My Phobic Christmas

The festive party season is upon us. People, music, balloons, dancing to Slade’s Merry Christmas, Everybody. Unless you happen to be me.

’Tis the season not to be jolly.

Let me say at the outset that I love Christmas. I don’t subscribe to the Scrooge ‘Bah! Humbug!’ philosophy and, while I find the festive season stressful with all the preparation, it’s still a joyous time of year. I just hate Christmas parties.

I especially hate Slade, by the way, because Alison and Mandy in my secondary school loved them and they bullied me. Noddy Holder’s wife once asked me why I had it in for her husband every time I mentioned the band and I told her the truth. It’s not him; it’s them. But I digress.

Christmas parties bring my worst phobias (and other conditions that usually lie dormant) to the surface. Claustrophobia (too many people), misophonia (literally, a hatred of sound, which I have all the year round but have developed techniques to control it) and Globophobia – a fear of balloons. Yes, it is a real fear. And I have it by the airload.

I am in very good company because, apparently, Oprah Winfrey suffers from Globophobia, too. So, while all of you are out enjoying funny hats, streamers and liaisons over the office desk at the Christmas party, Oprah and I will be indoors, cowering in a corner – because we both can’t be within screaming distance of balloons (although, in Oprah’s case, I suspect it might have more to do with a fear of ballooning).

I also suffer from Coulrophobia – a fear of clowns – but then what sane person doesn’t, if they’re honest; worse, though, I have severe Metamfiezomaiophobia – a fear of mime, clowns and people in disguise. I used to think I suffered from basic Maskaphobia (which speaks for itself) and it’s very common among young children, but the triple whammy is a whole new ball park. Let’s just say that my worst nightmare would be a Marcel Marceau concert. The only comfort would be that it would keep my misophonia in check. But at what cost?

I really can’t go near anything that has its face covered or distorted in any way. I can’t date men with moustaches or beards; my fear of the dentist has nothing to do with the drill and all to do with the dentist’s mask; I have never and could never attend a masked ball (masks and balloons; dear lord, call the paramedics). I’ve had it from a very young age and it’s one of the reasons I never go out on Halloween or New Year’s Eve, where balloons occupy more space than people, and painted faces and masks are the order of the night.

Balloons, though, are undoubtedly the worst, and if I go to a party, wedding or other special event, the first thing I do is case the joint; it’s one of the reasons I love funerals because you sure ain’t gonna find balloons there.

Most globophobics can’t touch, feel or go near a balloon for fear it will pop (although, technically, that is phonophobia); I just have a fear of balloons in general. To me, they are a sinister, unpredictable presence, like spiders (don’t even get me started on my arachnophobia); their hideous colours bob along the floor like buoys in the sea, pretending they are stable but all the time plotting to approach you when you are least expecting it.

Apparently, it’s not very common, although my mother tells me that, as a child, I had a recurring nightmare when I would wake crying, insisting that my room was full of balloons. There is just something about the texture, the tightness and the meanness of a rubber balloon that sends my heart rate and blood pressure racing.

I’m okay with foil balloons, but that’s probably because they deflate at their own rate; I don’t rush screaming into the house if I see a hot air balloon (although you would never get me into one without resorting to chloroform). I’m ambivalent towards bubble gum, though, and that bulbous oral uterus genuinely makes me feel sick.

Christmas is a very stressful time for people with phobias. It’s a dreadful time for people born in the festive season for example, if they suffer from Fragapanophobia (fear of birthdays); and for anyone thinking of substituting turkey for duck, spare a thought for anyone coming to dinner who might be suffering from Anatidaephobia, which is a fear that one is being watched by a duck.

I didn’t think I suffered from the latter, but now I come to think about it, I suspected something was watching me when I went for a walk in St James’s Park this week; I had just assumed it to be human.

So, happy partying all. I’ll be celebrating with you – from a distance.

With my new best friend Oprah, of course.