Freaking out about fears, phobias and… frogs?

MY TAKE by Rose McGlew

   After attending the "Bugs!" movie at the IMAX theater at Liberty Science Center last week, I started to think about all the weird things people are afraid of and why those things are fearful to them.
   I hate bugs and so sitting through that movie and not shuddering at every move any bug made was a major accomplishment for me and I think my family appreciated the effort it took for me to remain in my seat and not run screaming from the theater. I have no idea where this fear came from originally, but it’s deep. Certainly, living in Florida for many years did nothing to quell the fear — in fact, after repeatedly seeing cockroaches the size of my palm that COULD FLY, I’d say it sealed my phobic fate completely.
   My husband hates mummies. This is a problem sometimes for the two of us because I am fascinated by them and everything about and surrounding them. I have given in after this many years and will immediately change the channel if something on television is mummified and I will generally take the kids through those parts of the museum by myself. We sat down years ago and tried to figure out why he hates mummies so much, but nothing ever came out of the discussion other than "They’re still kind of like people, only dead and right there. Who wants to look at dead people?"
   My older son is quite the opposite of my husband — he loves mummies. And vampires and werewolves and anthropomorphic animals. But he is 11 and so that is pretty normal, I hope. He and my younger son do share a fear that neither of them would probably own up to, though. They will not go into our basement alone. Now, before you take their side on this, let me explain why this is irrational. Our basement is finished, with carpeting and paint and everything. It’s where the television and computer are. It’s where Paul’s office is, it’s where the washer and dryer are and the Ping Pong table, too. It is well lit, relatively clean and certainly cobweb and spider-free. This is not our parents’ basements with dark corners and large oil tanks which some intimidating monster from beyond the grave could hide behind. It’s nice!
   On the opposite yet equal end of that, the boys are also afraid — to a little and different extent — of the upstairs part of the house. You may recall that last year, the boys decided to room together in order to get bunk beds and have a room on the main floor as a library/playroom/office. You may also recall that they spent only about 20 minutes trying to sleep up there one night in order to test the waters before moving up permanently. Again, like the basement, the upstairs is not some dry and dusty attic with mousetraps scattered around — it’s a playroom that runs the entire length of the house. But both of these areas will unite them in one effort like no yelling or pleading from their mother ever can. If one has to go upstairs or downstairs, it’s just about the only time the other will tag along as requested without a fuss. I guess I should take solace in the fact that there is some sort of brotherly love in that dynamic somewhere.
   My sister has issues with frogs. We used to joke around about this as kids, but the older she’s gotten, the worse the issues have become. I knew things were getting bad when I sent her (as a comical and loving sibling joke, of course) a ceramic frog scrubby holder for use in the kitchen. She left it in the box without even taking it out and donated it to Good Will. Things really came to a head when my niece received a pair of pajamas with cartoon frogs on them for her birthday. At the party, she whipped them out of the box and squealed with delight. My sister squealed, too, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t with delight. Needless to say, my niece ended up with a tidy little Target gift card after that return.
   Things that go bump in the night, things that can’t go bump in the night, animals that are a thousand times smaller than we are… and this is just in my own family. Think about all the relatively common fears people have and the ways they are disabling. A family member who wishes to remain anonymous (they probably all do, but too bad) is extremely claustrophobic but did not realize quite how much until last summer. This person tried to go through a sensory deprivation-type maze and was unable to go further than about one foot before panic set in and said "I felt caged in, like going into a cave that you can’t see and can barely fit in. I felt like I was going to be trapped." This person’s family went through the 100-foot course with no problem while the phobic person watched their progress through a series of night vision-type cameras on the outside. Was the person worried for the others? "I knew they were safe and I knew the course was safe," this person said. "I think I probably could have gone through, but I would not have enjoyed it." This person had no childhood trauma associated with tight spaces and, being a very intelligent and logical person, is somewhat embarrassed at not being able to explain the problem away. (As a follow-up note, this person was recently presented again with the exact same scenario and could not attempt it this time, either.)
   I am trying to face my fears a little at a time. I did sit through the entire "Bugs!" movie without completely freaking out. For me, that’s a big step. If only I could find a show about insect-infested mummies discovered in someone’s attic our family could watch it on television in the basement and we could have a group therapy session.

   Rose McGlew is a resident of Robbinsville. Her column appears weekly in The Messenger-Press.