Surviving the heebie jeebies

2010-09-23 00:00

I DO not think anyone can understand a phobia unless they have one. Apparently they can develop at any age and for no particular reason. Mine happened when I was 17. While I was hospitalised, I was medicated with ibuprofen, an anti-inflammatory that I soon found out I have an allergy to, as did my grandfather. It brought on a hallucination of worms: on the walls, ceilings, bedding — everywhere — about 2,5 centimetres long with small black heads and translucent creamy-coloured bodies, which sort of oozed in motion and flopped clumsily  about.  My grand- father saw ants.

My intellect appreciates the role that worms play in this world: some become beautiful moths and earthworms process through the soil replenishing the nutrients. They don’t bite, they don’t scratch, they don’t threaten with weapons. I mean, as a child I had my box of silkworms — they were pretty cool, like frogs and toads.

I know a little boy who is petrified of buttons — they really distress him. A phobia is not in the least bit rational like, say, the fear of heights, which, if fallen from, could kill you. Heights make me feel funny, but worms send me sprinting towards insanity, yet I don’t feel the same about hairy caterpillars. This challenge has been a little­ like walking a tightrope on an obstacle course three storeys high, except mine is a much less deadly, much more debilitating fear.

The night before last, between levels­ of sleep, I rubbed my foot and something fell off. I swept along the sheet with my hand and flung …  something. I switched on the light. It was a half-squashed, still wriggling worm that had landed on the packet of apples I’d picked earlier. Where did it come from? Did it come from the apples? Why was it on my foot under my bedding? How did it get there? Are there more? I fled to the other side of the room and had just calmed my breathing when I saw another worm on the wall next to me. That was it. I went completely berserk.

This is where I have to mention that I don’t have a problem with the existence of worms — I don’t hate them, I don’t want to kill them — I don’t have time to form an opinion before my brain puckers into a pea and I become a blithering wreck. When that phobic fright kicks in I feel them on me, I imagine them everywhere I look and I want to close up every orifice in case they get in. I want to cover myself entirely in wax, but they have to be out first and I want to dig out every hole until I reach the end and, obviously, I’m a body and not an apple and so coring myself is not practical, but it’s what I tend towards.

In my frenzy I did get a little carried away, blowing my nose desperately and scratching my ear, but I stopped myself just on the border of reason.

I paced the kitchen for a good 40 minutes — throwing up, breaking down, pulling together, searching haphazardly for options — should I sleep in the bath? I couldn’t phone for help because it’s only a worm (I know that) and my hysterics would freak out the recipient. Tapping a constant beat on my chest and narrating out loud as a diversion, I picked up the bag of apples and its passengers and threw them outside.

Since then I have found four more worms; two spinning cocoons. I’m still a bit jumpy and oversensitive, but I’m not in a panic anymore.

Upon each discovery I recoil, step back for a moment until my mental cramp eases, using methods of distraction, and objectify the situation.

I know the pattern, I know how to manage the process and it is empowering. However, if there is someone handy to remove the little guy, then that’s still the option I go for.


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