Phobia (Faux-bia?)

HAVEN Newsletter
September, 2010
Theme: Phobia
Guest: The fabulous therapist, dream analyzer, writer, blogger, and much more: La Belette Rouge

It is the Mission of HAVEN newsletter to provide a safe place to share. Please feel free to share your experiences with phobias and, if relevant, how you moved through them. Those who do will be eligible to win a free, signed copy of THIS IS NOT THE STORY YOU THINK IT IS. This month we will forgo a live chat and focus on giving you a platform from which to express yourself and some room to breathe. I hope we all learn something. Yrs. Laura


Me and the Otis Company. By Laura Munson
I like to think of myself as a level-headed person. Calm in crisis. Rational in an argument. I can multi-task with fluidity and be proud of the results. I generally go into group problem-solving situations with instant leadership tendencies. I’m happy to sit in the Exit seat. The driver’s seat. Take the lead on the trail on foot or horse. So you might think this incongruent: I can’t stand elevators.

Sure, I spent the good part of an afternoon when I was five in an elevator in the John Hancock Building in Chicago, trying to find my way back to the apartment my family was occupying for the weekend. But it wasn’t like I was stuck, necessarily. I just couldn’t reach the right button. My older brother and sister and I had been to the pool, and on our way back, they exited the elevator, and before I knew it, the doors closed and I was being sucked back down a thin shaft in one of the tallest buildings in the world. I remember thinking, “Uh-oh. This is bad.” So I kept jumping up, and hitting the buttons I could hit, (including STOP ELEVATOR) waiting as the elevator doors opened and shut, opened and shut, opened and shut. I went back up as far as I could reach in fits and starts. And back down again, floor by floor for every failed jump and push. Finally, a teenaged girl entered at one of the stops, asked me if I needed help, I told her “yes, I do,” gave her the floor number, and after peeking under door after door, I finally recognized the emerald green rug, the glass and chrome table, an orange quilted chintz floral sofa, and pacing espadrilles and Gucci loafers. We knocked. My father opened the door, and there were my siblings, sitting on that chintz sofa, slumped over in the we’re in trouble pose. My mother stood, facing them, her face red. She looked up and said, “There you are,” and hugged me, thanking the girl. I remember feeling really badly that my siblings had gotten into trouble. I remember feeling like it was my fault that I hadn’t followed them faster out that elevator door. I remember crying and saying I was sorry.

Elevators never really bothered me though after that. They weren’t necessarily happy places, but I was oblivious to them. They took you places; great places. City places. They were simply transportation.
And then college hit. There was a small elevator in the English department that brought you, sardined with self-important future writer types, (wink) up the ten floors. I got in, one minute perfectly happy to be on my way to learning about Proust, and suddenly went cold, wet, pale and other more high-brow adjectives that one co-ed chose to point out. And I shouted, “Don’t let the doors close,” and pushed past them all, back into the foyer. Either I was allergic to English majors, or I was having a latent reaction to something from my past, because very suddenly, I was claustrophobic. And not just in elevators.

I’d never liked tight places. Had momentary distress on rollercoasters when those metal bars came over your head and locked you in to place. Really didn’t enjoy standing in back-to-back humanity on the spiral staircase in the Statue of Liberty with no way up and no way down unless I screamed “Emergency!” which as a pre-teen, I wasn’t about to do. Or chair lifts which stopped, high above any reasonable jumping-off place, and just swung there, who knew, indefinitely. I’d suffer through situations like that, laugh it off and say, “I was a breech baby. I have an innate sense that I am stuck and that I need to get out. ” But I’d never had it like it hit me that day in college. I must have tried three times to get into that elevator. But even when it opened up empty, I couldn’t get myself into that evil steel chamber. So for four years of college, I walked the ten floors. Said I liked the exercise.

When I spent a year in Italy, it didn’t help that my family lived on the 8th floor. But I wasn’t about to put myself into that cage. The stone steps that climbed around it were just fine by me. And when I delivered flowers from a delivery truck in Boston after college, I was happy to have the doorman call up to the recipient, and tell her that if she wanted her flowers, she’d have to come down and get them herself. I did everything I could to avoid taking crowded buses and subways. I started to become keenly aware of where Exit signs were and ensure that I had a bottle of water with me, because if I was trapped, Lord knows I’d need water. And maybe something minty, like Halls, or Altoids, and maybe some herbal calming pills, and later, maybe some hardcore pharmaceutical tranquilizer like: Lorazepam. Just in case. Ask me if I have a bottle of Lorazepam in my purse. Ask me how many I’ve taken. The answer might not impress you. Think: placebo.

I was ashamed. I’m still ashamed. And I ask myself: just in case of what? It’s not that I’m scared of small places. It’s that I’m scared of myself in small places. I’m scared of the story that I tell myself when I’m in them: that I can’t get out, and I need to get out because if I don’t there’s no fresh air, and I’m going to get hot, and it’ll be hard to breathe, and I’m going to feel faint, and my heart’s going to race, and I’m going to…to…what…die? No. I’m not going to die. So what’s the big deal? What is my problem? For shame.

One night in the early 90s, I was travelling from Chicago to Boston in a freak March snow storm that hit hard. There were 64 airplanes that sat on a runway two miles out from the gates at O’Hare. I was in one of those planes. Not a particularly large plane. They ran out of food and water. I, of course, had water, and truth told, I hoarded it. It was a blizzard and one of the planes, in turning back, had spun out and blocked the runway for the rest of us. We waited there for 12 hours. Over and over I thought, I’ll say I’m having a medical emergency, and they’ll have to let me off. But I instead talked to the people around me, met a charming girl from India who wrote down a bunch of recipes in my journal that I still have. Got to know an older businessman with kids my age who told me great stories about a trip they took to the Galapagos. Comforted an academic who was to be, that night, honored at an awards ceremony at Harvard. This was before cell phones and other glowing screens. People either slept, or read, or talked. When I walked out of that airplane, I felt like I had been cured of ever being claustrophobic again.

