Selachophobia, coping mechanisms, and the Beatles

So I told you I’d be talking more about the Beatles on this blog. But before you go and groan about it, the context is probably going to surprise you. Because I’m going to start off by talking about sharks. Yes, you read that right. Sharks. I have a very distinct and perhaps acute phobia of them. Just writing the word is kinda creeping me out. But I’m going with this anyway.

Since I was probably around 10 years old or so, I’ve been having a problem. When I was little, I was fine. I loved to swim. I watched shark documentaries on tv with my younger sister. A lot of documentaries. She was like 4 and you know how little kids tend to find something they really like and run with it? Well, she ran with it. We had books, we had posters, we had t-shirts for goodness sake! And over time, it started to bother me. Mostly in the pool. I’m not really sure how it started or when it really became a problem. But I think I can trace my fear to two seemingly innocuous events in my childhood that took on grave significance later on. The first took place when I was probably about 4, my parents took me and my mother’s parents to Sea World in San Diego. All I remember of this experience is riding on my grandmother’s lap in her wheelchair for a little bit and walking through a long dark hallway that was covered in paintings of various shark faces. I remember looking at the faces and thinking how different they all were. I wasn’t afraid, I was curious. Then my grandfather pointed to a particularly toothy one and said something along the lines of , “I’d hate to meet him on a dark night.”

The second event is linked to the movie Flipper when I was probably about 8 years old. *sighs* Yes, the kiddie movie from the 1960s about that lovable dolphin. I know, I know. But it’s got a scene with some person in the water and sharks on their way to attack them. These were probably only moderately scary sharks. But I remember asking my mother if they could really hurt anyone and her response was, “They could probably take your foot off.” Hence why it took me years to be able to sleep with my feet uncovered. A big portion of my phobia deals with my feet, although I now know that they don’t usually go for the feet but rather the torso. But these two innocent comments turned out to have very long-ranging consequences in my life. It is probably one of the reasons I’m unsure about having children. They are so easy to mess up. (If you see this Mom, I love you.)

Now at days a quick walk down the blu ray aisle at the video store can give me enough fodder for an uncomfortable night of sleep. And watching anything on the Discovery channel in the summer becomes pretty hard. I don’t go swimming alone and generally avoid the deep end. Swimming in the ocean? Not even an option. And yes, I realize how silly this phobia is. Images can’t hurt you. And I grew up in the fricking desert! Nowhere near a shark or even a substantial aquarium. I know that the odds of me being attacked by a shark are less likely than me being hit on the head and killed with a falling coconut! It still freaks me out. I still have dreams where even a hint of water or the mere thought that a shark might come by will have me crying out in my sleep and violently trying to throw the blankets off.  It is a problem that I manage with varying degrees of success.

By now you’re probably scratching your head and thinking what the hell does this have to do with the Beatles? Well, I’m glad you asked.

About 3-4 years back, after I had moved to New England for grad school, my husband (probably tired of being rudely awakened by a freaked out wife) came up with a solution (well, a temporary one at least). He advised me that when images of sharks paraded before my closed eyes at night like a Powerpoint slide show at an aquatics convention, I should think of something completely opposite that doesn’t scare me and then focus on it. At the time he was playing some video game that involved flying a small airplane and this inspired me. If water and swimming were bad, then maybe flying was good? Well, being the weird music freak that I am, I immediately thought of Flying by the Beatles. Released in 1967 on their Magical Mystery Tour album, it was their only instrumental piece. It is quite short and rather cute. And I conveniently had already memorized the song (can’t think how that could have happened…). I had even seen the version on their movie of the same name as the album, complete with all these lovely psychedelic images of floating through clouds and over glaciers.  It was the perfect choice.

And so my thought experiment began. When I laid down at night and the usual slide show began, I quickly started playing that song in my head. Over time I had the whole thing planned out, just like a music video. It pivoted around the song, but also included images of a silly cartoon plane rolling down the runway (based on an old black and white Mickey Mouse cartoon). At a certain part in the song, the plane took off and then it was off into the friendly skies for me. This generally distracted me so much that I would drop off to sleep before I got back to sharks. It was wonderful and very effective. I even got to the point where I could go to bed without thinking of sharks at all.

Sadly, nothing lasts. Phobias are adaptable because the human brain is wily . I kinda doubt that people ever really get over them. The best most probably do is manage them. Over time I started to actually associate my thought experiment with sharks, thus neutralizing its soothing effects. But it was great while it lasted. It has been the most effective tool I’ve ever had. And it makes sense to me that my coping mechanism would involve music.

And now for your viewing enjoyment, a movie clip. Enjoy!

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One response to “Selachophobia, coping mechanisms, and the Beatles

  1. Pingback: Terror from Ontario | Just a Song Away

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