Thursday, 25 September 2014

Phobias etc

Some people sadly consider it amusing to exploit people's phobias, even on the telly.  I remember seeing someone with a fear of cotton wool balls being forced to confront someone dressed in a suit covered in them.  Apart from the practical consequences for the production company of having a participant in their eye candy die of a heart attack, it's just plain mean to do that, and makes me wonder if anyone involved in planning these things actually has a serious phobia themselves.  If they have, presumably they also have a problem with empathy.

This is the kind of reason I never mentioned my button phobia to most people until it slipped away last year.  At this point I will insert a probably completely unnecessary trigger warning.  Don't click on the next link if you currently have my former problem.

This would have filled me with horror just two years ago.  It would have not only scared me out of my wits but I would probably have to deal with flashbacks for several days after seeing it.  I almost feel disloyal to my former self posting this and I definitely do feel  People didn't understand it, but most of the time they didn't have to because I didn't mention it.  They generally just knew there was something odd out there which I couldn't mention.  I couldn't usually even write or type the word "button" and definitely couldn't bring myself to say it.  It was like a stutter in that way - I had to circumlocute the word a lot because it was very hard even to pronounce it.

Now just think about what that was like for me for a moment.  Buttons are everyday items found on maybe about half of all items of clothing and it was often not even possible for me to open my eyes in the morning without seeing some, let alone go out of the door.  Sometimes it was even necessary for me to wear clothes with buttons on them, which I could just barely deal with if I had to, but most of my energy and concentration would've been taken up with coping with it.  It really was quite serious.

I have rarely been able to raise the subject even with people I've trusted,  Beyond the fear of even saying "button" there are good reasons for keeping this away from public knowledge because people will often not understand or behave with sensitivity and it reveals a vulnerability I would rather not uncover.  When I have, they've often expected to find some kind of traumatic event in my past which explained it. Well, there wasn't one.  It was just there.  I just was afraid of buttons and it was one of those things which I couldn't imagine not having or needing to explain.  Would I need to explain why falling into the North Sea hundreds of miles from land in the middle of a winter storm would be terrifying?  Incredible though it now seems, that's how bad it was, and how clearly horrifying buttons were to me, and that's no exaggeration.  Incidentally, now it's gone it makes no more sense to me than it does to anyone else.  It's a bit like being interested in football in that way - if you are, you don't need to explain it and if you aren't, nobody can explain the interest.

The other problem with pointing it out to someone is that they would then know that something they just did every day was totally freaking me out every time I saw it, and that's not fair.  It was my problem, not theirs.  Now, of course, it's gone, but interestingly when I was in the thick of it I wouldn't have wanted it to go.  I came across a brilliant quote in Audrey Niffenegger's 'Her Fearful Symmetry' about a character with a germ phobia.  It goes something like this:  "Part of the condition is not wanting treatment for the condition".  All of that stuff, some of which some of you will know, I was very attached to.  It was inconvenient and disabling but I thought of it as part of me and in fact, had I known that if I just did that one simple thing which would satisfy my heart's desires they would all go away too, incredible though it may seem, I would not have taken the action I did.  

As it happens, I do think there's an explanation and an analogy.  I think I can illustrate this using (trigger warning again for phobia) a peacock.  There is a rare phobia involving what's described as the fear of "being drowned by peacocks".  Although I have no trace of such a phobia and can't imagine having it, it's all too easy to empathise with it.  I can also explain to the uninitiated that it doesn't literally mean "being drowned by peacocks", and maybe other people with these odd phobias will be able to understand what I mean by that statement, although it's difficult to explain it.  There is a case on record of an epileptic whose seizures were triggered by the sight of an open safety pin.  To illustrate what I mean, try looking at this for a while:


It wouldn't be surprising if this made your eyes go "funny" after a bit.  Now, imagine that was linked to other parts of your brain going "funny" and it becomes clear why it's both easy to have a phobia of being "drowned" (i.e. overwhelmed by the sight) by peacocks and to have a tendency to epilepsy set off by seeing open safety pins.

The other obvious thing which is like this, although this can clearly be established by association, is fetishism.  My fetishes are now gone too and I don't miss them, but they are plainly of that ilk.

So please be kind to people with unusual phobias and fetishes. In the latter case we may have a sense of humour about it and that's healthy though not an obligation on our part.  In the former, please just be understanding.  It's a case of there but for the grace of God go you.  Lightning has arbitrarily struck our brains and just as you would be understanding of an epileptic with an unusual trigger, be understanding of people like me.  You may be lucky enough to have a perfect brain in those respects, but you wouldn't expect someone with a nut allergy to put up with just eating peanut butter or be able to "snap out of it", so don't expect us to either.  Also, the same applies to people who are, for instance, afraid of thunderstorms because of actual traumatic events or others' behaviour in the past which they may have modelled.  I was amazingly fortunate that I stumbled upon an answer to my problem, which even if it did nothing else would be sufficient reason for continuing to pursue this, but hardly anyone would be as lucky as me in that respect, and also, please respect people's desires not to have this change if that exists.