The dictionary tells me that a phobia is an irrational fear.
In that understanding of the concept, someone who nearly drowned as a youngster and still afraid of water would experience a rational fear, a predictable result of a particular incident. Water almost killed them, so they’d naturally be wary of the dangers. Nothing irrational about that. I guess that type of fear is not an actual phobia. Or is it just a matter of semantics?
Fear is a rational response to experience, an instinctive survival mechanism we employ to make similar experiences easier to handle. Or avoid. A phobia is a perversion of that instinctive sense.
My younger brother committed suicide five years ago. He was a hoarder, unable to throw anything away, fearing that it would be needed somewhere down the line. Nobody, including myself, my father, mother or sister, was allowed in his house for at least fifteen years before he died. It was an unspeakable scene.
A few examples: His shower hadn’t worked for over a decade; he showered at the YMCA so no plumber would ever have to see the place. His basement was constantly flooded, and stayed that way for the same reason. Furniture, stairs and bannisters piled high with decades old newspapers and catalogs, printed out e-mails, dirty clothes, magazines, books, dried-up pizza cartons, potato chip bags, stacked alongside hundreds of brand-new and freshly dry-cleaned clothes. Dozens of new dress shirts languished in their cellophane wrappers. The kitchen hadn’t been used for years, almost impossible to get to the moldy sink. The only vacant piece of furniture was a folding chair where he sat at his laptop. There were no other empty surfaces available for anyone or anything.
School came easy for me. He had to work at it, and work he did. Since a youngster, he was an information junkie, always reading, studying while I was on the street or in the woods, learning other aspects of life. There were five years between us, so we wouldn’t be hanging together anyway, but other differences were obvious from the start.
How did his problems begin? Was it sublimation for his lack of serious relationships? Although he had friends as a kid, he never seemed able to make connections like our sister or I could. As an adult, he became successful, with a high paying supervisorial position, head of his department in pharmaceutical information. He made a small fortune in the stock market after an early retirement. He had two residences and a new car. He had women chasing him.
Conversely, he had stalked women too, and written to others who didn’t want his attentions, promising them riches, which he actually had. He just couldn’t get it right. Seemed his best friends were Catholic priests and religious fanatics. He read the Catholic canon for clergy every day, and his best friend friend continues to practice “matins”. Matins requires praying at specified times, thirty minutes every two hours throughout day and night. What kind of hatred must one have for their own well-being to choose a lifestyle like that?
Who could know the root of his problems? He took a huge financial hit in the crash of ’08, taking him over the edge. What phobias or other misalignments influenced his thinking enough to justify a suicide?
Every psychological case involves infinite complexity, and nobody knows it all when it comes to a human mind and its inner workings. We do know there is no simple concept that can define the mind’s circuitous circuitry. It takes a lot of misadvised tangential thinking to create a phenomenon so all-encompassing as to take over a life.