Fear. It is a natural human emotion. It alerts us to the presence of danger or the threat of harm. It is, at its core, a primitive and powerful mechanism for self-preservation. But how is self-preservation an explanation for one’s reaction to fear when it is the result of a phobia? After all, by its very nature a phobia is illogical. It is defined as an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something. So, if your pediophobia causes you to itch at the thought of a creepy, one-eyed doll head, or your alektorophobia means you want absolutely zero to do with a Chicken McNugget or the beady-eyed clucker it came from… we are probably safe in most cases to chuckle about it a little and conclude that these aren’t exactly life-threatening fears.
On a whim, I posted on Twitter a few weeks ago: If you had to write a horror story based on a phobia you suffer from, what would it be? Naturally this got me thinking (because let’s face it, for better or worse I’m a thinker) about my own phobia. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t afflicted by it. Though it is probably on the milder side, it has nevertheless itched and nagged and made me squirm with irrational fear like some kind of enchanted spell. Only recently did I learn it actually had a name. My phobia is…
According to Wikipedia, this is “a fear of submerged man-made objects, either partially or entirely underwater.” Wiktionary claims it is very rare, and eCounseling.com writes, “While this alleged phobia has not been confirmed through research, many people on the Internet claim to have experienced this fear.”
I assure you… there is nothing alleged about it. It’s real.
Before I go any further, let me define the parameters of my version of this phobia by making something very clear. I am NOT afraid of water. Quite the opposite, in fact. I am practically a fish. I grew up in swimming lessons, was on several swim teams, and completed my lifeguard certification course in my late teens. Pools are a cinch. And when it comes to lakes, the sight of them fill me with peace. I can happily sit on a dock or a sandy beach, and I can even get into a lake, weeds and all, as long as I am not near any submerged man-made thing. They’re uncomfortable for me to look at, but as I mentioned, I think my phobia may be on the milder side.
That is not to say, however, that the amount of anxiety my submechanophobia causes me is negligible. The sight of submerged, man-made things still kicks my heart rate up and fills me with a fight-or-flight type of anxiety. I like being on boats. I don’t like being in the water near one. And no, it is not due to some childhood trauma. Its existence is a complete mystery to me.
Let me illustrate what I mean with a recent example. This summer, we parked our mobile trailer on a permanent site. The lake on which our park sits is shallow the whole way through. In fact, it doesn’t get any deeper than 15 feet in one spot. My wee man and I have discovered a mutual love of snorkeling. We “take a toodle” as we say, and see how far across the lake we can go and how many fish we can chase. As long as I am not alone in the water, I can keep my phobia tamped down and simmering on low heat. I stay away from buoys, docks and buried water pipes, and I am calm enough to enjoy my swim. However, there was one point where I was skimming along the bottom, with wee man beside me, watching the silt and weeds for minnows when, all of a sudden… there was a lawn chair.
A lawn chair! The thought of it even now, months later and wrapped up cozy at my writing desk, makes me squirm. It was of those white, plastic things, completely benign, and you wouldn’t have even noticed it was there but for the shape—it was camouflaged by algae growth. Without even thinking, my body shot to life, I kicked my flippers like mad, and I was booting it out of there thinking Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope. That was literally my only thought: Nope.
I must have gone a good twenty feet before I ran out of air and surfaced. When I looked back, there was wee man bobbing twenty feet away, angry at me for having taken off without him. “Why were you shaking your head like that?” he shouted to me from across the water. Let it suffice to say that it was not one of my finer parenting moments.
I mean, I get the logic. It’s just plastic. Pull it out of the water, clean it off, and I’d sit in it no problem. But there, under water… it shouldn’t be there. It’s unnatural. It’s… something other. Foreign and impure. Demonic, even.
So back to my Twitter question, would I write a horror story which premise is based on submechanophobia?
You betcha, I would!
Now, I don’t mean writing my phobia into a character. I mean writing a story about the phobia, Stephen King style. Some creepy, chilling story that plays out long and slow about, oh, I don’t know… the sunken vehicles in Lake Michigan [Veronica shudders].
If the age-old adage “write what you know” is true, then what better thing is there to write than your own phobia? Rebecca Delphine states in her essay Invoking Fear, “Unsettling, spine-chilling horror is something that, if done correctly, can have a lasting and profound effect. It’s an assault on the reader’s senses that they often enter into willingly. Well-written fear will resonate inside them, lingering long after they have shut the book.”
If there is titillation for the reader, why not for the writer? To enter into the world of your own phobia willingly and taste it at its worst in order to drive it home and make it real for others… isn’t that what writing is all about?
I don’t have any immediate plans to write a horror story based on submechanophobia. However, the idea intrigues me. As itchy and uncomfortable as it will be to dive deep into this irrational fear of mine (pardon the pun), it’s also thrilling to think about. Haunting, even.
So, in closing I put the question you: what is your phobia? What irrational fear makes you twitch and squirm and want to run, run away?
And… would you write a horror story about it?