Discuss: Are You Afraid of the Dark?

Mar 2, 2012

In college, I had a psychology professor whose favorite question was, “What are you afraid of?” 

The fears, phobias and paranoias of others were endlessly fascinating to him.  In fact, over the years, he had written down the name of every student he’d ever had and a brief description of his or her phobia.  

The funny thing was that the strangest phobia he’d ever come across was his mother’s.  When she was pre-school age, her older sister put ink in her tea as a practical joke.  But when she looked in the mirror and saw that her teeth were dyed black, she suffered a severe panic attack because she was too young to understand what had happened.  

For the rest of her life, she would and could only drink clear liquids.  If she tried to drink anything else (juice, coffee, wine, Pepsi), she’d start to have a panic attack. It is such an odd phobia that it doesn’t even have a name.

As for myself, my phobia isn’t anything so interesting.  I suffer from a garden variety case of aichmophobia: the fear of needles.  How serious is my fear of hypodermics?  Well, you decide.

I pass out when I have to give blood, get a vaccination or go to the dentist (novocaine).  

I can’t even watch fake doctors administer fake injections on TV.  I’m the only person alive who covers her eyes for the “scary part” while watching Grey’s Anatomy.

When I had my wisdom teeth removed, they had to give me laughing gas before the anesthetic because every time the nurse came at me with the needle, my heart rate jumped into the red zone. I actually had to be sedated so that I could survive being anesthetized.

Last year, I flew 3,000 miles to my hometown to get the flu mist (every D.C. clinic I called was out) rather than experience the pure joy of getting a traditional flu vaccination in my office conference room, 18′ from my desk.

When I was four, Dr. McCarthy (a lovely man, may he rest in peace) was about to give me a standard vaccination shot when I punched him in the face and ran from his office like a newly freed refugee, making it all the way to the parking garage before my Mother grabbed me by the strap of my purple, corduroy Oshkosh B’gosh overalls and carried me back inside.  

So as you can see, I’m not just a little afraid of needles, I’m positively petrified of them.  Given the choice between natural child birth and the epidural, it’ll be a really tough call, the kind of decision that makes adoption seem like a great idea.  

What are you ladies and gentlemen afraid of? And exactly how afraid are you?  Or if you’re one of those lucky people with an iron constitution, what is the strangest fear that you’ve ever heard of?  

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  1. CB says:

    Blind dates. But that doesn't seem so irrational

    I also get the fear of the exploding biscuit can. I have to look away while opening them. I just don't get them anymore.

    I

  2. Katie says:

    I, too, am terrified of needles and pass out whenever I have to get a shot. The ocean also freaks me out and I can't even begin to imagine swimming in it, let alone going scuba diving or something.

  3. DP says:

    I'm glad I'm not the only one who punched a doctor. I knocked my dentist off his stool when he slipped with the drill.
    Dentists are the worst.
    At my last visit I stopped breathing and almost passed out. Actually, my current dentist is an awesome guy, I'm not even mortified of him anymore, he did a really good job over the last three years. Now I'm scared of the panic attacks that might await me. I can never win.
    I also hate roller coasters with a passion, but I ride my motorcycle at 100mph, not a problem, but roller coasters? They are DANGEROUS (in my mind).
    Fears are weird!

  4. IRMcK says:

    Snakes. I can't touch photos of them, I can't see pictures of them, and I can't think about them and keep my feet on the ground.

  5. S says:

    You are not the only one who covers their eyes during Grey's. I stopped going to the doctor from 5th grade until senior year of high school because of shots. They prescribed me numbing cream to put on before any shots so that I'd come back in, and I still did not. When it came time to get vaccinated for college, I seriously considered claiming I was the type of christian that didn't believe in doctors. I'm slowly getting better. I forced myself to give blood to try and get over the phobia, but I passed out and I'm really too scared to try again. Also, I don't do flu shots… I should probably look into the mist.

  6. Aunt_Pete says:

    I'm afraid of Ferris Wheels. When I was eight I was riding one with my sister when the safety bar broke. She slipped off and and was dangling down below the seat. I grabbed her with one arm and pulled her back up. Adrenaline…it's a crazy, wonderful thing.

