Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Do you irrational fear?

Frightening? Maybe if you're Anya from Buffy
 When I was about 3 years old I remember watching a TV show about creatures that lived in the deep ocean. I don't remember anything else about this program except a moment that changed my life forever. Imagine what it would be like to have an acute fear of crumpets. Embarrassing right? Also terrible because they're just SO delicious. How would you feel if you couldn't even look at a house hold sponge? Do you remember that Sony Bravia ad where the little bunnies jump and roll into a big bunny? Amazing? Like a rainbow of furry, lovely joy. Not for me. I couldn't even watch it when it first came out. I love bunnies AND She's like a Rainbow by the Rolling Stones. It was a devastating blow.

What tiny little Ebony saw that day has left me with a deep seated, not fear, but disgust for anything that has ceither a lot of holes in it or is made up of lots of tiny particles. The creature I saw that day (and I almost feel guilty for being so disgusted because I respect all beings on this earth. Except silverfish) was a sea frog with large holes in its back. What was the purpose of these huge craters in the creature's skin? They were a resting place for its babies. Like a kangaroo pouch for a joey, but highly visible and gross. I remember distinctly the feeling of horror as I watched the baby frogs swim in and out of these holes, not knowing that this 5 seconds would leave an emotional scar so big it stays with me 26 years on.

OK, so I've moved through my crumpet issue, I'm over the house hold sponges and the Sony bunnies are all G. But recently something has occurred in my daily routine that has brought back this fear. Every morning when it is time to feed my cats I approach with trepidation their exorbitantly expensive bag of science diet, reaching for the paw shaped scoop with closed eyes. I try as hard as I can to pour an even measure into each bowl without needing to actually look. Why? Because the scoop (as you can see below) has four little grooves for the toes and the tiny little biscuits fall into these grooves reminding me of small frogs swimming in and out of their mother's back. I told my Mum. She laughed. I really should just get another scoop.

You're probably thinking I'm being dramatic (as usual), but if you sit and ponder long and hard I'm sure you can find, deep in the recesses of your mind, an irrational fear you are too embarrassed to tell your friends about. Last night over burgers I brought this up with my friends. Of course my fear was met with surprise and a barrage of questions about what exactly triggers it. It's very specific. Shaun went through his kitchen to show me a range of items with lots of holes (potato masher, grater, salt shaker) to see my reaction. Nothing. It's hard to articulate why some things upset me and others don't. Much to my relief, I am apparently not alone. This article dubs this affliction Trypophobia and describes the triggers as things 'marked by a high contrast of detail, which makes them stand out to our eyes'. It's not officially recognised as a phobia, but researchers say it may be linked to a human instinct to avoid potential natural predators like insect nests. I'm reading this as- I'm not crazy.

After I'd aired my dirty fear laundry, it was my friends turn. Amongst them there were common and understandable anxieties- needles, public speaking, the ocean- until finally one friend declared she feared mushrooms. When pressed to reveal why she said 'It's the ribbed bit underneath and the shape and the different sizes and the flaky skin...' So basically everything. Does she avoid them? Yes, if possible. We also heard of someone (not present) so deeply afraid of bananas the mere sight or smell of the dreaded fruit brought the individual out in a cold sweat. Another is afraid of custard. 'Custard creeps me out. I hate the look and smell of it, and people slurping. And the jiggle.'

The big question then is, what is the difference between a genuine fear or aversion and simply being grossed out? Everyday we encounter things that are far from pleasant- dirty kitty litter, hair clogged in a drain, tea bags on the sink- you deal with them, that's life. None of these things cause the hairs on the back of my neck to stand up or my stomach to churn. It's a combination of the involuntary physical response and the desire to avoid the situation or object altogether, that makes it more than just plain disgust.

As far as I can tell these fears are not debilitating. You basically forget about them until suddenly you're confronted with them again. It feels so ridiculous it's almost like being held at knife point by a teddy bear. You round the corner into a darkened alley and there he is, all soft and cuddly, ready to shiv you in the twinkle of his lifeless glass eye. It's not even worth the money it would cost to visit an hypnotist or therapist to work through these issues.

I do feel better though. OK yes, I copped the most flack for my ridiculously specific fear, especially because it was triggered by a cat food scoop. However I did show them pictures of the sea frog AND Jase watched a 45 second video which he found difficult to get through. I would like to warn you I have NOT watched this video. Watch it if you dare. If you do, let me know if you suddenly find yourself afraid of crumpets.
Bunny Image via Fanpop

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