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Poll: Do You Have Any Irrational Fears?

NO!!! NO!!!

NO!!! NO!!!

When I was very young–too young to remember this–my dad and I were in the ocean when we got dragged out by the tide.  We went under several times and finally made it back to shore.  I can’t remember if someone rescued us or if we just got lucky.  I doubt I was older than two or three, but these days, even walking towards the ocean gives me the chills.

Sometimes even thinking about it gets me all worked up. I’m sure it’s a leftover, buried deep in my brain below the level of conscious thought.  It has followed across a couple of decades.

Fear is a fascinating thing.


This may be the least rational thing you’ll hear today, but I am terrified of sharks and giant squids.  You may say, “Well, sharks are scary, there’s nothing wrong with that.”  But what I’m talking about is more like a phobia.  Terror.  A dread that I can’t explain.  I can easily explain why I don’t want to be gnawed apart by insane sea beasts.

But I can’t explain why the thought of a giant squid makes my stomach twist.  Too much 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea? Perhaps.

But perhaps not.

No Danger

I’m probably never going to bump into a shark on the streets of Salt Lake City.  Or a giant squid, for that matter. But when I was in Washington D.C., I saw a giant squid at the Smithsonian.  Combined with my fear of the ocean and the amount of books about sea monsters that I’ve read, I started shaking and my teeth started chattering right there on the spot.

Even though I don’t go to the ocean much, I have a hard time doing much more than wading.  I get up to about my knees and all I can think of is a giant squid flying through the air to bite me with its crazy beak.  Or a shark grabs my foot and drags me out to sea to eat me.

But I’ve never really been in danger, other than that time I was on my dad’s back.  And again–I have no recollection of that.

And while I find the ocean terrifying to think about, I had nearly as much trouble at Lake Powell once.  Dark water.  Deep water.  It makes my hair stand on end.

Where do phobias come from?

Anyways,  what makes a phobia a phobia?  I am no danger from these things that scare me.  But the thought of them freaks me out and if I spend a minute thinking about the bottom of the ocean, my heart starts pounding and I feel sick.

You’ve probably seen talk shows like Maury Povich where someone is terrified of tinfoil or balloons.  They start screaming and rolling on the floor and sobbing the second someone unwraps a baked potato and they see the gleaming silver foil.  I don’t know if that stuff is real, but it doesn’t seem like it’s much more irrational than these things that scare me.

Again: why would I or anyone else be scared of something that poses no danger to them?

What about you?  Any phobias?

Josh–aka timid queen of the seven seas.

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  • Mystic October 10, 2009, 1:39 am

    Yes. I totally understand this. I’m terrified of ‘ghosts’ and ‘blood’.. needles and stuff. It freaks me out.

    I remember that four nurses had to hold me tightly just so that the doctor could take my blood sample. Yes, it’s that bad.

    In fact, I have never really watched horror movies in my life (except The Ring.. that too, tightly holding on to my much younger sister).

    I don’t know how I got this fear. Perhaps in early childhood. But I will try to get over it because sometimes it’s just not fun being in this.

    I’m reading a book on NLP, and how it can help. Well, everything sounds simple enough.. but nothing somes easy.

    I enjoy your blog.


  • Mary W. October 10, 2009, 2:04 am

    Pretty much most people are scared of sharks, especially after Shark Week. However, it becomes irrational when they refuse to swim in backyard pools, small lakes, or wade across rivers.

    I’m terrified when I pass semi trucks on the highway. Although, I’d like to think it’s not irrational since I got plowed into by a semi truck when I passed it on the highway once.

  • Stefan October 10, 2009, 3:05 am

    Well, I wouldn’t call it a phobia but I’m not very fond of spiders. Most certainly something my mother passed on to me in my childhood, but it still feels a bit pathetic since they are so much smaller. My willpower is bigger so I have no problem handling them, but there is always a feeling inside of me saying “noo”.

