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 www.shannonmckinnon.com

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