Balloons. Any occasion calling for cheap, festive decorations can count on balloons to add just the right touch. They are a staple at fairs, carnivals, store openings, baby showers and birthday parties. They are given to fractious kids to keep them quiet and are used, when filled with water, as weapons in mock war games. Bright, colorful, helium-filled orbs of plastic. I hate them.
More accurately, I am afraid of them. Even more accurately, I am afraid of their propensity for suddenly popping. When I see a balloon my stomach clenches, my breathing accelerates and my blood pressure rises. I cannot relax until they (or I) go away. Any pleasant meal in a restaurant turns sour and anxiety-filled by the arrival of people about to celebrate with balloons. This abhorrence is not just for balloons but also for fire crackers, exploding champagne corks and thunder. When I was three or four years old, it was also the flash of a camera. A co-worker told me I have a “heightened startle response.” Whatever it is, it has ruled my life since…forever.
Phobias come in a kaleidoscopic array. Name some animal, mineral, vegetable, circumstance or situation and someone, somewhere is probably afraid of it (Remember Indiana Jones’ clenched fist and horrified utterance “Snakes! I hate snakes!?”). If it’s not your fear, you may think the other person just needs some resolve to overcome it. Some phobias have become relatively well known: spiders, enclosed spaces, heights, clowns, injections, flying, germs and dogs. Don’t see yours? Then take a look in The Encyclopedia of Phobias, Fears and Anxieties. You’ll probably find it there. If you don’t, wait until the next edition comes out.
There is a wealth of information and material about phobias. Even books or movies ostensibly about something else may have a reference to a character who has a phobia. Depending on whether you want a serious work of non-fiction or a lighthearted story, the library provides both. What Are You Afraid Of ? is a wonderful collection of short stories by well known authors such as Jane Yolen, Angela Johnson and Joan Bauer. In each story the protagonist is beset by a consuming fear but struggles, sometimes hilariously, to conquer it. Ambulance Girl and Nim’s Island also deal with people who lead restricted lives because of their phobias. Both books were made into movies, starring Kathy Bates and Jodie Foster, respectively.
The list of fearful fictional characters is long, as is the surprising list of celebrity phobics. For instance Keanu Reeves suffers from scotophobia, a dread of darkness and Matthew McConaughey fears tunnels and revolving doors. If you want a more academic or real life approach, then perhaps Wish I Could Be There: Notes From A Phobic Life or Phobias:Fighting the Fear may be worth checking out. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Phobias will be on the shelves soon as well.
In the classic musical, The King and I, Deborah Kerr trills “I whistle a happy tune/And every single time/The happiness in that tune/Convinces me that I’m not afraid.” If only it were that easy. Are you brave enough to tell what you fear?