And then I moved to Montana. And after 17 years of living in Big Sky country, so open and free to roam in endless terrain, I’ve got it worse than ever. I’ve been to therapy for it. I know how to wrap my mind around it: I’m safe. I’m contained in my body. Nothing can imprison me if I don’t let it. We even took a long look at my breech birth. I know all the mental-ese, and devoutly try the spiritual-ese…and still, I duke it out internally when I’m in the small planes that fly in and out of our valley, and when I am faced with an elevator, I stand there and try, and try again, people looking at me strangely as the doors open and close, open and close…and then I turn around and ask for the stairs. I don’t care how many flights I have to walk up. Sometimes they don’t let me take the stairs. And I have no choice. So I push that button—I am the right height now for all the buttons—wait for the doors to pull open, take a deep breath, and cast myself out to the non-infinite non-sea of that little sturdy box that unfairly I have called fickle instead of faithful, carting people up and down all day long, year after year, with groceries, and heavy equipment, and briefcases full of important deal making moxie. I suspect that one day, I will be thankful for the ride. Old bones, and old lungs and old heart. And then I will know better than to think that there is such a thing as being stuck, or that there really ever is a good way out. Or that there really ever is a place where you are not free.

But for now, no. I’m not going up, but thank you for asking. I’m taking the stairs. And no, I’m not proud of it. Maybe freedom starts in giving yourself a break for who you are and what scares you. Especially when what scares you is not outside you. It’s just plain old you. That’s good news, right? It means there’s room for growth. I am dedicated to that growth.

To that end, let me introduce the wonderful therapist, dream analyzer, writer, blogger, and new friend, who online goes by Belette Rouge for purposes of privacy and whimsy.

A tale of two phobias
by La Belette Rouge
The story goes that I was three years old and happily playing out in the garden while my mother was in the house; she came out in the garden and discovered that I was playing with a snake. Not a garter snake, some overgrown earthworm, but a SNAKE. In my mother’s version of this tale, it was the size of an anaconda. My mother, having a long-standing terror of snakes, reacted in a completely calm and measured manner: she called the fire department, the police department and the Marines. Okay, maybe not the Marines, but there was a whole lot of hullaballoo, and I remember being lectured repeatedly that I must never play with snakes ever again.
It was not an anaconda or even a rattlesnake that my mother had reported to the 911 Operator. It was a Kingsnake. The firemen explained to my mother that this was a very good snake that would keep the bad snakes away. My mother didn’t care. She remained terrified of it and wanted it out of her garden, “NOW!” That day was the birth of my snake phobia.
After that snake incident, there were no other childhood run-ins with legless reptiles; that day was enough to turn my non-poisonous playmate into an enemy. At first I was just afraid of them, but as I got older I grew increasingly terrified. I couldn’t go into a pet store unless someone verified they weren’t selling any snakes. Before seeing a film I had to ask the theater if the movie was snake-free. When I moved to Las Vegas with my husband, I called the Chamber of Commerce to ask them how many people died of snake bites a year in the city. The woman who answered the phone had the nerve to laugh at my question and warned me that the casinos were a much bigger threat to its residents and visitors than its snakes.
I never considered getting treatment for my snake phobia as I was convinced that there is some wisdom in being afraid of creatures that could kill you. That said, since I had only had one rather harmless run-in with a snake, I did often wonder what my snake fear was really about.
I began my first Jungian analysis when I lived in the city where what happens there stays there. I hadn’t planned to tell my Jungian analyst about my snake fears, but she saw that they had been starring in my nightmares. When my analyst asked my associations to snakes, I replied, “If I see a snake I will die. Just its mere presence will kill me. It doesn’t even have to bite me. I will just die.” Even as I said it, I knew it sounded irrational and yet felt true. Happily, my analyst didn’t argue the point. “Tell me more about snakes,” she invited. “Snakes are creatures without legs. They are unpredictable. That’s what I don’t like about them. You never know which way they are going. That terrifies me.” My analyst surmised, “Snakes are symbolic of a fear that you inherited from your mother. They are symbols of your greatest fears. They are not actually your greatest fears—they are hers. And in your encounter with a snake you didn’t die. What died is your sense of the world being a safe place.”
In my Jungian work we never worked directly on my fears of snakes. My analyst never worked with my fear literally but always metaphorically and symbolically; working this way was much more appealing than attempting to get over my literal snake terror.
Just three months after I began my Jungian analysis, I went into a Vegas pet shop with snakes in a large aquarium right at the entry of the store. I found myself uncharacteristically fascinated by them. I didn’t walk up close to their glass container, but I stood at the door and stare at them. This was HUGE. Only a few months ago I would have darted for the car, filled with terror that somehow one of them had escaped and found its way into my Volvo sedan. Yet there I stood, watching them–I was amazed to hear myself thinking that I found them strangely beautiful.
Six months after that, my husband and I were hiking in Big Sur, and I meandered off from the main path and came upon four little snakes curled up in a nest. I calmly pointed them out to my husband, who was in disbelief. He knew of my terror firsthand, as on our first hike we had encountered a baby Kingsnake (and I had scaled him like a tree). It was shocking–I had seen snakes and wasn’t climbing up my husband or fleeing the scene.
The next night I had a dream (we Jungians are big on dreams). I was in my kitchen and there were lots of little snakes. Dozens of them. I was picking them up with my hands and putting them in small Ziploc bags. I didn’t need my analyst to tell me what the dream meant. My fears were now smaller. They could be handled. And they were contained.
That said, I still have no interest in visiting a reptile house at the zoo. And if I saw a large Kingsnake in my garden, I can’t promise you that I wouldn’t overreact. But I do feel sure that my snake phobia is more manageable, and that is good enough for me.
****
After a particularly horrible experience on the 405 freeway many years ago, I developed a fierce case of freeway phobia. This is not a good affliction when living in L.A., a place where every road leads to a freeway. After a few weeks of trying to take surface streets from the South Bay to Venice (a truly epic ordeal that added an extra hour to my already hour-long drive), I decided to see an EMDR therapist to help me get over my extreme fear of the 405. My reason for choosing to work with an EMDR therapist on this issue was that it didn’t feel like my freeway phobia was symbolic, but was literal. Unlike my snake fears, I was highly motivated to get over this fear, as I was feeling trapped, dependent and significantly inconvenienced by my inability to drive on a freeway.
I made an appointment with a well-regarded EMDR therapist who practiced two freeways away from me. Two times a week for a month, my husband drove me to her office. I would sit across from her and recall the initial experience that had begun the phobia. My therapist would ask me to rate my anxiety as I recalled the memory on a scale of one to ten, “one” being not anxious at all and “ten” being the most anxious I ever felt. “Ten,” I answered. Then she would ask me to close my eyes and stay with the memory and the feelings, as she alternately tapped my hands or had me listen to bilateral auditory tones on a headphone. After about 30 seconds, she would ask again, “How would you rate the anxiety now?” After the first set it would go down to about an eight. She would then ask me to share briefly anything that came up during that set, and would begin another set of tapping or bilateral tones as I focused on any thoughts, feelings, images, or memories that had been triggered.
In all honesty, at the time I was sure I was wasting my money, and that I would NEVER-EVER-EVER be able to drive again on a freeway. I imagined having to hire a driver and my life as a 30-something version of Driving Ms. Daisy. I kept going to the EMDR sessions even though I was full of doubt. Yet at each session my “Subjective Units of Distress” began to get lower and lower. I had started at “ten, being the most severe anxiety I had ever known” and was sure that I would die if I ever drove on the freeway again. But by the fourth week I was down to one. I was no longer terrified of driving. The memory of the initial trauma still existed in me; only now, when I thought of it, it felt like the emotional volume had been turned way down and I could no longer feel or hear all the negative cognitions that had once accompanied it.
When I got down to “one” as a subjective unit of distress, I decided to make a chart called “Freeway Successes.” Every time I went on the freeway, even if it was only getting on at one entrance and off the next, I would get a sticker for my accomplishment. I mostly used the kind of gold, red and green stars that teachers use to acknowledge work well done. And when I took a long trip, like L.A. to Santa Barbara, I would get an extra special sticker, a horse or a rainbow or the stickers they give to kids at Trader Joe’s for waiting patiently as their parents’ two-buck chuck, cheeses and gourmet goodies are bagged. With each sticker I would imagine the day when the chart would be full and I would have it professionally framed to hang on the wall. Now when I look at that chart, all these years later, I am reminded of how I was sure that I would never drive again and how I can now drive anywhere, anytime on any freeway. I am so grateful for this visual reminder that I can get over the most immobilizing fears–that fears can lie and how I can overcome them, star by star, sticker by sticker.

