Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself

16th June 2022 What are you afraid of? Do you have any phobias?

I certainly do, though only one of them has had the effect of changing my life in the last few years – and that is Agoraphobia. I’ve been through the reasons before in my blogs, so I won’t go into to it too deeply again for fear of being boring. (I wonder if that’s a genuine phobia?) I just Googled, and it doesn’t appear to be a thing, as opposed to Thaasophobia, which is the fear of being bored.

My mother suffered from Phonophobia, which is the fear of loud noises. She really couldn’t bear being around people with loud voices, or lots of noise – even a baby’s crying could cause her to cover her ears! We learnt at a very early age to keep quiet at home, for fear of bringing on Mum’s terrible migraines, so I sort of understand the problems of phonophobia sufferers.

My agoraphobia manifests as not so much as a fear of open spaces; more a fear of leaving my ‘bubble’ by myself. I can, if absolutely necessary, go out and about if I have someone with me, although it does cause me major anxiety, but I cannot l leave my building without a companion. The underlying fear, of course, is of falling over, which again I have gone into many times. I was asked once, what would I do if the building was on fire, and I was alone. Surely, I wouldn’t stay indoors in that situation? Logically, I would have to agree, but thankfully never having had to face that problem, I can’t say what I would do, though my stomach turns over at the very thought. I have to assume that the adrenalin would kick in with an instinctive ‘fight or flight’ response and this would overrule my phobia. I hope I never have to find out for real.

I suppose my phobias are quite mainstream, nothing unusual and maybe not so much phobias as just things I find very unpleasant and will do practically anything to avoid, as opposed to being terrified and hysterical beyond rationality.

Ironically, I also suffer from Claustrophobia – the fear of enclosed spaces. I am sure this stems from my childhood – being at the mercy of my older brother, Rob, and my younger sister, Mel. (In case you haven’t guessed, I suffer from ‘middle-child syndrome’ too!) These two wonderful siblings of mine would take advantage of my mother’s every absence and plot together to find ways to torture me. I write honestly – they will confirm this, should you ask them! We would play games of hide and seek, but woe-betide me if I chose a hiding place like the understairs cupboard, or the double wardrobe in the bedroom I shared with Mel. This was one of those big, old fashioned, wooden armoire-type closets much favoured in the early 20th century, with a locking door. No sooner would I ensconce myself in the dark, than I would hear the click of the key in the lock, or in the case of the cupboard, hear the bolt being slid across, followed by my sibs’ laughter, and then my heart would sink, knowing that I might be imprisoned for hours, until just before my mother was due to return home. And of course, I couldn’t blab to her about it – I’d rather die than be a ‘grass’ and would never live it down if I appeared to be that spineless.

So, I would suffer in silence, imagining dying of suffocation when the oxygen inevitably ran out, or being eaten by the spiders that I was certain were sizing me up in the dark, working out how much web it would take to make a cocoon out of me, to preserve me as a giant larder for their thousands of offspring. Is it so surprising really that I ended up a writer, having such a vivid imagination? Associated with claustrophobia is Taphophobia – this is one of mine too! To the extent that I’ve stated in my will that my remains are to be cremated, to ensure that I’m definitely dead – yes, taphophobia is the fear of being buried alive and I would rather be burned than that.

Writing of the understairs cupboard brings me neatly to my next phobia – Arachnophobia, the fear of spiders. I loathe spiders. Yes, I know, they’re good in that they catch flies, but that’s not a good enough reason, in my humble opinion. Whilst I hate the thought of killing them, I can’t stay in the same room as them, and it doesn’t matter what size they might be, from money spider to those enormous bird-eating spiders seen on many a David Attenborough programme. More than once, I’ve lain in bed, unable to sleep because I’ve spotted one of these critters on my ceiling, (the house spiders, not the tropical ones,) and am terrified that once I fall asleep the little bugger will decide to investigate my face, or worse, into my open mouth (I snore like a drunken sailor) and then disappear down my throat. Nope, just nope! I remember as a child, our babysitter, my mother’s cousin Frances, once had to phone my parents and get them to come home from a night out, because I was hysterical at a plague of those ‘daddy long legs’ which I always think of as flying spiders, but which are in fact, crane flies. During a particularly humid spell of weather, hundreds of these insects had invaded our bedroom, and were battering themselves against the window trying to escape. I was petrified of them. I still am, although these days I tend to control myself a little more – at least hopefully I do. And since there doesn’t appear to be a separate phobia of crane flies, I’ll stick with the label of arachnophobia.

