[TW This post very briefly mentions suicidal thoughts and self-harm]
The last two weeks have been huge for me. For the first time in my life, I opened up about a phobia that I've never felt able to tell anyone about.
At this stage, I'm using the word phobia, but I'm not sure if it is more of an OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) related issue. Since opening up about it, I've had bouts of intense anxiety with periods of sweating, racing heart, insomnia, racing thoughts and quick, shallow breathing.
This is because talking about this phobia brings up all of the feelings that the phobia itself raises in me, namely disgust, anxiety, fear, embarrassment and revulsion.
As I write this, I can feel my heartbeat quickening and my muscles tensing.
I've been silent about this phobia since childhood and it's not something that has been visible to other people. After having kept it completely private for all of my adult life, it's an enormous step for me to tell others about it and decide that I want to address it.
The first conversation
The first person I decided to open up to about it was my boyfriend. It felt too difficult for me to speak the words aloud so I sent him a text about it and he offered to have a conversation with me about it. Over breakfast one Sunday morning, we decided to just leap into the deep end. I didn't know where to begin and I was squirming with embarrassment.
I explained that it was difficult to know how to begin and how awkward I felt.
If you know me, you'll know that I'm not normally lost for words! However, this topic is different because of how ashamed and afraid it makes me feel.
In order to get me talking, my boyfriend decided to ask me a few basic questions that required me only yes or no answers. This meant that together we could get closer to the heart of the matter without me having to speak in a depth that felt too scary. He reassured me that we could stop and take a break at any point.
I found this gradual approach really helpful because I could test out how it felt to broach these topics, without having to say a lot. For some reason, there are a few words to do with the phobia that I find incredibly difficult to say out loud because I find some of the words themselves disgusting.
After only a few minutes of yes and no questions, we were in at the deep end. Because I saw that my boyfriend wasn't repulsed or disgusted in the way that felt, I gained the courage to say more.
Soon I was saying more about my phobia than I imagined was possible.
At the end of the conversation, I cried quite a bit because it had stirred up so many feelings. Firstly, there was the disgust that the phobia elicits in me. Secondly, there was the fear of being judged. There was also sadness for the years I had been suffering. Finally, there was the relief for finally getting to a place where I could share this with someone.
Mindmapping the fear
In the days following this conversation with my boyfriend, I made a mind map of the different aspects of my phobia and the feelings elicited, namely:
- loss of control
- & contamination
I've always felt like my phobia was really strange, but after examining the key aspects of the fear I considered the possibility that maybe it wasn't so odd after all.
I decided to talk to my best friend about it and show her the mind map. It was scary because sharing something so private made me feel like I was exposing a disgusting part of myself.
My friend said that she that could see how my phobia has its own kind of logic.
Through talking with her, I realised that I had to understand the reasons behind the phobia and that only through unraveling its meaning could I learn to master it.
Telling my therapist
I've had three long term therapists (anything between ten months to two years), seen numerous counsellors, mental health nurses, GPs and psychiatrists, and yet I've never opened up about my phobia to any of them.
I think this is for a complex mixture of reasons. The first being that I haven't had then mental space to address this phobia because dealing with my BPD has been my main priority. When you're having frequent suicidal thoughts, urges to self-harm and are on the floor crying and having horrendous emotional flashbacks, all other issues are low priority.
Also, as I mentioned before, the act of talking about the phobia makes me feel the emotions associated with the fear. So in talking about it, I'm choosing to experience feelings of disgust, vulnerability and loss of control.
However, I guess it's a case of having to feel it to heal it and by having more painful feelings in the short term, I hope to have fewer over long term.
My therapist said she was really glad I had opened up to her about the fear and that she wanted to work with me to address it.
How I feel since opening up
I feel a curious blend of relieved, sad, scared, disgusted and vulnerable. I also feel closer to my boyfriend and my best friend because the last part of myself that I was holding back from them has been shared with them.
I have been congratulated for my bravery for opening up and taking the first step towards addressing the fear. I know how much strength it took to say something that could never be unsaid, and for that I feel courageous.
If you're going through this, I just want to say I'm here with you and know how scary this all feels.