Ray A-J dives into the world of phobias, with help from Miss Autophobia and Star.
FEAR. It’s all around. It’s everywhere, existing in the darkest depths of our minds. And when this fear takes over, takes hold of our conscious and consumes our very lives, it becomes a phobia.
I’m a phobia sufferer, or was. I suppose I’m a phobia survivor really. Thankfully, after 13 years of constant torture, I overcame my debilitating fear of Peter Pettigrew (the horrid rat man creature from the Harry Potter series) and the poor actor that played him so scarily well. I was lucky. I may have eradicated my fear and beat the demon that controlled much of my mind through my childhood years, but there are still many people out there who suffer with their phobias. So many that go unnoticed, their pain invisible, who power through their lives without respite from the creature that haunts them.
As I’ve said before, talking about a phobia is so incredibly important in order to master it, especially with people who understand exactly what you’re going through. Understanding other people’s phobias is incredibly helpful too. If we can just sit with someone and explain the pain we feel when we see the one thing that terrifies us most, then maybe we won’t go unnoticed, and more of us can find a way of killing our unnecessary fright. Or at the very least, we can feel a little less unusual.
Alas, support groups are slim for us victims of phobias. I still haven’t found a physical group or network of people to help those with phobias, despite much desperate searching and consultations with Google. But, with the power of social media, I did manage to find a virtual place that welcomes us sufferers to talk about our problems with open arms.
In the very corner of the internet, tucked away, almost nonexistent to most that frequent social media, lives the closest thing I could find to a safe haven for us sufferers – an app called Amino. And on this app is a group dedicated to phobias. A group that goes by the name Phobias & Fears.
The vast array of phobias shared in the small community of sufferers, all pent-up with fear and trepidation, is mind-boggling. From Autophobia (the fear of being alone) to Ecclesiophobia (fear of churches), everything you could imagine has its corresponding phobia, and all are discussed on this little group. It was here that I spoke to users known as Miss Autophobia and Star, and the world of phobias I knew suddenly expanded.
Miss Autophobia sufferers from Autophobia. They’re petrified by the very idea of being left to their own devices and try at length to stay in the company of others. They feel as Dr Jekyll did about his darker half, Mr Hyde; they’re afraid of a part of themselves.
How can someone be afraid of being by themselves? How can someone be terrified of being alone? After all if someone is alone there isn’t anyone around to hurt them? For them, being left alone means being left with no-one to distract them from their own daunting, uncontrollable thoughts. As they explain: “If you’re alone, you’re going be your own villain. You’re going to scare yourself to death and there’s nothing you can do about it. I don’t want to be like this but I want to be like this too. I’M SO TERRIFIED OF MYSELF. I want to scream. But I can’t. I can’t run away from me. People don’t understand how someone can be afraid of oneself. I do. I’m afraid.”
Unlike my own phobia, Miss Autophobia’s problem isn’t with something visible. I was afraid of a character in a film, and at best could avoid contact with anything that even resembled the physical being that haunted my nightmares. But not all phobias are like that, not all of them are avoidable. Miss Autophobia’s very fear is something they will perhaps come into contact with every day.
On the other side of this – the user known as Star has a phobia of something that is very much visible. Bees. Their phobia, dubbed Apiphobia, infected them when at age three they were stung by a bee. And that fateful experience has made them petrified ever since.
As they explain: “When I hear buzzing, I get tense and my breath may catch in my throat. If the buzzing is really close to me (even if it’s a fly buzzing by my ear and I’m unaware at first), my heart rate usually increases. When I realise I’m safe, I can relax. But if I’m in an area that has bees/wasps, I’ll want to stay as far away from them as possible. If I’m in that same area for too long, I’ll get tense and feel generally on edge, wanting to escape the area ASAP. It’s basically a fight-or-flight response, and for me in particular, I’d choose flight. If a bee flies near me, I will literally squeal and immediately run away as fast as possible. I’ll breathe shallowly, my eyes will go wide, and my heart rate will increase.”
Because of the nature of their phobia, many people they encounter will often misunderstand just how debilitating it is for them to see a bee.
“I feel that my phobia is often downplayed, I suppose. When I say I’m afraid of bees/wasps, people don’t really understand the severity. I get upset when people try to tell me ‘it’s just a bee’ because, yes, I know it is. That’s what makes phobias so hard to deal with. We know the fear is irrational but we have it anyway.”
Many people who suffer from phobias seem to experience this sense of disbelief, and it’s understandable; how can we be so terrified of something, when the majority of other people aren’t even bothered by what we consider as the most horrifying thing imaginable?
But, with all of these phobias it’s clear: no matter the fear, the severity, the rationality, our phobias are valid, and we need to talk about them.