  • We Fly Spitfires October 10, 2009, 4:21 am

    I have a ton of irrational fears. I have therapists refer to as “catastrophic thoughts” which essentially means I will always picture the most dire, worst-case scenario of any situation I encounter. My mind can leap from a simple suggestion to the thought of my myself losing my job or dying.

    I’m also terrified of spiders. But they deserve my fear.

  • Nikki H. October 10, 2009, 6:21 am

    I don’t have many irrational fears (plenty of justified anxiety, though), and I actually like most arthropods, but…

    House centipedes. I’ve never been bitten by one, but house centipedes are hairy, lightning-fast death on way, way too many legs. And they’re always scurrying out from someplace that makes me feel extra vulnerable…my closet, the bathtub drain just as I step into the shower…


    • Josh Hanagarne October 10, 2009, 7:17 am

      @Pete: Do they have 12 step programs for that where they force you in a child a time?

      @NIkki: My sister just had a horrifying battle with a centipede in her bathtub. They’re creepy little monsters.

      @Spitfires: My brother in law shares your fear of spiders. And I totally get how thoughts–usually only negative thoughts–can escalate. The mind is a surreal little playground.

      @Stefan: All right, that’s two mentions of spiders. I’m predicting they win by the end of the day. (they win the mentions, not that spiders finally win over humanity)

      @Mary: Yes, Shark Week, my arch enemy. I think your semi fear is legit. I’ve been run off the road once, so has my mom, and here you are now.

      @mystic: What is NLP?

  • Pete | The Tango Notebook October 10, 2009, 6:46 am

    I have a cultural phobia of being old and not married with a family of 7 kids (which grow up to be future employees of my family business). Love that Greek culture!

  • Pete | The Tango Notebook October 10, 2009, 7:20 am


    The 12 steps involve one pregnancy per year for the poor wife! And forget multiple births, traditional Greeks like to do things the hard way; one at a time, brother!

    • Josh Hanagarne October 10, 2009, 7:39 am

      Pete: All right. I’d be scared too. I’m going to have a gyro at Yanni’s today in SLC. I’m going to do some fact checking and make sure you’re not tricking me about multiple births.

  • Ben (from TIC) October 10, 2009, 9:58 am

    I have a fear of having no place to go to the bathroom when I’m out all day. “Sorry sir, restrooms are for customers only.” “What’s the cheapest thing on the menu?” “That would be the caviar.” “NO!” (Wakes up in a cold sweat and runs to the bathroom).

    • Josh Hanagarne October 10, 2009, 10:03 am

      Ben: I hate caviar but I like bathrooms.

      Victoria: I’m glad to hear that Mr. Basbanes is as cool as he seems like he’d be. I’m jealous.

  • Gayze October 10, 2009, 10:02 am

    Just reading the post caused the jitters as my first-thought response came to mind. Yep, Josh, I do have one totally irrational fear, that I’ve pondered for a very long time, and come up with some rather off-beat conclusions of “why” that everyone here would laugh at, I’m sure. So I won’t voice them.

    The Titanic.

    Since early childhood, whenever anything about the Titanic would come up, I’d wind up shaking and terrified. It wasn’t till I was a in a childrens’ writers’ critique group back in the early ’90s that I finally was able to swallow the fear enough to actually give the topic logical thought. One of my fellow writers penned a kids’ novel about two boys on the Titanic, which I had to help critique. I can’t count how many times I put that manuscript down and went for a walk in the fresh air before I could finally finish it!

    Then, a number of years ago, my mother in law gave us the movie with Leonardo DiCaprio, for Christmas. It took me over a year to get up the nerve to watch it … and I regretted it with nightmares for a week.

    Totally irrational, but I’ve never been able to let it go.

