For as long as I can remember, I’ve had Cynophobia, a fear of dogs. Where it stems from is anyone’s guess as I have never been attacked or bitten by a dog. We always had a dog when I was a kid and I wasn’t quite so afraid of them as I was other canines in the area. Always been a cat person instead. I don’t like being afraid of dogs. It’s a phobia I’ve been working on conquering for my whole life with some level of success – thanks to my husband and daughter and their dog-loving ways.
I also have Arachnophobia, a fear of spiders. The movie of the same name was torture to watch, but I forced my way through it. It’s the spindly legged ones that bother me the most. Oddly, if I HAD to pick an arachnid to hold, I’d take a Tarantula over a Daddy Longlegs (aka Harvestman and technically NOT a spider) any day. It’s all about the legs. Nope. Nope. Nope. Not gonna happen, kids! Snakes, on the other hand, no problem!
One of my more common phobias is Glossophobia, the fear of public speaking, or more specifically in my case, the fear of public SINGING (Decantophobia). In high school I was in Drama Club which involved several cases of group singing (which was fine) and a couple minor speaking roles, not a problem. I also took an elective class called Public Speaking. As a writer I’ve done a couple talks on my work and always enjoy one-on-one chats with people who stop by to talk about my books. Singing solo in front of other people, on the other hand, terrifying!
My Decantophobia may stem from the numerous times my Nana required me to sing to her Church lady friends during their get-togethers on Sunday afternoons following services. I was all of six or seven when this madness began and INTENSELY shy. I’m still very quiet and shy around people I don’t know. But, without fail, if I were staying with Nana and Papa and it was Nana’s week to host the luncheon, I’d inevitably hear “Come and sing for us, Pammy. Oh, she has such a pretty voice.” I remember trying to hide at least once, but I was always found and pretty much forced to perform either “Over The Rainbow” or “Take Me Home, Country Roads” under the watchful eyes and ears of The Church Ladies.
With this deeply entrenched fear of public singing, I went and got myself hooked up with a musician about six years ago. I am more than happy to let him stand in the spotlight while I sit at the table in the crowd and enjoy his talent and skill. Unfortunately during one of our many Skype calls, he apparently heard me singing while I thought he was out of the room eating dinner. Once he moved in, I’ve never heard the end of “You need to sing more. You have a really nice voice. You should sing karaoke when we go.” Yadda-yadda-yadda. Like the whole spider thing, “No, no, no, and no. Did I mention, no?”
I’ve been considering this for a long time – over a year, at least. “Absolutely not” began to morph into “Only if I’m drunk enough,” to “Maybe, if you let me hide in the ladies room while I do it”, to “Maybe, if I can hide behind the stage,” to “Maybe, if I can just sit here at the booth.” to “Well, if I were to do it, I’d sing this.” to “I’m pretty sure I could sing that a whole lot better than she is.” You get the idea. And in no way, shape or form was I going to stand up there ALONE! Way too self-conscious for that. For months I’ve carried around one of the slips you have to fill out with the name of the artist and song you want to sing on it that you hand into the DJ before the singing starts. That, however, would require a solo. So, again, no.
That all changed while making chicken gravy and biscuits for dinner.
Jim came into the kitchen and said, “You want to go to karaoke tonight?” Aloud I said, “Sure.” In my head I heard, “And you’re going to be shocked at what I’m going to do when we get there.” Lest I chicken out, I didn’t mention this internal dialogue to the spouse. The closer the time came, the more nervous I got, but something kept pushing me to do this. You’ve done more difficult things. What’s three minutes of public singing? Pft. Nothing. Before I could change my mind, I went up and grabbed a slip of paper and the song book while Jim went and got us each a beer. By the time he returned, I’d filled out the song and sat at the table waiting. I slid the paper over to him. He read it … nodded, but obviously didn’t read the bottom line where instead of writing just ‘Jim’ I’d written, ‘Jim and Pam”. Needless to say, the look he gave me was one of utter surprise. “Really?” he said. “What brought this on?” All I could do was shrug.
I spent the next twenty minutes forcing myself to think of other things, nervously looking out the window, trying not to guzzle down the bottle of liquid courage set before me, swallowing down those feeling of pure terror, and taking big calming breaths. I could do this. I would do this, damn it. With my heart in my throat and my hands shaking, I joined Jim after his solo performance and took up a mic of my own. “Just be calm!” If you start freaking out it’s only going to make it worse. Just do it.
Three minutes and one Dr. Hook song later (Sylvia’s Mother), it was over with. I made it. I hadn’t passed out, thrown up, or burst out sobbing with embarrassment even though I messed up a bit. Pretty sure my face was beet red by the time I scurried back to the booth, but … done.
The point of this long-winded phobia-facing rant is this. I’m a Horror writer. I’ve written about some pretty dark and disturbing situations. I love scary movies and books. I love cemeteries and haunted places. I’m fascinated by the darker side of life and for some reason a lot of people think that makes me immune to fear. Everyone has fears. EVERYONE! If someone tells you they aren’t afraid of anything, they are full of shit.
At 50+ years old, I am still learning and exploring who I am. I want to grow and do things I’ve never done before it’s too late. Accomplishing that and being all I can be and having no regrets means pouring some water on those flaming fears that hold me back. I want to like dogs. I want to be brave enough to hold a tarantula. I want to be confident in front of strangers. And, apparently some place in me wanted/wants (?) to sing in public. Who knew?!
Our perspectives of our fears are always a lot more extreme that the actual result of stepping up to the mic and facing them. I encourage everyone reading this to work towards conquering those fears you have one tiny step at a time. And you people out there who mock people who have phobias like mine, KNOCK IT OFF! Have some sympathy and stop laughing. You aren’t helping. You’d not put a bottle of whisky in front of an alcoholic trying to better themselves or a full needle of heroin in front of an addict trying to stay clean, would you? If so, don’t even bother speaking to me. I have no use for people like that.
Just like overcoming an addiction, the decision to face and try to defeat a phobia must come from the one who suffers from it. They have to want it, but it’s nice to know there are people out there who believe in you and will stand by your side (sometimes literally as when I took that microphone in hand last week) when you’re ready. Be encouraging, but don’t push. For me, being pushed into something is possibly what started this whole case of Decantophobia.
I became a little bit braver that night than I was the one before it. The relief and the sense of personal accomplishment for facing a fear I’ve had since childhood was amazing. That isn’t to say the fear is gone, not by a long shot. But, a bit of the edge has been trimmed. It’s a start … and who knows where it will go from here?
Speaking of phobias – check out my short story Because, Spiders over on Amazon!