My Shrink Is Making Me Write This Post

by

When I walk out of my house each morning, I see a tree. It’s directly in front of my door. It is a garden variety tree. Can’t tell you the species. I don’t know if it’s an oak or a redwood or whatever. It’s just a tree. Here’s a picture.

DSC09601

So I’ve been living here almost a year. Guess I must have walked past this tree a few hundred times since then. I pay it no mind.

Until two weeks ago. When disaster struck.

I’m coming home from the daily grind and I decide to do a pre-dinner brisk walk workout. I pack Tog into the jogging stroller and head around the block. I’m getting a nice little speed going, feeling the burn. Yeah. I go about a mile around.

I round the corner to my street. As I get closer to the house, I’m trying to decide if I’m gonna go past the house and bust out another half mile. Can’t decide. I’m feeling a little winded. But also motivated to keep going.

As I’m coming up to my house, trying to decide whether to go inside or keep going, I see the tree in front of my house.

And something on that tree freezes me in my tracks. And my mouth drops in horror.

[I’m feeling itchy and twitchy as I write this. I hope you’re happy Dr. Gordon]

Suddenly, my knees felt weak. My throat tightened up and I couldn’t breathe. There was a sinking feeling in my stomach. It was revulsion, fear and dread–all in one heavy knot. I quickly turned to the house, grabbed Tog out of the stroller, ran up the stairs and slammed the door behind me.

I put Tog in her high chair, turned on the television and then collapsed on the sofa, my heart still pounding, my throat still tight.

I closed my eyes and tried to forget what I saw on the tree. But I couldn’t. No matter what kind of calming techniques I used, I just kept seeing It. It. It. Over and over, flashing in my mind, like a scene from a horror movie that keeps you all night.

I went to the front door–though I didn’t want to. I looked outside. It was still there on the tree. I moaned and collapsed back on the sofa, my hand over my eyes.

For the next hour–or more, I couldn’t think about anything but what I saw on that tree. I was completely incapacitated. And I thought of nothing else.

I felt twitchy and itchy and scratchy. I felt weak and just off.

So, of course you want to know what it was. A snake. A huge cockroach. An alien.

Alas.

It was none of those things.

It was a crop of mushrooms growing in a cluster. All the rain and moist weather we’ve had over the past few weeks have caused some shelf fungus to grow out of the tree.

Here’s a picture of it.

[Gulp]

DSC09597

I’m putting myself out there today. Exposing myself to all the world as the mentally ill crazy weird freak that I am. But that shit right there creeps. me. out.

Something about the way that stuff looks makes me want to run to my mom’s house and jump into bed with her and pull the covers over my head.

And once I saw it that day, I couldn’t stop thinking about it! And every time I did, I shuddered.

I would leave the house for work, keeping my head down to avoid seeing the tree. Sometimes this worked, sometimes it didn’t. It’s kind of hard to avoid a tree right in front of your house.

Sometimes, I would feel compelled to look at the tree–even though I didn’t want to! And I’d be grossed out all over again.

It was bad.

And then, I felt embarrassed. Cause how do you tell someone, hey. I’m sorta freaked out by some fungus growing on a tree. And I can’t breathe. Can you help me?

[Taking a break from writing to shudder. Scratch my hair and take a deep breath]

Okay. I’m back.

This is not the first time this has happened to me.

Back in ’99, I was working at Billboard. My cubicle mate Dylan had this black velvet coat she wore in the winter. It was crushed velvet and had a circular pattern.

I did not like this coat.

Every time she wore it, I got the heebie jeebies. Even after she would take it off and hang it up out of sight, I would still think about the weird pattern of the coat and it would completely freak me out. I actually told her about it. And she tried to get me to explain why I didn’t like it.

“It’s just a coat, Aliya,” she’d say.

“But it makes me feel weird.”

“What kind of weird?”

“I don’t know. It makes me think I’m gonna have a crushed velvet pattern on my skin.”

[Taking another break to take a deep breath.]

Okay. I’m back.