    I also have total white coat phobia. I always think they're going to diagnose me with thyroid cancer.

  7. Helena says:

    Not sure it's a full-fledged phobia, but I am pretty horrified by roaches. I once cried while trying to kill one I discovered in a closet. Ugh, the price one pays for city living.

  8. Annie says:

    I am terrified of the Grand Canyon. Lol. That's funny just to type.

    I swear to God I think I'm going to fall in. I never want to be in a 10 mile radius of it.

    I'm also scared of other people's earrings. I want to vomit when I see my roommate's earrings laying around my house.

  9. HT says:

    I am crazy afraid of mouth splinters. Toothpicks, popsicle sticks and tongue depressors freak me out. I am not exactly sure of the origin, as I never have had mouth splinters. I freaked out on a great aunt I was meeting for the first time because she was eating ice cream with one of those wooden spoon things.

  10. I am also terrified of needles! I can't watch any movie or show where someone is being injected. I also hate blood so that pretty much goes hand in hand.

    For my wisdom teeth, I had to have xanax the night before and the morning of and laughing gas. I wasn't even put to sleep. They did everything with novicane and laughing gas because I refused to get an IV.

    I understand your pain 🙂

  11. RMS says:

    I don't remember being afraid of much when I was a kid. You would think I'd be afraid of the dentist because I had many teeth pulled, but in my little brain getting a Wendy's frosty on the way home and hanging out in my parents' bed the rest of the afternoon so I could watch movies on their tv made it all worth it.

    However, within the past 10 years I've developed a terrible fear of needles. I remember passing out after getting the vaccines before I went to college and it was all down hill from there. Forget about IVs and getting blood drawn. The doctors and nurses can never seem to find my veins and I always end up with huge bruises. To me, there is nothing more terrifying than being alone with a person who is trying unsuccessfully to stick a needle into me.

  12. CH says:

    Rational fears: Needles. Snakes. Blood (maybe not a fear, but it makes me woozy).

    Irrational fears: Those cardboard tubes of biscuits that you twist/pop open (I'm certain that something is going to come flying off and hit me in the eye). Anything related to teeth (breaking one, all of them falling out, etc).

  13. Charleigh says:

    I used to be afraid of needles. My mom is a nurse so she would bring the flu shot home and would literally have to chase me around the house with it just so I would get it. I can pinpoint it to getting all the vaccines as a child. There were many of them, all in a row and I was just sobbing to my mom to not make me get them. I still really don't like getting them, but for things like cavities and the HPV vaccine (which really had a bite to it) I know it's necessary. I just look away, esp. when having my blood drawn. My friends actually pointed it out to me re: the needle thing. I have four holes in each ear (used to be five in one) and used to have my lip pierced (in a non-goth way, just in a feminine flirty girl that likes to wear sun dresses and be cute and have a lip ring way) so why would I be afraid of them? Good point.

    My irrational fear is actually seaweed. Terrified of seaweed. My worst nightmare would be to be in a kelp forest or drop into a pool, of it. I water ski/wakeboard, and the calmest part of the lake that my family owns a cottage on is where the seaweed is. Whenever the boat goes over it, I just hold onto the rope, and not move and not look down and have a slight panic attack until we're over it. It's only the seaweed in the water though, the stuff on the sand at the beach is fine, and I love sushi. Don't know where it comes from but seaweed in the water is absolutely horrifying to me.

  14. Mia says:

    Clowns.

    I will absolutely lose my mind if I see a clown. The worst experience happened Halloween a few years ago when the lovely people of Whole Foods dress up. I was talking with my boyfriend as we walked into the elevator from the car so I didn't notice that I was coming face to face with an employee dressed as a clown. Total meltdown.

    She apologized profusely, but I ran into her again in the store and again, I was basically weeping into my boyfriend's shoulder.

  15. Daisy says:

    My fear is of bugs. Big, small, doesn't matter. They terrify me.