Phobia resources:
The Anxiety and Phobia Handbook
http://www.amazon.com/Anxiety-Phobia-Workbook-Edmund-Bourne/dp/157224223X
EMDR
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eye_movement_desensitization_and_reprocessing
Therapy Directory
http://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms/

Belette is a writer and a lisenced Marriage and Family
Therapist/psychotherapist. She holds a Masters Degree from Pacifica
Graduate Institute in Counseling Psychology. She trained extensively
at the C.G. Jung Institute of Los Angeles. She is presently enrolled
in the Adult Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Training Program. Belette
has lectured on psychology at Lake Forest College in Lake Forest,
Illinois and The Jung Center of Evanston. She is presently in private
practice in Los Angeles, California, and works as a
Clinic Therapist at the Jung Center in Evanston.

Belette studied creative writing at UCLA and has published essays and
short stories. Her poetry was selected for an inclusion in a anthology
tribute to Charles Bukowski. She worked as an entertainment editor and
had a weekly column. Belette has maintained the successful and award
winning blog, La Belette Rouge, since 2007. Her blog was named one of
the top ten blogs for Francophiles and in the top 20 of psychology and
memoir blogs. Her writing will be featured in Jamie Cat Callan’s
forthcoming book “Bonjour, Happiness” and the soon to be released
“Forgotten Patient”.

Belette offers Dream Coaching by phone, Skype or email.

http://www.labeletterouge.com/dream-coaching


La Belette Rouge

http://labeletterouge.com

Blogging since 2007

77 Comments

Filed under Haven Newsletter, My Posts

77 Responses to Phobia (Faux-bia?)

  1. Thank you so much, Laura! I am not at all afraid to say that I sincerely appreciate your inviting me to be a part of your wonderful newsletter. I am so very honoured. You are a wonderful hostess, friend and, even though it goes without saying, writer. I am privileged to call you my friend.
    xoxo
    Belette

    • lauramunson

      Hey there, Ms. Belette. The pleasure is all mine. Feel free to respond to your fans here. I know they’d love to hear from you. I can’t thank you enough for your suggestion to try EMDR. We’ll see if it “plays in Peoria” or Chicago/NYC/Hartford, as it were. oxox back atchya, sister in words. Laura

  2. donna

    awes0me blog, i’m so glad labelleterouge turned me on to this, this is definitely my cup of tea.

    • lauramunson

      Hi Donna, and welcome! I’m a tea lover (on my third cup this morning) so thanks for the lovely comparison. Come by and say hi again! LBR and I are going to have some fun this week with this theme… yrs. Laura

    • Thanks so much, Donna, for visiting Laura’s blog. I suggest boiling a pot of tea and sticking around. I know you will love Laura as much as I do.xo

  3. How wonderful-two of my favorite writers in the same place at the same time!

    Thank you both for sharing your own phobic experiences. I feel much more at ease now to stand up and say, “Hi, I’m Stephanie and I’m afraid of elevators and being in a car I’m not driving-but only when driving over hills.” Yikes…that sounds a little weird but like I tell my friends and family-that’s why they are called phobias because they are IRRATIONAL responses to normal stimuli.

    My phobias like LBR’s started with an experience when I first learned the world wasn’t so safe. Laura, we should compare excuses for why we take the stairs. I could use some new ones. Mine are getting a little tired. ;-)

    Thank you both for your continued willingness to be so transparent. It’s why I love ya both!

