Black Cats & Toothbrushes

Happy Friday, the 13th! I hope everyone is avoiding walking under ladders and stepping on cracks.

This post was inspired by my dad, who doesn’t believe in all of those superstitions that freak people out on this unlucky day- or any day, for that matter. For example, let’s say in a baseball game the pitcher is throwing a no-hitter, and it’s the top of the ninth inning. However, as soon as the sportscaster mentions it, suddenly the opposing team hits the ball and the no-hitter is no more. People tend to blame the sportscaster for “jinxing it” — my dad thinks that’s a load of crap. His words didn’t magically fly through the air waves and land in the pitcher’s arm. But to some people, they believe in that superstition.

In my experience, I am not superstitious about stuff like that (though I used to be when I was younger; whenever I received a chain email, I had to forward it, otherwise I would never find love or I would die a tragic death or something), but I actually do tend to be more superstitious about more tangible things.

I have what’s called “emetophobia” which basically means I have a fear of vomit. I know some of you will relate and say “Yeah, I can’t stand vomit, too,” but I want to separate fear from phobia. You can fear something and not have a phobia of it. It’s when the aversion or fear becomes so irrational that it affects your daily life that it becomes a phobia. So, I developed anxiety, OCD tendencies, and an eating disorder because of my phobia.

You could argue that the phobia is currently at its peak, because I’m in treatment for my ED now. However, I had another significant peak when I was younger, in junior high and the beginning of high school.

I grew up with chronic nausea, and became terrified of getting sick. I fell asleep on the bathroom floor more nights than I was in my own bed, and pretty soon my parents were fed up with me running to the bathroom out of fear and falling asleep there every night (hello, germs!). So, I started just going with it and falling asleep in my bed. However, I had a very specific regime to follow, and if I didn’t follow it exactly I knew it would make me sick.

To start, I’d have to make sure I had a plastic bag hanging off the left side of my headboard on my bed. I had to get in bed from the left side, and use my right hand to set my alarm clock and turn off my lamp. Once I laid down, I had to start on my right side, then after a certain number of minutes flip to my left, then back to my right- only if I turned inward so my stomach touched the mattress as I turned. Eventually, I could then get in the position that was most comfortable for me and drift off to sleep.

My superstitions were so deeply rooted in my brain, that I would have somatic symptoms if I didn’t follow my routine. Even today- though not as severe as they once were- I experience some of these superstitions. For example, I have to brush my teeth in a very specific way, otherwise I’m convinced that something will go wrong later in the day if I don’t.

Earlier, when I was on the phone with my dad, he asked me if I believed in that “superstitious stuff,” and I said no. Which is true; I don’t believe walking under a ladder or seeing a black cat cross the path in front of you will do anything to you. However, I am definitely superstitious in other ways that I didn’t even think about until after I hung up the phone with him. Granted, my superstitions are more likely categorized as OCD behaviors rather than superstitions ones. Nonetheless, these beliefs foster a real fear in me, as I’m sure it does in others, which is almost worse than watching a movie about a  man in a hockey mask murdering people.

On this Friday the 13th, I am setting a goal to brush my teeth in a different order tonight. Because if a cat can’t ruin my day, why should a toothbrush?

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