People Admit Their Strangest Phobias
Claustrophobia is so last season.
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
Obviously you've got you mainstream phobias—arachnophobia, agoraphobia, claustrophobia—which come backed up with a ton of research, official Greek and Latin names, and lengthy Wikipedia pages. But guess what? Those phobias are for lame-stream normies. There are a ton of underground, alternative phobias for people who reject the dominant narrative—the kind of stuff that won't be appearing in a Stephen King novel or during an episode of Fear Factor any time soon.
We spoke to a few people who suffer from weird phobias to find out what got them to this place in their life and what happens when they accidentally touch a mug in the office kitchen.
VICE: What's your weird phobia?
Josie: I can't look at the inside of wrists. If I talk about them, I start uncontrollably burping, which turns into heaving. If someone presses mine, I scream or burst out crying, and it is a constant source of annoyance for people trying to stamp my wrists when getting into clubs.
What is it about wrists that grosses you out?
I think the delicacy of the skin on them and, for some reason, the idea of there being a lot of pressure in the thick vein so close to the surface. I'm heaving thinking about it now.
Where do you think the phobia originated from?
I'm really phobic of injections and blood tests, and I think it's probably related. I think it originates from being in hospital a lot as a child. When I was younger, I was fine with it all, but now I feel really faint and grossed out and nervous even getting my pulse taken. My worst job in the whole world would be a phlebotomist [someone who injects veins]—I don't think I could even do that for $900,000 a year.
"It has been awkward in sexual situations. If someone is holding your arms down above your head, it's alarming for them if you start retching or crying."
So you wouldn't ever get a wrist tattoo?
I would only be able to do that if I was on Quaaludes, laughing gas, and a Valium while blindfolded and listening to a whale song. But that might not even work.
Does it ever lead to awkward situations, aside from during blood tests and getting your wrist stamped?
It has been awkward in sexual situations. If someone is holding your arms down above your head, it's alarming for them if you start retching or crying. Or kick them. I've never actually been arrested, but I don't know if I'd be able to be exonerated if police tried to use those thick cable tie handcuffs on me. I think about that a lot.
I hope you never get arrested.
Thank you. Me too.
What's your deal?
Dennis: I used to be frightened of oranges. At 27, I'm semi-OK with them and can just about be in the same room as someone eating one. But I used to be so bad I almost got kicked off a flight for having a panic attack because someone was eating a fruit salad.
What did you find gross about them?
I think it was the smell that really didn't appeal to me. My mom had to be really careful not to buy cleaning products that smelled strongly of oranges because it would set me off. But it has to be the real thing to set me off. I had to take days off of school when we made Christingles.
So what happens when you smell oranges now?
Now, I just feel uncomfortable, but I'm able to cope. In the past, my adrenaline would rise, I'd start to fidget, I would get very fight or flight, sweaty, shortness of breath, and then go into a full panic attack.
How did you overcome the phobia?
I didn't even really have to try that hard. Just from the process of there being times when I did have to cope with it, I eventually found I could cope with it.
Tell me about your phobia.
Emma: I'm not a fan of small holes—it's certain types of clusters, mainly things that have fleshy textures but not everything. For example, honeycomb is fine, but coral is not. I know some people get freaked out by pores, and if they are magnified on skin, as do I.
So no YouTube pimple-popping videos for you?
That doesn't freak me out as much as some things, but it's hard to explain without seeing them. It's called trypophobia, but I can't look at any articles about it because of the pictures.
So what things freak you out in everyday life? Are there things you try to avoid?
Yesterday some pineapple had a seed pod in it, and that set me off. Today I saw a vase that had the textures of small holes all over it, and I couldn't look at it.
How long have you been scared of small holes?
It definitely developed as I got older; I would say the past eight years or so. I'm not sure where it came from, but now that it's here, I can't shake it. I don't think I was like this was when I was little.
What exactly is it about them that freaks you out? Can you pinpoint it?
It's the clusters of them, the way it looks. It feels like I need to fill them in. Or destroy them. If it's a single hole, it doesn't freak me out at all.
All rabbits? Even cute baby ones?
Yeah. I just feel really uneasy around them. I tried to face my fear and held one at a friend's house recently, but I didn't enjoy it.
