Mellow Mummy: I have Fish-A-Phobia (but I'm learning to deal with it)! : Taking life as it comes...

Monday 12 April 2010

I have Fish-A-Phobia (but I'm learning to deal with it)!

This weekend I went with my Mum to the Fish Works cookery school in Richmond. It was a great day out where we learned lots of useful tips about how to buy, prepare, cook and serve a wide range of British fish and seafood. Unfortunately, there was one thing holding me back – I am absolutely terrified of fish.

Icthyophobia is the the fear of fish. I have it. Given that I live nowhere near the sea and that, until a few years ago I didn't eat any fish at all, it normally doesn't present me with much of a problem but very occasionally, as it did at the cookery school, it makes my life pretty tricky.

My fear of fish can be traced back to an incident with a 'frighten-fish' at the Aquarium in Birdworld when I was a toddler. The first time I really remember knowing that I had an irrational fear of fish was when I was in my mid-teens and I think the fear reached its strongest while I was at University. At its peak, I couldn't even look at a picture (not even a cartoon) of a fish without feeling slightly queasy. If we saw a fishmongers, I would have to turn my face as we walked by and would feel the nausea rising. When I swim in the sea (wherever I am in the world), I am always flailing my limbs around to try and deter any fish from coming anywhere near me – it is very exhausting! As a teenager, a trip on a glass-bottomed boat in Kenya nearly pushed me over the edge!

When I left university I dated a guy who was studying Marine Biology – learning with him about the biology of fish and marine creatures helped me a little; Understanding why fish move like they do, and act like they do helps me to keep my fear in check. Dating a marine biologist meant that I also learned to start eating some types of white fish and seafood. I'm still not that adventurous, but maybe I will try some new fish with my new-found fish cookery skills!

On a trip to Tenerife with my marine-biology boyfriend, I experienced a panic attack at an Aquarium so severe, and so embarrassing that I knew I really needed to do something about the fear. And so, unbeknownst to him, I enrolled myself in a SCUBA diving course and decided to tackle my phobia head on. The rather unfortunate thing about learning to dive in the UK is that the water is so murky that fish encounters are few and far between; in fact, I think I only saw one tiny brown fish in all my training dives and then I was concentrating so hard on not drowning that it didn't really bother me anyway!

The boyfriend didn't seem that impressed with my diving qualification and soon afterwards we split up; the plan to tackle the phobia was put on the back burner. In 2008, just before I got married to Mr. B., I took a SCUBA refresher course in preparation for our honeymoon in Mozambique, home to some of the most spectacular fish and one of the rarest of sea mammals – the Dugong. If there was ever going to be an opportunity to face my fear, this was it.

The honeymoon rocked, but the night before my first dive, I stayed awake all night shaking with an all-consuming fear. I had got myself really worked up. That morning, when I slipped into the water with all of my kit on I started hyperventilating; this is not good for several reasons – (1) it uses up your limited air supply, (2) is makes you exhausted (3) short sharp breathes are a sure fire way of making you float, not sink! And (4) it means water gets in to your mouth piece. In short, I never even managed to get under the water! I decided that day that me and SCUBA diving were never meant to be.

At Fish Works this weekend I thought I did pretty well. I managed to stand within a metre of a great display of fish for sale and I even plucked up the courage to stroke a slimey flat fish! I stopped short of filleting a mackerel; I knew it would end in tears if I did. For that, I feel slightly disappointed in myself for not having pushed my boundaries a little further.
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