What is your worst fear? Dogs? Bees? Dogs that when they open their mouths, bees fly out? I am obsessed with a new phobia. It's called koumpounophobia, and it's the fear of buttons. You heard me right - buttons.

Okay, at first I didn't believe it. I was like, what is the least threatening item you can think of? A button, right? So, how could it scare you? I just pictured people like, opening a drawer and seeing one lying in there, and then their eyes would just bug out and they would shriek and run away. It turns out, it is sort of like that.

Some people are afraid that if they see one, they'll swallow it. Or, if they touch one, they immediately must wash their hands. I found a blog post about it online and one lady described her worst nightmare as seeing a plastic button, in a puddle of water, with the water coming up through its four holes. She said she was shaking as she was typing the words. Seriously? That's the worst thing you can think of? Not like, dying in an avalanche or being eaten by a lion? Just, seeing a button in some water? I sort of wish that was my worst fear.

It got more interesting as I read. For nearly all koumpounophobics, metal buttons are no problem, it's just the plastic ones. Especially the marbled clear ones. They induce a sort of immediate nausea. Many will actually feel so nauseous when they look at one for an extended period of time, that they throw up. Can you imagine?

Of course, my first instinct was to make fun of these folks. I was laughing out loud as I read their tales of terror, but then - the strangest thing happened - and this always happens when I really want to make fun of someone- as I immersed myself in their world, the stories became less and less funny, and more and more sad and legitimate. As children, if their mothers picked them up while wearing a button-down shirt, they would just fling themselves wildly out of her arms and scream. The phobics online were so grateful that they weren't alone, they were finally connecting with other people who had the same problem. So, my desire to make fun of them really disappeared and gave way to not just a true sympathy for them, but an empathy. I feel kind of like I'm one of them. I mean, don't get me wrong, I'll put my hand right into a bowl of buttons no problem, but I am kind of an irrational fear afficionado. You should see me walk into a spiderweb. I mean the button people would just laugh in my face. And like me, they really can't control it- they hate it. They just want to be able button up a shirt without puking.

Some people think it's an evolutionary instinct, like the buttons remind them of something dangerous, and so they are programmed to avoid them. What out there was button-shaped and predatory, I'm not sure. I actually heard that Steve Jobs hates buttons, not necessarily the shirt kind, but the ones you push, and the elevator in the Tokyo Mac store doesn't have any. Hello iPhone touch screen.

I kind of wondered if one might create a "buttonless" clothing for these poor people. Then I remembered someone already invented T-shirts. And turtlenecks. Steve Jobs actually loves turtlenecks, so maybe his button fear really is all inclusive. In any case, I wouldn't want to make money off other people's phobias. Like the guys on The Big Idea With Donny Deutsch. They invented "The Handler." It's a keychain that opens door handles without you having to touch them.

You should have seen how uncomfortable one of the inventors got as he was describing door handles. He was like, "Well...there are all sorts of every surface that we see andthat'swhyIinventedTheHandlerDonnybecauseIhategerms."

He was just totally sweating thinking about. You know so many people were relieved to see something like this on the market. So, these kind of products can be valid and helpful, but I also think it's kind of enabling and lousy in a way. It's like capitalizing on a problem that one should be motivated to cure, not accommodate. I mean, you don't see me trying to sell people spider suits to arachnophobes so they can avoid spider bites while they sleep. Although, I kind of do want to invent that... immediately. It would be sweet if it actually looked like a Spiderman costume because it would totally cover all surface area and be delightfully ironic at the same time. See, what I mean, how can I make fun of the button people when I am such a nerd?

I think that at first, when it comes to crazy phobias, you are incredulous - like how could anyone be scared of a button? But then, when you think of your own fears, maybe you can relate. We all have these strange brains and memories and triggers and we're just trying to make it through the day without having a brown recluse give us a flesh-eating venom bite. All I know is, I'll make sure the spider suit has a zipper. You're welcome.


Juicyprincess said...

So i guess when these people hear 50 cent "Just a little bit" they freak out (unbutton your pants just a little bit)...
Or what about when you need to close up shop and someone sayd "Ok button this up".
Oh, I know we could get them all tiny dogs named Buttons.
This is the coolest thing since tourettes. LOVE IT.
keep it up

caitlin said...

I love it. Total panic at the mention of the word!

Whitney said...

So the real question is how did this button phobia come about? A button lodged in their throat or something? Often phobias are tied to an event. I believe my arachnaphobia (I am a terrible speller) came about because my mom screamed bloody-murder everytime she saw a spider, thus instilling instant terror in me everytime I see one. (I also have a fear of crumbs. When I was little I put some saltine crackers in the pocket of my red cord knickers then put my fingers into the pockets later only to have crumbs wedged under my fingernails. It's not as severe as it could be, but just wrap that one around your brain for a little while...)

caitlin said...

Oh! That sounds bad! I get it. Remember that kid, Albert, who they would just let hold rabbits and then slam like, cymbals in his ears to see if they could create a negative association and a phobia? He later feared everything fuzzy, like even sheepskin rugs.