WARNING: MAY CONTAIN DISTURBING PHOTOS OR IMAGES
Fear is something we all deal with at one point or another in our lives. It is an emotion that can have several meanings, and is defined by Webster’s On-Line dictionary as “FEAR transitive verb 1 archaic: frighten 2 archaic: to feel fear in (oneself) 3: to have a reverential awe of <fear God> 4: to be afraid of: expect with alarm <fear the worst> intransitive verb: to be afraid or apprehensive <feared for their lives>”
It is that emotion or feeling that can keep us from making foolish, or stupid, or dangerous choices in our lives. It is something that can be healthy. A child fears falling, and in their landmark study of perception in the late ‘50s, early ‘60’s Drs. Eleanor Gibson and R.D. Walk demonstrated with their “Visual Cliff” experiment that infants not only have the ability of depth perception, but also seem to have an innate fear of falling. Fear of getting bit is also what keeps us from walking up to a dog that is growling and trying to pet it.
Then there are phobias. The DSM-IV TR defines, in part, a phobia as “Marked and persistent fear that is excessive or unreasonable, cued by the presence or anticipation of a specific object or situation (e.g., flying, heights, animals, receiving an injection, seeing blood).” The word “phobia” has its root from the Greek (φόβος) meaning “fear” or “morbid fear.” Phobias can take all kinds of shapes and sizes, and some can actually be the source of great humor.
My daughter, a biologist by training and education, has a phobia about spiders. This was the result of having an encounter with an arachnid in New Zealand when she was an exchange student many years ago. She was sound asleep one morning and awoke to the sight of a white-tailed spider sitting on her blanket, looking directly at her. Prior to her encounter with the eight legged freak, one that she claims was the size of an orange, she was a bit like her mother (a woman who would take spiders outside if they got into the house). I guess biologists are just old softies for critters of all kinds. From my perspective, I don’t try to live in a spider’s web, therefore they don’t need to try and live in my house. I see one, and like any intruder attempting to gain unwanted entry into my abode, I kill the things.
Fortunately, my daughter is slowly trying to over come her fear of arachnids, although there have been several occasions were one has moseyed into her classroom, and she has had to have a student or another teacher evict the unwanted guest.
I do have a friend and former co-worker that has an extreme phobia of spiders. A number of years ago, before I started to be ill, she was working for me as my head of housekeeping at a hotel. She and the other housekeepers were working in a room that was in bad shape. As they were cleaning a spider made the ill fated choice to enter the room at that particular moment. This woman took the vacuum and sucked the spider into the bag. Most reasonable people would have left it at that, however, she started screaming on the radio for me to get up to the room as fast as possible. I bolted from the office, ran up three flights of stairs (oh, for the days where I could climb stairs again) and ran to the room. She was standing across the room, pointing at the vacuum. Being totally lost about what was going on, I asked her what the problem was. I had initially though that the vacuum had shorted out and she had gotten a shock. She looked at me, and said, “Spider! There’s a spider in the vacuum! You need to get it out of here!” I started laughing, at which she emphatically told me it’s “not funny.” Being a good manager, and needing to get the room cleaned, I dutifully removed the vacuum bag, and tossed it in the trash on the housekeeping cart.
She watched as I casually dropped the bag into the cart, and told me, “Are you out of your fucking mind! It could crawl out!” At that point she pulled out two of the black, heavy-duty trash bags we used, and demanded that I put the vacuum bag into one, tie it off, and then put that bag into another trash bag. By this time I was almost in tears laughing. Word of advice, don’t laugh at someone with an irrational fear of something, it will bring about a hard hit to the arm. I went along and humored her with her requests (actually demands) and deposited bag into bag into bag. I again dropped the now thrice sealed spider on to the cart. That was not good enough. Ultimately I ended up taking this little spider all the way out of the building and depositing it in the dumpster at the back of the parking lot.
To this day, I wish I had a camera to film the entire episode. I would probably have won the grand prize on AFV.
Ironically, this is the same woman who was ballsy enough to stand up to a half-dozen thugs in the “hood” and while she may have gotten her ass kicked by them, she never backed down. Yet a little spider sends her into a fit of phobic hysteria.
I will admit that I have my share of phobias. I am deathly afraid of needles, and will do everything I can to avoid getting a shot. This fear/phobia goes as far back as when I was three or four, and I was at the doctor’s office getting the inoculations that all children must have. My mother told me the story of me running out of the exam room, pants down around my knees, screaming, “You’re not gonna shot me!” Even now, nearly fifty years later, I still cringe at the thought of getting any type of shot. I now am able to control my instinct to flee from the office, plus I get them in the arm, and not the tush.
Along with my innate fear/phobia of needles is another phobia that I have been accused of having. It is the fear/phobia of commitment. Having been married and divorced three times, I do not consider it an unreasonable “fear” but rather a realistic view of my ability to be marriage material. I look at various friends and family that have been married for years, and oft-times wish that I could have that same level of commitment and staying power. My Aunt Gloria and Uncle Orv are two prime examples of having that staying power. I think they must have been married for nearly sixty years, and always seemed to enjoy each other no matter what. Same holds true for my Uncle Howard and Aunt Barbara. They were long time marriages, and while I know intellectually that they must have had their own problems behind closed doors, they were, to me, the epitome of marital strength.
I, on the other hand, can’t seem to get it right. And, that I think is my foible. Webster defines in part, a foible as, “a minor flaw or shortcoming in character or behavior.”
Since I have developed all the medical problems I have, it has given me the opportunity to do much reading. And while my reading would be considered by some eclectic, it has opened up new vistas of thought and introspection. I really don’t think that I have a fear or phobia about commitment, but rather, I am one of those individuals that love’s falling in love. It is the release of the hormone Oxytocin, among others, that causes us to pair bond with another. Oxytocin, often called the “hormone of love,” is released into the body when we have sex, hug, kiss, cuddle, breastfeed and give birth (hopefully the last two only apply to women). With my neurologically degenerating brain, I am beginning to wonder if in fact my commitment phobia is not the result of some synaptic misfiring and crossed signaling within my grey matter. Oxytocin, a pituitary produced hormone, has so many positive effects on the human body, and if in fact my brain is misreading what is being produced, who’s not to say that my commitment fear is not the result of my brain misinterpreting the signals it is receiving.
Then again, I could just be a putz, and while great “boy friend” material, I just suck at being a husband.