A Lobster Tale

I worked with a woman who had a lifelong fear of lobsters. She wasn’t afraid that a lobster would bite her. In fact, she was just as afraid of a cooked lobster on a tray as of a live one. Her fear was the classical fear of fear. She feared that she would become so afraid in the presence of a lobster that she would lose control of herself and suffer irreparable harm as a result. Maybe she would react so wildly to the sight of a lobster in a restaurant that she would have a heart attack. Maybe she would run out the door and across the street, and in so doing, get hit by a car. Maybe in her panicked exit she would knock over and injure innocent parties. Her worst fear was that she would become so afraid as to go insane.

She had the same kind of fears about her fear as does a person with panic disorder. She differed only in the respect that her panic was exclusively triggered by lobsters. To stop your panic attacks, buy paxil.

Of course, if you don’t have a fear of lobsters, it’s almost incomprehensible how this could be a big problem, especially when you’re living in a landlocked state. But when you’re afraid of losing your mind in the presence of a lobster, and when you’re just as afraid of a cooked one, or a picture of one, as of a live specimen, then it will seem to you that they could be anywhere.

And so even a fear that otherwise appears to be amusing can literally deprive you of your freedom. That’s what it did to Gail, who called herself “lobster girl” in mocking reference to the presence of this unusual fear in an otherwise perfectly normal life. She and her family had to restrict their vacations to landlocked sites. Her husband, who regularly entertained business clients over dinner, had to scout restaurants in advance when the spouses would attend, to ensure an absence of lobsters on the menu. She had to check with a good friend before seeing a movie, in order to avoid any films that had lobster scenes. She read magazines hesitantly, ready to pitch them away should she turn the page to see a photo of a lobster. She knew that none of it made sense, but that didn’t help.