Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Irrational

I saw a quote on Pinterest that says "Worry is a misuse of imagination". I can't agree more. I abuse my imagination like that every day, so I should know.

But worry is not the worst of the abuse. I think fear is an even more intense exercise of one's imagination in the wrong way. I'll make do with American Heritage dictionary's definition of fear: A very unpleasant or disturbing feeling caused by the presence or imminence of danger. It sounds perfectly logical to be disturbed by things that are potentially dangerous to one's life. Problem is, the things that we fear are many times not even a threat to our safety or well being. Quite randomly, I think the worst kind of fear a person can have is a fear of leaves. How is he suppose to live a life that doesn't involve screaming or breaking into cold sweats upon coming face-to-face with a large potted plant in his dentist's office?

via flickr
Fear is, in most occasions, irrational. People get scared of maggots, but maggots don't harm people. On the flip side, they're helpful little things that doctors employ to eat dead cells off the wounds and ulcers of patients. But the irrationality of this fear is common enough among us to be given a proper name: scoleciphobia - the fear of worms, although maggots are in actuality insect larvae and not true worms (a whole other kind of argument for another day).

But worms and maggots are squeamish-looking, so everyone (except the very passionate helminthologists - worm scientists) understands if you cringe at the sight of it.

In case you think having a fear of plants is absurd, like I do, a person with this phobia is officially called a botanophobe. So yes, such people exist. I shouldn't have laughed at these poor souls though, as I too have my own breed of fear, birthed out of an experience at a crocodile farm more than a decade ago.

Although I was too little to have a proper memory of my age at that time or where in Malaysia the farm was situated, I can still recall most vividly the event that would cause my fear in the years to come (or likely, forever). I even remember I was wearing a little red dress. It was vacation time, and my family was looking at some crocodiles in a concrete enclosure. Because I was once short, I stood on my toes, with body leaning against the low wall and hands gripping the top of the concrete, in order to get a better view of the huge reptiles. I was in that position for a few minutes.

Nothing much happened. If you were at the crocodile farm, you would conclude too that crocodiles on a lazy afternoon are about as animated as the rocks they sunbathe on. And for the record, I am not insulting the crocodiles. Historical monuments have always captivated large audiences, and the never have to move.

I digress.

Anyway, I eventually retired from my position of observation. I stepped away from the wall, looked down and started crying in horror when I noticed large ants scrambling about on my red dress. My mom jumped into action and swept the ants away with her bare hands before they could take my life, but since that moment, I have feared ants irrationally.

On second thought, it's not all that irrational. I have another encounter that proved ants a danger. It was an evening like any other mundane ones. I was walking when I felt something crawl on my left toe. I looked down and spotted a big ant. I screamed, of course. By the time I was done screeching and had flung the stupid little thing out of my way, it had left its indelible mark on me. I was bitten, and I had a swollen red (and very itchy) toe for two weeks to prove it.

On a different occasion, hunger pang struck me in the middle of the night. I used to adore rice crackers, and I knew where they were stored at home. While the rest of the family was getting ready for bed upstairs, I sneaked into the dark pantry, where clever me found some rice crackers in a container. As I unscrewed the lid and carried the container in my arm to the lighted kitchen, I discovered A LOT of ants all over the food, and obviously by then, on my hands and a generous few on my pajamas too. Since I wasn't supposed to be caught eating rice crackers after bedtime, I suppressed the scream. But that night, I held on more animosity against the ant species. It was like the purpose of their existence in the food container was to catch me in my little crime. Killjoys.

I stopped eating rice crackers for months after that. I don't eat many rice crackers these days either, but that's more out of a fear of becoming fat than a fear of what would creep up from among the crackers.

My fear of ants has mellowed over the years, but that does not mean I have stopped being overly cautious of them. I still scan the ground or curbs very carefully for any sort of ants before I would willingly set my butt on it. I get goosebumps when I see ants. Any piece of food that is seen to have been touched by an ant only belongs to the dustbin and should NEVER be consumed.

Because it is sometimes fun to carry a label for an ailment, I went to the library of knowledge (Google) to find out the name to my phobia. It's called myrmecophobia - the fear of ants.

So, hello, I am Amanda Soo. It's irrational, but I am myrmecophobic.

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