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I’ve had it since I was child. I never knew why or where I had gotten it, but it has drastically impacted my way of looking at people. My parents don’t have it. My brother had it for a while then got rid of it. Yet, I still have the burden of living with it. My parents are confused as to how I acquired it. I wasn’t born with it, but it instead developed when I got older. It has festered within me. Intensifying with every new experience associated with it. Digging its claws deeper and deeper as I get older. I recently learned that a lot of people have it. It makes me feel a little better, but I fear I may never get rid of it. Many people became disabled because of it. I have this uneasiness that many people make fun of me because of this. I want to be strong, but my cowardice is evident when it comes out. What is it that you ask? My anxiety driven, uneasiness psyche, persistent jitters, unforgiving phobia of clowns. Yes, I am a sufferer of coulrophobia.
No, I did not watch the infamous movie It or was chased by a clown at a friend’s birthday party when I was young. No. Instead I saw a toy clown in one of my favorite I Spy books. My mom and I one night were searching through the image packed pages with a plethora of objects stuffed within. I caught my first sight of a vintage toy clown within those pictures. Taking up most of the page, the clowns permanent toothed smile and dead eyes stared back at me. A flood terror overcame my small 4-year-old mind. A feeling that was alien to me. I had never seen a clown until then. My parents, concerned and perplexed by my behavior, dismissed it as a growing period. Well, I’m 23 now and I still have this cursed fear. It’s gotten so bad that I cannot open the door to trick-or-treaters dressed up as clowns for Halloween. I also can’t look at girls who put too much makeup on. You know the ones I’m talking about. They remind me too much of a clown and it makes me nervous. Just imagine if I met a clown. Oh yeah, that’s right, I’ve never met a clown. And never will. 23 years and still going strong.
I usually don’t tell many people about my fear. Only because I can’t really explain why I have it. As a biology student I understand the underlying fears for many organisms. Fear of starvation, lack of shelter, not getting laid, you know…the important stuff. Many organisms even have fears of other organisms. For example, rodents are afraid of snakes for fear of being strangled to their death and then swallowed whole. The biological aspect with this is a species interaction of a predator and prey. Not only does it benefit the predator but in the long run can also benefit the prey. Over a progression of multiple environmental pressures and thousands of years, the prey has the adaptability to out run, climb, or swim away from their prey. But in turn, the predator can also adapt to become more skilled in those areas. In biology we call this the “Red Queen hypothesis,” another way of saying an arms race but with evolution. Fun stuff.
There’s also evidence that the reasoning why humans have such a keen sense of sight was to avoid cryptic predators such as snakes. When our primitive ancestors were out and about hunting, mating, and scouting they also had to be aware of dangers. To spot the danger beforehand, our ancestors needed to develop better eyesight to help identify in a shorter timeframe. That’s cool, but how might my fear of clowns benefit the evolution of humans. Were there a field of terrifying bloodthirsty clowns in full makeup carrying their weapons of choice while dragging the dead corpses of their past prizes? And yes, that is how I imagine it. In fact, that might’ve been one of my nightmares at one point. But I doubt that happened with our primate ancestors. So, when a flyer flapping outside of my vertebrate zoology class caught my attention about phobia origins, it got me curious. Plus, they pay you too. Can’t go wrong with that.
Ever curious why you might be afraid of heights, clowns, or never waking up?
Is your phobia a burden? Want to get rid of it?
Come and find out through our study! Participants get cash compensation!
Contact Dr. Hadley in BIOGEN Building 1 to set up an appointment
I took a picture with my phone and went to class. Heck, talking just about my phobia for money sounded like a win-win. Especially since I can’t get rid of it.
After an exciting class focusing on the importance of jaws, teeth, and ears I went to the BIOGEN building. The BIOGEN building compromised the top edge biological genetics technology on campus. Their biggest contributions to society have been genetic mutation specialties especially in the realm of cancer. I'm curious as to why a genetics researcher would be interested in phobias. The only thing I can think of is epigenetics. Basically, scientists believe that the actions your parents do (i.e. smoking, being overweight, etc.) will be passed down to you through your genes. The only flaw with that theory is that both my parents aren’t afraid of clowns. Whatever, I’m getting paid. A little extra cash never hurt no one. I ask for Dr. Hadley’s lab at the front. The student worker escorts me to the lab. Doesn’t say a word. Just keeps walking. It’s not like I wanted to talk to him anyways. He drops me off at the door of the lab. Dr. Jim Hadley. Epigeneticist/ Historian. Knew it. Historian? Maybe it’s just a hobby. I politely knocked on the lab door. No answer. Great start. I knocked again with a little more emphasis on my last knock. I hear footsteps stuttering as if I woke up someone. The door opens. A frigid breeze passes by me with a strong concentration of sanitation smell. It burned my nostrils.