    • lauramunson

      Hey, Stephanie– oh matchmaker one. Infinite thanks for introducing me to LBR! And her wonderful blog readers. And, it takes one to know one, so thanks for also being transparent and for being willing to share. EMDR might just be the answer that I’ve been looking for. All that therapy, and I’ve not quite experienced the power of what I’ve learned in just a few sessions of EMDR. We really have choices in the midst of our phobias. We really can practice looking at ourselves as if an observer. We really can diffuse the mind map which brings on the phobia. AND we really can tell ourselves a new story. I’m going to put it to the test for the next few weeks while I travel in cities doing book promo. I’ll keep in touch about it here. I think it’s so important not to be hard on ourselves about it though. If I end up walking 14 flights like I did on my book tour (IN BOOTS! so that I showed up to my Good Morning America interview with pit stains in a full sweat– nice…) then so be it. But I’m going to try to start telling myself a different story. Elevators are simply transportation. That’s it. If I get stuck in one, eventually, I’ll get out. And why exactly is the space in the elevator worse than the space out on the sidewalk? Can’t it be womb-like? Eek. I’m not there yet, but I can at least tell myself that story. I am a fiction writer after all. ox Laura

    • Thanks, my trifecta friend, for brining Laura and I together. It just proves the power of following our instincts. You knew I needed to read her book and you were right. Love you MUCH!

      For any phobia, cars/snakes/driving/elevators, I really and truly believe that EMDR is a powerful tool. I am a psychodynamic psychotherapist, as you know, and I think for phobias that EMDR is one of the most powerful tools EVER. If it weren’t for EMDR I would be walking, taking the bus and/or dependent on others to drive me around. Have you ever tried it? I would be curious to hear your take on it.

  4. I loved both of these pieces, and thinking about how our phobias work on us, and how they are formed. Brilliant.

    I am scared of heights (especially heights combined with really fast things, like roller coasters), and of clowns (especially grotesque clown dolls, EEEK!). Some clowns I can deal with. But almost never in doll form.

    • lauramunson

      Thanks for stopping by! And thanks for putting poems into the blogosphere. Poems teach like nothing else. After a week of doing EMDR at Belette’s suggestion, I can tell my mind is re-booted re: my phobias. I haven’t yet put it to a test yet, but I’ll be sending tales from the road the next few weeks, so stay tuned. I can’t quite say yet whether it’s working, but I do have a new “movie” in my mind. I’d love to be able to recommend EMDR here and have a very good feeling that I soon will. You might look into a local EMDR therapist. What I’ve learned so far is that a small event, if not dealt with, can then layer and layer over the years and turn into something full blown that our minds are surprised and confused by. And with that comes shame, which is something I’m just plain sick of. More soon. yrs. Laura p.s. scary clowns are really scary. I wonder if that’s a phobia, or just a fact!

    • Thanks so much! So nice of you to stop by.

      I have always been curious about clown phobia. It is hard for me not to go into therapist mode and ask you what it is about clowns that freak you out. I am completely curious. If you are so inclined, I would love to hear what it is about them that you find scary.

  5. Belette, what a wonderful post. I related to this so much because I have inherited a massive fear of spiders from my mother. When I was very small, I was caught by my poor mother trying to eat an enormous huntsman spider. She screamed so hard that it gave me a life-long fear of spiders. I honestly have no idea of what I would do if one landed on me: probably die of shock. When I see big spiders, I go to pieces and shake and scream. It’s encouraging to read that you recovered as well as you have done. You articulated perfectly my own phobia which my mother passed along. xx

    • lauramunson

      Hi, Josephine– Laura here. I’m sure Belette will weigh in too, but I wanted to welcome you to my blog, and to this sharing about phobia. I relate with the idea of adopting parental phobia. Perhaps it’s a way for us to be close to our parents. I’m trying Belette’s EMDR and will have the chance to put it to the test for the next two weeks of city travel. Stay tuned and thanks for sharing. yrs. Laura

    • Thanks so much, Josephine. I am so honoured and delighted that Laura invited me to share my phobias and how I have worked with them.

      It is so extraordinary how similar our inherited phobias are. Phobias definitely can be inherited. And it can be interesting to explore what it is about the spider or snake that scared our mother so and to learn where they got that fear. I have to tell you that as far as I have come with snakes (and I have come a long way), if one landed on me I dear that I might die of shock too.
      xo

  6. Wow, Laura. I can’t sleep tonight and decided to check my email while eating a snack. I loved reading your phobia essay. I can totally relate. I work on the eighth floor of a building, and I walked up and down those stairs several times a day. All of my coworkers know that I don’t trust the elevator. Sometimes I can bring myself to ride down with others–but not too many others. Who wants to get trapped in there like that? Also, I once had a similar experience waiting on a small plane at O’Hare, only I finally demanded to get off the plane after several hours. I, too, can wrap my head around this phobia intellectually, but no matter!

    • lauramunson

      Emma, you sound like a kindred sister in phobia. I got a plane turned around once too, in sweltering heat in Alabama, waiting on a runway with the engines off and no air. I simply pushed the button and told the flight attendant that there was going to be a medical emergency if they didn’t take the little plane back to the little gate at the little airport, throw me my luggage, and let me DRIVE to Atlanta. Ugh. I felt part idiot, part victor. I’m trying EMDR per Belette’s suggestion, so we’ll see how it goes. I’ll be sharing about it here, so maybe my findings will help you. EMDR is really cool because it goes past the mind into your body and re-maps your reaction. Sometimes, no amount of brain power works, so make sure not to be hard on yourself. You might try EMDR. Thanks for stopping by. yrs. Laura

    • Hi Emma! I have to say, as Laura mentioned, I am a big believer in EMDR for phobias. I know that if I hadn’t found EMDR my life would be very different today. To know why I was afraid of driving wasn’t enough. Through the EMDR I was able to turn down the volume on my anxiety until I no longer felt it. It has been life changing.
      Lovely to meet you!

  7. Both excellent posts! I am a regular follower of Belette’s blog (though I may not always comment I am a faithful reader) and often relate to many of the situations she shares ~ especially her visits with Igor.

    I’m happy to have discovered your blog and will visit again.

    HHL

    • lauramunson

      Thanks for showing up here, HHL! And thanks for your kind words. LBR and I will be exploring phobias all week so come back and say hi. I’ve started doing the EMDR she suggested and VERY interesting things are happening. I’ll have a good chance to practice, as I’m going off to the world of airplanes and elevators for a few weeks. Will tell tales from the road. Look forward to checking out your blog! yrs. Laura

    • Thanks so much, HHL, for following me over here and for your VERY kind comment. I know you will enjoy Laura’s blog as much as I do. She is a WONDERFUL writer and a dear friend. Thanks again!

