Living with phobias

As I write this, I am sitting in a dark, dingy bar. It is the middle of the day in July, the weather is beautiful, and I am lucky enough to be on a campus of a college of the University of Cambridge; my boyfriend is providing music for a very well to do function and I am playing the “I’m with the band” card to sneak in and soak up the ambience. There are rose bushes and Pimms is flowing readily. The band are set up in a gorgeous marquee, decorated with hanging baskets and bunting. People are playing croquet on the lawn.

I am sat in an ugly 1960s concrete bar, trying to recover. You see, I have a phobia of flying insects. This ranges from houseflies, nats, mosquitos etc, through bumblebees, moths, butterflies and up to the unmentionables. Even writing the word sends me in to a fresh tizzy: wasps, hornets and all variants there of.

A phobia and a fear are different things: I don’t know when I became phobic, or why. When I was about 4 an old friend of mine was stung inside his mouth and throat when an unmentionable snuck on the end of his hot dog. He cried, a lot. At roughly the same age, somebody told me that the reason that unmentionables buzz is because they were carved by the devil and forged together using his tears as glue. A year or so later I watch a programme on CBBC about a heroic young man rescuing his sister from a swarm of angry unmentionables, with a paramedic solemnly explaining that too many stings can kill a child.

Then the nightmares started. I’d dream hideous, vivid nightmares, on which they would swarm in my bedroom, covering my toys, clothes and sometimes me, all in a writhing mass of disgusting wriggly bodies. Not every night. Not even particularly often; just often enough.

I am aware that this is (for the most part) unreasonable, unnecessary and irrational. I know, my God I know. “Just stand still and it’ll go away” I’ve been told. “It’s more afraid of you than you are of it!” I’m told to calm down, get a grip. People bestow me with their priceless pearls of wisdom, uninvited for the most part. Some are down right cruel: buzzing in my ear, because they’re so fucking original and oh so hilarious. These people need to understand that when somebody has a phobia, even an unexplained, irrational one like mine, that this advice is unhelpful and is probably falling on deaf ears. Everything about them provokes a physical reaction in me. Flight mode kicks in.

I have climbed under tables, through windows and over strangers on a train to escape them. I’ve hidden in cupboards, physically injured myself in my flight, slept in the corridor or on the sofa to avoid going in a room with one. I nearly abandoned my car on a dual carriageway when one came through the window. I do not eat outside, ever. I avoid floral gardens. Summer time is not a good time for me.

That is why I am sitting in a dingy, nasty bar on a beautiful day in July, nursing my wounded pride and my tattered nerves. This doesn’t so much have a moral, more a plea. If somebody is phobic, do not try to reason with them, treat them with derision or mock them. Just help them get away from whatever it is frightening them. They’ll thank you for that far more than “Just stand still and it’ll go away”.

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