IAN Davidson has a fear of latex balloons. He suffers from a rare condition known as globophobia.
Globophobia is an anxiety disorder tormenting thousands of people around the world, however, the actual number of sufferers is still unknown.
Online website http://www.theballoonworld.net describes it as “the abnormal fear and strong dislike of any balloons despite understanding they pose no threat”.
Ian lives in Scotland and is a retiree from the civil service. Enduring a lifetime of globophobia has helped him manage his behaviour around balloons.
He developed globophobia at the age of five after his big, yellow smiley-faced balloon popped on a vase of roses.
“I can only recall being sort of stunned and speechless at the time, traumatized I suppose by both the loud bang, and the fact that my big friend the smiling balloon was gone. All that was left was a few pieces of rubber,” Ian said.
Phobia development in childhood is common because children have undeveloped reasoning ability, meaning they have difficulty understanding the relationship between cause and effect.
Clinical researcher for St Vincent’s Hospital Elizabeth Mason highlights it is also possible to develop phobias at any stage of the human life cycle.
“Most phobias do develop in childhood or early adulthood but you can certainly develop it later on in life,” she said.
The balloon itself is not central to Ian’s fear it is the thought of not knowing when it will pop. If another object were to burst, that would not affect him.
“The anticipation that balloons will burst with a bang is what makes me jump and my heart skip. I know I won’t die from it but it’s just the phobia kicking in,” he said.
Ian grew up in a small village where life was tough for any kid that had a weakness. Consequently, the only people who knew about his phobia were his family.
The concept of fearing an object that symbolised celebration seemed unusual at the time, particularly for a boy. He recalls feeling weird, odd and isolated.
“You just couldn’t afford to admit to something like that at that time because your life would have been misery. If a girl jumped and cried when a balloon burst that was ok but if a boy did it well, it was seen to be a big weakness.
“I felt silly. I felt like I must be the only boy in the world who was scared of a balloon popping,” he said.
BalloonsSadly, many globophobics hide their condition because others often misunderstand or find it amusing.
As a result, globophobia is poorly received and widely unrecognised among everyday people as a proper phobia.
Psychologist and specialist in the cognitive-behavioural treatment of phobias, Dr Jennifer Abel says anything can become a phobia.
She defines them as ‘a fear that significantly interferes with ones life’.
“Globophobia is not a common phobia, but people can develop a phobia to just about anything,” she said.
The sensation of a popping balloon is an alarming experience for globophobics.
For John Baker from Albuquerque, USA, when he says a balloon he is first overcome by an extreme fear then develops the need to escape immediately.
“I usually want to escape. I may have some flashback sort of speak. If I think I can endure the situation I may try to tough it out,” John said.
As a teenager Ian believed if he wanted to live a normal life he would have to learn to live with balloons. His phobia prevented him from experiencing and enjoying many celebrations like balloon drops on New Years Eve.
As he progressed through his teens he experimented with balloons and eventually liked to blow them up to a safe size. Having control over the balloon was the key to his phobia.
“I’m don’t actually freak out like some globophobics do when I see balloons, its more the anxiety and inner panic incase they burst that affects me. It’s not too bad when I am in control and that’s a key aspect of it.
“I could never understand how some people could be next to people blowing balloons up and never even flinch. It must be great to be like that,” he said.
For Ian Davidson meeting his wife Helen at the age of 23 was a turning point. As their relationship progressed he knew he had to tell her his secret. One day she revealed her fear of spiders and Ian knew his opportunity had arrived.
“I explained about the balloons and she simply shrugged and said she didn’t like the bang when balloons burst, but it didn’t bother her to blow them up and tie them,” he said.
Fortunately, Helen has become a source of support and protection for Ian ever since. Whenever a balloon situation arose, she would always do her best to control things.
“I felt good about being able to help him. It was just something that came naturally and I had already had a little experience of what I now know as globophobia.
“Two girlfriends I had at university were terrified of balloons and I used to do the same for them but thought nothing of it at the time,” Helen said.
Nowadays the Internet has made help much easier to access. There are online community websites like http://www.globophobia.webs.com that are dedicated to globophobia and allow sufferers to interact and support one another.
Professional help has also become more readily available for all types of anxiety disorders.
“In the days when I grew up and really suffered with the phobia it really wasn’t an option to seek help. I tried to hide it as much as possible because psychologists and counselors were for much more serious problems than mine,” he said.
Ian has never received professional help but he has successfully learnt to manage his phobia. Although living life with globophobia can be difficult he still likes to stay positive.
“As far as positive outcomes go, I would say it definitely taught me to be more tolerant and understanding about other peoples phobias and fears. A little understanding goes a long way,” he said.