    The strangest fear I've ever heard of was potato chips. Turns out he was afraid of loud noises (thunder, etc.), and the crunch of potato chips and crinkle of their bags was enough to freak him out. He couldn't be around kids in the lunchroom at school that were eating them. He had to see a therapist about it. I could not make this up.

  16. J says:

    Being trapped in an elevator….the elevator next to the Cannon rotunda stopped between floors for probably was about 3 minutes and I went into full on panic mode and ran out of there as soon as it got to the next floor.

  17. Theresa says:

    I too am terrified of needles. My blood pressure spikes into the red zone and I cry hysterically. I just had my first child by cesarean no less. I started panicking as I was walked into the OR. I was upset my husband couldn't be in there with me while I got the spinal block. I screamed as they gave it to me….thankfully I had the best nurses and anetheolgist around, they did there best to calm me and let me cry it out. They also brought my hubby in ASAP after i was numb. For the normal everyday vaccination, blood draw or flu shot (I'm not allowed the mist) I make the nurses let me lay down, it was a trick I was taught when I was hospitalized at 13. I still get upset, I still hate the needle, but psychologically I do better laying down. I will, under no circumstances, ever get a shot in a conference room at work! I can completely relate, and sympathize!

  18. CatG says:

    Bears.

    No, I'm not kidding. Recent discovery too. I thought I saw one in my backyard a few weeks ago and I completely lost my shiat. It's one of those things I honestly did not know I was afraid of or even could be until I thought there was one near me. I've had several nightmares since. I can't explain it, no other animal (spiders, cockroaches, rodents, snakes – love snakes actually) has ever had an effect on me, but now I even THINK I see one out of the corner of my eye (my house backs up into the forest so there's always movement) my heart rate skyrockets. This was brought on by absolutely nothing.

    I blame Colbert.

  19. Victoria says:

    I'm afraid of things that pop out or startle you.I was playing a game with the girls who lived next door to me and one of them jumped out and scared me so badly that I always check that spot in my room at my parent's house just to make sure that nobody is hiding there to jump out at me. (Mind you that this is probably 15 years after it happened). My boyfriend once popped out and scared me and I immediately started crying and had to explain to him that I hate it when things pop out and scare me!!

    I'm also terrified of bees and spiders. To scary to even think about!!!!

  20. KLK says:

    Aquariums…seriously. I have somehow come to believe that the glass in just one of those tanks is going to crack, water and marine life will come rushing out, causing a chain reaction to all the rest of the tanks. I have yet to decide which death seems worse – being eaten by a shark or drowning. My family takes great pleasure in this knowledge as they slowly stroll through marine life displays on various trips we have taken, making sure to take their time through aquarium tunnels (my very own hell) as I wait for them on the other side. I wish I had a clue as to where this fear came from.

    Also Belle, you are not alone. I had to get the gas before the IV for my wisdom teeth…I made my doctor specifically put it in my chart beforehand so a nurse/assistant wouldn't try to talk me out of it on the day of.

  21. KC says:

    Balloons.

    I have this irrational fear that stems from a childhood experience where I had one blow up in my face. Now, I can't even stand the touch, sound, anything about them.

  22. M says:

    Spiders. It's the worst. I can't even look at a picture of spiders on the internet. I woke up with a start from a dream the other night and hallucinated a spider crawling on my wall, so no more sleep for me that night. Anyone have any advice on overcoming these? Maybe from Belle's professor?

  23. Casey says:

    Absolutely terrified of birds. Generally, the larger, the scarier. In college my roommates and I went through a “drive thru zoo” where the animals (well the docile ones) walk up to your car and you can feed them. As soon as we got through the gates an ostrich walked up to the driver side door and I started hyperventilating in the backseat and hid in the floorboard. Thankfully, we were proper college students and had a few airplane bottles of vodka lying around…

    Day to day, pigeons are the WORST though. I live in San Antonio, and every time friends and family visit I end up causing a scene at the riverwalk haha

    Oh, and they are even worse when they are dead. I can't even eat poultry. Yuck!