Dylan dubbed this disorder Velvet Skin. I was afraid of velvet, she decided. She stopped wearing the coat to work just for me.

And that was that.

Until I went on a press trip to Aruba and found myself on a submarine exploring marine life.

“And if you look to the left,” said our tour guide, “You’ll see some lovely brain coral.”

I looked to the left.

And I almost passed out.

Here’s what I saw.

braincoral

I took one look at this stuff and I felt like I was hit by a two by four. My skin was itching from scalp to toes. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t think. I just wanted out of that boat and onto a plane and back home immediately. For the rest of the trip, I was a mess. And I didn’t say anything to anyone. What was I supposed to say? Hey, I just saw some brain coral and the way it looked just made me want to jump off a cliff. Can you help me?

I called my husband and explained. He didn’t know what the hell I was talking about but he was as comforting as he could be from hundreds of miles away. I remember being in a taxi, coming home from the airport. And all I could think about was that effing brain coral. I came inside the apartment, crawled in bed next to my husband and bawled.

That’s how freaked I was.

I was out of sorts for a few weeks and then it faded away.

A year later, I’m in the bathroom, minding my business brushing my teeth. A drop of water hits the sink from above my head. I look up.

And boom. I’m hit with an image that make me want to run screaming into the hills.

This time, it’s just a collection of bubbles. There was a leak from the apartment above. But we’d painted our bathroom with several coats of paint so the water was just collecting in bubbles and the bubbles were filling up with water.

Somehow, this pattern of puckered up paint bubbles got my throat tight again.

Again, I was a mess. And even when I wasn’t in the bathroom, I kept thinking about that image. It stayed with me for a while. And then faded.

And now, years later.

The tree.

I’ve been in and out of garden-variety therapy for years. Not for specific issues but just general stuff. Managing work life and home. Mommy issues. The normal stuff.

So I met with my regular therapist and told her about the tree. She was stumped. [Ha. Get it? Stumped.]

She sent me to a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist who specializes in OCD.

I feared it might be OCD. But I wasn’t sure. I started Googling.

And guess what?

I ain’t the only one.

I found communities of people online who get freaked about the same sorts of things: repetitive patterns, certain mushrooms and fungus, anything that’s in a cluster form.

There is a name: trypophobia. [Update: A better term would be Repetitive Pattern Phobia] It’s not listed on any official lists of phobias. And I don’t think much research has been done in the area.

But it was comforting to read other people say they saw certain images and just sort of freaked out.

Dr. Gordon, the behavioral therapist I met with, is an OCD expert. And after a very long consultation, he gave me the verdict:

I don’t have OCD.

“There’s just a tiny glitch in your brain that processes certain images in a different way,” he said. “It might be evolutionary. There was a time when we would have to avoid things like mushrooms on a tree or certain plant life.”

“So now what?” I asked.

“Now, you work on getting over it.”

I’m supposed to just let the thoughts come and not try to fight them even if they freak me out. I’m supposed to spend 15 minutes each day visualizing that gross cluster of fungus on that tree and just really confront it and think about it. The more I do this. The more it’s supposed to help.

This weekend, I did one better. I sat down next to the tree. Peered at the cluster of fungus. Something about the pattern of squiggly lines literally made me feel nauseated. But I sat there and looked.

Then I plucked one mushroom off. And then another.

I brought them inside and showed my husband.

‘Wow. Good for you,” he said.

Sidebar: I’d like to state in this public forum that TH is the bomb. He’s got a wife with a super weird phobia. Plum crazy if you ask me. And he has been such a trooper. He will park far from the tree if I ask him to. He will let me tell him exactly how gross it is over and over if I need to. And he just gets it. Even though I know he doesn’t quite get it. Shout out to supportive husbands.

Okay. So I bring the mushrooms in. They’re on a paper towel on the table.

And they don’t bother me as much.

Not at all actually.

It’s only when they’re all packed together, making weird designs on that tree, looking like they’re gonna spread over the whole world, that I get freaked.