  8. Phobias fascinate me. I used to be so terrified of bugs that people who have known me since my childhood instinctively protect me from the knowledge that one might be around. Even now. I noted that 2 things were critical in diminishing my (horrendous) fear of any bugs but esp. ones that crawl: I had a kid (and when bugs were around I had to protect her from them), I went on anti-anxiety medication to manage a host of anxiety related issues (incl. panic attacks). I find my fear abates with each year. And it continues to fascinate me. Intriguingly, my father was totally terrified of bugs. I think I learned the fear from him. And, the older I get, the more I think I developed it because it was the only way I felt I could get attention (fundamentally). But that’s a very new perspective.

    • lauramunson

      K-Line– thanks for sharing this. It’s really fascinating to me that your father shared this phobia too. I’ve been exploring this all week doing the EMDR that Belette recommended. My father shared a phobia of being “trapped,” and I wonder if in adopting it myself, it was a way to connect with him. I’m actually writing a blog post about just this thing, so stop by again and feel free to share some more. I’d love to expand upon this. Very interesting. yrs, Laura

    • Hi K-line! Thanks so much for following me over to Laura’s lovely blog. It is so great to see so many of my bloggy friends here.:-)
      I find it so interesting that it is your sense that through your phobia you found a way to connect to your father and to get attention. That is really interesting.
      And I have to tell you that ever since our Twitter chat about phobias was a big awakening for me. I think I may need to write more about that. Thanks for inspiring me.

  9. I stopped by your blog looking for Belette’s article and I am happy that I did because I really liked everything I read.
    As for Belette’s post…what can I say? Mr Agent/Publisher: would you please hurry in publishing Madame LBR’s book so that I can read it and send many copies to my friends and family? Thank you! :)

  10. You two make me feel a little less awkward about my one phobias. For one I feel particularly ridiculous. For the other, I just assume that so many people share it, that it’s not a big deal.

    My phobias are to 1. Bees and 2. Heights.

    My worst nightmare is to be trapped on the top of Sears Tower with a swarm of bees.

    • lauramunson

      Hi, Lisa. Thanks for sharing those. It’s amazing how ashamed we all are about our phobias. I’m so glad we’re doing this. It immediately diffuses them, in my opine. When I’m back in Chicago next week, I’ll look up at the Sears Tower and think of you. The last time we were back, I sent my son up with another relative b/c I couldn’t deal. I loathe how much of life I miss because of my phobias. I can gallop on a horse through a wide open field, but am paralyzed by a metal box. Blech. I wonder if you had a baseline trauma around bees or heights or both… We’ll be blogging about this all week so stop by again! yrs. Laura

      • Hi, Laura. I’m not sure about my fear of heights, but I know when I was about four years old I got stung multiple times by wasps after I sprayed the hose into a Yew bush where they nested. It was my sister’s idea for me to “water” the bush. I believe she has a sister phobia she was trying to eliminate.

        To this day, those droopy bottomed flying fearmongers make me stop whatever I’m doing and move away. I often scream before I can stop myself. It’s incredibly embarrassing and yet I cannot stop myself.

    • Hi Lisa!! Thanks so much for sharing your phobias. I am not a fan of bees. I have never been stung. And when I see when I tend to overreact. I too make a fool of myself whenever I see those “droopy bottomed flying fearmongers”. But I don’t think I have a phobia. I definitely don’t have a fear of heights( not that I want to do any jumps off of bridges) but your nightmare sounds horrible. If I visit the Sears tower this week I will check to see if there are any bees before I get on the elevator!;-)

      And, you make a really good point, fears make us do things against our will. It is if they create an autonomic and reflexive response that bypasses rational thought. That is why EMDR can be so helpful with phobias. EMDR goes deeper than our thoughts to where those reflexive responses originate.

  11. Sarah Pinneo

    When I was younger I had a phobia about vomiting. As it turns out, this is a very common phobia. (I’ve heard it’s the third most common phobia, but the statistic makes me chuckle. Could the scientific powers that be really know with such precision?)

    I was afraid of vomiting, and when I felt even slightly nauseous, it sent me into a little tailspin of fear. On those rare occasions when I was actually ill, I would fight the result for so long that… it was really uncomfortable.

    The psychological reasons can’t be that deeply buried. The body turning itself inside out. The violence. Who wouldn’t be put off?

    Once in awhile, however, a phobia can have a benefit. I never drank in college– only tiny amounts of alcohol– because of the pukey results that I observed in others. This may have saved me from much stupid behavior, or at least several hangovers. I remain to this day the perfect “JAMA drinker.” One glass of wine, or one drink, thank you. According to the current theories, I’ll live to be 150.

    But it’s no longer because I fear vomit. I was cured by my children! But the effect wasn’t instant. I had to observe a couple of cycles of stomach bugs first. I felt green and panicky when they happened. It finally dawned on me that just because someone gets sick in the house, the world doesn’t end. What’s more, the other members of the family don’t swoon with illness at the very start of it. Now? A little puking doesn’t phase me. It’s not the greatest thing, but I don’t dread it the same way.

    Thanks for the great post!

    S. P.

    • lauramunson

      Sarah, thanks so much for sharing! I’m particularly interested in this as one of my chlidren has this same “phobia.” At this point, it’s just dread, but it really makes it hard when the stomach flu comes knocking. It seems you moved through it, and that’s such great news for you and for any of us who has a phobia. I love how you used your “phobia” to stay healthy in college. That’s really beautiful on many levels. Sometimes we have to be in the midst of it to really see that it’s in our perspective. yrs. Laura

    • Hi Sarah! Thanks so much for sharing your phobia. It sounds like you have come a long way and that you did it all on your own. Your method of overcoming your phobia sounds a lot like what they do in Behavioral therapy. You were exposed to your phobia and were desensitized and saw, as you said, that “just because someone gets sick in the house, the world doesn’t end.” Congratulations on overcoming your phobia and for seeing how the phobia served you in drinking in a healthy way.

  12. I don’t like elevators either, don’t trust them actually, and sometimes I walk. But when this is impossible or difficult, I have my own little manias to cope: a cell phone and a book. The phone is to call for help, and the book serves, as it does for so many writers and readers, as a reliable escape route from the prison of the self.

