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Irrational fears

In to the Wind

August 28, 2013
By Mike Gilchrist , Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

Illusions in the mind create irrational fears. An irrational fear is just that, irrational. We know we shouldn't be afraid, but we just are.

One of the best known irrational fears is arachnophobia, or fear of spiders. I know people who go ballistic at the mere mention of a spider, much less seeing one. You know who you are.

I have managed over the years to convince my family that spiders are beneficial. They eat bugs. I've gone on to explain that the big ones in all probability will not harm you, and will make an attempt to stay away from you. Now the little ones, I believe they will bite you if they happen to be on you and you roll or move the wrong way. It is more a survival technique on their part. So, we squash small spiders with impunity, but try our hardest to ignore the bigger ones, in hopes they will disappear quickly. You know, out of sight and out of mind.

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I have this minor irrational fear of escalators. I believe it was because my mom told me you could get your shoestring caught in the bottom and it would suck you in. It was at Younkers, in Des Moines. I was very small, and it was the first time I'd ever seen an escalator. To this day, I check my shoestrings before I step on to an escalator.

Getting too close to the edge of something drives a primal fear in me. You know, like the edge of a canyon, the edge of a roof, or something like that. It's not that I feel like I'm going to fall off, it's more like I'm going to lurch forward and jump off. I haven't yet, and doubt I ever will. It has caused a few anxious moment in my life. I talked with my dad about it once, and he admitted to having that same irrational fear.

Have you ever awoken on your side and your arm is asleep, and in your "just awake" stupor you are convinced part of your body is paralyzed? Yes, I've done that many times in my life. Not really recurring, but has happened often enough it qualifies as an irrational fear. So far both of my arms still work. But, the next time it happens, and it will, in that brief moment, I will be convinced that this time it will have to amputated.

Here is one I have, that causes me a certain amount of angst-astraphobia. I learned to deal with that one, after many years between episodes, but recently reacquired a fear of lightning. This one came to me, quite honestly, through two separate episodes during my youth. All of the episodes on which this irrational fear is based have to do with radios, more specifically antennas or aerials.

The first was when I was a pre-teen. It was a dark and dreary night, about this time of year. I was eleven, or was I twelve? My brother and I shared a bedroom. He told mom he was afraid he'd get electrocuted in our bedroom. From an early age he shared that bedroom with a mad scientist.

Earlier, that summer, I came into possession of a spool of enamel wire. There was enough wire on that spool to go from a nail pounded into the telephone pole at the corner of the property to the second story bedroom window. From the window, the wire snaked through the bedroom to a counter in what was called the "dressing room;" which was merely an alcove in the same room. On that counter sat an ancient Zenith shortwave radio. The warm glow from the tubes painted patterns on the wall in the darkened room through the grill at the back of the radio. The wire made a passable long wire antenna and brought the world into that room and into a young boy's world. So it went for some time; for one boy an uneasy existence with assorted wires and devices, for the other, the beginning of a lifelong adventure.

I was taking kinks out of the wire. You know, running the thin enameled wire between the fingernails of my thumb and index finger. Lightning struck somewhere nearby. In an instant I was the mad scientist dreamily going about my radio business, and the next minute I was violently lifted off the floor and slammed against a wall of the bedroom. I saw stars. For several minutes I was disoriented. When I snapped out of it, every muscle in my body ached. There was a ringing in my ears. The entire side of my body ached and was bruised. It was an indirect hit.

The second episode started very similar to the first. Instead of in my room, I was at the kitchen sink getting a drink of water. From that window, if you looked closely, you could see that fine wire in the backyard slanting down from the upstairs window to the pole.

It was after sunset. Being careful to draw my glass of water and then shut off the faucet so I wouldn't get yelled at for leaving it run, I tilted my head back to quaff the volume of water. With my eyes open, I could see the sky, just losing the last vestiges of twilight, the silhouette of trees behind the house, and the area of my long wire antenna.

As I was just about to finish that glass of water, there was, in the same instant a blinding flash of light and a very loud boom. From my vantage point, the explosion happened right before my eyes. Brilliant electric blue sparks filled the sky and as much of the neighborhood as I could see from that window. The thunderous boom shook both the house and my very existence. Dazed, amazed, and bewildered, I stood frozen at the sink wondering what had just happened.

I was stunned. It took me a few seconds to regain both my wits and my senses. From that experience I know what the term "blinded by the light" means. For a few moments I saw nothing but a bright splash of light, even with my eyes closed. I was also deafened from the frighteningly loud boom.

As I gained my composure, and everyone else began to come back to life after the event, it dawned on me what had happened. That long wire antenna had no doubt been hit by a bolt of lightning. As I ran to the stairwell to check out my bedroom, I yelled to my mom that I thought my wire had been hit by lightning.

I should add there was some gray area in my mind when I had erected that antenna that I was treading on shaky ground. Both my mom and my brother had told me you couldn't attach such a device to a utility pole; it just wasn't allowed. I managed to convince them it was OK, and that nothing was going to happen. To the non-scientist, that logic was not comforting, especially to my brother.

Now my logic and my deed were crashing in on my world. I raced upstairs to make sure the bedroom wasn't on fire. Everything looked OK. I raced back downstairs and reported to everyone who had assembled that it didn't look like there was any damage to the bedroom. As I blurted out my report, I made my way out the kitchen door to the back yard. The wire was still attached to the pole. It was higher up the pole than I could reach, even while standing on the chain link fence.

When I came back into the house, my mom told me I had better get that wire off the pole before somebody sees it. I grabbed a dust mob that was leaning again the utility closet and headed back upstairs. It took only seconds to open the window and remove the screen. Using the mop handle as a tool, I wound the wire and gave a sharp tug. Down came my pride and joy antenna.

Then we head sirens. They were getting closer. They were not however coming down our street.

The view from that kitchen window looked out over the back yard, down a steep hill, and at the roofs of the houses on the street behind ours. In the post sunset darkness, it wasn't apparent our neighbor's rather tall CB antenna wasn't there any more. No, that bolt of lightning had turned it into molten metal which had sprayed the neighborhood with those brilliant blue sparks.

The focus was off me and my clandestine antenna. The firemen were concentrated on putting out the small fire in our neighbor's house. If in that instant I thought my life, our home, and my hobby were dashed to pieces by nature, I can only imagine what was happening in the house at ground zero of that lightning bolt. Mine was a near miss; this was a direct hit.

And this is how irrational fears begin. Even though I learned to control that irrational fear for many years, I reacquired it in the past few years when lightning damaged the equipment on my tower, which is the core of my business here. I watch the radar with renewed angst every time there is an electrical storm in the area.

Until next time-

You can read past columns by visiting and clicking on the "Local Columns" button.

In to the Wind and this column are copyright 2005 - 2013 Mike Gilchrist. Readers, feel free to contact me at via email, or write to me at P.O. Box 255, Toledo, IA 52342.



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