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What Are You So Afraid Of?
Facing our phobias
Paldon Dolma, Shameeka Dowling, Malik Frank, Breanna King, Emmanuel Lindsay, Angelica Sanchez, Linda Sankat, Destiny Smith

Balloon Menace

When I was a little girl I loved to blow up balloons. The way they could expand fascinated me. Every time I went to IHOP I’d ask, “Where are my balloons?”

Then one day, I saved my IHOP balloons until I got home so that I could blow them up in my bedroom. Halfway into blowing up a balloon, it popped and I found myself choking on it. It was rubbery, partly blocking my breathing passage. My mom heard me making gagging noises, so she came in and stuck her fingers down my throat to pull it out.

After that day I was never calm around a balloon. I’d become paranoid, dreading that it might pop. When I’d see someone fiddling with a balloon, I’d anticipate the pop and remember that awful experience.

The fear has lasted into my teenage years. I can spot a balloon from anywhere and as soon as I do, I can’t concentrate on anything else. My whole thought process is focused on the balloon. When my friend Unique threw a Sweet 16 party, the room was full of balloons and I started to feel hot as soon as I saw them.

I realized how serious my phobia was when I saw a little kid playing with a balloon and realized that I wanted to take it from him. The way the kid was handling the balloon was just wrong. He was twisting it like it was a solid object instead of something fragile, filled with poppable air.

Since then I’ve noticed that any kid with a balloon causes me to panic, because I don’t think children know how to play with balloons properly. They’re meant to be bounced and tapped, or drawn on with a marker (not with a pen, though). There are rules to playing with a balloon.

—Destiny Smith

image by Freddy Bruce

Tardy Terrors

Tardiness is one of my biggest fears. I am very enthusiastic about learning, and I relish every second in the classroom. I always try my best to arrive to all of my classes on time, because it absolutely pains me to be late. Whenever I walk in late to a classroom, I can just feel the eyes of my fellow students staring at me. It’s embarrassing. I try to avoid their gaze, for I hate the negative attention. If I am late, I fear that others may perceive me differently or that I may lose my teacher’s trust.

About a year ago, I had a terrible nightmare. I had shrunken down to about a tenth of my current size. The bell had just rung, and I was desperately scurrying to my next class, which was nearly impossible at a mere six inches tall. To add to that, several relay-like obstacles kept appearing in my way. I had to try to bypass them as best as I could. Then the late bell rang. I was so devastated and frightened that I woke up with a feeling of shock.

I have come to realize that I am more afraid of the thought of being late than I am of actually being late. Being tardy a few times because of traffic jams and subway delays, and realizing that it’s not the end of the world, have calmed my fears somewhat. The only way that we can overcome our fears is to face them head-on and accept that sometimes things are beyond our control.

—Linda Sankat

Ew, Tissue

image by Freddy Bruce

My phobia is balled-up tissue. It’s not exactly that I’m scared of it, but the sight of it makes me uneasy. The first thing that pops into my mind when I see it is germs or something nasty. That makes me anxious.

It all started when I was 6. I used to get on the bus and my mother would make me sit on the inside, next to the window. There were always balled-up tissues in between the seat and the window. When I got older, I stopped sitting on the inside, or I would check to see if there was a balled-up tissue there before I sat down.

Once I got to high school, my friends started to notice how, every time someone balled up a tissue, I would get nervous and start to move away. Everyone thought it was silly, but I couldn’t help it.

Some of my male friends thought it was funny to throw tissues at me as a joke. “This is going to help you get over it,” they’d tell me, as if that was the real reason they were doing it rather than having a laugh at my expense. They just couldn’t believe someone could be scared of tissue. I dealt with the teasing all through high school. I still don’t like them and I don’t think I ever will, but I’m OK with that.

—Breanna King

Horrible Heights

I’ve been afraid of heights since I was a kid. When I'm up real high I start feeling dizzy and get this weird feeling in my stomach. I’m scared of being on high roofs, Ferris wheels, and most of all, roller coasters. I know most people think roller coasters are fun, and I thought the same thing until I started going on them.

image by Freddy Bruce

My fear actually started when I got on my first roller coaster. I thought it was going to be fun. But when I got on the roller coaster, I started freaking out because I’d never been up that high before. It feels completely different sitting in a roller coaster on the ground than when you’re at the top looking down. I can deal with the lower ones, but when it comes to the high ones, such as the Nitro or the Kingda Ka at Six Flags, I just can’t face them. Those roller coasters go so high you can actually see the whole amusement park.

I know people say you shouldn’t look down when you’re afraid of heights, but I’m the type of person who would look down even if I was told not to. I think this is part of the reason why I am scared of heights in the first place. I look down because I want to be aware of my surroundings. If I was walking on a bridge 1,000 feet off the ground, the first thing I would do is look down. From that moment, my adrenaline would be rushing.

My fear of heights bothers me, but not to the point where I break down inside and faint. I am slowly working on overcoming it by trying high adventure activities like rock climbing, repelling, and, believe it or not, attempting to go on roller coasters when I have the courage.

—Emmanuel Lindsay

Big, Bad Dogs

I’m afraid of big dogs. It started when I was a kid living in Brooklyn. In my neighborhood I saw a lot of people walking their dogs without leashes. It made me nervous, and sometimes I’d run away if they approached me.

One day, a big dog came down the stairs in my building. When the dog got near me, it attacked with its claws and gave me a long cut from my knee to my ankle. The guy who owned the dog said, “Watch it yo, you should never have been there.” Then he left with his dog, offering me no further help. When my mom saw the cut, she was shocked and rushed me to the bathroom to clean, wrap, and bandage it so it wouldn’t get infected.

image by Freddy Bruce

Over the years, I’ve learned not to fear dogs as much. Instead of running away from them, I remain calm and avoid walking too close so the dogs won’t have the opportunity to attack. Dogs still try to sniff me sometimes, but I’m not as scared as I used to be. I realize now that not all dogs are out to get me.