I saw Dr. Gordon yesterday. I brought my mushrooms in a Ziploc bag. He was very proud of me. He made me sit there with my eyes closed and visualize the clusters of fungus on that tree and just give in to feeling itchy, weird and uncomfortable.

When we were done, he told me the next step was to take a picture of the tree and put it up in my house. Look at it all the time and begin to desensitize. The next step after that he said, is to share the issue with people I know and trust.

See there’s three things at work with this weird phobia:

1. The phobia itself. I see the image and I freak.

2. The recurring thoughts. Even when I don’t see the image, my mind conjures it up for me.

3. Shame. It’s such an embarrassing thing for me! It’s hard to explain. It’s super rare. There’s not a lot of research. And it just doesn’t seem to make much sense. I want to talk about it. But I can’t. ‘Cause. Well ’cause I don’t want people to think I’m a loon.

Dr. Gordon says that exposing myself to the images repeatedly will help with the first two issues. As for the issue of shame–I need to talk about it.

As soon as he said that, I knew what I would be blogging about today.

I’m gonna conquer this weird thing head on.

And I’m going way out of my comfort zone by sharing this weird phobia with the Internets.

Dr. Gordon, I hope you’re happy. I did it. I’ll see you next week.

Dear Readers:

Do you have any weird phobias? I promise I won’t judge. I have a cousin who freaks out over cotton. And another relative who once threw away a batch of fish sticks because they creeped her out. Is it just my crazy family? Or do you—or anyone you know–have a phobia too?

I’d love to hear from you.

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31 Responses to “My Shrink Is Making Me Write This Post”

  1. Tracy Renee Jones Says:

    You are not crazy, Ma. Just a little quirky and ain’t nothing wrong with that. Not surprised Aunties, cuzzin’s and others have a heebee jeebee issue of their own. I believe the aptitude to have heebee jeebees is hereditary (wink wink). My family has plenty, so do others no matter what they say!

  2. Dylan Says:

    I wish I had a photo of that coat to post! It really looked quite a lot like the brain coral. I am so amazed and impressed that this phobia has a name. Does it make you feel any better that if you have to have a reaction, at least it’s one with a name?

  3. Aliya S. King Says:

    @dylan. no. it does not make me feel any better. and just what would you do with a photo of that coat?! POST IT?!?!

  4. MsQuiche Says:

    Ewww that pic of the brain coral is making me feel ill. Totally hear you on that one.

    My four year old son loses it whenever he sees strands of hair. He’s been that way from as far back as I can remember. Whether it’s a strand of my hair in the bathroom sink, or a few strands from my hairbrush – just totally freaks him out.

    A friend of mine is petrified of used match sticks. I guess we all have our little quirks.

    Good on you for trying to conquer your demons. I for one, never want to see that brain coral pic again, lol.

  5. Timothy Says:

    you are quite the brave on to share such a phobia!

  6. Kenesha Says:

    LOL! I HAVE THE SAME THING! There is this image and I don’t want to show it to you to freak you out, but just thinking about it now gives me the heeby jeebies. And there are these dried flower pod things that ppl. have in their homes and OMG! Just freaks me out…I am not ITCHING! I don’t cry about it, but it takes at least a day to get the image out of my mind. I feel like whatever it is, is going to spread all over my body…again with the ITCHING! Thanks for freaking me out this morning and now I know to NEVER TURN LEFT and look at the BRAIN CORAL!

  7. Kenesha Says:

    I meant I am NOW itching. LOL!

  8. Dope Fiend Says:

    I recently started working in this Pottery Cafe which specialises in catering to family’s, especially children. Well my manager was showing us some of the “cool” toys we had,she brought out these MINIMINI plastic insect toys.

    I’m like, ok, great, wonderful.

    She takes one out, a little plastic beetle, starts to wind the little noodle, sets it down on the floor and the little sh*t starts moving and turning and WOW!

    As I’m staring at it in horror, she starts to wind up a little fly, I look at her and say “Nonono, please don’t!” I hate flies, with a passion, especially the ones that make that buzzing noise, it really freaks me out, makes mye ars ring, my teeth clench. My brain feels like it’s being electrocuted. I hate, hate, hate them!