  24. KC says:

    The glacoma test at the eye doctor where they blow a sudden puff of air in your eye. I can't keep my head in there for the life of me. It doesn't make me emotional or anything, but I can't force myself to keep my head in there with my eyes open.

    A former coworker of mine had a daughter who had a button phobia and wouldn't wear andy clothes with buttons on them, even if they were on the back and she couldn't see them.

  25. CML says:

    Belle!! I totally understand – I also faint when I give blood, get shots, etc etc. As much as I feel your pain, it is a bit comforting to know I am not the only crazy person out there! Not entirely sure where the phobia stemmed from.. I have a really vivid memory of getting a shot as a little kid and waking up on the floor (having passed out) with lots of adults (doctor, nurses, my mom) standing down looking at me.

  26. ML says:

    I am also afraid of needles, though not as severely. Obviously I don't look at the shot being administered, but I've learned to cope with it by never looking at it from the second they bring it into the room (I close my eyes and talk to them, or look away) and I instruct the doctor/nurse to let me know when it's over–otherwise I imagine it's still inside me long after they're done. Interesting what you mention about childbirth because while I've learned to cope with shots enough to get through them, my BIG fear is having to have an IV for any period of time. A shot is over quickly but a needle IN MY ARM for HOURS?! I'm getting tense as I type this…

    My most severe fear is being caught in a small space WITH WATER. I'm not really claustrophobic or afraid of water at all but thinking about drowning while trapped in small space is unbearable.

  27. Sarah says:

    Casey, I was just thinking to myself, “I can't beleive no one has mentioned my fear” until I read yours!

    I think my fear of birds stems from watching the Hitchcock horror movie “The Birds” when I was only 11 years old. I literally hit the deck every time a pigeon flys within 20 feet of me on the street. I actually don' mind bigger birds (like the ostrich you mentioned) only the little flying, darting ones. HORRIFYING.

  28. MA says:

    I'm not afraid of heights, but when we were at Hoover Dam and took the tour, I could not walk over a (very secure) grate over a hole with a multi-story drop. The guide waited till we all had successfully crossed and had peered out the face if the dam (beautiful! amazing! not scary!) and then told us about the gaping chasm over which we had just walked. I had to do my best Spiderman impression to rejoin the tour. This, from a girl who has voluntarily hurled herself out of a plane at 14K while skydiving?!? Bizarre.

  29. Emily says:

    Teeth. Anything involving them, especially them getting knocked out or broken. I get so anxious that I almost have panic attacks when I have to go to the dentist, because I don't like the metal scraping against your teeth.

  30. B says:

    IRMcK said: “Snakes. I can't touch photos of them, I can't see pictures of them, and I can't think about them and keep my feet on the ground.”

    Describes me perfectly. I constantly worry that I'll see one while hiking, I have nightmares about them. I can't handle reptile skin products, either. I once tried on a friend's pair of python Loubies, hyperventilated, nearly had a total meltdown.

  31. CB says:

    I too am terrified of birds!!!! Pigeons are the worst – nothing but rats with wings. And when they take off and flap their wings – ughhhhhhh!!!!!!!! I was chased by some geese in college while running, and I think it has something to do with it. I will forever be grateful to the dog that stopped those chasing birds!

  32. devinzgrandma says:

    Mazeophobia – the fear of getting lost, most notably while driving.

  33. Meredith says:

    KLK: I think I have the same fear. I blame it on Jaws 3D when the Shark breaks the glass and they are all stuck under water. What a terrible idea, and I hate the person who thought it up.

  34. Elise says:

    In descending order: heights, my teeth falling out and needles.

    My reaction to needles is similar to yours. I cover my eyes during all medical shows on TV.

    The teeth thing is really irrational and includes chipping my teeth – but I found out that I am not alone in this fear when I first met my former roommate and current friend – we bonded over it.

    I am petrified of heights – my palms sweat, my heart races and I have to be hanging on to something. I also usually walk gingerly, like I am going to fall off. I keep trying to beat this fear by climbing to to top of every monument I come across, but although I am rewarded with some amazing photos the event almost always ends with me shaking and in tears.