    • lauramunson

      Maggie– the prison of self. I know it well. I’m all about the water bottle. Which is a bummer when there’s no water bottle… THANKS for sharing. yrs. Laura

    • Having a strategy to deal with phobias is so important. The cell phone reminds you that you can call for help if you got stuck and it sounds like it serves as a distraction. And the book gives you a further distraction. Another important way of coping is some positive self-talk, “It is okay to be nervous. I am calm and in control. Elevators represent freedom, and buttons represent choices, elevator doors open to new opportunities. I will breathe slowly and stay calm, and allow myself to under-react. It’s not a big deal.”
      For more elevator phobia help check out this link( the above elevator mantra came from there): http://www.stresscenter.com/mwc/stress-relief-tips/no-lovin-the-elevator.html

  13. Terri

    I am not even sure this is what you would call a phobia but I have this thing about loose hair. In the bathtub, on the floor of a bathroom or in a sink. It just makes me feel sick to my stomach. About 7 years ago I stayed in a motel and when I went into the bathroom there was a very very long piece of black hair stuck to the wall behind the toitlet, that image has stuck in my head and even just writing it down make mes feel sick. I have never tried to get any kind of therapy for this because like I said, not sure it is a phobia. I guess I should look into it because in public restroom it tends to be a problem most every time.

    • lauramunson

      Terri– thanks for sharing this. I’m no therapist, but it sounds like more of a nails-on-the-chalkboard sort of thing. As a writer, it makes me want to turn it into a monster of some sort and take it to battle. yrs. Laura

    • Hi Terri! As a psychodynamic psychotherapist I am fascinated by your aversion to loose hair. If I was working with a client who had such an aversion I would want to hear their associations to loose hair and attempt to discover what it was symbolic of. I would want to know what it reminds you of and perhaps the first time you saw loose hair. Very often the thing( such as the snake or the elevator or the hair) is symbolic of some deeper memory or experience.

  14. Patty Viers

    Hi Laura,

    I have a slight fear of being put under anesthesia for surgery. I once found out two days prior that I needed an outpatient surgery. I am a believer that when you need something, it will come to you – and so it happened the night I found out about my surgery – I was up late reading a book by Sark called Succulent Wild Woman (I highly recommend anything by Sark!) – - when I came across a section on healing (page 58) titled “We also heal in inside locations” – Sarks said in airplanes “speeding through the sky in a metal capsule emphasizes the importance of trust and release of control.” So after I read that I immediately took a deep breath and felt relaxed that it would all be okay. “The importance of trust and release of control” is really what it was about for me. And so wonderful that I needed to hear that and it came to me.

    • lauramunson

      Oh, Patty, thanks for sharing Sark. I will research immediately. I love “the importance of trust and release of control.” I strive to live in that place. Thanks for the inspiration and sharing. yrs. Laura

    • Hi Patty!
      I very often hear from clients that their phobia, whatever it is, makes them feel out of control. Certainly being put under an anesthetic can make one feel vulnerable and out of control. I am so happy to hear that you found a book( or it found you;-) that allowed you to relax and let go of your anxiety. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

  15. I’m so glad the delightful Belette directed me here! What a fantastic post (no surprise).

    As for my phobia – I have but one: large ships. As in BIG ships – such as cruise ships. Note: I’ve got no issues with water. Water and I are good. It’s those floating cities bobbing along on the surface. They’re just wrong. (I believe this whole thing started when I took a tour of the USS Nimitz – a massive aircraft carrier – while it was in the harbor in Anchorage, Alaska. A most impressive vessel, but it messed me up.)

    As for snakes: hate ‘em. But not phobic.

    So glad to be here – thanks for having me!
    :-) Anna

    • lauramunson

      Welcome to my blog, Anna. How interesting. I have an aversion to those horizontal sky scrapers, but a phobia…that’s really interesting. I can rememeber having a claustrophobia moment as a kid at the Museum of Science and Industry in the submarine, and often dream I’m stuck in one. I really admire those people who become denizens down deep in the sea. May you never have to take a Disney cruise. yrs. Laura

    • Hi Anna!! Thank you so much for coming over to Laura’s wonderful blog. And thanks so much for your very nice comment.
      I have been on cruises and I hate ‘em but I am not phobic. Not true. I loved the Alaska cruise. All other cruises were torture that I endured in the name of family fun.
      Do you have any interest in getting over your phobia or are you okay with never sailing the QE2?

  16. I’m afraid of airplanes. But now that you’ve mentioned elevator phobia you’ve planted a new “fear” seed in my head. Lord knows I can’t be afraid of planes and elevators or I’ll never leave sea level. I’ve had a “fear of flying” long before Erica Jong gave the name to a book. Nope, way way back to childhood. I would get to the airport with my family trembling and nauseous. Truthfully I have no idea why. Could I have been afraid of leaving home? That’s even scarier and begs tales of how I never went to over night camp.

    In grammar school I wrote a short story about a plane crash. Again I have no idea why. Perhaps to work out my irrational fear, but unlikely as I was too young to read Freud. The worst part is I can’t remember the flight number I gave the plane so every time I take a trip I’m convinced it’s the same flight number I used in my story and that I was prescient as a ten year old and I’m now going to die. Crazy but true. As a result I’m certain I’ve booked myself on the fatal trip every time I fly. I need a drink.

    Drinking was a good way to ameliorate my fear of flying. I have been spotted in airport bars at 7:00a.m. My second husband declared that if anything did happen I’d be too drunk to save myself. Ha!

    I turned to anti-anxiety meds which worked during the flight but I arrived medicated, groggy and unable to recognize where I was and why. Day one of my trip was down the drain. Crap.

    Now I try and fly “cold turkey.” “Try” being the operative word. Having lived to over 50 I think if anything happened it would be a really really bad few minutes and then poof! That cheap philosophical point of view is either the Satre or Pollyanna in me.

    Unable to completely shake the memory of the short story I wrote 45 years ago I can still be spotted in the airport bar – but not before noon.

