We are the Phobic Four: adventures in facing fear
‘I imagine myself at the edge of the water, about to jump’
Emma Somers takes the plunge – at the second time of asking – at the Half Moon diving club on South Wall, Dublin. Photograph: Frank Miller
It’s summer 1990-something: before buying my first album (Parklife, 1994), but some time after dancing my first slow set (to Boyz II Men’s 1992 classic, End of the Road). In my mind’s eye, we’re at the edge of the pool at Athlone Leisure Centre, but apparently no such place exists. Maybe it was Salthill. Anyway, we’re poised along the deck, my best friend and I, contemplating jumping in. At the deep end.
Filled with the derring-do of adolescents in matching swimsuits (and with the assurance that it wasn’t deep from a grown man who should have known better), we jump. The rest, as they say, is scarleh for ya.
The flailing. The chlorine. The rescue hook looped around my waist hauling me to the safety rail, a metre away.
In the 20 years from then to now, I’ve jumped into water on one other occasion, to go diving in Thailand. The clue was in the title, but I love the sea. Stand on the edge of the boat, the instructor said. Look straight ahead at the horizon, he said. And then just take a step off, he said.
The flailing. The saltwater. The swim back to the boat with an oxygen tank on my back, because I can’t do the backstroke.
Add to this the gallons of pool water consumed over various summers trying to keep up with older cousins at the swimming pool, multiply it by my mother’s general dread of having her head under water and divide it by fact I learned to swim properly (sort of) just two years ago, and you’ve got yourself a phobia.
If there’s one thing I’m more afraid of than jumping into water, it’s hypnotherapy. When I signed up for this, I saw myself spending hours in a pool with an endlessly patient swimming coach. What I got was the voicemail of Ailish McGrath, clinical hypnotherapist.
After talking through the process on the phone and assurances I wouldn’t leave walking like a chicken, I make my way to Dundrum to McGrath’s practice. We discuss the potential genesis of the fear and do a practice run on the hypnosis. I’m in control at all times, she assures me.
To my relief, the “hypnosis” is all positive reinforcement and no “look into my eyes”. I learn a new word: catastrophising. That paralysing habit I have of imagining, in detail, the worst possible outcome for a given situation. It’s reassuring to know it has a name. “That’s great,” says McGrath. “It means you have a good imagination.”