—Malik Frank

The Real World

One of my biggest fears is growing up. I’ve been so dependent on my mother; she has always held my hand through life’s struggles. I’m currently 18 and on the borderline between my teen years and adulthood. I don’t know how I’m going to handle things on my own.

Becoming an adult requires a lot of motivation, hard work, and much more. The thought of supporting myself and possibly supporting a family intimidates me. I’m afraid of what my adult life will be like. At one point I even had a fear of being homeless because my grades were so bad I figured I’d never get out of high school, never get a stable job, and never be able to support myself.

Now I have great grades and I’m almost out of high school, but I still have a fear of growing up. It’s gotten better as I’ve matured, but I’d still rather stay a kid with no worries and no problems. Life goes on, though, so I feel like I have to be open to learning as I grow. My time to be an adult will come.

—Angelica Sanchez

image by Freddy Bruce

Public Speaking Panic

I became nervous about public speaking in the 4th grade. Before that, I never paid much attention to the way I spoke in front of a class, or anywhere. But just before 4th grade began, I moved from India to New York and became very self-conscious in this new environment. Whenever I would open my mouth to speak in class, the feeling of everyone’s attention on me made my heart throb. The sound of my voice faltering would annoy me, and I felt as if the audience couldn’t wait for my mouth to close.

I feared that my classmates would look down on me because of my soft-spoken voice and my accent. I especially didn’t like being assigned to speak as part of a group project. Afraid of losing points for my team, I would choose to speak the least.

I tried to handle the problem by rehearsing speeches in my mind and coming up with a lot of ideas beforehand about what I would say. It was soothing to feel more prepared.

Still, long before my turn to speak would come, my mind would become occupied with nervous thoughts. What if the other students yelled for me to speak louder? How humiliating that would be! Or what if I forgot my topic and lost the flow in the middle of a sentence?

I tried to brush off all these negative thoughts and remind myself that worse things could happen. But—even though the things I feared never actually came true—I found it hard to stay positive.

I wanted to be the kid who fixed her eyes straight on the audience and spoke clearly in fluent English. So, when my classmates who seemed like the best public speakers got up to talk, I would pay full attention and note the do’s and don’ts: make eye contact; don’t get distracted; speak clearly; look confident. At night, before a presentation or a big event, I’d envision myself speaking flawlessly.

image by Freddy Bruce

Gradually, I started to feel more prepared and less fearful, though I still experience some anxiety before speaking in class. I improved by building my confidence, absorbing the positive inspiration around me, and practicing my skills.

—Paldon Dolma

Animals Gone Wild

One January day, I was about to enter a friend’s apartment when I heard a bark. Instead of knocking, I turned and walked back down the stairs that I’d just walked up and out the building door that I’d just walked through. Less than a minute after I had arrived, I was leaving.

Ever since I can remember, animals that are not in cages have been my fear. I wouldn’t have ventured to my friend’s house knowing a dog was around. As I reached the sidewalk, heading back toward the J train, my friend’s mother called out to me from the window.

“Where are you going? Why are you leaving so fast?” she called after me.

What could I tell her? “I am scared of animals,” I said.

image by Freddy Bruce

My friend’s mother told me that the dog was trained to follow commands and not harmful at all. I trusted her, so I went back inside. The door opened and I saw one of the toughest dogs I’ve ever heard of, a pit bull. I wanted so badly to run, but I was too scared to flinch. The dog continued to bark.

My friend’s mother said the dog had to smell me to get familiar with me. So I stood with my eyes closed, so stiff that I could have won an award for prettiest statue. My terrified thoughts were interrupted by something wet and slippery touching my hands. I slowly opened my eyes to see this big, black dog—that everyone except me seemed to think was a puppy—licking my hand. He had a tongue twice as long and teeth twice as big as mine. I sat in one spot for two hours, but fortunately, I left my friend’s house in one piece.

You’re probably asking, “Who isn’t afraid of pit bulls?” But I am afraid of other dogs, too—like my grandmother’s Chihuahua, Missy. This is a dog who once barked at a cat in the corner store, only to be attacked by the cat.

Sadly, Missy left the fight with a broken leg and walks with a limp to this day. But to me, she’s still scary because she has teeth and nails that can do damage to my body. I’m just plain old me, with no claws to use as my defense.

As Missy’s experience proved, cats can be more dangerous than dogs. Some superstitious people even say they’re bad luck, and I believe it. I have family members with those bad luck cats and just looking at them makes me itch.

My aunt’s cat has oval eyes that never stop following me. I have seen him jump on everything my aunt owns. What’s worse, the cat hides in cabinets, under beds, in shoeboxes, under piles of clothes—anywhere its little body can fit. When a cat suddenly pops out of hiding, it’s like coming eye to eye with the monster in your closet. My first reaction is to run.

City wildlife scares me, too. Like city people, city animals are up front with you. Squirrels walk around New York like hungry property owners, so eager and demanding. They act as if I have to give them free food.

And it seems that when I was younger, birds would quickly fly away when I passed. But birds act more comfortable around people nowadays, a little too comfortable. They are so comfortable that they make me uncomfortable, because they always look like they are up to no good. I do not want to know how it feels to be hit with a wing, or even a feather.

No matter if it’s a scary dog, a sneaky cat, a hungry squirrel, or just those brave birds—if the animal is not in a cage, then I am not around. I am comfortable with my fear and have learned to avoid these cage-free animals.

—Shameeka Dowling

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