Monday, November 18, 2013

Phobias: What Scares You?

A phobia is defined as:  an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something.

People casually throw out this word, as in I'm totally phobic of germs/public bathrooms/wearing my swimsuit to the beach.  But many of us have a real phobia, one that we are embarrassed to share or afraid to admit to.  One that makes our hearts thump just thinking about it.  Common phobias are:  fear of heights, fear of spiders, fear of public speaking.

If you are fortunate enough to not have a phobia, it might be easy to shrug off those that do, blaming their irrational, ignorant brains.  But I urge you not to judge.  Supposedly, an estimated 8.7% of Americans have some sort of specific phobia (that's 19.2 million American adults).  Beginning onset averages at age 7. (National Institute of Mental Health).  While that is a lot of people, I'm beginning to think more-- if not most-- people have some sort of phobia, whether kept in the closet or aired out in the open.

What's mine?  Flying, e.g. Aerophobia.  Lots of people don't like flying, you might note.  Who wants to drive to the airport, pay $25 dollars a day to park in the lot, wait in endless security, put all your liquids on display, wander the airport, find out your flight is delayed, wander the airport more, eat unhealthy airport food, board the plane only to sit in a stuffy cloud of other peoples farts, being 11th in line to take off, waiting for the snack cart to reach your last row seat?  (Multiply the challenges of air travel by 10 if traveling with young kids).  No one thinks it's fun, right?  Air travel is rarely luxurious anymore.  I would be shocked if pilots can keep a straight face when they encourage us over the intercom to "relax and enjoy the flight."

However, on top of all these typical annoyances, I'm scared.  And I mean scared.  Of course I know rationally that it is safer to fly than drive.  That chances of something serious happening on a plane are something like 1 in a million.  But that's part of what defines a phobia-- it is irrational.

The problem is that it doesn't feel irrational.  Especially when I'm booking a flight, getting on a plane, and worst of all-- taking off.  The dizziness, the heart pounding, the sense of panic, the churning stomach is all very real.  My fear has only gotten worse as I've gotten older because I feel I have so much to lose. I have a wonderful husband and two little dumplings.  I don't want something to happen to me or to them.

In part, I'm writing about my phobia to get to the positive side:  my deep fear of flying has not totally prevented me from doing it (wine helps).  My sister lives across the country, and if I want to see her, I usually have to fly there.  I don't want my irrational fear to keep my son and daughter away from my sister's children.  We also usually fly for a family vacation once a year; I don't want to look back 20 years from now and say, "oh we never went on vacation because I was too scared to fly."  And I certainly do not want my kids to inherit my crippling, heart-pounding fear.  So, each time, after sweating and swearing on the plane I'll never do it again, I do.  I book another flight.

What are you scared of?  Does it prevent you from doing something you might love?  Have you ever conquered a phobia?  How?

~Frantic Mama

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