  35. Krista says:

    I am so so glad so many other people have mentioned teeth. I didn't used to be, but it started about a year ago. I'm also terrified of frogs and whales, and loathe walking on grates. I will walk out of my way to avoid them, even in flats.

  36. L says:

    Black holes. I my heart races and I start to cry when I think about them. This has happened ever since I first learned of them. In fact, my heart is racing now, so I'm going to move on to my other fears.

    Seaweed- I'm not afraid of its mere existence, but the thought of touching it- whether in the water or on the beach- makes my skin crawl.

    I've gotten over needles and IVs, but I didn't until after curling up in the corner of the room like a 2 year old and sobbing/screaming I almost uncontrollably when I had to get an IV to get my wisdom teeth out (I can't have gas). I'm ok with shots and IVs now. Stitches make me a little woozy. I'm not consciously afraid of medical procedures any more, but I faint if I think about them too much. I almost did at dinner recently when I family friend talked about his nose surgery. I broke into a cold sweat, my vision went black, I felt like I had cotton balls in my ears, and my body felt tingly- I would have hit the floor if I wasn't sitting down at the time.

  37. Kristin says:

    I am petrified of clowns….saw the beginning of “IT” when I was a small, impressionable child and that sealed the deal. I am also panic-attack-inducingly afraid of the double-decker Megabus. It's the cheapest, most efficient way for me to travel from DC to my hometown, but it freaks me out.

  38. jen says:

    In no particular order: heights, chipping a tooth, tsunamis (I live in the Midwest…don't even ask how this one started), space and the possibility of alien life, total darkness.

  39. Andrew says:

    This phobia isn't mine, it's my wife's: Sharks. She is irrationally afraid of sharks. Doesn't like getting in the ocean. Even gets nervous when she get in the pool… in her parent's backyard.

  40. CR says:

    So glad other people have mentioned teeth! To date, the scariest dream I ever have, which reoccurs every few months, is of my teeth loosening one by one and falling out. Scares the bejeezesus out of me every time, and when I wake up I have to go to a mirror and check all my teeth. So horrible.

    My husband is also terrified of the cardboard dough cans. I personally find that one hilarious – he can't open a tin of biscuits to save his life.

  41. K says:

    I have a petrifying fear of escalators, especially the ones going down. I'm fine with stairs and elevators, but I have literally had a panic attack trying to get on a down escalator more than once. It's so bad, I can't go on the metro, because I can't go on the super long escalators to get down there. If they are stopped, I'm fine, because I can walk down them like stairs. I think it's because my sister used to tell me they would cut off my toes and suck me in when I was little, and a little boy died falling down one in my town when I was growing up. I also have a huge fear of people rubbing paper on carpet, but that's because of my synesthesia which makes that noise drive me crazy.

  42. CynthiaW says:

    Nothing really – I mean, I don't like roaches and will scream like a girl when I see one – but I'll go step on them. I don't really like being enclosed in small places either, but I'm not phobic about it.

    Weirdest thing that I've ever heard of someone being phobic about – a toss up between the colleague who is afraid of bananas (can't touch them, let alone eat them, and doesn't even like looking at them) and the roommate who was afraid of cotton and once screamed and ran out of the house when she accidentally walked into the living room and I was using cotton balls to remove my nail polish.

  43. cara says:

    YES! Needles… medical or blood anything, really. I once fainted having a splinter removed. I swear I can HEAR the blood rushing out of my body when giving blood- I am getting a little better with this. I haven't fainted in a while, but I am ALWAYS this close to hitting the floor…. Just the smell of a hospital makes me woozy.

    The dentist upsets me so much that I cry, panic, can't swallow or breathe, and then there is the gagging. my god- the gagging. – I literally have to be sedated to get a cleaning. Needless to say, because of this fear, my teeth have to be broken or causing me pain in order to get me in the chair, and that creates this vicious circle of hell- I dont go to the dentist, so fillings become root canals, which upset me to no end, keeping me from going back, which creates more issues… its the worst.