    She sets it down and it FLIES…ohhhhhh!

    The last straw was the plastic centipede….it was worming around on the floor towards me…I ran into the cafe and hid behind the counter.

    “Stop it! I don’t like it!” I was screaming, my manager and co-workers were just…in awe of my oddities.

    Note that this happened in a matter of one minute, I went from standing in the toy shop to hiding behind the counter. Now on my routine clean ups, i CEREMONIOUSLY avoid those little things like the plague.

  9. lipstickpunch Says:

    I can TOTALLY relate. The repetitive pattern thing makes me want to gag, I don’t get scared like I want to run from it, but grossed out, almost sick. I once dated a guy who was an visual artist and he asked me to look at one of his pieces, it was a repetitive pattern drawn in pencil, I almost threw up. He thought my reaction to his art was funny, but this was no joke. I can’t believe other people have this “condition” I’m shocked, really.

  10. Aliya S. King Says:

    @tracy: thanks, girl.
    @msqiche: so the brain coral freaks you out too?!
    @timothy: I’m trying.
    @Kenesha: MY TWIN. Where have you been all my life?
    @dope fiend: I would have to quit that job. For real.
    @lipstickpunch: Let’s start a support group. Seriously.

  11. Carolyn Says:

    I don’t love those patterns, either. My mother used to have a coat with a pattern similar to your co-worker’s coat. I hated it. The mushroom fungus and the brain coral did make my scalp crawl a bit. I am also weirded out by eye diseases. I can look at a person with cataracts, but almost anything else gives me the heebie-jeebies. Medical photos of eye diseases are especially jarring. I’m sure there’s a phobia for that.

  12. Anonymous Says:

    Hi Ms. KING!!! It’s Patty! I’m Shakirah’s little sister from Scott! You probably don’t remember me…but I just saw your blurb/article in Essence magazine. I’m sooo excited for you. I remember Shakirah, Shydel and Juanita being so inspired by your teachings. But more inspired with just who you were to them. Glad to see how much you’ve evolved!

    I really like your website. And you’re sooo not crazy for freaking out about those freakish mushrooms on the tree. I get freaked out every time I see burnt noodlels at the bottom of a pan. Or when Richer Pryor’s clothes got bitten by that parana:-/ (I forgot the name of the movie that clip comes from) Yeesh! It’s makes my skin crawl.

    Glad to see things are going well for you,
    Patty:)

  13. Aliya S. King Says:

    Um. Patty. Of course I remember you silly girl. I was just talking about you the other day and a friend of yours gave me your email. Seriously. Just this weekend.

    And um, Patty. There are OTHERS who are freaked out by burnt noodles at the bottom of a pan! When I Googled my issues, I saw people talking about that too!!

    Who the heck are we? And what the heck is wrong with us?! ;)

  14. Hanif Says:

    That’s Crazy! (No Pun) But, my fiancé has that same condition. I know you gave a shout out to the supportive husbands, now I feel bad, because I try to expose her to these images as much as I could for kicks. She really cringes up when she sees certain patterns or special effects on movies and she can’t look. She curls into a ball, and if it’s bad enough, I’ve seen her cry over it. Wow. I will definitely be more supportive.

    Please forgive me in advance if this freaks you out.

  15. Aliya S. King Says:

    @Hanif Be supportive!

  16. Hanif Says:

  17. Keisha Says:

    Kudos to you sweetie!!! You never need to feel shame over such an issue. My husband does have OCD and we joke about it sometimes, but when you are leaving the house and your husband has to check the stove three times even though no one has used it all day it gets to you. My thing is shower curtains. I am scared s*@!less when my shower curtain is closed and I can’t see through. My wonderful mate has taken to buying clear curtains, and once they are dry he makes sure it is open. (This is helpful because the OCD tends to make him take hour long showers.) You will get through it sweetie, or at best you will be able to live better with it.

  18. Aliya S. King Says:

    @keisha: thank you so much for sharing.

