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Tuesday, July 05, 2011

What Balloons Have Taught Me About Myself

I'm sure that some of you remember the NBC show 'Fear Factor'.  The show that used to place contestants in worst case scenarios all designed to help them face their fears in some of the grossest and heart-stopping situations possible. 

Could you imagine dunking your whole head inside a tank filled with scorpions and Madagascar hissing cockroaches?  Could you imagine having to swallow whole spiders or half-developed duck embryos?  Could you imagine balancing on one foot on a tightrope between two buildings four hundred feet up in the air?

People on 'Fear Factor' have done all those things, and more...all for the chance to win a fifty thousand dollar jackpot at the end of each episode.

Now, I don't know about any of you out there, but I don't think I could do any of those things for $50,000.  Not because I'm fearful of any of those things, mind you, but because you're gonna have to add a couple of more zeroes onto that number before I even think about choking down eggs that have a duck fetus inside of them.

Still, they are legitimate fears that a lot of people do have.  A lot of people are afraid of insects, and try to avoid them.  I know...ever since I stepped on a bee and it stung me in between the toes, I haven't really liked them very much after that.  Some people have fears of trying foods that they find disgusting.  I think I've talked enough about duck embryos to illustrate that point.  Some people have fears of heights.  I know I don't particularly like them much myself.

Again, all rational fears that a lot of people in this world have.

But what about irrational fears?  People, places, or things that people find scary, even though there's no rational reason behind what makes them that way.

They could have an unhealthy fear of lollipops, intersections, Colonel Sanders.  Whatever the reason, they get freaked out by it so much that their reactions can range from mild discomfort to full-blown panic attacks.

Would you be shocked if I told you that I have an irrational fear?  A fear that most people don't seem to possess, but yet is one that I have been cursed with having.  A fear that if you've read the title you probably know what it is.

That's right, everyone.  I have an irrational fear of balloons.  But not all balloons.  Speech balloons in comic books are all right.

These balloons don't bother me too much.  They're beautiful to look at up in the sky, and while I get a little wary of high places, I am not afraid of hot-air balloons.  We used to have a hot-air balloon festival in my hometown years ago called 'The Great Balloon Rodeo'.  No, these balloons are okay.

I actually don't even mind the Mylar balloons either.  They're pretty to look at, and they aren't as easy to destroy as the other ones. 

No, actually, it's these balloons I can't stand.

Look at them.  All eight of them smiling at me like they claim to be filled with more than just air.  They have that look about them.  All big and bold, in the brightest possible colours.  Their warm smiles hiding the real cruelty within.  Sure, they may look innocent, but these balloons are evil!  EVIL!

I imagine that there was a time in which I absolutely loved balloons.  Balloons were great fun at one time.  In fact, I think there are some old photos kicking around of me at age two where the whole ceiling was filled with balloons. 

But somewhere along the line, I began to like balloons less and less, and I started to fear them more and more.  There was some instances in which I actually skipped school because I found out ahead of time that the class would be popping balloons in gym class, or rubbing balloons on our heads to demonstrate the wonders of static electricity.

And, don't even get me started on those silly clowns who twist those long, skinny balloons into balloon animals.  People like that gave me nightmares.  I couldn't stand the noise that the twisting and the rubbing of the balloons as they became dogs, and swords, and other animals.  We occasionally get people making balloon animals for charity at my workplace, and I understand that kids are excited to get black and blue balloon swords.  Myself, I try to stay far away from the balloon animal well as the destructive little urchins that happen to be holding these 'weapons of mass sonic destruction'.

I imagine the lot of you are reading this, and laughing out loud, because you've never met anyone with an obvious hate for balloons like me.  Most people love balloons, and I reckon in North America, millions of dollars are spent on balloons for decorating wedding receptions, prom dance floors, parade floats, and birthday parties. 

I'll admit that if balloons are positioned in such a way that they can't be accessed by the average person, I'm fine with them for decorative purposes.  Just keep them away from me.

