II’ve been thinking all day about phobias: intense, irrational and persistent fears which can interfere with daily life to the extent that life is arranged around them. Name a “fear”, and there’s a “phobia” lurking in the shadows, waiting with its mouth half-open to seize you. When I was a child, someone told me I was “hydrophobic”. All these years I’ve avoided beaches, pools, and various water sports because of it. Recently, though, I am not so sure. I have no fear of water…I wash my face with it, drink it, take baths in the stuff. What I do have, however, is an acute fear of drowning in water. Does that qualify as a “phobia”? It manifests itself in deep, over-my-head water: I start to hyperventilate, my stomach knots up, and I want to get to dry land immediately. This is the normal behaviour of a mammal that 1. doesn’t swim well, and 2. cannot breathe underwater. It seems perfectly rational to me.
Fear of zombies, on the other hand, is an authentic phobia. There are no zombies! The undead do not walk among us, unless you count i-bankers in midtown. I was alarmed to learn that zombie phobia doesn’t have an official name. The mummy-fearers have a name. Even the people who are Afraid to Look Up have a name. Someone online suggested “ambulothanatophobia,” meaning “fear of the walking dead”. If I Look Up one day and see a horde of zombies coming over the horizon, I will know what to call my feelings. For now, I will accept that there are no zombies, and that I am extremely afraid of them anyway.
This morning, Kate and I went on a tour of Lewis and Clark’s Caverns, discovered by two Montana hunters in the dead of winter, 1892. Despite the name, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark did not explore the caverns (and probably never knew of their existence). The tour started out with a twenty-minute hike at a 7% incline–not too shabby! I found that if I didn’t chat with the other hikers, I could keep my breathing under control. Yes, I know, I should exercise more. There were bats near the entrance of the cave, but I didn’t see them. I was too busy preparing to face the dark, narrow passageways and the terrifying heights to come. I’d gone “caving” before, as a child, but children are not afraid of death. Howe Caverns in the 80’s were a breeze. Kate navigated the high cliffs and slippery stairs before me, so that my gaze always had a safe place to rest. I kept telling myself, “I am a BRAVE spelunker! I am a brave speLUNKer. I AM a brave spelunker!” and this seemed to help. Apparently, I also have a fear of heights, narrow spaces, wide open places very high up, and darkness. But…are they phobias?