Phobias: Jam on the nose does nothing to allay my fear
What is it about fear that makes it so different from any other emotion? Emotions by definition are instinctive and intuitive, strong feelings as derived from experiences, relationships or circumstances. The thing about any emotion is that it is made up of multiple thoughts, feelings, sensations and reactions and is never simple, yet so instinctive that we forget the complexity of emoting.
With love for example, you feel warmth that isn’t caused by any heat, your breathing changes but you aren’t physically exerting yourself, your pupils dilate but not because light is affecting them. With that in mind really think about fear, thinking about emotions isn’t something we have a convention to do, but in healing anxiety or depression applying rational thought to emotions is exactly the convention. So fear, your palms sweat, your heart races, your mind clouds, it is as if you are running but you are frozen to the spot, your fight or flight response instinctive and all consuming, what you are running from or battling against can range from a negative experience, a dangerous situation, heartbreak or in some instances, in this instance, a phobia.
My phobia is such that it makes me feel physically sick just thinking about it, if my brain had legs it too would run away from it, it is impossible to think of the phobia itself without thinking about the object or in this instance the animal it pertains too. This post has taken me the better part of a month to write, and I write it now for the usual two reasons, one being the hope that in expression will come catharsis and two being that in expression will dawn understanding for those who scoff or joke or who simply do not comprehend the depth at which phobias can reach.
So here goes…
I am irrationally and so far incurably terrified of rodents, writing the words my body is thrumming with nervous energy, my heart is fluttering in my chest and I feel light headed, a low level drone of nausea rising in my gut. And I get all of that from merely writing the words.
I know where the root cause is, I have thought back on it, told therapists about it but to no real avail. In fairness to the therapists I always went with my phobia as secondarily important to the pressing weight of anxiety or depression as I desperately grasped at the wish to find a way through the darkness. If you have been a past blog reader you will know I recently felt like I had come through the most effective bout of cognitive behavioural therapy to date and seen the sky above the clouds as omnipresent, I have learned to live with my anxiety, accepted it, schooled it and now live with it. I am of the belief I will never be entirely free, but I am OK with that because it is a medical part of my genetic make up, I will always be predisposed to it and with that comes as many positives as there are downs. Anxiety, or more specifically learning to live with anxiety creates a deeply attuned barometer for the driving force behind not just my own but other peoples actions, I find it much easier to accept another person actions, no matter how negative I might view them, because behind it I can fairly apply a myriad of possible reasons that no one but that person may be experiencing or not experiencing as the case may be, they could just simply be a total prat, but that is OK too because in accepting and developing my own responses into something that actively manages my anxiety in every second of every breath of everyday, I have been able to let go of the judgment attached to the actions of other people. Basically, you never know what another person is going through at any one moment in their hour, day or month, it could be heartbreak it could be tiredness from a bad nights sleep.
One of the downsides, phobias are more than a phobia, they are a trigger. A gateway into the muddled, messy, cacophony of anxiety, however well managed, that lives in the pit of my stomach and the recesses of my mind, like too much smoke in a bubble a spike in a phobia can mean the bursting of the fragile but well managed bubble.
This is where I am. I am OK, really I am OK in every other way, I don’t have self deprecating thoughts, I don’t take what Linda (fictional for the purpose of this narrative) said about my hair to heart and sit at home obsessing over it as the tears prickle my eyes and the wobble starts in my chest. But I am more susceptible to it right now because, and I don’t blame you for laughing at this point, there is a mouse in one of my safe places. True story. And there is never one mouse by the way, there are always several, a family and they breed. Yes they are everywhere, we are always less than two metres from them in London, they are more afraid of us that we are of them, they won’t come out if its noisy. Recognise the words in the last sentence? They are words we use to make our own, slightly discomforted nerves (because not many people really like wild rodents) from jangling. They make it possible for us to get on with our day to day, living with a mouse like it is the most normal thing in the world. Those words, they don’t help me, if anything they frustrate me, because I have a wonderfully ridiculous history with the little buggers considering how much I physically and mentally cannot stand them. If they are there, they find me. Sounds paranoid I know, but Clare will vouch that they all but snuggled up to me whilst travelling in Vietnam – of all the people in the busy bustling foyer. My mum will tell you that Elle, her evil killer cat, will go months without bringing anything into the house and then the moment I visit home, she comes trotting down the path, the flopping long tailed form of the biggest mouse you have every seen jangling from her mouth. (my gag reflex is pulsing at a rate of notts right now). My husband will tell you that the particular platform of the northern line (Euston, Charing Cross Branch) has on more than one occasion proved that the little swines love to run out in front of me as I reach the bottom of the stairs at the end of the platform, not the some fifty to one hundred people that have walked that way before me. Which brings me to the most recent experience, hints of a mouse are found in droppings and chewed foods sprayed in open areas, people think they may have glimpsed it but no one is really sure, traps are laid out and soon people have stopped seeing them. I feel nervous as I enter the room but I am determined to live my life. Day one passes, no disruptions or scares. I am more alert than usual, my eyes flash at every unbitten scatter or movement in my peripheral vision. Day two, no disruptions or scares. I laugh at my fear, I am sitting on it proudly. I am strong, it does not own me. Day three, no disruptions or scares. My phone rings and I enclose my self in a quiet space, a clean open room with doors and in the opposing end to the original sightings. My brain has all but forgotten the fear, ten minutes on the phone, the room is a safe place. Fifteen minutes on the phone, my eyes automatically glance at the small moving brown speck scuttling along the wall not two feet in front of me. Sense knows that panic is not the sensible option, sense knows that the moment I let it rise up my through and explode from my lungs that there is no taking it back, but none the less I am shaking, I am screaming, I am running full pelt, I drop my pen but do not stop to pick it up, I run down the corridor and stop in the next secluded space I see. Fear had glued the phone to my ear, the person on the other end trying to make sure I am Ok as I laugh and stammer and hysterically witter down the phone. Worried faces swim in front of me, “I’m fine I say” as I all but run down the corridor and up the three flights of stairs (I never take the stairs) to sit myself three floors above the incident. In the silence I laugh to stop from crying, I busy my hands to stop myself from noticing the shaking, but as I think on the fear, on my inability to cope with this particular tendril of anxious thought anger and frustration rise and pent up tears glitter down my face. I feel weak, I feel powerless. All of my belongings are in that room and I know without a shadow of a doubt I cannot go back in there. The mere thought makes my knees weak and quaking.