You see...I really cannot stand the loud bang that a balloon makes when it's pricked by a needle, or squashed by stomping on it, or just by blowing them up too big (a phonomenon that is called 'blow to pop').  That loud bang has made me literally run screaming from one room to another, usually at my own expense.  I know it sounds like a really oddball thing for someone to have a fear of, but I've never made it any real secret that my way of thinking is kind of oddball on my best days.

There are dozens of videos on YouTube that show lots of people blowing up balloons so big that they get that little lump on the bottom of the balloon, and they'll keep blowing into it until they make one gigantic bang.  Apparently, these videos have garnered quite a following, and some people have even gotten turned on by watching these videos.

The only thing I want to do is turn off the videos!  I don't want to see them!  I'd throw a bowling ball through my computer screen just so I don't have to hear that big bang.

You want to know what the most frustrating part about my fear of balloons is?  I have absolutely no idea why I have this fear in the first place.  None whatsoever.

I mean, yes...balloons do make a loud bang, but so do other things.  Some of them do bother me just like balloons.  I always had to wear earplugs as a youngster whenever I would head down to the Canada Day fireworks display.  I never played with cap-guns because I hated the bang they would make.  I avoided Christmas crackers like the plague.  Still, other things, like loud music or bass drums, or motorcycle engines.  They don't seem to bother me as much as balloons do.

The truth's a mystery to me as to why I can't stand balloons.  It's something that I've tried to adapt to, and I'm at the point where I can be in the same room as a balloon provided that a little child doesn't try to grab it.  Oh, and don't expect me to win you a gigantic stuffed Smurf at the fair by playing one of those pop a balloon, win a prize games, because that'll never happen.

When I was a child, I tried my best to hide my fear from others, but during one school day, some people from ScienceQuest came to visit our school.  They had this experiment where they lit balloons that were filled with different kinds of gases, and with every balloon that got torched, my fear was exposed to my classmates.

After that day, some of the more...shall we say...immature of the bunch immediately headed off to the store to buy those Quarter-Pound bags of balloons and brought them to school with the purpose of trying to exploit my unusual fear.  They'd chase me around the playground popping them, or they'd stick them on my locker, or they'd simply threaten to bring them to school.

It was such an awful feeling to have to go through.  Imagine them knowing your weakness, and having them try to exploit it every day at school.  It was incredibly difficult.

Eventually, around high school, I had enough of it, and I told a complete bold-faced lie to the lot of them in an effort to get them to stop, as well as getting bombarded with constant questions like 'why are you afraid of balloons' that were really nobody's business but my own.  I told them that there was a childhood trauma associated with balloons...that when I was younger, I was blowing up a balloon, and it popped in my mouth.  I then told them that one of the pieces went down my throat and I almost choked to death.  I told that story so convincingly, and with a couple of notable exceptions who will remain nameless, the majority seemed to believe the tale, and laid off accordingly.

So, that was that.  I got them to leave me alone, even by lying through my teeth.

And you know, it really shouldn't have even come to that.  I shouldn't have to lie to people in order for them to be my friend, or to understand my fears and anxieties, as absolutely mind-boggling as they might be.

And I won't from this moment on.

My fear of balloons may be an inconvenience, and it may be a fear that I may or may not completely get over.  But if there's anything that it taught me, it's that I shouldn't have to explain away, or make excuses for any unusual traits or personality quirks I might have.  I should embrace them, and if I want to change them, I should do so at my own pace...not because others tell me I have to, or because I feel like less of a person if I don't.

If people feel a need to harass me or make fun of me or torture me because of this fear, they are not welcome in my life.  I don't need the drama, the hassle, or the hurt feelings. 

It is a quirk and an unusual fear, I admit it...but I've made efforts to try and get better at handling it.  And really, those people who are my true friends will understand, and not judge me any differently because of it.  I know that to be true in my heart.

Who knows?  Maybe one day, I'll have a son of my own who wants to buy every balloon in the circus, and maybe, I'll buy him as many balloons as he wants.

Or, maybe I'll just take him to the movie theatre or some other balloon-free zone instead.  ;D

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