  • Elisabeth Rowan October 10, 2009, 10:54 am

    In my baby book my mother wrote that even as an infant a few months old, I would scream inconsolably during thunderstorms. Oddly enough, I was born during one. I have always feared thunder (brontophobia) [I have a mild dis-ease around lightning, but it’s really the sound that scares me.] I read somewhere once that girls tend to have phobias about intangible things like weather, and guys tend to have phobias about things like spiders and snakes.

    I once dove under the table when a nearby lightning strike caused a horrendous thunderclap. I was a teenager and we had company at dinner. It was very embarrassing.

    In time I made an effort to try to enjoy storms. I though I’d beaten the phobia and then spent one of the worst storms in the region out camping, and was in full foetal position when the lightning strike came. I never felt the charge, but others were knocked off their feet down the way and our group felt a tingle. I don’t remember much after that; they said I was dazed. So it continued to be a problem.

    Now, nearly 20 years later, I can enjoy the rain and far off thunder, but nearby it still causes me to be nervous, though not alarmed unless it’s right above me. So maybe yours will get a little better over time.

    • Josh Hanagarne October 10, 2009, 11:06 am

      @Elisabeth: Hopefully. One day I will be able to stroll right up to a giant squid and stroke its beak tenderly and without fear:)

  • Jenny October 10, 2009, 11:12 am

    Snakes, for sure. One thing that bothers me about snakes that is completely irrational is when I see purses and shoes with fake snake skin designs. I love the look and all – but I can’t deal with the texture – even though it’s completely fake.

    • Josh Hanagarne October 10, 2009, 11:15 am

      @Jenny: I got bit by a snakeskin purse once! that’s not irrational at all.

  • Ilaria/Swimturtle October 10, 2009, 11:42 am

    Sharks and vampires. Though now that everyone and their uncle is a vampire it’s wearing off. Nothing like making something sexy and terrifying completely trite to ward off those healthy phobias.
    I translate movies (one of the many things I do to scrape by) and I just translated a vampire flick that I can’t name due to confidentiality agreements. All I will say is that I found the gore mildly distasteful but I was not terrified.
    Sharks though, still completely terrified.
    Why did you have to tell me about the giant squids? I’m afraid I’ll have to add them to the list now too. Aaaarrrgghh!

    • Josh Hanagarne October 10, 2009, 12:02 pm

      Ilaria, could you go on a date with Grandpa Munster, or would he be too scary?

  • Lori October 10, 2009, 12:53 pm

    I got stuck under my bed as a little tyke, trying to reach a toy bunny. I felt I couldn’t breathe, and that I would die under there! I was pinned between the bed frame, floor and wall and started screaming, but mom was feeding the chickens and couldn’t hear me for what seemed like hours.

    Now, I’m horribly claustrophobic and can’t stand my limbs being pinned down in any way! Eeep!

    By the way, do you like calamari?

    • Josh Hanagarne October 10, 2009, 12:57 pm

      Lori, I don’t know, actually. I’ve had bad calamari in a fast food restaurant and it was horrible, but have never had any high quality calamari to judge it. I do love sea food more than anything. Oh! I see what you’re getting at now. I’m not scared to eat calamari, but it doesn’t make me feel better, either.

  • Janette Hanagarne October 10, 2009, 3:54 pm

    Yesterday in the garden I shrieked and probably landed 6 feet away when a two-inch long mouse ran AWAY from me. But no worries, today I saw a neighborhood stray cat with the tender mouse in its powerful jaws. I can go out and pick tomatoes again.

    As a child, we had mice in our house. I vividly remember the cat catching a mouse under the tv set while I was watching a program. I stuck around because I was enthralled with, I don’t know, A-Team or Battlestar Galactica or something. The cat ate the mouse whole. I think, I was glued to the boob tube.

    Dang, now I’m having all kinds of stupid mouse-related flashbacks. Josh, you better buy some traps on the way home tonight, or it’s time to get our own cat.

    • Josh Hanagarne October 10, 2009, 4:01 pm

      I would rather catch the mouse with my own mouth than own a cat.

