Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Phobiettes And That Time I Panicked

I have a phobia, you guys. (A different one from the one I wrote about here.) I'm afraid of some objects we'll refer to as "phobiettes." And recently I had an encounter with some at a party my school did.

Here's my story.

Image source.

Last week I checked with the teacher who was organizing the party, to see if there would be phobiettes there. She said probably yes, and I asked for some details. The way she described it, well it wasn’t as bad as it could be. The arrangement would be such that no phobiettes would be near the area I was assigned to. I very hesitantly said okay. (Well, this party was part of my job- I didn't really have a choice.)

And I was super-nervous about it. Not looking forward to this party at all.

So I got to the party an hour or so early to help with setup. Most of the other teachers were already there, and so were the phobiettes. I kept my distance, and tried to help set up a little, but I felt really really nervous, and eventually I went outside to sit down and try to relax.

I felt so horrible and scared. Thinking about how this fear limits me- I hate that. And trying to figure out what I was gonna do- man, I’m a teacher, I have responsibilities at this party, I’m going to have a group of students and I’ll have to chat with them and encourage them to speak English and participate in the party games.

Eventually, when students started arriving, I decided to go in and check the situation.

As soon as I stepped in the door, I saw them. Oh dear goodness. Phobiettes, and NOT confined to where my coworker said they would be. And ...

I don’t know what happened. Was I trying to take a step forward or back? Or was I frozen? Just then, two other teachers happened to be coming over to the door where I was, and they’re like “Are you okay???”

And I just, you know, look down and try not to cry, and force out the words “I’m afraid of phobiettes.” After all these years, I’ve gotten used to just saying it, without shame, without getting upset with people for being unaware of the horrible scariness that lurks right behind then.

So we went back outside and sat down, and they’re talking about how I should just rest and go home and it’s okay I don’t need to be at the party, and let’s go find our manager and tell her what’s going on, and I’m just crying and trying to breathe, trying to say “but you need me to be here.”

Breathe, breathe, breathe.

It wasn’t until I’d calmed down a bit that I realized my arms and legs were shaky and numb.

So my manager showed up and brought me a water bottle and said I should go home. And actually maybe we should call my boyfriend right now to come get me. So I called him but I didn’t even know how to talk anymore (English or Chinese), so my manager just told him what was going on and to come get me.

I waited there with one other teacher, who talked with me about random small talk things to help me feel better. Students kept walking by, to go in to the party, and some of them were concerned about me, and my colleague would just tell them (usually in Chinese) “she’s okay, she’s afraid of phobiettes” and, whatever, I don’t care anymore who knows.

My boyfriend showed up, and everybody else went to the party and we just sat there together, because my legs still felt all weak and shaky and I needed to rest a little bit before I could go home.

And breathe, breathe, breathe.

We went back to my apartment, and you know, just rested and had dinner, and I was okay. But so confused about what had happened.

I’ve never had such a huge physical response like that. Maybe it was a panic attack- though I’m not exactly sure what counts as a panic attack.


I feel like I did everything I could have done. Like somehow, this situation is special because I’m not at fault at all. A week before the party, I asked about the phobiettes. And my manager and colleagues already knew I was afraid of phobiettes. And ... then the moment I walked in and saw them, my body had this massive physical response which was clearly out of my control.

Because it’s physical, no one can say I should just “get over it.” No one can say I’m just making a big deal over something, or using it as an excuse not to do my job.

But let me tell you- that whole panic attack thing, it was nothing compared to if I had gone to the party and had to sit there the whole time feeling SO NERVOUS, trying to be in charge of my group of students but constantly distracted and jumpy.

That was nothing. Really, that was nothing.

Just because I was crying and physically COULD NOT GO IN... somehow that carries more weight than the torture of having to sit there for a few hours pretending I was okay.

Somehow it’s more real because it was physical.

Am I talking about other people’s judgment on my phobia and whether I can use it as an excuse? Or am I talking about how I judge myself?

Why do I have this attitude like “this is just a stupid thing, I should just get over it” when I know better than anyone else how hard it is?

I don’t want to be different. I don’t want to go around telling people I’m so special, I have this medical issue and everyone needs to accommodate me.

No, I always believed when I became a real adult, well, then there’s no excuse. Real adults don’t have problems like that. I need to get rid of this in order to be a regular person. I need to act like I’m fine.

Because seriously, how professional is that, to tell my manager I can’t help staff the summer party because of phobiettes?

That’s silly and immature, right?

Is it better to have a small panic attack upon arriving at the party? Is that more professional?


But what could I have done? What if I had decided, a week before the party, that I couldn’t go if there were phobiettes? What if I set a guideline that says I will not be in any role with any kind of leadership responsibilities at an event with phobiettes?

But see here’s the thing. Then before the party, when all the other teachers were excited and talking about it, I would have felt left out. I hate how this phobia does that to me- there are things which other people think are so fun, but I leave my friends and wait outside because there are phobiettes. And I know everyone is in there having fun without me.

That has happened to me so many times.


I had no idea I would panic like that. Really, that’s never happened to me before. Maybe it was because of the pressure I felt because I did have responsibilities and I would be a leader- no option to just get out and get some space for a minute if I felt too overwhelmed.

I definitely didn’t think I would panic like that. I thought I would sit there at the party for a few hours and totally totally hate it, except maybe a couple minutes here and there where I would be distracted by the fun going on around me. I thought I’d be constantly looking over my shoulder, and the students would totally notice I wasn’t exactly paying attention and they’d ask if I was okay. I thought I’d be watching the time and keeping an eye on the door, so I could bolt out the moment the party ended.

But I never would have thought I could use that as an excuse to not be at the party. Everyone has to do stuff they don’t like for their jobs sometimes, right?

(Even though I much prefer the whole panic-attack-and-crying-in-front-of-all-the-people-walking-by thing.)


Should I think of it as a medical condition or something silly I should just “get over”?


Sometimes feminist blogs talk about things like panic attacks and PTSD, and knowing how to take care of oneself if one is affected by them. And how it’s okay. Apparently these are real things that real adults suffer from, and it’s okay to know one’s limits and set boundaries.

Really? I don’t know. It’s one thing to avoid phobiettes in my own spare time, but to act like that’s a legitimate thing my job should have to accommodate because I can’t handle it... that feels like complaining, making a big deal over nothing. 


I don't know. Just dumping all my thoughts here.


  1. This is so real.

    I'm sorry...I love you<3

  2. I sympathize. And I suspect that your mega-reaction might have had something to do with a feeling of betrayal-- that you had thought your fear was understood and was being accommodated, but instead they just blatantly had the whatever-they-weres right there.