Wheaton’s Way

Not just FOMO - the fear of missing out

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the definition of the word ‘phobia’ is: An extreme fear or dislike of a particular thing or situation, especially one that is not reasonable.

I thought that Cambridge was a reputable source, but clearly not, as – in my opinion – it is completely reasonable to be terrified of frogs.

Why are some of us scared of things, while others can blissfully wander through life with a tarantula in one hand and a snake in the other, walking a tightrope over the Grand Canyon?

I’ve learned, as I’ve matured (ahem), that our phobias can change throughout our lives, and things that didn’t bother us when we were younger really morph into bugaboos when we’re older.

As a kid, I was not scared of heights (acrophobia) at all. My mother, however, was a different story. Brat that I was, when the family was on vacation, I would sometimes sit on the edge of a mountain, even though I knew it would make her knees buckle to see it.

The poor woman was forced to accompany me and my sister on some theme park rides, while dad would take the boys. She drew the line at Ferris wheels.

Now I completely understand, because even though I’m fine with rollercoasters, you would not catch me dead on some other lofty contraptions. When I watch those videos of people gingerly making their way across a rickety bridge constructed of what looks like cobwebs and popsicle sticks, hanging over a ravine, my feet hurt and I start to sweat profusely.

The year that friends and I went to Las Vegas and some decided to partake of the vomit-inducing rides at the top of the Stratosphere, I could barely watch them through the windows of the observation room, planting myself firmly against the wall.

When it comes to creepy crawlies (entomophobia and arachnophobia), I’m fine, but others, not so much. When my best friend Lynne moved to Cayman in 1991, we had barely met before she was urgently knocking on the door of my apartment, asking me to remove a large roach (katsaridaphobia) that was standing between her and her front door. No problem – I had already dated a few by then, so I had the benefit of experience.

It took a while for her to adjust to the size of bugs in the Caribbean, but now she’s much better, although the discovery of roaches’ ability to fly caused a bit of a setback in ‘93.

When I was a child growing up in Cayman, there was nothing like the kind of development there is now and doors and windows were open more often than not. Air-conditioning wasn’t as prevalent, so you needed the outdoor breezes running through the house in order to stay cool. This also allowed access to members of Ma Nature’s family.

Many was the night this impressionable young lady would go to switch on the light for the dark garage, only to first get a handful of frog. It was not a pleasant sensation. What with that, and the ones that hid in the folds of one of the shower curtains, I ended up with a real aversion to Kermit’s relatives (ranidaphobia). I don’t wish them ill, just don’t jump on me.

I might have felt like a wuss about this, had ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ not premiered in 1981. Heck, if Indiana Jones could have a problem with snakes (ophidiophobia) – which I have not – let me have my froggy phobia.

Heights, enclosed spaces, bugs, snakes and frogs are fairly typical targets of people’s fears, but there is a huge host of phobias out there for many of us yet to explore.

For example, actor Billy Bob Thornton has a fear of antique furniture (epiplaphobia), although apparently he has said he doesn’t mind a chair or two. It’s the oversized stuff from places like England and Scotland – heavy drapes, lion head-carved pieces, etc. – that creep him out. Here’s a question: how does he know it’s genuinely antique? There are a lot of fakes out there. He could be a huge asset on ‘Antiques Roadshow’. Forget all the research needed to authenticate something – just get Billy Bob in front of it, and if he runs, screaming, the owner can start shopping auction houses.

Clowns (coulrophobia) aren’t favourites of Johnny Depp or Daniel Radcliffe, which might have been mockable before Stephen King’s ‘It’ came into the picture, but now could be absolutely justified. And apparently La Toya Jackson suffers from ailurophobia – a fear of cats. I’ll just leave that one there.

There is a difference between a dislike and extreme fear of something. Only the latter should really be classed as a phobia, but then who has the energy? I’d love to know how they come up with the names for these phobias. I’m sure the Latin derivation is in there somewhere, but does a round table of great brains dread each new request for a classification, worried that they’ll have to create another term? How do they decide if something genuinely qualifies as a phobia? These are the fascinating questions that cross my mind at 2am when there is precious little to watch on TV.

I have one other fear to admit – I hate static electricity (a kind of electrophobia).

Whenever a group of us would go to Vegas, I’d spend half the time trying to figure out how to stop getting shocked by the metal button to call the lift, shelves in shops and the frames of slot machines. Vegas is the perfect combination of dry air and endless carpet – it’s like home base for static electricity.

Now that I think about it, maybe – in a way – it’s my body’s way of unconsciously repelling the lure of Sin City. Let’s call it a combination of ehsanophobia (fear of expending money) and peniaphobia (fear of poverty).

Support local journalism. Subscribe to the all-access pass for the Cayman Compass.

Subscribe now