“Ornithoscelidaphobia” is the fear of dinosaurs.
Pointing out to someone with ornithoscelidaphobia that it is completely irrational to be scared of dinosaurs because they have been extinct for 65 million years isn’t going to elicit the response “oh really? Brilliant, thanks, I will stop being scared of dinosaurs now that I know”.
Because the whole point of a phobia is that it is irrational overreaction. It’s an extreme state of fear, and hard to control. It’s not being ‘a bit scared’ of something the way you would be perfectly rational to be scared of say, a lion should you find yourself directly face to face with one. In which case you should probably be more than a bit scared, but you get my meaning.
I don’t have Ornithoscelidaphobia, although I did have some recurring nightmares which were pretty frightening after I saw Jurassic Park when I was 14. I do have a lot of friends with arachnophobia – which in the UK isn’t particulaly rational. We have no spiders that can give you anything worse than a mild infection, and even then only if you’re really unlucky. I rather like spiders. They eat wasps and any creature that eats wasps gets a big thumbs up from me. Not that I have ‘spheksophobia’ either; although Mother RDP has a potentially fatal wasp allergy which means I just really hate the fuckers. A friend of mine has ‘coulrophobi’a – the fear of clowns – which is surprisingly common. Perhaps too many of us read/saw It at a formative age. (n.b. for the love of god don’t follow that link if you have coulrophobia)
‘Trypanophobia’ is my monkey. I am terrified of injections, blood tests and having a drip/cannula. While they all come under the same heading, I think of them as quite different fears, as they come from different bad experiences.
On my ninth birthday I was bitten by a dog while in france. This led to my having to have a tetanus injection, delivered into my arse by a non English speaking doctor who with little ceremony or kindness threw me onto his lap and jabbed the needle in my backside, in full view of my Mum’s boyfriend at the time, who I barely knew. (Perhaps this isn’t exactly how it happened, and perhaps this is how my 9 year old scared brain interpreted it or remembers it, but it was enough to give me The Fear thereafter.) When I was 13 my entire school year was given the BCG. I warned the nurse that I had difficulties with injections. She was kind but businesslike – after all she had 60 odd injections to do that day – but something went wrong and the syringe cracked as the injection was given. Some of the fluid sprayed into my eye and the nurse freaked out and jumped back, letting go of the syringe and therefore leaving it hanging out of my arm. While I find injections really difficult, I can generally manage my fear response. I don’t freak out, or scream, or faint, but I do have to do mind over matter breathing exercises and need somewhere quite to sit for a little while after. It helps that bar those two bad experiences I haven’t had a disastrous injection incident since.
Blood tests are a completely different matter. I have no single bad experience with blood tests, or cannulae. They are ALL AWFUL. I have never had a blood test that hasn’t been painful and traumatic. I have ninja veins. Nurses will spent ages getting me to clench my fists, tying and retying tourniquets, smacking my arm, sighing, giving up, smacking the backs of my hands, sighing, saying “it’s ok why are you so worried?” whilst looking suspiciously concerned at the lack of visible veins. I’ve experienced on more than one occasion a delay while the most experienced person in the hospital is summoned to come and take the blood/put in the cannula instead. That’s before we’ve even got to the matter of my slow blood pressure. (If I am really really stressed, it goes up to what could be considered normal. When I was in the midst of depression I’d have these weird moments where it was like my body couldn’t actually produce enough blood flow to keep me upright, I’d feel a bit headswimmy and then bang I’d be out cold on the floor.) So once they’ve managed to find the vein and the ‘just a little pin prick’ (FUCKING LIES) has taken place I then have to contend with the sounds (I can’t look, I am too busy trying to remember how breathing works) of them trying to get blood out of me. Or fetching someone else to do it. All while being acutely aware that they are actually now hurting me, and I am getting more and more distressed.
All this considered, I actually think I handle myself relatively well. I cry, sure, and I find it hard, but I don’t have a massive freak out and I actually go and have the damn things done in the first place.
I always warn them in advance. “I have a phobia, I probably won’t faint, but I will probably cry a bit, and it’s really hard to get blood out of me, but please just get on with it and I’ll get on with staying conscious”.
What makes it really difficult is the inevitable reaction of the hospital staff when they see I have tattoos. This immediately invalidate my warning. Apparently, it’s COMPLETELY IMPOSSIBLE for me to be scared of blood tests/injections because I have tattoos. But that’s like saying “You don’t mind lizards. Whyare you afraid of snakes?”. Why? BECAUSE THEY ARE COMPLETELY DIFFERENT THINGS.
With my medical history, I’ve had many, many blood tests. I had to have 7 just last week. I think they got enough blood for 5, and that was after 20 minutes, taking blood from both hands, and leaving me with a hematoma in one hand. The three medical professionals that ended up involved with this marathon blood testing session all failed to take me seriously when I said I had a phobia. One ended up in tears herself, and one was incredibly rude to me, repeating over and over again that I had tattoos as if that would somehow make my fear vanish. Oh, you’re RIGHT! Dinosaurs ARE extinct. How silly. Oh YES! I AM much bigger than the spider, and it probably IS more scared of me than I am of it. Of COURSE! Most clowns AREN’T homocidal manicacs! Great, thanks, my fear has immediately vanished and I am now cured.
In all my years of having injections and blood tests there have only been two medical professionals that haven’t said this. You know what they both had in common? TATTOOS.
However irrational a person’s phobia may be, telling them to ‘suck it up’ or ‘just get over it’ isn’t going to help. Nor is pointing out the irrationality of their fear. All you are doing then is belittling the person, who might be sitting there looking at a picture of a clown and using every breath and every muscle and every beat of their heart trying to control the impulse to scream, cry, freak out or faint. Telling that person that they are being ridiculous is the least sensitive thing you could possibly do – and partly because THEY KNOW they reaction is over the top, and they are embarassed about it, and are using all their emotional reserves to control it.
Even if someone’s phobia seems ridiculous to you, remember that we’re all scared of something. If you are ever confronted with a person having a freak out over something you think is really dumb, just try to put yourself in their position. Imagine yourself confronted by your biggest fear. And just say, hey, it’s ok to be scared. Keep breathing, and you’ll get through this.
And if that person has hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia, pick your words carefully…