There is something strange about me that most people don’t know. It’s definitely a great “tell me some interesting about you” conversation starter and weird enough to arouse a few chuckles. I am deathly terrified of caterpillars. Yep, you read it right, CATERPILLARS! It’s a rather serious phobia that cripples me and my activities as soon as I spot one.
When I tell people that I have phobia of caterpillars most people laugh and think I’m joking. It’s only the people that have witnessed my distress and trauma, while there’s a caterpillar or two present, who know how severe this is for me. I know I call myself a superhero but this is one battle I would run away from.
A phobia (from the Greek: Phóbos, meaning “fear” or “morbid fear”) is, when used in the context of clinical psychology, a type of anxiety disorder, usually defined as a persistent fear of an object or situation.
The sufferer commits to great lengths in avoiding, typically disproportional to the actual danger posed, often being recognized as irrational.
I swung at my teammate with a field hockey stick; wacked her in the arm, injured her, and had to sit out of the entire tournament all because she was chasing me with a caterpillar.
I will never ever live in Mississauga. Each year the city of Mississauga has a problematic infestation of gypsy moth caterpillars. The city has been aerial sprayed a few times to deal with the dilemma. If caterpillars invaded my porch, I would also develop agoraphobia (fear of going outside). I wouldn’t go to work and may starve to death inside my own home… that’s how serious this is.
In the event the phobia cannot be avoided entirely, the sufferer will endure the situation or object with marked distress and significant interference in social or occupational activities.
I went riding with my friend on a trail. I saw one caterpillar on the ground, screeched and a little girl laughed at me, “It’s only a caterpillar. It’s so cute!” With that I conjured up enough courage to keep riding but 4 more feet into the trail I saw another one. I screamed again, hopped off my bike, turned the other way and rode off fast, as my friend was calling my name.
Just the other day, my best friend brought home some organic vegetables. I was cooking my dinner and she had a jerk reaction to something she saw. I noticed and asked her what it was. She was so adamant that it was nothing and I knew immediately that something terrifying was in our midst. She knows of my fear and didn’t want to scare me so she tried to pick it up before I saw it… but it was too late! I screamed so loud, ran so fast to the front door and huddled in a fetal position. I was paralyzed in the corner; sweating and shaking as tears slowly started rolling down my eyes. I was too scared to go back into the kitchen for the entire night.
According the Canadian Psychological Association, phobias or panic disorders occur in more than one in every 10 Canadians.
Health Canada and the Canadian Mental Health Association consider phobias as a mental illness known as anxiety disorders. Because of the stigma surrounding mental illness, people with these disorders are often called “overreacting or hysterical” by others.
The physical symptoms of phobias and panic attacks include:
- Racing pulse, heart palpitations, possibly even chest pain
- Shortness of breath, panting, dry mouth
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Trembling, shaking, muscle tension
- Hot flashes and sweating, or chills
- Difficulties with sleep
- Inability to concentrate
The symptoms can be so overwhelming that the person may believe that they are going to die. In fact, it is not unusual for these individuals to end up in the hospital emergency department numerous times, convinced that they are having a heart attack.
You may never meet another person who has a phobia of caterpillars and you may not quite understand my fear but you may have met someone with a phobia. If they tell you it’s a phobia, believe them. Don’t take it as a joke and try to taunt them. Instead, I would recommend getting them to calm down; there could be a story behind the phobia or maybe just a general fear.