• 25°

Funny, frightening, freaky fears

The human psyche is a wobbly stockpile of the inexplicable. What makes us people tick? Or tock? And why?

For pure unadulterated wonkiness, one component of our mental discontentment surpasses all the rest. Phobias. How can we explain them? How do we get them? Is there a pill for them? And, like measles, are they contagious?

A phobia occurs when a person has persistent and unreasonable fear of either an object or a situation. Just the anticipation of having to face these perceived threats can bring on panic attacks, fainting, sweating and unreasonable fear, even though others see the same objects are harmless.

Who knew, for example, that some folks are struck with sheer terror when confronted with clusters of small holes? Trypophobia. Such dreaded holes, for example, are chomped into leaves by caterpillars … or by termites on wood. (Think how damaging this would be if bees suffered from Trypophobia. They would have to close their eyes in order to return to their honeycombed homes.) The victims’ minds are filled with thoughts of decaying objects or of something scary living inside the holes. I’m guessing you would not find pegboard panels on the walls of their garages.

Then there’s Amaxophobia, the fear of riding in vehicles. This is surely enhanced by particularly frightening drivers—teenagers and oldsters coming to mind. I imagine such people own quite a collection of hiking boots for how else do they get around? Broomsticks?

Did you know there is a phobia about chickens? Chickens do not have this. People do. Alektorophobia sufferers cry foul when confronted with the sight, the sound or even the byproducts of these birds. Colonel Sanders is not one of these folks.

Stay away from the Dollar General Store if you have Globophobia. Even though it brings to mind globby dollops of yummy stuff like whipped cream or melted chocolate, this mental stumbling block is bad news for folks who are afraid of balloons. This fear often begins in childhood when balloons are ubiquitous at birthday parties. The children are threatened by round inflated objects which can suddenly burst in their faces, causing them injury. Why is this, you ask? Because if most of us had round inflated injurious objects burst in front of our faces we’d be scared, too! No mystery there.

Do not look down if you have podophobia for there you will find the objects of your phobia. Feet. Podophobics suffer panic and even anger when they see their own bare feet or those of others. Additionally they fear that someone might touch their feet. Some are so gravely affected that they sleep with their shoes on. These shoes are called undercover footwear.

Most of you are familiar with Triskaidekaphobia or the fear of the number 13. What you are not familiar with is this ridiculous word. It alone causes a trembling in me! Some fear that 13 is an unlucky number whether it be a floor, a date, a position or a flight number. With this in mind, many buildings, vessels and elevators skip over the number 13. There is even a 13 Club which helps folks cope. If you are the thirteenth member, you are the fourteenth.

Have you ever had the itchy feeling that someone—something—is watching you? Could it be a private eye, a disgruntled spouse, a drone, a duck? If you said “duck,” you win the prize for this humdinger of a phobia. Sufferers feel that a duck, a goose or some such bird is watching their every move due to a past traumatic experience with a bird. (Tippi Hedren—remember her?–may well be one.) This can be especially disturbing at Thanksgiving when a victim of Anatidaephobia must be convinced that the centerpiece turkey is dead. Dead turkeys no longer spy on people.

Sidonglobophobia is weirder than weird. These people can never work in a nail salon or open medicine bottles for they have a dreaded fear of cotton balls. Yes, you heard me correctly. Even the sound of cotton can make them suffer. Could it be that the victim finds that the cotton ball resembles the egg of a reptile? This is suspect, however, since not many of us regularly hang out with reptiles. Nonetheless, symptoms of such a phobia include screaming, refusal to open parcels, running away from certain places and thoughts of dying. Michael Jackson is believed to have been a cotton ball sufferer. This could have helped explain his demise since that suspicious doctor of his must have opened that abundance of medicine bottles for him.

A fear emanating from a childhood experience involving body parts is the cause of the next phobia. Omphalophobia is the fear of belly buttons. I, for one—along with the armpit—have never found them particularly attractive, yet they do not terrify me. Since the belly button is the place where the mother was once attached to the child, the child may find it abhorrent if he finds his mother to be so. Even though those who are afflicted may shake, run away or vomit when they see a bare belly button, they seldom seek help to overcome their fears. This is especially true if their therapist wears low cut jeans and a short tank top.

This next one is the most easily understood of all phobias. I shudder just thinking about it. Coasterphobia can be nothing else but a fear of roller coasters. Personally it is beyond my understanding why a fiendish engineer ever invented such a monstrous thing in the first place. One wonders if the Coasterphobiac also fears those smitten sadists who love to ride roller coasters? Warning: do not marry one of these merciless ghouls for they will insist that all your children ride the coaster by age one in order to uphold the family honor.

Most dogs are innately born with Astraphobia. That is why you find them crouched under the bed when there is thunder and lightning. Quite honestly, it makes a lot of sense, for who among us relishes the idea of having a bejillion volts of electricity heading toward us? It’s certainly not one of my favorite things. Problem is … I no longer fit under the bed.

It’s a good thing the Austin Daily Herald accepts my shortcomings in the linguistic department because I seldom use words any more complicated than “Mississippi.” Remember when you were in grade school and you learned to spell it? Your parents thought you were genius material for sure. Some of you, as you aged, may have never increased the length of your words beyond that. Indeed, you may even have a fear of doing so. This acute consternation is called Hippopotomonstrosesquippeddaliophobia.

I suspect many students have used this paralyzing condition as an excuse for not participating in spelling bees. But, then how does that work? The student has to tell the teacher he has Hippopotomonstrosesquippeddaliophobia in order to be let off the hook? Or to avoid saying it, he may simply demonstrate his fear by trembling, stammering or even fainting, which would all be very convincing. Major causes for this disorder may be genetic or may have been started by childhood speech delays. Adult valetudinarians avoid studies or jobs that involve long words in either writing or speaking. Mary Poppins was not afflicted.

But, wait! Did you see that? “Valetudinarians?” I just used a word with more letters than “Mississippi?” Does that make me some kind of genius? And will the Herald be proud of me … or fire me for showing off? Guess we’ll just have to wait and see. If you don’t find me here in two weeks, you’ll know the answer.