All of us have fears of one kind or another. Most of the more common ones are very healthy and help to ensure our safety in dangerous situations, examples being – fear of disease, infection, being buried alive, fire, tornados, vicious wild animals, poisonous snakes and things like pianos falling from high altitudes. All of these things have the potential to hurt you, and having a healthy fear of them could save your life.
Phobias take these fears way beyond the norm. They are irrational, excessive, unreasonable, and accompanied by extreme anxiety. Symptoms include a racing heart, shortness of breath, sweating, chest or stomach pain, trembling, loss of control, passing out, or, in other words, a full blown panic attack. Not pretty. And if your phobias include things like fear of looking up, bald people, telephones or fog, you really should try to face and over-come them, because some of these things are hard to continually avoid.
I think a lot of phobias originate in childhood. I used to have an irrational fear of big black dogs, which I only ever saw in nightmares, so it was hard for my parents to help me get over that one. He was my own personal monster under the bed that wagged his tail and still managed to be menacing. I’m still uncomfortable around big dogs, but I don’t run away screaming if I see one. I used to fake fear of vegetables, more specifically long green snake shaped ones named asparagus, but my mother never took that one seriously. I don’t know where my water phobia originated exactly, but I did have two water-related incidents in my childhood that were somewhat traumatic. The first was my brother holding my head under water as a joke. Perhaps if I had been big enough and strong enough to reciprocate I would have been better able to grasp the humor involved in this activity. The second incident involved snatching a one year old child out of the water after he toppled over into it face first. I suspect that kid has grown up with a fear of being wrenched into the air and clutched tightly to the breast of a screaming freaked out crazy person. Sorry kid. I thought I was saving you from drowning.
My water phobia wasn’t exactly disabling, but it was troublesome and sometimes embarrassing. I grew up on the shores of Lake Huron but I never learned how to swim. I could wade in up to my knees and stay perfectly calm. When the water got waist high, I would start to gasp and my heart would race. Back then saying you didn’t want your hair to get wet was an acceptable excuse for not going in any further. I could take a shower but I could NOT get my head or face wet – face and hair had to be washed separately. Getting into a boat made me ill. Seeing Niagara Falls up close for the first time was truly frightening. Honestly, I even had to hold my breath watching deep sea divers on t.v. Then I met my husband who is part fish apparently. He wanted me to jump off the dock at his cottage into the river and I burst into tears at the mere suggestion. I have to give him credit; although he could not understand it, he did try really hard to deal with it by saying and doing all the right things. “I’m here – just tell me what I can do to help, whenever you’re ready. Meanwhile, put on this life jacket, here’s one to sit on in the boat, and here’s one to hang on to just in case. No crying, okay??” The big problem with phobias is that you KNOW they’re irrational. You know you are being ridiculous, but you feel powerless to change things.
When our daughter was a baby my husband would pour buckets of water over her head in the bath tub. It made her gleeful. It made me gasp for breath and want to strangle him. When she was a year old he held her in his arms and jumped into the deep end of a swimming pool. My heart stopped I swear, but they both popped up laughing and she was squealing “again!” That’s when I finally made up my mind to do something to face this stupid fear and get over it, so that I would not pass it on to my children.
I got private swimming lessons from a good friend who taught children how to swim. This may not sound like a great feat to anyone else, but after several weeks I had officially passed the tadpole level. I was able to splash water on my face and live to tell about it. I was able to put my face into the water and blow bubbles. I was able to float on my back and breathe at the same time. And I was able to hold my nose and dunk my head under water without having a panic attack. I still don’t like to do that one, but I know if I had to I could. Eventually I learned to dog paddle, tread water, and get more than two feet away from the dock without passing out. Oh, and wash my hair in the shower. That was a big one.
My kids both love the water. They are both excellent swimmers. I didn’t damage them for life. My daughter thinks in another life I probably died at sea. She has a spider phobia, so she knows what this irrational kind of fear feels like. My son went through a phase where he had an irrational fear of chinese food, but I think that was more visual than anything else. And if you’re hungry enough, you can get over that one in a hurry. My husband has a sort of phobia about snakes. He can NOT handle them. But since its not something you have to deal with every day I think its a minor phobia and really not worth stressing over.
There are still some water related things I avoid. You could not pay me enough to ever go down a water slide. I don’t think I’d be very good company on an ocean voyage. Water skis are something I don’t want to put on, even on dry land. I won’t ever be an Olympic diver. If I never see Niagara Falls again I can live with that.
I love a rainy day. I love mist and fog and drizzle. I like to walk in the rain, and I love to watch a down-pour. Thunder and lightning – very exciting. lol. Walking through puddles after the rain is exilarating. I think the difference between these things and my fear of the murky depths is the presence of a lot of AIR.
Just wanted to add a couple more of my coping skills. This first one is silly, but I’m proud of it because it works well. (The second one I’m not so proud of….) To get to our island camp on the Winnipeg River we have to go by boat. It isn’t far – lots of people, my kids included, have swam there and back. I figure I might be able to make it half way, so when I get into the boat I keep my eye alternately on the point of departure and the destination. The water can be dead calm and nothing short of the loch ness monster showing up could cause us to capsize, but I need to have a plan of action should it happen. As we leave the shore I mentally picture myself being able to swim back to it. We go a little further, I could still make it. We’re almost half way, I could still survive. Now we’re half way, and I would have to choose which way to go….this way….that way…..okay, now we’re closer to the island and I’d be able to swim to it if I had to. Dilligent concentration of this sort has kept me alive, there is no doubt in my mind. When we go fishing I’m fine as long as the shore is within attainable distance. BTW, there is nothing more brain numbing than fishing. The only thing that keeps me concious is knowing that it may be possible to drown in your sleep.
Now for the second coping skill, which I don’t recommend very hightly at all. One long ago very hot summer evenning after a wedding reception (at which I had entirely too much to drink) we and an enebriated group of friends decided to go skinny dipping at the island. It seemed like an inspired notion at the time. Only four of us ended up being brave and foolish enough to do it, and I was one of them. No life jacket, no swim suit, no problem. I remember thinking to myself, what’s the worst thing that could happen? My drink might spill and that would be a shame, but not the end of the world. My husband still shakes his head in astonishment at the memory of it. He thought it was the big break-through. His aquaphobic spouse, treading water a good three feet from the ladder. With himself mere inches away of course, having to be reassured every three seconds that I was fine. I am FINE. Fine. Get-away-from-me-I-am-FINE! I wasn’t fine at all of course. And the next day I was sober and aghast at what I had done. I could have drowned. Naked. OH…MY….GOD. Strangely enough I didn’t develop a booze phobia, although that might have been a good thing. (Hey kids! You should have seen your mother last night! She was swimming without a life jacket!! ) (Please, SHUT UP. I have a serious headache.)