I suppose we all have our fears and phobias, some of the common ones involve snakes, spiders, clowns, the dark or seeing blood. When I’ve been out walking my dog I’ve encountered folks with some pretty deep-seated fears of canines. I’m a Health Promotion Educator and do lots of workshops with school kids. Over the years I’ve had several fainters (including two in one day) at the mention of needles, or one teenaged boy when I started talking about childbirth. Nothing like collapsing audience members to derail a presentation.
I can’t say I have a lot of fears. One used to be public speaking, but clearly I’ve gotten over that, having done hundreds of workshops over the last two decades. As a teenager I eagerly stood in line for my first – and last – rollercoaster ride. By the time we approached the first peak I was already feeling sick and as we skidded to a stop I think I had to be assisted off as my legs had turned to rubber. The carnival ride must be tied to my one major fear: heights. I can’t walk across a suspension bridge, up open slatted stairs or ride in a glass elevator without feeling queasy. I can even feel my stomach lurch while watching TV when great heights are involved.
When I’m sitting at home in my living room how can I feel sick at things that aren’t even real? Snakes and spiders, for the most part, are harmless but probably looked big and scary when as children we first developed those aversions. Experiencing a frightening event like being thrown into the pool before you could swim or being locked in a dark closet by a sibling who thought it was fun can be the catalyst for a recurring anxiety.
Fear is a normal response in a potentially dangerous situation because it activates the fight-or-flight response. It puts our bodies and minds on high alert so we are able to respond quickly. That experience is stored in the amygdala of the brain. When you go through a similar experience later on, the amygdala remembers and triggers the original fear.
Phobias are different than fears because they cause significant distress that sometimes interfere with daily life. Many people have common phobias: social anxiety, claustrophobia, seeing blood or thunder storms. I had a former co-worker that couldn’t get on a plane without plying herself with Ativan first.
I’m lucky, in that, my fear hasn’t had any great impact on my life. Avoiding activities like bungee jumping or skydiving hasn’t been a great sacrifice and I’ve managed to overcome small heights so that I’m able to climb a ladder to clean my gutters or sweep my roof quite handily.
As chicken keepers many of us get mushy at the thought of fuzzy chicks. Even fully grown birds who are inquisitive and friendly seem pretty benign. But not so for some folks. You can add alektorophobia to the long list of stuff people are afraid of. Yep, that’s a fancy Greek word: alektor (rooster) and phobos (fear) and applied to mean fear of chickens. If you are a true alektorophobe its may not just be seeing chickens that sets you off, but can include hearing clucking or crowing, or just seeing feathers, eggs or pictures of chickens. It’s hard to imagine, but then again phobias aren’t about being rational.
I think that many of those folks had a traumatic experience early in life they never got over. Maybe they were chased by a rooster when visiting a farm or got pecked by a hen when collecting eggs.
I lost the first draft for this post. Carelessness on my part meant I deleted the final version and only kept the outline. It’s inevitable that would happen at some point. Of course it was a bit of an upset: by the time I finish at piece I’ve already moved on to the next one. I had to drag myself back to what I had originally written. I’ve probably captured most of it, but starting from scratch also gave me the opportunity to take some more time to examine the intertwined issues of mental health and compassion; and of fears and phobias, especially the ones involving animals.
America’s Home videos often airs clips involving folks chasing their co-workers or family members with snakes, frogs or spiders – playing on their fears of ‘creepy’ creatures. The whole program relies on schadenfreude – pleasure derived from another person’s misfortune. I’d be lying if I said some of them didn’t make me laugh, but never when it involves unwillingly animals and not if it perpetuates aversions to harmless creatures. And particularly not when folks are experiencing real fear in a situation, no matter how harmless it appears to onlookers.
The image I used as the featured photo has been turned into what is considered a ‘humorous’ meme.
I might come across as a party pooper, but I can’t relate to finding the small boy’s terror amusing. That aside, I am also concerned about the fate of the rooster. I’ve seen people tease, and even antagonize, their rooster because they like to get a response out of him. Over protective and veering on aggressive behaviour that is often ignored, and sometimes even encouraged in roosters, is likely to get them culled. Allowing aggression in chickens is what contributes to fear in people.
I’m hoping for a somewhat kinder and gentler world in which we extend compassion to both other people and animals. It’s interesting to learn about the quirks that exist in the world, but our amusement shouldn’t be at the expense of the folks who experience those fears and phobias.