  • Suzannah-Write It Sideways October 10, 2009, 5:05 pm

    I have an irrational fear of driving up and down steep hills. I grew up in a place where it was winter most of the year, so big hills often meant ice and sliding and certain death.

    If you couldn’t get enough speed to make it up a steep hill, inevitably you’d start sliding backward. Possibly into a busy intersection.

    Even though I now live in Australia where there’s no snow, I absolutely freak out if I have to drive up or down big hills. Stupid, I know, but ingrained.

  • Megan Horton October 10, 2009, 5:11 pm

    Worms. I’m terrified of them as you know. I remember when we lived in Elko, I took Kyle to Jeff Ramptons. Well we get there and Becky Ramptom, who was probably 6 at the time, was in the driveway pushing a big fat potato worm around in a stroller and it had a little bib on. That image makes me shiver to this day…

  • paulandrewrussell October 10, 2009, 5:56 pm

    I’m absolutely terrified of heights. Ladders, windows, cliffs, etc. I have no rational reason to be afraid of heights. I have had no bad experiences, and perversely, I love flying! (Figure that one out Mr Freud.)
    I once got stuck on a pipe duct in a factory roof, when I had to go up and clean it out as part of my job. I sat there frozen until someone came looking for me, lol. I was laughed at mercilessly and had to be helped down the ladder. I know my fear is totally irrational but I even dream about heights, and falling from them. Weird eh?

    • Josh Hanagarne October 10, 2009, 6:54 pm

      @Paul: I don’t think Sigmund would know what to make of you. That’s a funny, sad story, but one I can totally picture. Does it make you feel better to know that so many others share your fear? I’m not sure it’s that irrational, either. Being up high can be very dangerous. I get terrified just being this tall:)

      @Megan: The worm did not have a bib on.

      @Suzannah: How interesting. Where did you live with all those treacherous hills?

  • paulandrewrussell October 10, 2009, 7:08 pm

    I wish no one felt the fear I feel when I’m up high, Josh. It’s crippling.

    I wonder why our heads are on the top of our bodies when we’re so tall? It makes things seem higher than they are. lol

    • Josh Hanagarne October 10, 2009, 7:53 pm

      Paul, if you were nominating alternative locations for our heads, what would your first two choices be?

  • Suzannah--Write It Sideways October 10, 2009, 8:07 pm

    Josh, I grew up in northwestern Ontario, Canada. Now I live in South Australia.

  • FitJerk - Flawless Fitness October 11, 2009, 3:02 am

    Damn it Josh, will you stop being such a pansy!

    … I kid. No but fear caused by dangerous experiences is what has kept our species ALIVE for so damn long. I’m sure a LONG time ago some caveman saw a tiger and was like “ooh animal with pretty orange and black stripes” *RAWR*
    “OH S*** T! NOT PRETTY!”

    I mean, imagine if you had NEVER heard of tigers or wild animals or been programmed through TV or ever seen one, you have no relative experience to relate and make the connection that facing a tiger = death. But you’d learn damn fast.

    The thing is that in this day and age most of your fears are not needed for survival so you just need to face them head on. I was on a cruise and afraid of the deep sea as well. But people were having fun swimming in the ocean… I don’t want to stare and watch at some 6 year old splash around fearless while I sit around like a tool. I asked if there were sharks here and the dude assured me there weren’t.

    Then I was like “Ocean, here I come, to make you my little B**ch”. And I just JUMPED. You NEED to face and experience resistance in life and in the gym… because that’s how you get stronger.

  • Boris Bachmann October 11, 2009, 7:15 am

    One day, I was walking to work in Japan the morning after a light rain storm. On the way, I came across a centipede crossing the street that was the length of my forearm (to the tip of my fingers) and thicker than my thumb. I wanted to capture it and take it to work because I knew no one would believe me – after trying to pick it up several times with a stick, I gave up because I didn’t think I could get it into my backpack safely for the centipede or me. …and no one believed me, but true story!