It was right at this moment that the bubble was popped, the doorway to my anxiety is ajar and the fog is seeping out into the fresh expanse of my mind, greedily. I pushed it back down and did what I wanted to do more than anything else, I carried on. I stayed the day and then went home, relaying the tale like I always did, like a funny anecdote, something to laugh about, haha yes aren’t I so silly with my dramatic reaction to the tiny, harmless, disgusting mouse. “I am fine” I say. I am not fine. I wish to goodness that I was, but the fact of the matter is, I am not. A few days well timed away from the mouse infested (yes this is the dramatic language of phobia) space but eventually I have to go back. I haven’t decided what to do until I get there and take the lift all the way to the fourth floor. I do this each day, conniving myself I prefer it there in the quiet, clean, large space. I try to convince others that I am mostly up here because of its serenity and views. I chat to those who come and go, I carry on as normal, I smile, I laugh. I simmer, and simmer and worry and niggle, I can’t do this forever. But I can’t guarantee when the mouse will be gone, I feel angry that the person responsible “why won’t get rid of it for me, don’t they understand,” I think. “Can’t they just go and get rid of it?” I think, irrationality and impracticality be damned. But next week is another week, I will just deal with it when it comes. Diversion, distraction and disbelief all avoiding the fact of the matter and adding coal to the fire building in my mind. A final blow in the form of lovingly given words of encouragement, well meaning tough love. “You can’t stay up there forever, and besides they are up there too, I have seen them”. I laugh it off. I raise my feet off the floor. I know what they were thinking, they were thinking they wanted to help, they wanted to find a way to make me cope. Impossible. They have openly laughed at the silliness, I know that, I don’t mind, I would probably do the same when talking about a friends phobia of spiders, the way their face screws up, their hands involuntarily rising to clutch their heart as their pulse races and the sweat beads their head as they are frozen in place. Spiders? A doddle, I calmly and cooly collect them in a glass, sometimes even in my hand and gently throw them to the wind, out of the path of those who fear or despise them. Funny little things spiders, more afraid or us than we are of it. They are everywhere, we are never more than two metres away from spiders.
The fact that they think I am being silly doesn’t affect me as deeply as it once would have, I don’t take it as an inherent assessment of my character flaws as I once might have, I don’t assume they think I am silly in every way, I don’t assume that they look at me and think scathing disapproving thoughts, not any more. Silly is just a word. A harmless word, until we take it otherwise.
What gets at me, is that they have voice my own insecurities, the thoughts I had had but not given any credence too. They have taken those thoughts and worries and made them real and now my last safe place is no longer safe. I cant go back there, I cant deal with my phobia, I cannot face it, I don’t know what to do. I am hopeless. Entirely and utterly hopeless, happiness was there and now it has evaporated. I feel embarrassed, I don’t know what to say, to admit this debilitating, paralytic called phobia.
At home I am snappy, I am moody, I am exhausted despite a full nights sleep. I am listless and I laugh with my voice but not with my eyes, I enjoy but only infinitesimally. The doorway in my mind, is not longer cracked ajar, it is gaping, me standing on one side pushing and shoving with all my might to close it. I cant. It affects everything. I feel ridiculous, the voice in my mind admonishes me over and over, “let it go, you know how to do this now Anna” it says.
Phobia: A phobia is an overwhelming and debilitating fear of an object, place, situation, feeling or animal.
“Phobias are more pronounced than fears. They develop when a person has an exaggerated or unrealistic sense of danger about a situation or object.
If a phobia becomes very severe, a person may organise their life around avoiding the thing that’s causing them anxiety. As well as restricting their day-to-day life, it can also cause a lot of distress.
Symptoms may include:
- unsteadiness, dizziness and lightheadedness
- increased heart rate or palpitations
- shortness of breath
- trembling or shaking
- an upset stomach”
So yeah, phobias are more than just fear, phobias are consuming and terrifying and honestly, even harder than any other anxiety I have faced, I don’t actually know how to handle it and that is terrifying to me. I have already tried the beginnings of exposure therapy, I have sat and scrolled through images, trying not to shudder when I see their beady eyes, their pin prick snouts and worm like tails. I endure snippets on my favourite tv shows as they clime over tables and along hallways, my eyes morbidly fascinated but also screaming to be torn away. But I have never pushed myself, I have gotten on, avoided the subject, the thoughts the places they might be. But I am going to keep trying, I want to face it and I am probably going to cry, I am probably going to be a grumpy, hideous mess but I am also not going to laugh next time someone says they are scared of spiders, or toilet paper or snakes or wooden spoons. OK maybe I will, but what I wont do, and what I seriously and whole heartedly ask that anyone else faced with a phobic person not do, is offer advice or encouragement because actually, it probably is making a really difficult situation almightily worse.
Phobia’s, just like anxiety and depression are real, tangible instabilities and illnesses of the mind, they can be managed whether it be a broken foot or low mood, it isn’t going to happen over night. Patience and kindness and belief in yourself, other people? They have their own struggles.