Coping with my escalating phobia

Tyra Banks is terrified of dolphins, Orlando Bloom is scared of pigs, Oprah Winfrey has a phobia of gum and Woody Allen . . . well according to one source the iconic director is afraid of insects, sunshine, dogs, deer, bright colours, children, heights, small rooms, crowds and every place in the world except Manhattan.

Tyra Banks is terrified of dolphins, Orlando Bloom is scared of pigs, Oprah Winfrey has a phobia of gum and Woody Allen . . . well according to one source the iconic director is afraid of insects, sunshine, dogs, deer, bright colours, children, heights, small rooms, crowds and every place in the world except Manhattan.

It’s easy to laugh at phobias we don’t share, but if we really examine ourselves we probably all have at least one screwball fear bouncing about in our brain. Mine is of escalators. And bears, but I don’t think being scared of something that really could kill you — even if they rarely do — counts as screwball. Being scared of escalators on the other hand is a bit wacky. You don’t often hear of anyone being attacked by an escalator.

So why a fear of escalators? Growing up in a small town I first confronted the dreaded moving stairs on a trip to the big city when I was five or six and it was hate at first sight. When my own children from the same small town met their first escalator at about the same age they reacted with amazement and delight. All they wanted to do — to my great dismay — was ride the escalators up and down with me all afternoon. I don’t know why I didn’t react the same way as my children — I just know when I saw my first escalator I was terrified.

My family patiently encouraged me to step on and I loudly refused. As a line up formed behind us my sisters and my mother desperately tried to convince me there was nothing to be afraid of and to just get on the stairs already. I yelled louder. At that point a male salesperson who had been observing the whole debacle walked over, picked me up and set me on the moving stairs. My surprised family scrambled on behind me.

It could have gone either way. I could have realized my fears were unfounded and delighted in the ride to the second floor of the department store. Or I could remain fearful of escalators — and a bit distrustful of male salespersons — to this very day. Unfortunately it was the latter.

There are still no escalators in my small town so I am only faced with them once or twice a year when I visit a city. In an effort to overcome my fear I force myself to use escalators at every opportunity but if you watch me closely you can tell I’m still nervous. My escalator dismount is pretty discreet; I don’t throw myself to the ground and kiss the floor or anything like that. Getting on to go up looks pretty normal too — but going down attracts a bit of attention. I no longer scream or cry like I’m a five year old but I still hesitate just long enough for people to look at me funny. As each stair pops out it feels like there’s an optimum time to step on and if I don’t choose the right moment I’ll end up on half a step which will cause me to lose my balance and send me somersaulting to my death. So I stand there with my foot hovering in mid air waiting for just the right moment to commit. Airports are the worst. Not only do you usually have to get down to ground level but you have to do so while dragging a couple heavy suitcases behind you. This makes it challenging to free up a hand for the necessary death grip on the railing.

Ah, the railing. Once a young man noted me clutching the rail and in a rather odd role reversal exclaimed with great concern, “You should never touch the railing, don’t you know it’s the dirtiest thing in the whole place?”

I was tempted to smirk and dismiss him as a germ phobe but given my crazy clutch on the railing I was hardly in any position to judge. Worse, I knew he was right. So instead I agreed with him, thanked him for his concern and gave him a warm smile. But to his great dismay I refused to relax my grip in the slightest. The dirty railing may be bad for my health, but so is rolling down a flight of stairs. I’m dead if I do, dead if I don’t. Maybe if I lived in a city where I had the opportunity to use escalators every day I would eventually overcome my ridiculous fear and be normal. But what exactly is normal anyway? Is anyone normal? The longer I live the more I doubt it. As the saying goes, normal is just a setting on a washing machine.

Shannon McKinnon is a humour columnist from the Peace Country. You can read past columns by visiting

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange says she has not received an official request from any other school board for a similar move to online learning. (Advocate file photo)
’Operational pressures:’ Calgary schools shift to at-home learning for grades 7 to 12

School boards can ask to move online for a number of reasons

Russian President Vladimir Putin visits the Coordination Center of the Russian Government in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, April 13, 2021. The centre was set up as a line of communication with the whole of Russia for analysing and collecting information, promptly using big data and solving arising problems. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Months after hack, US poised to announce sanctions on Russia

First retaliatory action against the Kremlin for last year’s hack

WestJet president and CEO Ed Sims addresses the airline’s annual meeting in Calgary, Tuesday, May 7, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
WestJet CEO Ed Sims finds Air Canada aid package ‘bittersweet’ as talks drag on

OTTAWA — WestJet CEO Ed Sims says the federal government’s aid package… Continue reading

British Columbia Premier John Horgan (centre, blue jacket) is drummed into the Lower Post Residential School by Kaska drummers in Lower Post, B.C. on Orange Shirt Day in a 2019 handout photo. A former residential school building known as a place of pain and fear for residents of the remote British Columbia community of Lower Post will be demolished and replaced after decades of lobbying efforts by local Indigenous leaders. The federal and B.C. governments say construction on a new $13.5 building project is set to start in June and expected to be complete next year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Manu Keggenhoff MANDATORY CREDIT
Residential school building at Lower Post, B.C., to be demolished, replaced

VICTORIA — A former residential school building in the remote British Columbia… Continue reading

A 60-year-old COVID-19 patient fights for his life, desperately gasping for air as head intensivist Dr. Ali Ghafouri, centre, provides life saving medical care in an emergency situation in the intensive care unit at the Humber River Hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Tuesday, April 13, 2021. The patient was intubated and put on a ventilator successfully. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
‘Sicker and younger’: Toronto ICU copes with pressure during third wave of pandemic

TORONTO — Intensive care nurse Jane Abas is assessing her patient, checking… Continue reading

FILE - NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman speaks during the “Topping Off” ceremony of the New York Islanders new home, the UBS Arena at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y., Friday, Oct. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Mary Altaffer
Islanders close to selling out inaugural season at UBS Arena

Arena capacity of about 17,000 for hockey

An Uber Eats delivery person carries items near the Japan National Stadium, where opening ceremony and other events are planned for postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics, with engravings in honor of 1964 Tokyo Olympics seen on the side of the stadium wall behind the fence Tuesday, April 6, 2021, in Tokyo. Two top officials of Japan’s ruling LDP party on Thursday, April 15, 2021, said radical changes could be coming to the Tokyo Olympics. One went as far to suggest they still could be canceled, and the other that even if they proceed, it might be without any fans.(AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Officials say Olympic cancellation, no fans still an option

COVID-19 cases have been rising across Japan

FILE - In this Jan. 24, 2020 file photo, co-directors Jim LeBrecht, left, and Nicole Newnham, center, from the documentary “Crip Camp” pose with film subject Judith Heumann during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. The disabled have a moment in the Oscar spotlight that they hope becomes a movement. LeBrecht, who has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair, says a golden age for disabled films could come if Hollywood lets them tell their own stories. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP, File)
The disabled hope their Oscar moment can become a movement

Traditionally the disabled appear only when an actor seeking an Oscar-worthy role plays one on screen

FILE - Diane Warren poses for a portrait at the 90th Academy Awards Nominees Luncheon on Feb. 5, 2018, in Beverly Hills, Calif. Warren is nominated for an Oscar for best original song for her work in “The Life Ahead” starring Sophia Loren. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)
12-time Oscar nominee Diane Warren hopes for ‘awesome’ win

Third movie adaptation of the 1975 Romain Gary novel ‘The Life Before Us’

Opinion: Waiting 4 months between vaccine doses too long

“It’s not just a matter of potency, it’s a matter of the… Continue reading

Most Read