    • Hi Gail!
      Well, I suppose you can arrange to fly during “Happy Hour”. ;-)
      As a post-Freudian therapist I do wonder what your short story was *really* about. I wonder if in deconstructing that story if you might find any winged migration that you need to do to be more delightful and find less of a need for cocktail-courage.

  17. How fun to click through from Facebook and see these fascinating phobia stories from both Laura and LBR on Laura’s blog!

    I’m ok with elevators but can relate to not liking the tiny one in the English department.

    LBR’s “30-something version of Driving Ms. Daisy” reference cracked me up.

    I have the snake fear, and definitely the fear of being trapped on a hot airplane for hours. Also I get concerned about whether there will be a clean restroom with toilet available when I need one — Turkish toilets don’t count. In France and Italy we would sometimes encounter these and I couldn’t use them. I had to leave and try the next town further down the road. Then I learned about GoGirl (http://www.go-girl.com/) used by female US military personnel, backpackers, etc. and this will be my secret weapon next time we travel in rural parts of Europe.

    I look forward to more of this discussion. Thanks for featuring the fabulous LBR!

    • Hi Susan! Thank you so much!!!So fun to see you here. And it is fantastic for me to be here. Laura is so very generous to invite me to share my fears with her readers.
      I do have to tell you that I really imagined that for the next 50 years I would be chauffeured around. I am so happy that EMDR has allowed me to move from the back seat to the drivers seat.

  18. enc

    Phobias are inexplicable, yet completely based in reality. Our reality. Aren’t they?

    I really got a lot out of reading about Belette’s phobias, and how she dealt with them. The stories are (simultaneously) harrowing and inspiring.

    • Hi Enc! Phobias feel real and yet they aren’t always rational or subjectively real. Reality testing is an important part of dealing with phobias.

      Thanks so much for your VERY kind comment.

    • lauramunson

      Hi, enc. I’m not sure that the mind is always in control of them. Or if the mind is so used to sending the body into an adrenal rush, that it’s almost impossible to put on the brakes. But I love the potential re-mapping in EMDR. Thanks for showing up here! yrs. Laura

  19. Sarah Baughman

    I’m interested in the fact that in a way, La Belette’s fear seemed socially constructed– her initial experience with snakes was innocent and even positive, soon tainted by her mother’s reaction as opposed to her own initial instinct. Meanwhile, Laura’s fear is based on a deeply personal reaction to small spaces, one that hypothetically could have begun in the womb! Only in adulthood did she move to a place that offers a daily antidote for this old phobia. Overcoming either phobia, of course, requires conscious effort.

    My phobias go together: I’m afraid of flying and of moving. I wasn’t always this way– as a child, I loved sitting in a window seat for takeoff, watching a large world suddenly shrink to the size of my dollhouses. On my walks to school, I used to fantasize about moving to other houses in our neighborhood– usually stately brick ones with highly fenced backyards. I liked mystery and the slices of those hidden gardens viewed through a wooden slat or cracked door left just enough to my imagination.

    But I remember a plane trip in high school that changed everything; for some reason, looking out the window, I suddenly realized the plane was riding on nothing more than air, that it could suddenly drop, that the world I found so manageably tiny from the clouds could suddenly loom large and even kill me. Ever since, I’ve hated planes and I’ve yearned to stay in the same place.

    Ironically, I’ve been moving ever since. My husband and I have lived on three different continents since marrying six years ago. Our most recent move brought us, along with our toddler and dog, to Germany. Both on the plane and in my new life, I have to work on appreciating moments instead of concentrating on a possible future. Rather than worrying about whether our plane will crash or how long we’ll live where we are or whether or not we’ll be able to truly “settle down” and when, I work hard to focus on the present. For example: “At this moment, our plane is flying safely through the sky and my son is on my lap reading a book and we are fine. I am thankful.” Or: “At this moment, I am riding my bicycle past a field of sunflowers on my way to a farmers’ market, where I will speak German and buy a carrot for my son. This is a good day to be alive.” It’s not always easy for me, but I do think it is an important exercise, because ultimately even permanent things are more transient than we think, and life is ultimately a series of moments to be appreciated anyway.

    Thank you to Laura and La Belette for this great topic!

    • lauramunson

      “I have to work on appreciating moments instead of concentrating on a possible future” Thanks for sharing, Sarah. Beautifully written too! I love your “At this moment” movie, because it’s so true. All we have is now, and when we let go of the past and the future, the fear melts away. I think it’s so true that we can re-tell ourselves our story, and we can put the positive where there is usually the negative. Positive begets positive. So I’m not even visiting the story of getting on that small airplane on Tuesday or taking all those elevators in NYC and Chicago. I’m just packing and focusing on right now. It’s so freeing. Still, we’ll see how it goes in the next few weeks. Can’t wait to share it from the road. Thanks for showing up here on THESE HERE HILLS! May you have fields of sunflowers and many bike rides. yrs. Laura

    • Dear Sarah: I relate so very much to your comment. I have a blog post up over at my place about “Home-a-phobia” that I think you might relate to.
      Your insight about focusing on the present moment is a key one for dealing with phobias. When we are gripped by the anxiety that comes with a phobia all of our fears are about future tense and not now. Now we are okay and not dying or losing control. We tell ourselves that is what will happen if we don’t get out if the situation. Telling ourselves that at this moment we are okay. Is a simple but extraordinarily powerful tool. Thank you!

  20. I have an older half brother with a strong sadistic streak. When I was little and he was babysitting, he would pick me up by the ankles and hang me over the upstairs railing, saying, “Your gonna fall.”
    One day, he dropped me. All of this “wrestling” as he called it, created a terror of heights that rears it’s ugly head at very inconvenient times.
    When I was the general contractor on our house, I would have to walk up the construction stairs (no railing). Breathe. When our family went on a horse pack trip through Yellowstone this summer (I am an expert rider) and we faced narrow trails with steep drop offs, breathe.
    I have somewhat mastered the phobia by breathing, but I cannot say I am cured. But I will not be defined by my childhood, my half brother, or my fears.
    Breathing can never be overrated.

    • Thanks so much, Mary, for sharing your story. I had to breathe when I read it! Breathing, I think, does bring us into the present moment. Breath says, “I am alive now. I don’t need to stop breathing. I am okay. I can take in life.” All of these messages are important in reality testing a phobia.