What is it about them that you don't like?
No one thing in general, but there is something sinister about rabbits that the general public fails to recognize.
What do you think the sinister rabbit plot is?
If I knew, then maybe I'd be less worried.
What's your weird phobia?
Kim: I'm terrified of those people who work in historic sites as actors and act like they're from the Victorian times, and you're there like, "I know you're from the fucking Victorian times, you're called Jonno, and you use electricity. Just stop it." I think it's called museum theater, and it's my fucking nemesis.
Did you have a traumatic incident at the London Dungeons as a child?
No. The first time it happened was on a school trip to some Victorian mill place. I was already feeling weirdly agitated, so when this dude in a top hat was talking about how he worked as a candlestick maker and did stuff by firelight I got really angsty and shouted: "But you have a television, don't you! Just admit you have a television!" Then I got sent outside the cottage to calm down because I was so stressed.
"Fuck the London Dungeons, fuck the Victorian mill, fuck the Stockport Hat Factory."
What were you feeling?
Unreasonably panicky and agitated—I wanted to get away from the lying Victorian man as soon as possible when I realized he wouldn't drop the act. I stood outside and had to calm myself down for like ten minutes alone and breathe properly; then for the rest of the trip, I was on edge and kept saying, "I'm obviously not going in there" to every new Victorian shop we came across and just stood outside like a martyr.
Have there been any further incidents with fake Victorians since then, or have you just stayed clear?
There have been no further incidents because I stay away. Fuck the London Dungeons, fuck the Victorian mill, fuck the Stockport Hat Factory.
Tell me about your irrational fear.
India: I fucking hate anchors—they make my skin crawl. I can't stand the thought of the density and all the energy that passes through them—all that water, all that boat, all those rocks, all fighting.
What are your symptoms when you see an anchor?
I feel overwhelmed. The back of my neck feels really vulnerable. My chest feels like it has a balloon being blown up in it. I just want to get away from it. My palms are getting sweaty thinking about it now.
Does it impact trips to the seaside?
Well, I'm on guard—I expect to see one so will keep an eye out and give it a wide berth. My walk to work takes me over Bristol harborside, and there's a boat with its anchor nestled in the side of it. I have to keep my eyes on it as I pass by to make sure it's... I don't know, staying over there? I hate how big they look out of water but then how tiny they are in the sea.
Do you remember a particular incident that triggered the phobia, or have you always had it?
I used to play on them when I was a child. I only remember this being a thing from my early 20s.
Have you ever considered anchor therapy? Or is it not big enough of a deal?
No. I have plenty other things I'd like to have talked out of me before this—I can avoid anchors pretty well.
What's your phobia?
I am afraid of anything fuzzy—cotton, wool, dish sponges, tennis balls, felt… for some reason, whenever I see or think about those things I imagine them touching teeth, and it sends shivers down my spine.
What grosses you out about them?
It's difficult to describe; it's just the texture itself, and I think the ambiguity of the boundary? Like, cotton is a solid, but it's almost cloud-like, and that creeps me out.
When did you figure out you were scared of fuzzy stuff?
I'm not sure exactly. I was definitely cool with it when I was a kid, but I think doing the dishes is what set it off—I'm just repulsed by the green side of the sponge. Looking at it alone is OK, but that always leads me to imagine someone biting into it for some reason, which is what I get scared of. The idea of human teeth coming into contact with something fuzzy.
How do you deal with doing dishes?
I wear gloves, so it's not directly touching my skin, but I still hate every second of it, and I can't stop the whole imagining it touching teeth thing, which makes me feel physically sick, but I just suffer through it.
I hear you have a phobia of mugs. What's the deal?
Ben: I hate touching them—they're fucking weird. Why would you drink out of something that means you can't see what you're drinking?
How do you drink hot drinks?
I don't—I hate hot liquids: tea, coffee, hot chocolate, custard. I got really into hot honey and lemon last winter and kept making it in a glass until one smashed and my girlfriend bought me a glass mug.
Would you drink a cold drink out of a mug?
No. I don't even like touching them; they gross me out.
Have you made any progress in conquering your fears?
I recently made my girlfriend a cup of tea for the first time, so that's something.