Fluttering pieces of rainbow, delicate fragments of silk bringing ephemeral beauty to the world: this is what butterflies are to many but, alas, not to me.

Rather, I consider butterflies bearers of destruction, a nightmarish presence that spring unleashes against the world under the pretense of an innocuous cloak. Do you think I am irrational? You are right, when it comes to butterflies (and worse: moths! I can hardly type the word!) my rationality leaves me: I have a phobia, planted so deep in my subconscious I have learnt to consider it a part of me, something I can’t conceive to ever be able to live without.

I don’t know what subconscious association triggered  it, that fateful day when I first discovered it, but I know one thing for sure: people who tell you to ‘face your fear’, to expose yourself to it to get desensitised, that if you ‘take it by the horns you will leave with a powerful feeling of having overcome a major ordeal’ have not experienced a real phobia.

With a dislike, yes. With a rational fear of something this approach can work: but with a phobia, the outcome is likely to be different. Without a doubt, if you come face to face with your phobia you will survive but you will do so probably only through a panic attack and with a leftover feeling very different from one of glory and more similar to the one of failure. You may feel defeated, weak and sometimes even humiliated. It may be the proof that actually no, you cannot do it – they are ones that win every time.

You may think that of all possible phobias, one of butterflies is not overly debilitating, but if you like to travel like me sometimes it is one that gets in the way. How about Monterey in the autumn? My favorite part of the world is unapproachable to me for the very same phenomenon that attracts so many tourists: the migration of the monarch butterflies. And have you tried sipping a drink on a terrace in a tropical country with even just a small light on? If you have a problem with moths, don’t’ do it! Only indoors drink or drinking in the dark for me.

The most spectacular time I find myself face to face with my phobia was in the wonderful and otherwise heavenly Tulum, in Mexico.

We were in a picture perfect location, a vision of white powdery sand, blue waters and swinging palm trees against the backdrop of a Caribbean sunset.

It was the first holiday with my now husband and the only night in our backpacking trip  we had decided to treat ourselves to a lovely cabana on the beach and candlelit dinner. We had picked a lovely resort with small huts on the seafront and had slowly made our way to the palapa, where tourists like us were sipping  tropical concoctions  under the pitched roof.

We sat at a table kissed by the breeze from the sea and from the gently rotating fan above our heads. Then, it happened: a black presence entered the room, flying in above us. ‘Is it a bat?’ asks Philip (yes it was the right size for being a bat). I needed not to look twice to know the answer: having suffered from this awful phobia of butterflies since I was a child, I knew straight away  it was a butterfly or, rather, a bloody battalion of them, huge, black and, to my despair, very friendly.

The other patrons thought they were the most beautiful thing: they welcomed them at their tables, tried to get them to perch on their hand and pose with them for an unforgettable holiday photo. Not me. In a cold sweat, heartbeat accelerated by a fight of flight reflex designed for different animal encounters, I pretty much literally curled up in a ball. Making myself as small as possible, I half-hid under the table and tried to eat my dinner despite the attack.

We could have left, but we didn’t. I wanted to be brave, I wanted to see if I could do it, if I could stay in the same room as them and have a normal, non-phobia ridden time. Turns out, I couldn’t. We finished our dinner and went to the till to pay (they were perched at the bar too: bye bye dreams of relocating to the Caribbean and live serving cocktails). I smiled and  reassured the concerned bartender that all was fine,  but I was not ok.  The evening left me shaken, anxious and, sadly, hyper-aware of the possibility of further butterfly encounters in the three weeks ahead of us in Mexico,

We finished our dinner and went to the till to pay (they were perched at the bar too: bye bye dreams of relocating to the Caribbean and live serving cocktails). I smiled and  reassured the concerned bartender that all was fine,  but I was not ok.  The evening left me shaken, anxious and, sadly, hyper-aware of the possibility of further butterfly encounters in the three weeks ahead of us in Mexico, Guatemala and Belize.

I enjoyed the rest of our trip and arguably we could conclude that I have been to central America like I wanted and therefore I have prevailed over my fear. The reality, however, is different: that trip didn’t leave me empowered but with that sense of vulnerability that is the trademark of the hours and days that follow a panic attack.

Was the trip worth it? 100%, but now I know I cannot simply ignore my phobia and plan as if it wasn’t there: I have a vulnerability and as ridiculous as this may sound to people who don’t suffer from this kind of problem,  I owe it to myself to take it into account and decide for each occasion if I can, and am ready, to battle through it.

 

Chichen Itza Pyramid, Ycatan Mexico

Some interesting facts about fear of butterflies and fear of moths:

  • You may think I am the only crazy one dealing with this, but fear of butterflies is pretty common and even has a scientific name: lepidopterophobia (from Greek: phobia of beautiful wings!)
  • Fear of moths is linked to is but has a separate name: mottephobia
  • People who suffer from fear of butterflies often also fear birds (thankfully, this was spared to me) or winged insects especially locusts (indeed, I am not a fan of those either)
  • Every single site I have read about fear of butterflies has at least one picture of the animal in question – seriously, does it take much to understand someone looking for ‘phobia of butterflies’ on the web might not want to see a massive picture of one of them as soon as opening their browser?

Do you have a phobia, of butterflies, moths or any other animal? How do you manage it: have you got good techniques to cope or have you possibly ever overcome it? I’d love yo hear your story!

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