  19. Mignon Says:

    As I was reading, I just knew you were gonna show me a picture of a snake hanging from that tree. My heart jumped in my throat. O.M.G snakes freak me the.heck.out. Ick.

    But my little phobia is clowns.

    I am TERRIFIED of them. Like I wanna throw up and die then be reincarnated, throw up again and then run as fast as I can. It’s that bad! I’m in my mid twenties and broke down in front of my then 4 yr old when a clown came over to us in a restaurant to make him a balloon animal. I mean bawling right there in the restaurant. It was embarrassing. However, my husband is supportive about it (well, as much as he can. He’s in the military and isnt scared by too much of anything). BUT, He’s embraced my vow never to have any clown/carnival-themed birthday parties for the kids. That makes me feel a little better :)

  20. Jamie Fleming Says:

    I have the same phobia with patterns! My other phobia is ants. I can’t look at them on TV or in real life. I can’t be in the room with them. Once I had ants in my bedroom, and even after my mom sprayed, I COULD NOT sleep in or go in there for like two nights. And if I’m forced to deal with them on a personal level, I will cry!

    Great, now I feel like my skin is crawling lol.

  21. kSfreSh Says:

    when i was little, my fam & i were gett’n into the car after a dinner party. it was freeze’n outside and i couldnt wait for my dad to start the car and warm it up. i got into the front seat and the first thing that i see before my eyes is the windshield, covered with individual itty, bitty snowflakes — not a ONE overlapping, but just all of them beautifully reaching out to each other from the tip of one snowflake to the next, individually-design’d flake.

    for maybe.. bout two-thirds of a second, i gasp’d with delight, surprised at this wondrous masterpiece only God could create.

    then the next split second, i’m flipp’n the heck out, scream’n for my daddy to wipe the horrendous shxt off the windshield. the back of my throat is gett’n itchy and i just KNOW there are a dozen spiders crawl’n down my back because i got SHIVERS romp’n up & down my back.

    any small objects cluster’d together make me want to pull my hair out in order to relieve myself from the physical effects of seeing such displays.

    yes. i do know what you’re talk’n about. & now i have to stop write’n because there are spiders huddle on my neck.

    pS – i can’t believe you confront’d this head on. idk if i could do it!

  22. Aliya S. King Says:

    @ksfresh yup. welcome to repetitive pattern phobia. shudder and sigh.
    and I think you DID at least begin to confront it by writing that comment!

  23. TG Says:

    @Dope Fiend: yo that was hilarious, no joke. You had me reading it aloud 24-7. i was in tears.

    anyway I know watcha mean

  24. andrea Says:

    you’re definitely not alone!

    a) that tree picture has my scalp and skin crawling as i type this, and
    b) this is the exact sensation I get when i see a patch of moss. if there is ever a stick or branch lying around, i will quickly use it to destroy all moss in my path just to make the creepies go away.

  25. TG Says:

    ok well i’ve never told anybody this but when i turn up the Tv volume i have to make sure it lands on certian #’s
    if it lands on #’s i dont like then even when the volume box disapeers i get the shutters and have to turn it back. I dont know its just a little glitch.

  26. enter name here Says:

    testing…

  27. SamDanTin Says:

    Aliya,

    This is bananas. I hate to see nasty, ashy looking fungi clusters too but I can cope. What I have to talk myself into is this: I have a plastic basin in my kitchen sink that I fill with hot, soapy water to do dishes. It saves water to have the water in the basin as opposed to continuously running the water, blah, blah, blah. Anywhoodle, I despise reaching into the basin after I’ve washed a few items because most assuredly there are loose food particles floating in the water. I hate to feel the nasty scrambled egg crust floating over my hands! My kids are forever throwing darn near complete plates of food into the sink guaranteeing a multitude of floating nastiness. I rue the day they were all born, trifling heffas…..

    Oh, and mermaid-y type things. I hate the thought of mythical, deep sea floating things. So Loch Ness, heck, even sting rays creep me out. I have a serious fear of drowning but I suppose that is another post.