  21. I’m going to do the reward chart – to motivate me. I won’t say what about but thank you it is a wonderful idea and as always you are so inspiring.

  22. This sentence jumped out at me, Laura! Profound.

    Maybe freedom starts in giving yourself a break for who you are and what scares you. Especially when what scares you is not outside you. It’s just plain old you. That’s good news, right? It means there’s room for growth. I am dedicated to that growth.

    I do think change of any kind comes from a gentle look at ourselves, not a stern, unforgiving stare. It’s all about kindness to self — and , yes, I also forget at times, but it’s a pleasant reminder when I do remember that kindness begins within.

    Loved the post, Laura; hope to see you @ Sunny Room Studio soon … talking about “A Generous Spirit” … and I think you definitely are one! Best wishes, Daisy

    • lauramunson

      Hi, Daisy. It’s so true that a kind, gentle approach is so important and so much more effective. I really work at this one. Not always easy for me. I”ll stop by sunny room now. Thanks for stopping by here. yrs. Laura

    • Sunny Room studio sounds like I lovely place to be. I am hoping it is a blog and not a place in Montana. If it is a blog I will definitely stop by.

  23. Dear Laura,

    This is my first visit to your blog by invitation of La Belette Rouge. I must say I enjoyed your writing and the story you shared. It was intriguing, especially since I am a person who walks in fear in general, but I realized that fear of elevators and close spaces are not one of my fears. But your writing reminds me that we all have fears and many of us have phobias. Will they ever be ‘cured?’ Or is it that we find a way around them…

    There is a saying my mom shares that I like, she says ‘we do the best we can.’ I like this saying, it leaves so much room for being human.

    Thanks a bunch for what you have shared. btw… the wide open spaces of Montana sounds exisite! do enjoy:)

  24. dear Belette,

    “star by star, and sticker by sticker.” i absolutely adore this phrase of yours. i have many fears but i have always thought, that is the way it is. the idea of learning to get past my fears has never been a consideration really. your writing opens my eyes to there being ways to move past the stuff that scares us, spooks us. hmmm. i’ve much to think about. i must admit, there are a number of areas in my life i would like some stars and some stickers signifying how i got past the stuff that scares me and holds me back. …yup, much food for thought and thanks for the resources. very nicely written!

    • Thanks so much for coming over to lovely Laura’s blog. Fears are often lies that we tell ourselves. And, yes, we can tell ourselves another story. Creating my sticker sheet I was telling myself that I had evidence that I could get over the fear and in anticipating that one day the page would be filled I was preparing for my success. Sending you virtual stickers, stars and hugs.

  25. I am so sorry about these phobias and appreciate your sharing of stories! This is my chance to plug for Flower Essence Remedies…for UNKNOWN fears you can take Bach Flower Essence Remedy Aspen, for KNOWN fears, you can take Mimulus. Find them at Whole Foods or most “Natural” markets.
    LBR, I remember something like…when you dream of getting bit by a snake that means you are to become a therapist or something like that?Please refresh my memory!
    I believe phobias of closed in spaces means we feel like we are going to loose our space… our freedom… moving somewhere physically and feeling closed in might mean we are feeling like “there is no space for me”ie, this was not my choice to move here… not my plan… not the life I planned here?
    I feel that there is never enough space for any one of us so—- Congratulations to you both for being so brave as to face your fears. I love the way you both write. Keep it coming!

    • lauramunson

      Thank you, dear one. I am going to be in the land of Whole Foods and natural markets for two weeks, and I will find the MIMULUS. I love the name. ox to you. Laura

  26. Laurie Szymanski

    I was on my way to church with my son who is 16, looking at colleges, thinking about his future career and my husband. I mentioned your blog about phobias. I said no phobias came to mind for me. My son Sam leaned his car seat back and said he thought I was afraid of his leaving me when he goes to college. I thought some about that. My children have been a major part of my life for these past 16 years and I do fear the change a coming. Not being needed does not mean I am not loveable. I am looking forward with hope to a new kind of relationship with them. Now I have more time, new oportunities to spread my wings myself instead of being focused on supporting them as much. I like the phrase “fear of flying.” Well they are about to do just that and I am too.

    • lauramunson

      “Not being needed does not mean I am not loveable.” Laurie, these are such powerful words. I too fear this empty nest, even though I have such a strong drive to write and travel and am comfortable in my own skin. Still…the mother role is so huge in my life. I almost can’t even think of them not being here in this house. I love your attitude. Does not sound at all phobic. I love that your son realizes, however, that this is a transition for you too. Really says a lot about your relationship. So sweet. yrs. Laura I want to hear more about how your wings are going to spread. Inspiratoin for us all!

  27. Hmmmm. Methinks the fear I have of heights (especially on any carnival rides) most likely has roots in the day my mother took my sister and me on the Ferris Wheel at our state fair. My mother was terrified of heights. Terrified. When the wheel stopped with us at the very tip-top she dug her long fingernails into each of our hands on either side of her and said repeatedly, “Don’t look down, girls. Don’t look down. Look over at the mountains. Don’t look down.” Thank you for solving a question I’ve had for a long time. :) (And, as you are aware, you were instrumental in my overcoming my fear of driving into and around Portland–something I’d not done in all my years living in Oregon. I did it to brunch with you and those other fine bloggers and it felt great grow beyond that one. I will be driving to Lake Oswego for another blogger meet-up in October and then to meet that guy I’ve known since youth who is on your FB friends for lunch when he visits his daughter in Portland over Thanksgiving.)

    • lauramunson

      Lydia– thanks for showing up here and for sharing your heights story. Glad you got through the driving phobia. You give us all hope! I’m travelling around right now on book promo, so I apologize that your comment was only today approved. I’m sure LBR will see it and respond. Sounds like I would have loved to be at that lunch too! yrs. Laura

  28. Laura, Thank you for hosting LaBelette here. Your two pieces go nicely together. I have no paralyzing fears, though I do have situations (or family vacations) that I approach with reservations bordering on trepidation. ;)

    • lauramunson

      Probably a wise and deep instinct that has to do with self preservation? Thanks for showing up here. I’m honored to have LBR’s cyber friends at my blog. yrs. Laura

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