Updated: Dec 16, 2019
by Giselle Pé
I present to you, this:
A small creature, the spawn of Satan himself.
Bulging, beady eyes, strings of long, hair-raising antennae, and far, far too many of those horrible little legs.
Step on it, and you will be cursed enough to witness the most horrid white pus squelch out. Touch it, and, well, you might as well just die on the spot.
You’re thinking: cockroach.
I’m thinking: shrimp.
Yes, I know. It’s a wonderful thing to have when, on the first day of school, the teacher asks everyone to sit in a circle and tell everyone your name and one interesting fact about yourself. The words “shrimp” and “phobia” consecutively always provoke a couple of giggles. It’s true, I must concede, it’s a pretty funny phobia to have. Unless you’re the one who has it.
Any variation of a shrimp, dead or alive, will quite literally send shivers down my spine. Prawns, lobsters, and - oh god - don’t even get me started on crayfish. I’m certain the devil crafted them himself. I have never met or heard of anybody who has the same phobia; the closest term I can find to it is ostraconophobia, a phobia of shellfish, but I’m completely fine with oysters and clams and crabs – they’re rather cute. But prawns? Even just seeing a photo of one will make my hands shake. Ugh - I feel the sick in my stomach just writing about them now. I would take one hundred cockroaches over a prawn any day. I can’t fathom how anybody could even begin to consider looking at one of those f------, let alone finding it in themselves to eat one. Yuck.
My phobia has always been with me. Nobody in my family knows where it came from. It’s affected my life since early childhood. For some years, I lived in Hong Kong, where shrimp is an essential part of the local cuisine, and – oh boy, my poor mother – having to navigate around that phobia! It must have been such a pain (sorry, mum, if you’re reading this). I absolutely refused to walk with my eyes open whenever we passed a lobster-filled tank in the wet-markets, and she’d have to guide me through the crowds. Whenever we had the treat of going for dim sum, we would have to prop up a menu to block my view of any relatives enjoying some tasty prawns. I certainly wouldn’t eat anything that had so much as touched a shrimp, so I have most definitely never tried classic Cantonese dishes like siu-mai or shrimp toast, and likely never will.
I did try to overcome the phobia once. I was fortunate enough to have an internship with a gaming development company, working with their character design department, where I was assigned a creature to design. It was to be based on a real animal – they showed examples of creatures based on octopi, spiders, geckos, all sorts. But what did they assign me? Lo and behold: a mantis shrimp.
If they had simply given me a mantis, I would have been more than fine – excited, even. Instead, I was met face-to-face with an image of quite possibly the most horrific looking thing I had ever set my poor, burning eyes upon. But, as anybody who knows me will tell you, I am the sort of person who hates to make a fuss about anything at all (one time I sat through an entire musical next to a woman eating peanuts – which I have a life-threatening allergy to – without saying anything or moving seats). So, of course, I was not about to let anybody down because of a silly little fear.
Designing the monster involved looking at pictures of the mantis shrimp very closely to study its anatomy. It was so much worse than I thought it would be. The three days I spent sketching up the initial ideations, I felt sick. Every glance at the photos made me increasingly nauseous, and every ten minutes or so, I had to go wash my mouth out. I felt like the shrimp were constantly crawling up my legs and my neck and into my ears, and the whole time my hands were almost shaking too much to do the job properly. I’m pretty sure I lost half of my soul drawing it.
I think it’s interesting when people confuse a phobia with a fear. A fear might make you feel disgusted or disturbed – it’s a temporary emotion, and more often than not, it’s rational. By contrast, phobias are a type of anxiety disorder, whereby the victim’s entire life may begin to revolve around avoiding what stimulates their fear. The fear is intense, persistent and irrational, and often causes noticeable physical symptoms. It comes as no surprise that I, aka an extremely nervous and panicky person, am lucky enough to suffer from three phobias. Due to their severity, I have treatment for the other two, which massively affect me on a daily basis (and no – they are not the phobia of fish and the phobia of squid, or something equally silly), but fortunately, my shrimp phobia is specific enough to not be triggered particularly often.
So, if any of my mortal enemies are out there reading this, plotting my downfall, you’re welcome. Here it is, out in the clear – my ultimate weakness. Never again do I want to look into those awful black eyes, or see another long strand of a feeler, but alas, it is inevitable. One day I will have to face it head on and find the strength to see them for what they are – tiny, harmless animals. But today is not that day. It’s safe to say that for now, on this lone hill in Surrey, far from the sea, few shrimps can come to haunt me.