…haven’t ridden the subway in ten years. And I live in Manhattan.
As long-time readers know, I’m very claustrophobic and have a phobia of elevators and subways. I’ve had panic attacks on the subway and even thinking about it makes me shaky and short of breath. In the past, I could avoid subways relatively easily because we lived in downtown Manhattan, so we were central enough to walk or bike most places. I worked from home, so I didn’t have to commute to work. When I needed to travel farther, I took the bus or biked (in rain/sleet/snow) or sometimes splurged on cabs or (often) decided not to go. Alex always said I didn’t realize how much I shaped my life so that I didn’t have to take the train, which I now realize is true.
Do you have a phobia? I asked some lovely women I know, and they revealed their irrational fears…
“I have a fear of being grabbed by my ankles. It’s so random! I do weird things, like check over my shoulder obsessively when I’m walking up a long staircase and jump into my bed from a distance (in case someone is underneath). My brothers used to mess with me and grab my ankles when we were kids, and it would cause a complete meltdown. Sometimes when I hear scary stories or see something scary in a movie, my ankles get scared and I have to cross them for protection!” —Reagan
“Milk. I know. I babysit on evenings and weekends, so I have to deal with milk all the time, but I hate it. When I have kids of my own, I’m planning to breastfeed but just not look down.” —Gina
“Caterpillars. Horribly, horribly phobic. Any kind…from inchworms to the wooly ones to the spiky ones. Mostly I run as fast and far away as possible. Like, I irrationally break into a sprint. As a kid, I used to avoid walking under trees because I thought they’d fall on me.” —Youngna
“I’m terrified of other people’s spit. I think it’s the grossest thing ever. For as long as I can remember, I haven’t been able to share a drink with anyone, not even from a straw. I imagine their spit germs multiplying in the beverage, doing a little celebratory dance like cartoon sea monkeys released into the sea. If someone takes a sip from my drink, I don’t want to offend them, so I quietly put it down and never pick it up again. (Yes, somehow, I am still okay with kissing.)” —Caroline
“Spiders. Even drawings of spiders make me feel panicky. Once I was reading the New Yorker, and there was an insurance ad with a photo of a spider. I completely freaked out. Now, before reading any magazines, I make my husband go through them and ‘de-spider’ them.” —Cheryl
“I HATE (slash won’t do it slash have a legit panic attack) driving across bridges. I’m fine with anyone else driving, but I myself can’t drive over them. I hate that there’s no shoulder, I can’t stop or pull over, etc. It’s more the lack of exit options than the height (as I feel the same way about crowded interstates). It’s awful. If I’m driving and approach a bridge, I pull over, get yelled at by my husband that I pulled over, then make him drive across. Or, more often, I just opt not to drive places.” —Sarah
“I have trypophobia [ed. note: don’t google it!]: fear of closely clustered porous circles. I usually see them in nature documentaries, at museums, or occasionally on food (like really seedy strawberries). I’m not afraid of regular circles, but closely gathered circles that look like pores. It makes me super physically uncomfortable and itchy. Thinking about it literally sends shivers up my spine.” —Kate
“I used to be very phobic of riding the elevator by myself. I could do it if someone else was in the elevator, but not alone. So I’d get in the elevator and wait to see what floors the other people pressed, and then I’d just get off at the floor closest to the floor I was going to and take the stairs the rest of the way. A few times I told complete strangers about my fear and asked them to ride the elevator with me. People were always very nice. It was during a very anxious time in my life; phobias were an extension of the general anxiety I was feeling. They lasted for about two years before they went away, and now I have no phobias at all. —Lina
“Nightmares about snakes are some of my earliest memories. The skinnier the snake, the scarier. I’d rather be in a room with a python than with a garden snake. I encountered many snakes growing up in Mississippi, in the garage, on the patio, in the lake. Mississippi is a very snake-y place. I am terrified of a freshwater’s edge. I never step in uncut grass, even in someone’s yard, without shoes. I’m always on the lookout for areas where a snake could be when I’m outdoors. I’ve NEVER felt so TOTALLY FREE in the outdoors as when I was in Hawaii because they have NO SNAKES!!! I swam in the natural pools and tromped through the bamboo forests. It was glorious.” —Jessi
(Illustration by Adrian Tomine)