The blood curdling screams could be heard from the sidewalk in front of the house. An elderly man walking his dog froze in his tracks, staring in the direction of where he thought a murder was taking place.
His dog barked and growled; squatting and tucking its tail between its hind legs.
The front door of the house flung open widely, as if Superman had blown it open with his hurricane strength breath.
A woman dressed in a business suit ran out clutching her briefcase, swinging it wildly with each stride.
Her eyes open so wide they were on the brink of falling out of their sockets.
Her mouth so wide one could see clear into her lungs while screaming fear-laced profanities. Onto the front porch and down the stairs she ran, skipping all but one step and stumbling as she landed on the last, but not breaking her forward motion.
Finally her assailant emerged from the open door; slowly strutting out as if nothing was wrong, stopping momentarily to lick its furry paw. Giggles, the black and white cat, did not seem to be phased by all the commotion.
The business woman, on the other hand, was on the brink of a nervous breakdown.
She suffers from ailurophobia; the fear of cats.
This day, her daughter brought the friendly neighborhood stray into their house to feed it. This would also be the one day that she came home early from work.
While fearing Giggles may seem silly, the fears and phobias that some people harbor can be very serious to a person affected by it. Nearly one in four adults have a phobia, nearly 60 million Americans, according to a study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health. Only six percent have what is considered to be a “severe disorder.” Nearly 20 percent of those suffering from a phobia have what is referred to as anxiety or panic attacks. Another 10 percent suffer from social anxiety. Yet there are some phobias that may seem bizarre to others but are actual disorders.
And yes, Mercy College is full of students that have extreme phobias, ranging from the common, to the bizarre.
Danay Ross is an 18 year old Mercy College communications major freshman from Mt Vernon, New York. She considers herself to be a pre-germaphobe. According to Ross, since she is not afflicted to the point of being a recluse and able to function in society, her fear is just a step away from falling under the full label of germaphobe. She just feels that her pre-occupation with germs borders on being a bit obsessive.
“I easily spend up to $40 a month on antibacterial products such as body washes and hand sanitizers…I avoid shaking hands with strangers or touching things in public places.”
Ross smiles and laughs when she talks about how she looks at people and thinks that if they look “un-kept,” a mental decision is made to avoid physical contact with them at all cost. She admits it’s a little silly and could be hurtful to a person if they knew she thought that way about them, but can’t help the way she feels.
But Tory Thomas, a 19 year old social work sophomore major at Mercy has a slightly less sympathetic attitude when it comes to the subject of her fear.
“Squirrels are evil. They serve no purpose at all!”
Thomas is from Brooklyn, so the squirrels are much more use to people and more confrontational she feels.
“One day I was walking for the bus and a squirrel ran up and stopped in my path and stared me down…almost as if daring me to try and pass him. I was scared and decided to go another way. It just stood there watching me as I went across the street to avoid it.”
Thomas says that now, even if she is walking with a group of friends and notices a squirrel even remotely look like its coming toward her, she shrieks out and heads in the opposite direction.
When it comes to squirrels, 23 year-old Kortney Parker, a junior and health science major, has no problem whatsoever. He just fears birds instead. Big ones, little ones, ugly ones, cute ones. It doesn’t matter, they all makes his skin crawl.
Except for one.
“I would kill all birds except for chickens,” he says as his friends standing around burst into laughter.
Parker says it is just something about them not having arms that really disturbs him. He goes on to say that there is one kind of bird that he despises the most, the dreaded “hood bird.”
For all those that don’t know what exactly a hood bird is, he offers an explanation.
“A hood bird is one those that as your walking around in places like Manhattan or any city or park and will walk right beside you as if it was a dog or pet. They don’t show any fear of you and that freaks me out.”
His friends laugh again, but Parker is quite serious about his fear of birds. Parker says that he has to build himself up emotionally when he knows that he will be going anywhere that he may come into contact with birds. Unfortunately for him, with the large goose population that sometimes occupies the Mercy campus, things can be a harrowing experience for the young bird watcher.
He mentions another scenario that can wreak havoc with him regarding his fear.
“If I’m riding in a car that has a sunroof, it has to be closed before driving through an underpass.”
Where exactly Parker’s fear comes from he is not sure; what he does know is that it is very real and he struggles with it at times. His fear would fall into the category of ornithophobia; the fear of birds.
Other answers given by Mercy students were the fear of mannequins, the feel of cotton and “women with big feet.”
A phobia is defined as an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something. Though Ross, Thomas and Parker express sentiments that could categorize them as having varying degrees of phobias, at least they are able to function in life. Some people suffer from phobias that are truly debilitating such as agoraphobia (fear of leaving your house) or phagophobia (the fear of eating). The study claims that specific phobias tend to became prevalent around age 7, while anxiety and social disorders do not begin to shape until the age of 13.
Even today there is no real scientific evidence that supports how phobias develop, but there are many theories. They range from an event that happened in a person’s life regarding a specific event to some kind of subconscious traumatic experience that a person can’t remember. The one thing that is very real is how people act out from these occurrences no matter where they come from.
So the next time you’re in a relationship that you need to get out of, just tell your partner you suffer from commitorum metus (Latin for the fear of commitment) and you don’t want them to catch it.
Just make sure that they don’t speak Latin.