Trypophobia is real

Way back in the third or fourth grade, I had a bulletin board in my bedroom that I used for pictures of Big Daddy Don Garlits and pictures of new cars that I had cut out of magazines. I also pinned a page from my weekly reader that featured something I don’t even remember. What I do remember about that page was a secondary article about cancer accompanied by an image of a cancer cell.

I knew right away that there was something odd about that image. My eyes were drawn to it like a magnet. When I looked at it, I felt weird and uncomfortable. If I looked away, the feeling subsided, but then I couldn’t help looking again, just to confirm it was the image making me feel that way.

This went on for weeks, maybe even months. I wanted to take the page down, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it, mostly because I was fascinated with its power to change the way I physically felt but also because I was afraid to get close to it. It was the first time I felt flawed as a human being. I told no one about this. Even if I wanted to tell someone, I had no idea how to explain it.

I can remember years later flipping through a magazine when I came across an ad for something that, again I don’t remember. I only remember the picture of someone’s finger with bb sized holes in the skin. I immediately became nauseated and started to sweat. My heart started racing and my adrenaline began surging. It was a fight-or-flight reaction, but I couldn’t flee. Even when I looked away I couldn’t stop staring at it in my memory, and the memory of it was just as disturbing as the actual image. Just typing this brought back the memory of it, still clear enough to make me feel uncomfortable.

I would always try to analyze it whenever it occurred. Mostly, they were images of holes, but I couldn’t find a common descriptor. Honeycombs do not bother me, and neither do sponges. So what is the key? To this day, I could not tell you, but believe me, I know it when I see it.

I have since learned that it’s called trypophobia. People with trypophobia have a strong physical and emotional reaction whenever they see patterns made up of holes or spots. The bigger the cluster of circles, the more uncomfortable it feels.

It sounds stupid and totally made up but for me, I honestly believe that some images could render me catatonic if left to burn into my mind’s eye for more than a second or two.

Although this phobia is not recognized in the American Psychiatric Association’s current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the term has been popular since 2009, when a University of Albany student founded the website Trypophobia.com and a support group on Facebook.

Because trypophobia can produce a range of symptoms with varying degrees of intensity, from mild aversion to an immediate, intense feeling of disgust, fear, or even a full-blown panic attack, it’s likely “a natural and widely shared phenomenon that most people can experience to some degree,” says Renzo Lanfranco, a PhD student in psychology and human cognitive neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh who has researched trypophobia.

Geoff Cole, PhD, a psychologist at the University of Essex in England who has also studied trypophobia, agrees. A trypophobe himself, he refers to the disorder as “the most common phobia you have never heard of.”

In closing, let me say this if you think you might have this phobia, be careful how you google it. Scrolling through results brings up photos.

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Jef Meulemans

Jef Meulemans

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Veteran, Pilot, Web Developer, Flaming Liberal, Atheist, Grandpa, political junkie, baseball enthusiast, and lover of all dogs.