The Irrational Fear


I once knew an old man with claustrophobia. He used to go up 5 flights of stairs just to avoid getting into a lift. I saw a lot of people reason with him, encourage him, but he just wouldn’t give in. My father used to call him a stubborn old man. I never paid attention till one day he landed at our doorstep, red in the face and wheezing. His body had refused to comply with his will and his age had the last word. My mother quickly let him in and sat him down in the living room and ordered me to keep him company while she got water, made phone calls etc.

After what seemed eons to me, I finally broke the silence with one blunt question. “Why are you afraid of the lift?” The old man looked at me and with a whimsical smile said, “I’m not just afraid of this lift, I am afraid of all elevators and all closed spaces.” I did not understand how a big man like himself could be afraid. It was such a girly attribute. “But you are a boy! How can you be afraid?” The man smiled a full smile and gave one shout of laughter. He leaned in and said in a low tone, “I’ll let you in on a secret! Boys get scared very easily. They are just good at not showing it.” “Really?!”, I was awed by the realisation. “Really”, he confirmed. “And one more thing, little girl… never forget this important fact- Fear is free-spirited. It knows no boundaries.”

Fear is free spirited. It knows no boundaries.

What a novel thought it was to me. I was hardly ever scared of anything at that age and to know that I might one day live in some sort of fear was strangely liberating, inducing delicious adrenaline and I subconsciously welcomed the emotion.

I stared at the old man. “It’s an illogical fear, though. You must know that! No room is going to gobble you up.” I wondered out loud. “Yes, I know that my fear is idiotic, but I can’t get rid of it.”, the old man sighed, and shut his eyes tightly as if in pain. I stopped my questioning.

It’s been some fifteen odd years later and I understand each word he had said. Irrational fears. The knowledge that your fear is irrational plays no part in calming you. While you might face and conquer your fears on a daily basis, what it comes down to is that in there is no joy in those brief moments where the world thinks you are pretty normal. You can’t hide away the tell-tale signs forever. You know that you are acting strange or worse, being pitied for the act. You know how much happier and easier the lives of the people around you would be if you gave up the irrationality. Yet, you fail. The longer you wait, the more addicted you get to your fear. Till you can no longer identify yourself without it.

Fear runs unbound, triggered by the mildest of stimulus or forgotten in a shock; lies dormant till an occasion or stays active in an irrelevant circumstance. It could be harnessed or controlled, doctored to never be visible to another, yet it never really goes away. It lingers and latches on to you as if it is your aura. And you are grateful for it.

I wonder if I am the only one who romanticizes phobia. I wonder if the old man did it too. I think he did, for only a man in love could call his mistress free-spirited.

“Fear is free spirited”, he had said. “It knows no boundaries.”

I agree.

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