    • Josh Hanagarne October 11, 2009, 8:08 am

      Boris: I believe you, but I don’t want to see that centipede!

  • Stephanie Smith October 11, 2009, 9:28 am

    We must have had a same brainwave – I posted on Thurs. about my fear of dentists. Just the smell of a dental office make my teetch chatter and sometimes I would cry before he even touched me. It’s better now that I have a good, sensitive debtist, but I am still scared when I go there and I still shake. You can read the why of my dental phobia -I was young when a dentist slapped me, so I can logivally state the why of my fear’s origin, but after all thses years, it’s strength has barely diminished.
    Fear is a primal emotion and logic has no mercy when it comes to the phobias we face.
    I can see the shark thing -who wouldn’t, esp. after Jaws, but the squid is kinda weird. But hey, quirks are what make us unique!
    Stephanie aka Stefyspeak

    • Josh Hanagarne October 11, 2009, 10:26 am

      Stephanie, I’m going to come read about that dentist slapping you. That is the most intriguing/disturbing image I’ve had this morning.

  • paulandrewrussell October 11, 2009, 12:47 pm

    Hmmm? Alternative locations for the head?

    I wonder if my eyes at least were on my feet, whether I would still be afraid of heights? Lol. Then I would probably be afraid of bugs! No-win situation. 🙂

  • Daisy October 11, 2009, 5:47 pm

    It’s like Garp and the Undertoad – or Kenny Watson (from The Watsons go to Birmingham 1963) and his Wool-pooh.

    • Josh Hanagarne October 11, 2009, 5:59 pm

      Daisy, I don’t know the Watsons reference but I loved Garp.

  • Sernan October 12, 2009, 7:31 pm

    I have this weird fear that i would like to share, everytime im in a room, specifically a dark room, then i close my eyes, in between the awake state and the sleeping state, i feel like i begin to shrink and there is a huge ball that would run over me, i dont know what does it mean.. but it scares the hell out of me… there was a time years ago when i was still young, my mom was banging on my door as she was scared too as i was doing some crazy sounds and all i remember was that stupid ball thing running over me…

    • Josh Hanagarne October 12, 2009, 7:37 pm

      @Sernan: I think that’s the strangest one yet. Good grief.

  • Dylan October 13, 2009, 12:20 am

    I hate mold. It creeps me right out. Something about how it appears from nowhere and blooms so quickly. I try not to think about how I am constantly breathing in mold spores. Also, its tied in with the immense feling of disappointment when you take some bit of food out of the fridge that you were waiting to eat, only to find little flecks of mold on it. Or, for that matter, the immense feeling of revulsion when you notice the mold only when you are halfway through the food. Ugh…

    ps: I think the NLP Mystic was talking about is probably NeuroLinguistic Programming. It’s a bit of a pseudo-scientific therapy method that had it’s peak of popularity back in the 80s. But that’s just my guess…

  • Liz October 19, 2009, 3:40 pm

    I’m still afraid that if someone shuts me into a closet (especially with the light out) I’ll disappear into another dimension. I can’t even remember what movie or book gave me that idea, but it’s a fear I’m trying NOT to display in front of my children, lest they develop the same one.

    I’m HOPING that it’s an irrational fear.

    • Josh Hanagarne October 19, 2009, 4:16 pm

      Liz, the real question is: which dimension do you worry that you’ll be transported to? The fourth isn’t so bad.

      • Gayze October 19, 2009, 4:34 pm

        The 5th were pretty good, too. (“Would you like to ride, in my beautiful balloon…..”)

        (Sorry, I don’t know what came over me.)

      • Liz October 19, 2009, 10:40 pm

        Actually it doesn’t matter. Any dimension without my kids and husband is one I don’t want to be transported to!

        When I was a kid, I think it was more the idea that those left behind would find me gone that worried me. I wasn’t actually worried about being transported itself. That’s changed now that I’m older.