In fact, it’s not just spiders for me – it’s anything that has more than four or less than two legs, that slithers or scuttles; most sorts of creepy crawlies absolutely leave me cold, with very few exceptions. I like ladybirds, butterflies, bumble bees and the odd caterpillar, because they’re cute and pretty and don’t look threatening at all, but that’s about it. As for the rest of the insect kingdom? Nah-aah! I love to sit in a garden, admiring the scenery, taking in the wonderful scents of flowers and mown grass, but I could never actually do gardening – one confrontation with an earthworm and I’m out of there like Speedy Gonzales! Worms, slugs, snails, aphids, spiders, ants, beetles; you name it, I’m scared of it. And they manage get into all sorts of places they don’t even belong!

Many years ago, when I was a teenager, I was preparing to make the evening meal for my family, as usual. Back in those days, every family had a chip-pan (deep fat fryers were only found in restaurants or chip-shops; air fryers were yet to be invented) and rather than vegetable oil, most of us fried our food in lard, which was solid when cold. I put the chip-pan on the gas to heat the lard, and started to peel and cut the potatoes into chips. As the lard reached frying temperature, I could hear something sizzling and puzzled, turned to the stove. There was a large green slug, gently deep frying to a delicate golden brown. I have to assume it had come from outside through a pipe opening into the cupboard under the sink unit where we kept the pans, and had crawled in when the lard was cool but not yet set, since the surface showed no signs of the creature’s arrival. Can you guess who didn’t eat that evening?

Nor do I particularly like amphibians or reptiles. Rob was a fanatical animal lover; it didn’t matter if it was fish, fowl or fauna, he loved them all. Our parents frequently had to draw the line when he turned up with the latest waif or stray: “It followed me home! Can we keep it?” Our house in Brighton Street was a menagerie of dogs, cats, rabbits, budgies and foreign finches and even a tortoise. At one point we had a ‘guard rabbit’ – a black and white Dutch breed called, imaginatively, ‘Patch’. In the afternoons, we would come home from school and stand at the backyard door and call out ‘Mam! Is the rabbit out?’ before daring to enter. If he wasn’t in his hutch, he would chase people across the yard, biting their ankles. Even the dustmen knew the drill and wouldn’t take the bins if Patch was out of his hutch!

In Robert’s efforts to commune with nature, it was a yearly, seasonal thing that he would search ponds for frogspawn and keep his findings in an old tin bath under the carport in our backyard. We would watch for hours on end as the tiny black dots evolved into tadpoles, wriggling and writhing through the gelatinous waters. I didn’t mind them too much at that point – they didn’t jump at you or try latch on to your fingers. But as they sprouted legs and began to hop around, out of the bath, lying in wait as you crossed the yard – that was it for me. They were slimy things with goggle eyes that seemed to read the fear in my own. At that point I insisted that he remove them down to our allotment, where they could find puddles and mud enough to live to their hearts’ content. I’ve just discovered there’s a name for this too – it’s Ranidaphobia! In those days, newts weren’t on the endangered list, and Rob would spend hours up at the sand dunes at Earnse Bay, searching for the little creatures with an old fishing net. Again, they’d end up in the old tin bath, for a while. I didn’t mind those too much, they were quite cute, but I was quite glad when they went on the ‘protected species’ list and he was no longer allowed to catch them.