    Also, birds. Birds that can fly at my face and peck my eyes out or get caught and tangled in my hair. Gross.

    And, finally, dropping things (phone, ID, toothbrush, lip gloss, jewelry, etc) in the toilet.

  44. KLo says:

    @Cynthia – I can't pull the cotton out of a pill bottle. But it just feels repulsive. Ick. I can't really call that a fear as much as just a desire to avoid a disgusting sensation. I've definitely never cried … but I have used tweezers.

  45. m says:

    My fear is heights, though only did I realize that my aversion to being up high is more than most people's. I love nice views but am scared to go to the edge of observation decks, feel paralyzed going up open staircases to roofdecks (sometimes have to go on my hands and knees for fear of falling), and hate open-sided escalators (so metro stations OK, Pentagon City Mall not OK).

    I also have a fear of flying that's gotten worse over time even though I fly once a week. Must be related to my fear of heights. I have no problem with people's usual peeves of air travel — TSA, waiting in line, running for a flight — but the actual being up in the air freaks me out. Episodes of turbulence can send me into a panic, though the meditative breathing techniques I learned from yoga help immensely.

  46. m says:

    Ugh — and the sound of nails on a chalkboard or on the inside of a seashell. AAGH. Feel like throwing up just thinking about it.

  47. RLW. says:

    Vomiting. Haven't done it since I was 11, and I have a minor panic attack if I ever feel nauseous. Makes me super cautious about food safety, germs, excessive drinking, and pregnancy.

  48. HM says:

    Public speaking – including being called on in a large group setting, such as a meeting, to answer a question … even if I know the answer or its just to introduce myself. My heart races and my face will be flushed for the next 30 minutes.

    Needles – It’s not the stick that bothers me, its knowing there is something in me that shouldn't be…. and I guess a little bit of the stick too if I'm completely honest about it all. I've never passed out, but I do become very violent. My doctor has orders in my chart that I am to have 5 nurses administer any injection because I will lash out if they don't hold me down. They do not to take my blood without the laughing gas anymore.

    Vomiting – I'm very happy to see that RLW has the same fear I have of vomiting. It’s the acid that wears the enamel off your teeth, the taste you never can get out of your mouth no matter how you try, and the feeling of not being in control as your body automatically retches.

  49. Allie says:

    I'm always afraid that my car is going to explode when I start it after filling up the gas tank. Not like, panic attack afraid, but I'm always really relieved when it doesn't blow up.

    I'm also randomly really afraid of tampons giving me TSS. Even though I know it doesn't really happen anymore. But if I have to use one for some reason, I worry about it the whole time.

  50. EFL says:

    Am afraid of a lot of things (heigths, plane, drowning, insects, pigeons, being trapped in the subway doors, cars, elevators …), but nothing I can't force myself to do, so no real phobia. I just live with a lot of anxiety 🙂

    My one terror is losing my hair. I had a friend explaining how an aunt of hers lost almost all her hair at the front and how she had to wear a wig, and how her daugther is slowly losing her hair too because its genetic, etc … and since then it's one of my biggest fear. Despite the fact that absolutely no-one in my whole family (men included) is bald. Go figure.

  51. Heather says:

    ALIENS! Not the scary monsters that are in entertaining violent movies. No, the ones in movies like “Close Encounters” that look sort of like people. I can't take that. Also, the thing in “Cloverfield” with the backwards legs scared the bejesus out of me.

    And I can't go camping thanks to The Blair Witch. I have to force myself to not think about that at night or I completely freak myself out.

    OH! And driving through fog. I get really REALLY freaked out whenever I have to drive through it because I'm sure there is something out there that is going to step in front of my car and get me. Oh I have goosebumps just thinking about it.

  52. CynthiaW says:

    Oh, I actually thought of something, although I don't know if it really counts as a phobia since it doesn't prohibit me from doing anything.

    Demons – specifically, the idea of demonic possession, scares the crap out of me. I blame the Exorcist – 30 years later and I still can't watch that movie or even look at still photos from it. And someone imitating Linda Blair's voice in the movie will freak me out, big time.

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