I Have a Phobia of Large Things
People with megalaphobia are usually too embarrassed to get treated.
Every summer break from age four to 13, I went road-tripping with my family from Toronto to Florida. A full two days were spent in the backseat of my mom's minivan, where I bickered with my two brothers and stared out the window, watching our Canadian, suburban climate melt into tropical skylines dotted with palm trees. One of those trips—the one when I was eight—holds particular weight in my memory, though, since it was when I discovered my megalophobia. It's something I proceeded to keep secret for years.
This phobia, which is not a recognized disorder but is well-known by psychologists and Reddit users alike, manifests itself in immeasurable ways, and can simply be defined as the fear of large objects. This can range from skyscrapers to statues to objects that are seemingly as innocuous as pieces of paper that are bigger than the standard 8.5 x 11 inches.
Our route along highway 75 took us through Ohio, and about 30 minutes south of Dayton stood Solid Rock Church. This spot is where I came face to face with my fear for the first time. The "King of Kings" statue (known by locals as "Touchdown Jesus") was a 62-foot tall statue, emerging from a pond located in front of the church. It shot up in the air resembling a celebratory touchdown pose.
I remember both my parents' excitement as they yelled to my brothers and me from the front seats, telling us to turn to our left to admire the gigantic statue emerging from the water. What came over me was genuine terror. My eyes began to water as I gripped my mouth, for fear of puking all over my brother sitting next to me—who, along with the rest of my family, didn't seem to be terrified by this mammoth frozen creature at all.
I couldn't move. And while my tears left my family concerned, my "it's so big, I can't look at it" rationale seemed so ridiculous to them that it became a running joke for the rest of the trip. Touchdown Jesus could be the cause or just something that provoked my megalophobia. His large hands looked as though they could crush me, and his stern, life-like expression made it seem as though he was real. But he wasn't. He was a stone statue—one that in my eyes, could come alive at any second.
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My phobia persists at age 20, by the way. In fact, thanks to Google images, I have immediate visceral reactions to photos of landmarks that I haven't even seen in person. Mount Rushmore, The Great Buddha—even the Eiffel tower sends me into a panic. My center of gravity feels as though it's shifting, I become light-headed and it feels as though I'm going to throw up.
For her patients that struggle with irrational phobias, Suzanne Stone, a clinical psychologist at CBT Associates of Toronto, specializes in exposure therapy, which entails on-site visits to treat phobias by literally exposing patients to what they fear. "For a needle phobia we would start out watching videos of people getting their blood drawn on Youtube, then graduate to touching a needle, then watching someone get their blood done in person at a blood lab," Stone says. "[Patients] work up to getting a needle themselves."
I decided to test this myself, without the aid of a doctor (I don't recommend this; no one recommends this) and simply did a Google-image search for "large statues." Cue the nausea, sweating and anxiety. The only thing that gives me solace is that I was able to find real people who share the same phobia as myself, and to learn that there are treatment methods available—from meds to more, uh, non-traditional forms of healing.
Luke Chao, a hypnotherapist and founder of the Morpheus Clinic for Hypnosis in Toronto, treats a variety of patients daily, who show symptoms of more common phobias, such as the fear of flying (aviophobia or aerophobia), or the fear of public speaking (glossophobia). Chao admits, however, that megalophobia is rare. "With a phobia like this I would have to figure out what kind of thoughts are going through [the patient's] head—where did this fear come from?" Chao says.
Chao uses hypnosis as a means of treating his patients, which he claims makes it easier on the brain to be more accepting of new ideas when seeking help, especially if a phobia is prohibiting people from going about their normal daily routine. He admits, though, that getting to the point of treatment is not always easy.
"Ultimately, the idea to accept is a pretty big leap for someone who is convinced that they are not safe," Chao says. This is a feeling that 41-year-old Sarah Jarrett from Toronto shares when looking at any object that appears to be bigger than it's intended to be.
"Gigantic playing cards, or paper clips used in a comical way by, let's say, a clown, freak me out," Jarrett says. "I feel anxiety in the middle of my chest. It's a terrible panic feeling." She believes—despite her hesitation to seek official diagnosis, for fear of humiliation—that her phobia is rooted in a childhood fever she experienced where she began to hallucinate and objects around her appeared to be larger than normal.
It's possible, since childhood trauma is a common link to phobias, Chao says. Ruby Fleet, 17, recalls the moment she attended an Egyptian exhibit in a museum, featuring a giant severed foot that, according to its plaque, belonged to a much larger body.
"I ran out of the room freaking out," Fleet says. "My father tried to figure out what was going on with me, but I was beside myself just imagining the size of the sculpture that it would have been attached to." Fleet's physical response to her megalophobia ranges from nausea to extreme vertigo. She adds that it's something she doesn't like to discuss with anyone, for fear of sounding ridiculous—a fear that I share.
It's almost as if the process of becoming comfortable with large beings scares me in itself, and based on my track record of telling my peers, people aren't too quick to sympathize with someone who's afraid of large objects. There seem to be a lot of more deserving things to fear, right? Global warming; the new healthcare bill; another Hangover sequel, etc. Coming to terms with my anxiety surrounding this phobia has not been easy. In fact, much like it was on the original trip to Florida, anyone in my presence typically thinks my reaction to a statue or monolith is ludicrous.
In June of 2010, Touchdown Jesus succumbed to a terrible end when it was struck by lighting. However, as part of my self-initiated exposure therapy, Google informed me that in its place now stands a smaller but equally terrifying 52-foot statue of Jesus Christ called Lux Mundi. I may eventually make it to exposure therapy, but for now, no more road trips through Ohio for me.
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