    Love ya!

  28. Shirley Hawkins Says:

    Hey, Aliya,

    Just saw you in Essence. Like you, I’m a scribe. I’m a staff writer at Our Weekly newspaper here on the West Coast at http://www.ourweekly.com.

    Trying to find a way to make some money with this writing jones. Any suggestions?

    As much as I love writing, I’m just scraping by. At this point, it will be a long time before I can purchase that condo or house.

    I gotta get busy. I’m at the point where I am considering changing my profession to the health field.

    Looking forward to reading your story in Essence. Essence is like mecca to me, and I’ve been reading it since my teens. I’m scared to pitch.

    There’s 2 things I would like to combine: travel and writing. I love them both. Any suggestions?

    Hit me back at http://www.ourweekly.com and look up our paper. Do you write for a paper?

    Nice blogging with you.

    Shirley Hawkins

  29. mamajanna Says:

    OK, first of all I think I do have OCD because for the last few months I have been receiving mail from the OCD Society. Apparently someone gave them my name! I do this counting thing (I’ll have to explain it in person) and every single night I get out of bed to go lock the door, and yes, it’s always already locked!

    Anyway, all my life I’ve had this strange phobia which I’ve since learned is a form of agoraphobia. The first time I tried to put a name to it was when a friend and I were walking down 34th street one nignt. Suddenly, I could see the Empire State Building in the distance and as we neared it, I started having an anxiety attack. I couldn’t breathe and my arms started itching. I imagine if I could see in the dark I would have had hives all over them. Finally I told Eloise I couldn’t walk any farther and that I had to continue to our destination underground so I couldn’t see the ESB any more. We walked the rest of the distance in the subway tunnels.

    Then while visiting a friend in Denver several years later, we decided to go up in the mountains in her camper to see the rocks that turn red when the sun sets. We came upon a natural bridge made out of car-sized boulders. I got out of the camper to take a picture and when I tried to get back in they had locked the door! I started screaming and I couldn’t turn around to look at those rocks. I was hyperventilating and was scared of what I would see if I turned around. Finally they let me back in when I started crying. Of course they all thought it was hilarious!

    Well, over time, other things caused the same reaction. Driving toward the bridge between St. Paul and Minneapolis one night I had to get out of the car and make someone else drive. Something about that bridge in the twilight…And if I’m driving through a field, I have to look straight ahead. If I turn my head and see the vastness of it, I start having a panic attack. And God forbid if I have to drive past something big like nuclear reactors or power stations!

    Then, the worse was when Regina and I drove up to Bear Mountain to visit the kids at Camp Hurley’s Family Day. By the time we started the drive back down the mountain, it was dark. Suddenly, halfway down, Regina’s headlights went off. It was pitch dark, and there was no guardrail on our side of the road. Although we couldn’t see in the dark, we knew there was nothing beyond the trees. It was Regina’s car, but she refused to get out to see what was wrong. I was more frightened about being on that road any longer so I got out of the car and started banging on the hood. I could feel the hysteria bubbling up and I was having trouble breathing but finally, the lights came back on. Must have been a short.

    Anyway, I drove the rest of the way down because Regina was a basket case too. At the bottom of the mountain was a deli. Suddenly I was ravenous! I just had to get something to eat. I went inside and ordered a liverwurst and onion sandwich on a roll with mayonaise. I had never eaten liverwurst in my life. Even as a child, just the smell of it would make me nauseated. I took two bites and threw up. I was so traumatized by the incident on the mountain that I had to eat something that totally made me sick.

    OK, now, do I sound just as wacky as the rest of you?

  30. Aliya S. King Says:

    @mamajanna: You are very obviously closely related to me. Sigh.

  31. Nanj Says:

    OMG!!!
    I know this reply is super late but I KNOW EXACTLY HOW YOU FEEL!!!! I am freaked out by clusters of things and coral with holes in it and just looking at the brain coral made me want to cry (my friends are looking at me like a weirdo) I thought I was the only one who felt this way.I never thought to look into it because I just thought it was so weird.

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