The door was opened by a man. Probably in his late 50s. He had a heavy-set figure with salt and pepper hair. He wore rim-horned glasses large enough to accentuate the dark circles under his eyes. His flannel shirt looked like he slept in it way passed its due date. He wore Birkenstocks that showcased his callus feet. “I’m looking for Dr. Hadley regarding this flyer,” I said while showing the flyer on my phone. Adjusting his glasses and tucking in his shirt he looked me up and down.
“I’m Dr. Hadley,” he says. Of course you are, thinking to myself.
“I’m interested in the phobia study. You’ve asked for participants. Is it still going on?”
“Yes! Yes, it is…come in.” I hesitantly walk into the disinfected lab. Its arctic chill created a mountain of goosebumps across my skin. The lab is full of pipettes, chemicals, fume hoods, centrifuges, basically anything a high-tech lab would need. As we snake through the lab benches we both enter what appears to be Dr. Hadley’s office.
His office was small and cramped. Littered all over the ways were series of newspaper clippings, letters, and awards from the past. Scattered on the floor were piles of books ranging from parapsychology to 18th century genetics. Eclectic collection, but nothing striking me as bizarre for a professor of his status. He clears off a chair in the far corner that’s covered with old manuscripts. He motions me to sit in the chair. I comply and anxiously await to see what is in store. “Alright, I need you to read through this protocol and human experimentation consent form before I can give insight into the study,” he says, compiling all the necessary documentation.
“Human experimentation?” I ask cautiously.
“Don’t worry, it’s basically some legality we have to abide by because we are using humans as test subjects. I won’t be poking or probing you if that is what you are worried about.” I appeared to be more relaxed after this information was given. Without really reading the documents I write my name, my student ID, and my phobia. There was also a section to allow me to write out the severity of my phobia and thoughts about how my phobia was developed. After filling out the documents, I handed them over to Dr. Hadley. He does a quick read through my information. He looks up at me. “Clowns?” He says jokingly.
“Yes, is that going to be a problem?” I say, slightly annoyed.
“Nope. Not at all. We haven’t had someone with a clown phobia yet. It should be interesting.”
Dr. Hadley gets up rapidly from his desk. Takes my arm and we begin to go through the other side of the lab into what looked like a closet. He sits me down and kneels in front of me. “Okay, I am going to tell you what the study is. You are not allowed to discuss the methods of the study to your friends, family, or colleagues. If you say anything to anyone you will be terminated from the study. Got it?” I nod my head slowly not daring to say anything. “We are in here because I know my competitors have bugged my room. Don’t want to take any risks.” Okay, great. So, we have a nutty professor. Just wonderful. “This study focuses on the connection between your past and your phobias.”
“What?” I said genuinely confused. “But I don’t know how I got this phobia. I’ve never seen an actual person clown in my life!” He shuffles in his chair and leans in closer to me.
“Not your current past life, your past lives.” He lost me. What was he talking about?
“What are you talking about ‘past lives’?” Waving my two fingers in front of him to emphasis the point.
“I am talking about your lives before you were born. Think about it as being reincarnated.” I was shocked.
Was this well-established scientist telling me that he is investigating whether I was someone else? “I have a theory, with some solid evidence so far, that suggests your phobia was created by one of your past lives.”
“You have got to be kidding me,” I say with a stone-cold face. “So, you are telling me I have been reincarnated to have this phobia?”
“Not exactly. We are now learning that you actually had to die because of your phobia.” I’m flabbergasted. He basically told me at one time in my past life I was killed by a clown. He must’ve seen the perplexed look I had. “We’ll pay you $500 in cash.” He said abruptly.
“Deal.” I said. Who was going to pass up that money up with something so trivial as this? “Great! We’ll start tomorrow. Be here at 8 AM sharp!” What have I gotten myself into…?
End of Part 1