It’s an overcast day in Skradin, the charming Croatian town that serves the picture-perfect Krka national park. It is here that I will be shipping guests to and from, hopefully with more regularity now that the season appears to be picking up and the bad weather has finally got the message. More or less. I find it quite fascinating to be sat in the same spot I was two years previous, only so much has changed in the interim. It’s always a nice feeling to look back and see you’ve actually grown over the years, both personally, financially and ecumenically. And I don’t mean religiously – because that stuff is just bullshit.
And yet, it’s interesting to note that I feel I have regressed in other ways. Allow me to explain.
It’s been maybe three years since I was last “officially” travelling, hitchhiking my way to India, doing some seriously crazy things and attempting to live life to the fullest. I still have a big plan to tour every US state before I turn 50, either by the rule of thumb or in an old, beater of a camper van. Preferably the latter, because I’ve discovered something in my advancing years that I really don’t like the look of. I think I have early stages of reclusion.
Now, I’ve always been something of a misanthrope – to the point of that I actually pride myself on it. I don’t like people or the human race as a whole, but generally speaking, I try to keep a lid on it. This is a very useful practice, particularly if you’re living and working in the hospitality industry. It should be noted I don’t fear people (anthropophobia), I just don’t like them. I’m not sure if it’s the advancement of my writing career and working from home that has led me down this road – but if I could help it, I’d rarely leave the house. Perhaps it’s an advancement of another kind – a symptom of getting older? I look back on what I achieved on my travels and I don’t honestly know how I accomplished it. Sometimes, the mere thought of getting into a car and having to deal/talk to a stranger sends a shiver down my spine. I wonder what’s gone wrong? Am I broken? Whatever it is, I tend to douse it with alcohol and it goes away.
Yet it troubles me. While walking down the street in Zagreb a few weeks ago I was stuck with the irrational feeling that I was going to get stabbed. Just sort of randomly knifed in the gullet as I was making my way in the world. My pace quickened in the direction of sanctuary and I avoided everyone coming towards me like our dog Margot avoids other dogs, preferring instead to dodge into the road with blatant disregard for oncoming traffic. It was part of my anxiety and I knew it, but it’s not the first time it’s happened in recent years. This affliction is called pungophobia and it is very, very real.
It might come as a surprise to many that I actually have a form of social anxiety disorder. It manifests itself in the form of being terrified of saying the wrong thing – quite deliberately and with intent. Like, making a point of going to a group of guests at the hostel, sitting down and then coming out with the most inappropriate, offensive, vulgarity or abuse I could possibly muster. Purposely blurting out something that would embarrass the living shit out of me, targeted specifically at someone or the group as a whole, and I’d never be able to take it back or apologise for it. You might know my blog for its honesty dear readers, but I’m afraid I can’t even give you an example of this such is the depth of its utter depravity. I couldn’t find a phobia name for it (save social phobia) but it’s apparently part of the OCD family and involves a fear of acting out. Does anyone have something similar?
I’m petrified of flying. Aviophobia. Which is something that a great many people suffer from so I won’t labour the point. Suffice to say that it has taken hold of me to such an extent that I will unquestionably believe that the people in the queue to board the aircraft with me are the people I’m going to die with. That and for some unknown reason, I listen to crash black box recordings before I take a flight. I honestly can’t explain why I do that.
My job this summer involves driving. A lot of driving. I like to think that in the 22 years since I passed my test, driving in almost every continent on some of the most dangerous roads in the world (I’m looking at you, Iran); I’ve become semi-passable at it. And yet I suffer severely from the fear I’m going to be in a car accident. It has the rather impressive sounding name of dystychiphobia, and it will grip me in the dead of night without warning, my mind perpetuating irrational scenarios where I’m at fault for multiple fatalities – including my own. It occurs to me it might be an echo of believing my car was going to spin off a cliff on a wet road circa 2005, a terrifying ordeal that, in a split second, had me genuinely convinced it was to be the punching of my ticket. The experience taught me so much, but traces of PTSD clearly remain. As a passenger, I still shit myself every time the driver takes a right-hand chicane a little too fast.
I have another fear that also keeps me awake at night (but can strike at any time). I’m going to die of a cerebral aneurysm. It’s actually how my mum went so there’s no need to be paging Dr. Freud, but every time I feel even the slightest twinge in my head it can trigger a freak-out. It most prominently reared its ugly head in Cambodia during my infamous Death Wank incident. It doesn’t have a name per se, but it’s still a panic-attack inducing terror I’d rather not have to deal with.
I probably have dozens of others that are “normal” or needless to identify, such as arachnophobia (or crawly things in general – particularly the flying crawly things), incapacitating, relentless FOMO, and the fear of shitting within earshot of strangers. The latter fascinatingly goes by the name of parcopresis, or psychogenic fecal retention. The inability to defecate without privacy. Shy bowel. I went some 8 years in high school without once using the lavatories for a number two, preferring instead to hold it in until I arrived home and could give it the treatment it so richly deserves with 15 minutes to myself and the latest Transformers comic. But there is one poo-shy story that takes president over all others.
I discovered, to my utter delight, a secret toilet in the opera school of RSAMD, back when I was training to become an actor. I would take a copy of the morning paper and slink off with devilish glee whenever nature called. I cultivated the most fabulous booze poos, and it was my clandestine cludge – nobody else knew about it. That is, until, after a particularly pungent delivery into the bowl and I’d washed up, I opened the door to discover one of the school’s most attractive women waiting right outside. Waiting to do exactly the same thing I had just done. We locked eyes as a foul-smelling stench the likes of which would offend god’s own nostrils wafted from somewhere behind me. Now, she knew why I was there, and I knew why she was there, and I knew that she knew that she knew that I knew. And we never spoke to each other again.
Returning to hostel life is somewhat helping me to control my anxieties and phobias. None of them are so crippling as to ever stop me from living my life or doing my jobs, so I should be thankful for small mercies. They’re just, kinda there. Like an unwanted guest at a party; if you ignore them you hope they will go away eventually. Still, have pity on me dear readers, as I wasn’t really sure in what direction this post was going to take. Check out this list of phobias and tell me how many you can check off. I’m just happy I don’t as yet have a fear of telling stories.