halloween Edition « The World of Mentalists

  6. I enjoyed reading this, refreshing thank you!

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