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Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Debilitation of Phobias

The Debilitation of Phobias


Ifestiophobia is an irrational fear of volcanoes, while arsonphobia is an irrational fear of fire. As a child I had an overwhelming fear of both, but my fear of volcanoes was made all the more improbable as a likely phobia by the fact that I live in Ireland, a land not known for possessing volcanoes. To find my nearest volcano would require an airline ticket to Europe. Thalassophobia is the fear of oceans and sea, another of my childhood phobias. I only had three, but they were at times crippling.

My fear of volcanoes is still unexplained, but it was a phobia which haunted me on a nightly basis from the age of nine right up until I was twelve. My heart would pound as I broke out in a cold sweat, waking from yet another brain-freezing nightmare which would paralyse me in my bed. Shaking, I would make my way to the bathroom checking in to see that my older brother was still safely tucked up asleep. As I would return to my own room, I would peek outside just to double check that the path of molten lava wasn't pouring down the mountain towards us.  
We lived in a bungalow, which was always reassuring for me as it meant we could all jump out of our bedroom windows and escape, there was no reason our own home would work against us. My room, which I shared with my oder sister, was to the front, just inside the front door. Growing up along the east coast was nice, we lived near the sea and were bordered to the west by the Wicklow mountains. It was nice, that is, if you weren't nine-year-old me! In late summer, come evening time the mountains would glow red as the heather began to change colour beneath the setting sun. Sunset takes hours in summer, which meant that to the terrified eyes of a child, the mountain would breathlessly heave as the earth's heat attempted to burst forth and destroy everything in it's path. Every night I would dream of the mountain across the way spewing forth a calm, slow moving highway of toxic lava.My nightmares were so vivid that I can still remember the details.One particular one was calm enough in its own sequence, but nonetheless terrifying for me.It was dark in the dream and my older brother was always on the other side of the road. The path of lava was half a foot wide and traveled right up to the front door. I was stood at the door terrified that I wouldn't be able to reach my brother and bring him home where it was safer, at least from here, we could all escape together. I could always clearly see the lava glow in the pitch of the night sky as it flowed down the mountain, sometimes fast, other times slow and somehow more menacing. It was always my older brother who was too far away to reach. I worried so much about him. I have a younger brother too, but it was never him nor my older sister who I saw stranded. Somehow though, I always had the calm feeling that somehow I would breach that gap and get him, if by no other means than sheer determination.

My fear of fire was with me from before my memories of it begin. It was so bad that if a fire took place on the television my parents had to switch over, which wasn't so nice if we were all in the middle of a family film! My fear of the sea, ocean or even a swimming pool was also one which came from an era pre-memory. I can still vividly remember not being able to breath. It was this overwhelming inability to breath which seemed to terrify me more than the actual fire, water or even volcano. But try as I might, I couldn't make myself breath. Finally, when I was twelve, my family shipped up and moved to Cyprus for a year. I lived in the beautiful city of Nicosia with not a mountain range in sight. I remember falling to sleep that first night and finding myself wandering on the plateau of a mountain, bordered by ancient oak trees with a light mist swirling at my ankles, it felt like it was the hour of dawn and all was calm and peaceful. The long grass peeped up through the mist and I was smiling, I clearly remember. It struck me that never in any of my volcanic dreams had I ever set foot on the mountain, and here I was standing at the very top, touching heaven almost. I felt a strange calmness enter me and never since have I suffered from my debilitating nightmares. 
Cyprus was also where my father nearly set the house on fire too. The fireplace was a disaster area, there was no grate and no air flow, so trying to get the flame to catch was a hard act. My father had the genius idea of fecking a drop of petrol onto it as I sat directly across from it, sprawled along the couch, sleepily reading my latest book. I remember looking up and seeing a fireball fly straight at me. I can vaguely remember screaming and then I was standing on the road outside, unable to breath, yet I could hear myself screaming as if from a distance. My sister came after me and dragged me back indoors, a feat which I can assure you I fought. My parents and my sister's boyfriend (husband now) had managed to dampen the flames - with salt I tbelieve. All I remember is I shook, none of my family had tried to leave and could have been burnt to a crisp. It took me a while to relax after that incident, but rest assured, the house was no more damaged than a slightly grey ceiling and three burn marks on the carpet the size of penny which were easily covered with a rug.My fear of fire though, was strangely dispelled. 

I also conquered my thalassophobia in Cyprus too. I learnt to swim. I remember I was dogged in my determination to do so. I strapped on the baby armbands and flung myself into the semi-olympic sized pool. I nearly drowned too - twice. The first time was when I decided to take off down the deep end when I actually couldn't swim and required rescuing by older brother - strange that, as I always tried to save him in my sleep.I also found it very reassuring that he was there silently keeping an eye on me, although previous to this incident, I have never been aware of it. The second time it happened was nearly a year later and by then I was a very strong swimmer. I got caught in an undertow which had been created by a dive-bomb. I was dragged from the pool where I spluttered back to life, disappointed that the dishy Can-con doctor wasn't required to give me CPR. That day I also learned that drowning isn't in fact the worst way to die, it is actually quite peaceful, that is until some do-gooder drags you into the air and you realise you were 'breathing' water!! 


Phobias are a terrible thing. The worst thing about it, is not the object of your fear, but the fact that you cannot control it's effect on you. I don't how a person conquers a phobia, I don't know why I eventually conquered mine even. How can a fireball rushing toward you eradicate your fear of fire? How can dreaming of being on the top of mountain erase your fear of volcanoes? How can drowning annihilate a fear of water? Is it perhaps that they did not kill me when they had the chance? Whatever the reason, I'm just glad mine are gone and I pray that I never have to feel that breathless pounding in my chest again.