I always think that I’m fortunate not to live in one of those countries that have indigenous nasties in the animal world. Here in the UK, I think we’re so lucky not to have any vicious beasties that occur naturally in the wild. I’ve never felt the need to visit Australia, after reading Clive James’ accounts of growing up alongside copperhead and taipan snakes, funnel web and redback spiders, all of which are poisonous and dangerous. Hell, over there they call them ‘Death Adders’, which sound a whole lot more aggressive to me than our shy British version, which avoid humans if they possibly can. As opposed to the ‘funnel web’ spider which, according to Mr  James, makes a habit of hiding under toilet seats just waiting for the chance to take a bite out of one of your most tender areas. And let’s face it, if that happened, you’d soon find out who your friends are if it came to sucking out the poison! Though admittedly, I imagine this was a situation more common before the advent of indoor plumbing; visits to the outdoor lavatory must have been an absolute nightmare back in the day!

Of course, there are certain strange individuals whose hobbies include keeping and caring for tarantulas, iguanas, snakes and the like. I just cannot imagine the mindset of a Herpetophile! What can anyone find at all attractive about these cold-blooded, often slimy, always scary (to me) creatures? I suppose that means I can include Herpetophobia in my list too, though thankfully it’s not a fear I have to deal with on a daily basis. Yes, I do know they reckon snakes aren’t slimy, even though they often look that way – but I’ll take your word for it; I’m not prepared to test the validity of that statement at a personal level.

I’m sure you’re aware of the popular TV programme “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!” I’ve never actually watched the show, but I’ve seen clips from it when feeding my “Gogglebox” addiction and I know just from those few snippets that I could not go into that jungle and do what those people do, not for all the tea in the Orient. They must be so desperate to revitalise their careers with a stint like that – I would sooner dig latrines with a teaspoon, or show my arse in the Co-Op window than embark on that sort of nightmare, voluntarily, no matter how big the paycheck or the boost to my career. I watched one clip where an actress called Jennie McAlpine, who is apparently a star of the soap Coronation Street, had to sit in a car with another celeb (who she was, I have no clue), to perform a ‘bushtucker’ trial. In this instance, they each had to hum a tune with a mouthful of some sort of creepy-crawly whilst the other one had to guess the name of the tune. Success meant they earned a meal for themselves and their fellow campers. My flesh crawled whilst watching Jennie, first with three ‘witchetty grubs’ (not the sort of caterpillar I could cope with!) in her mouth. This time, the other girl recognised the tune and the reward given. Jennie’s next attempt was with an exceedingly lively and wriggling giant stick-insect hanging out of her mouth as she hummed the tune. For one comical moment, the insect’s legs waving about looked for all the world as if it was conducting the music! The unfortunate thing was that the other girl just could not recognise or name the tune! The programme cut to shots of every one of the Gogglebox critics yelling ‘Bon Jovi – Livin’ on a Prayer’ at the tops of their lungs – as indeed I did myself – but to no avail! I seriously could not, to save my life, have performed Jennie’s task. I don’t know whether I admire her bravery or want to berate her for doing such a thing in the name of ‘entertainment for the masses’! If you want to witness this madness for yourself, you can find the episode on YouTube.

Thinking about this topic for my blog this week made me research what other phobias people suffer from. Again, from Gogglebox, I saw a clip recently which was supposedly helping people to confront and cure their ‘Extreme Food Phobias’. Who knew there was such a thing? The clip showed a chef who was phobic about tomato ketchup, of all things. The treatment entailed him being presented with a huge container of Heinz’ most famous product (and one of my favourite foodstuffs), at the sight of which, he turned distinctly green around the gills. He watched in horror as the therapist dipped his little finger into the sauce. He desperately tried to avoid retching as the therapist encouraged him to dip his own pinkie into the goo. He eventually plucked up enough courage to lick the stuff from his fingertip and pronounced, “Oh, I suppose it’s not that bad!” I don’t know if that constituted a cure, but as one of the Goggleboxers remarked, “I don’t think he’ll do it again though, somehow.” Me neither!

