Facing our fears: Thalassophobia (fear of seas, oceans and lakes)

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From the July 26, 2012 edition

I’m really afraid of sea creatures. If anything touches me while I’m swimming in an ocean or lake, I flail in panic that it’s actually a kraken raised from the depths of all that is dark coming to eat me and my babies. (I don’t even have babies yet! The kraken is that terrifying! It helps me meet a nice man and accompanies me to Lamaze class when dude’s at work only to rip each member of my beloved brood apart years later.)

Being eaten alive by a giant slime ball that calls my watery grave home is my reoccurring nightmare. Shudder. It’s as if my imagination snorted lines of bad Pixar dust … or I was eaten by a whale in a past life.

For this story, I went to the Columbus Zoo’s Stingray Bay, where about 30 cownose rays and southern stingrays swim in shallow water. Anyone can lean over the side and pet the rays. Yes, pet. Despite some hesitation, I reached in and touched one. It loved it. The rays were like declawed house cats; the zoo trims their dangerous barbs, so parents with Steveirwintradgedyaphobia can relax.

The strangest moment was when I fed them. I had to stick the business end of a small fish between my knuckles and then hold it underwater. Stingrays’ mouths are on their bellies, so they swim over your hand to eat. The sensation of a stingray’s floppy mouth suckling from my imperative appendage nearly made me dizzy from an adrenaline rush. I won’t say I liked it, but I didn’t hate it.

The animals were sublime to watch. I enjoyed how friendly they were. I just didn’t like them unexpectedly rubbing against my arm. Maybe my terror stems from a deep-seated fear of losing control? Regardless, Doc, I’m sure their rubbery thick skin will be fodder for my overactive imagination next time I try to be normal and swim on vacation.