Thursday, January 31, 2013

Casadastraphobia – the Fear of Being Sucked into the Sky, and How That Can Label You

Why are some people eccentric, nonconformist types?

A big answer, for a lot of human behavior, is labeling.

There was a great Bruce Coville (My Teacher is an Alien) kids' book called Space Brat, which had that as the theme. If you say someone's a "brat" over and over, how are they going to act? How are they going to think of themselves?

In "Space Brat," an alien kid in a very impersonal mechanistic society, at birth got a bit of egg behind an ear, which made him cry with irritation. As a result, a caretaker robot stamped BRAT on his forehead, and that stuck with him until he really did live up to it. Like all of Coville's work, it's heavy stuff for a kids' book with a silly name.

With that in mind, I think part of the reason (not the only one) I became an eccentric noncomformist is because I got that label due to lots of people around me not understanding my reactions, because I had a fear I didn't even know was a real thing: Casadastraphobia.

Casadastraphobia is the fear of being sucked up into the sky. 

Okay, done laughing? It's a variation on agoraphobia. It was much worse when I was a kid, where I often got extremely nervous looking up after a long time especially on clear days, but what's interesting is, I don't even have a severe case of it: some people can't even go out to open air spaces like football fields, and some are so terrified they can't even go outside for fear of being sucked into the sky. Compared that poor soul, I'm pretty functional with a high ability to "deal."

In the hopes of preserving my now forever shattered reputation as a rational, levelheaded "down to earth" (no pun intended) guy with the ability to deal, I should point out the last time I had a very serious attack of this, a few months ago at a MetroRail station on a disturbingly clear, cloudless day, I fought off my anxiety about the situation by reminding myself in the billions of years of earth's history gravity has never reversed itself, and indeed, that would go against all the laws of universal gravitation, where the force of gravity is proportional to the product of the two masses involved and inversely proportioned to the the square of the distance. If you think I kept my mind busy by doing the math for two diagrams attracting each other, you obviously know me very well, except who the hell can remember the gravitational constant off the top of their head, even physicists?

Moral of the story: if a fear is not rational, you can fight it with rationality.

At my elementary school's weekly open field assemblies, kids used to regularly get helium filled balloons on their birthdays. Being fumbly fingered kids, we sometimes let them go until they floated into the sky. And boy, would I ever freak out. Watching balloons disappear into the sky in an open field is terrible for someone afraid of getting sucked into the sky, so there's no surprise I'd have a pretty major freakout.

I got a reputation in the First Grade as "that kid who's scared of balloons." People in other grades and classes heard of me. I was labeled a "weirdo" for having an uncommonly known phobia. Eventually, I had to leave that school for a variety of reasons, but the one they gave my parents was along the lines of, "hey, it's not him, it's us."

It's funny how some things can stick with you. Recently, I was reading the memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, maybe the funniest and most readable book ever written by a president. What's absolutely strange is, there was this weird interlude where he talks about how, with obvious pain, as a nine year old he was tricked into buying a blind horse and became the laughingstock of the town. Here was a man who won the Civil War, defeated Robert E. Lee, and became president of the United States...who was still thinking about how people laughed at him for buying a blind horse from a sharpie.

Learning about casadastraphobia was an incredibly liberating experience. It's always a source of relief and courage to learn something you've always dealt with you assume is unique to you, actually has a name, and is something other people have.

It's also a source of incredible anger, too. The first time anybody ever called me an "odd duck" was when I became "that kid who was scared of balloons." And if people call you a weirdo over and over, how are you going to act? How do you think about yourself?

In the meantime, I'll take the advice some wiseass gave a lady asking for tips on dealing with their Casadastraphobia:

"Wear a ten gallon hat so you don't look up, and put glue on the soles of your shoes."