Phobophobia

I have a hazy memory of a TV show I watched when I was little – probably the kind of crap they play on ITV of a Saturday evening – where people were forced to come into contact with their greatest fear. At one point in this show, a person came on claiming to be terrified of oranges. The way the show attempted to help this person “overcome” their fear was to tip literal bucket-loads of the fruit onto their head. At the time, it seemed hilarious, but now I look back and can see that it was actually quite cruel.Oranges

I have no problem with oranges. I am not afraid of the dark. I think I used to be as a kid, but not anymore. I am not afraid of spiders, or rollercoasters, or needles. Yes, I feel a little anxious when I fly – but the worry is outweighed by the excitement of a trip. And, like a lot of people, I do get a sudden lurch in the pit of my stomach when I have to speak in front of a group of strangers, but it dissipates once I get into it.

To most people, I probably come across as being pretty well-adjusted. I’m not.

I am terrified of so many things, including this blog post. Well, ok, not the post itself, but rather the act of displaying it online for absolutely anyone to access. I feel fine as I type it up, but I know that when it’s all finalised and ready to be slapped across a web page, my cursor will be hovering over the “publish” button for just a little bit longer than is necessary. What’s more is that I am certain that when this does go up, and I check the stats and see that it has 1 measly view (probably from my mum… Thanks mum), I’ll get a sudden rush of adrenaline as my timid little heart beats out questions like “Did I make any spelling errors?” or “Do I come across as a complete idiot?”

This kind of fear – the fear of judgement – has held me back for too long. I have put off applying for jobs or internships because I am afraid that I’ll be rejected, I have avoided sharing my writing on the internet because it is so accessible to critics, and I have changed my outfit several times before leaving the house because I did not want people to comment on my appearance. These actions all have variable levels of impact on my life, but they all stem from the same, pointless phobia.

I sometimes wonder when I developed this fear, as I certainly wasn’t born with it. Human babies have only two fears that are genetically ingrained for the purposes of survival: loud noises and falling. Everything else is stuff we’ve picked up along the way – sometimes from an obviously traumatic incident, but often it’s just something we seem to grow into. So where did I learn to become so anxious? Where does anyone?

It didn’t surprise me to find out that arachnophobia is the most common fear in the western world, with women being more affected by the fear than men. What did surprise me, however, was the sheer number of people who suffer from the phobia. Varying sources and studies gave me different statistics, but some of them showed that more than half of a certain study group were affected. That’s just insane, especially considering that the UK (along with most of Europe) doesn’t have any native breeds of spider that could harm a person.

Some fears are obviously irrational. For instance, I’ve met more than one person who was afraid of buttons. All I could think of the whole time is how they managed to do up their trousers every day. And yet their fear is no less real than my own concerns about swimming in the ocean, or finding out I have some awful illness, or being told that I am not good enough. I wake up every day, worrying that I’m going to mess up somehow.

I’m not sure how I would go about curing somebody’s phobia of heights or spiders or oranges. I don’t think I’d ever be in a position to understand somebody’s fears as well as my own, even if they were the same. We all fear things differently, and we all deal with those fears in personal ways. But this is my way of dealing with my phobia. Feel free to judge me.

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