It’s quite amazing what strange things people do have phobias about. I’ve heard of people being afraid of such diverse things as gloves and bananas, so here is a list that I thought might amuse you – or if you happen to suffer from one of these phobias, might terrify you instead!

What Are the Weirdest and Most Rare Phobias?

A bit niche, but to me at least understandable – I can’t bear peanut butter!

This I can definitely identify with; my whole life is on my phone!

I don’t get this one, unless it’s my bank account, which definitely terrifies me!

I suffer fear of NO money, but as it’s something I’m regularly confronted with I’m used to it.

I suppose the banana thing might come under this heading?

I’ve known a few people who have this one! At least that’s the impression I got…

Only if I was confronted with the giant octopus that’s trying to sink the ship!

I get this when I have to look in the mirror before getting ready to attend parties!

I once knew a boy who had this one – it ruined childhood birthday parties for him! Sad!

The person who named this one must have been a real sicko! Imagine suffering from this and trying to tell someone about it!

A common fear among the elderly these days, happily usually unfounded once you talk to them like real human beings.

I’m not keen on ‘outies’, but ‘innies’ are fairly attractive in my humble opinion, as long as there’s no sign of navel lint!

Do sufferers of this one tie themselves up in knots, I wonder?

I wouldn’t say I’m scared of them, unless they start appearing on my own face! Where are my tweezers! (See last week’s blog for more info…)

See above! I don’t like it appearing where it doesn’t belong, like on my upper lip, or in my food, but otherwise I’m quite fond of hair really.

Definitely not me! I’m more in fear of losing mine – I’m definitely a person who looks much better dressed than naked. Not a pretty sight! But I wonder how people cope who suffer this? Do they have to live in naturist camps?

I’m lucky that my work nowadays is a joy, and not like work at all. But I wonder how many people this phobia actually applies to? I bet the Daily Mail would have a field day with this…

I used to be indecisive, but now I’m not so sure!

See my remarks under Optophobia!

The Covid-19 lockdown situation must have been a blessing for sufferers of this phobia!

That’s got to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, hasn’t it? I’m confused…

(List courtesy of TheRecoveryVillage.com. The (hopefully amusing) comments are all my own work! All completely tongue in cheek and no offence meant to sufferers of any phobia that causes distress or the inability to lead a full and happy life. If that’s you, I humbly ask your forgiveness at my clumsy attempts at humour.)

I guess that’s enough of my waffle for this week. Please help me confront my phobia that I’m opining to empty air, and no-one is reading this stuff but me! Tell me your stories about your phobias, funny or otherwise – I’d love to hear from you.

Until next week,

LH

By lizziehughesauthor

Hello! I'm Liz, a writer from Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire. I've lived here for nearly 20 years, although I'm originally from t'other side o't hill as they say around here. I'm from Barrow in Furness, which was in Lancashire when I was born - still, whether it's Lancashire or Cumbria, it still makes me a Northern Lass. That means I'm honest, straightforward and feisty. My current book is (very) loosely based on my family history, though the names have been changed to protect the innocent (and the guilty!) I'm hoping to publish in April 2022, or possibly earlier. Watch this space!

2 comments

  1. Hi Liz replied to the link for you blog not sure it worked ?? Can you tell me did I order your trilogy ? Thanks 🙏🏻

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Liked by 1 person

    1. HI Gaynor,
      Yes, you ordered the trilogy! Hopefully at the beginning of August Book Two: Audrey – Escape and Surrender will be winging it’s way to you. I’ll keep you posted as to the actual publication date as soon as it’s settled.
      Thanks again for all your support.
      Liz xx
      PS, I still have the amazing Birthday/Congrats Card you sent! I’m keeping it with my treasures xx

      Like

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