Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Weekend

Kerry McLean: On our first holiday, my husband Ralph surprised me by booking a romantic villa... only for my phobia to leave me screaming in fear

By Kerry McLean

It seems as though the results of some weird, rarely wonderful survey are released into the largely unlistening ears of us, the public, every day. This week alone I've had emails plonked into my inbox, offering the exact percentage of people who prefer savoury to sweet, sunshine to staycations and showers to baths. Yes, people actually spend time and money researching these 'important' questions.

Normally my trigger happy finger hits the delete button before I've finished reading the first sentence but, this week, one caught my attention. It was about phobias and how people's greatest fears have developed and changed with the world around us. More people, it said, dread living without a phone signal than living with spiders. Some 20% of us live in fear of missing a flight, far more than those who confess to being scared of bats. Yes, I thought, I can see how we can dread those modern day difficulties, but a phobia? Surely, that's an entirely different thing.

It's at this point that I should declare an interest. You see, I have a bizarre phobia and I know the difference between dislike and full on fear.

My husband had no notion of what was in store when he whisked me off on our first holiday together.

Ralph had surprised me by booking a romantic villa for the two of us, accessed only by a long tunnel made up of archways and overhanging, heavenly scented jasmine. Sounds perfect doesn't it? But not so great when you have an unnatural fear of butterflies and the plants were hotching with them!

Up until this stage I'd managed to maintain a facade, as you do at the start of a relationship, of being a sophisticated, self-assured woman. All that went out the window thanks to those fluttering beasts and my poor Ralph spent the rest of our time away guiding me in and out of our accommodation, as I stumbled along, towel over my head for fear they'd get tangled in my hair, wailing like a five-year-old. Unsurprisingly it drew a good bit of attention from people staying near us and a visit from the management to check if everything was okay. How mortifying!

There have been other moments down the years when this terror has taken hold of me, like the time I went to visit a lovely man about an animal sanctuary that he ran. He had a wicker basket beside his seat and I couldn't help but wonder what was inside. I was hoping for a hedgehog, maybe a baby rabbit or a kitten, so when he reached inside I eagerly held out my hands, ready for a cuddle. What he lifted out and placed in my paws was a large glass bottle containing the largest, hairiest moth I have ever seen.

I've still no idea why he had it in that container - he did explain - but all I could hear in my head were alarm bells going off. It took all my strength not to drop that jar, leaving me to hold back the torrent of tears that streamed down my face. That lovely gentleman was so upset when I found the words to explain why I was crying and I, in turn, felt so guilty about making him feel uncomfortable.

I've no idea where my dread of butterflies and moths comes from but when I had children I was determined not to pass my panic on to them. When they flutter near me now, I close my eyes and breathe deeply, no tears and no screaming - a testament to the strength of a mother's willpower. When my daughter chose curtains and bedlinen covered in beastly butterflies, I just smiled and nodded, although my stomach still flip flops when I have to touch them to put them in the washing machine. It's only in the last year or so that the kids have found out about my phobia and, I'm glad to say, rather than making them scared, it just makes them laugh.

I could do without my 10-year-old son sticking pretend butterflies in the fridge, just for a giggle but then, he has his mother's sense of humour… and that's definitely something to be scared of!

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