When Grace Gibson was texted a photo of the giant container ship Ever Given trapped in the Suez Canal, she clenched her fists.
The image, of the gigantic ship wedged sideways into the canal, and the single bulldozer working to free it, seemed more absurd to him. Against the huge belly of the ship, the equipment seemed tiny. But for Gibson, a 26-year-old from Los Angeles, it immediately caused discomfort.
“That almost made me drop my phone,” said Gibson, who agreed to an interview as long as he didn’t have to look at photos. He knows it’s funny, but he has “a really awkward feeling” when looking at large ships in general, due to sub-mechanophobia, the fear of submerged human-made objects.
“If we just look at photos or talk about it, I get goose bumps all over my body,” he explains. The massive ship, which had blocked the canal since Tuesday and was finally released Monday morning, has devastated global supply chains, threatened oil rations, and, like a comically large object housed indefinitely, launched a thousand memes.
But for some, it has caused a different problem: it has sparked their fear of big ships.
The answer touches on a few different phobias: megalophobia (fear of large objects) submechanophobia (fear of submerged objects, partially or totally, made by humans) and naviphobia or navisphobia (fear of ships and the remains of the sea).
Chicago-based photographer Christian Anderson self-diagnosed his megalphobia last year. He’s constantly on social media, where Ever Given has been a trending topic all week. First, he saw aerial shots of the ship. Penalty fee. But when he learned that the ship was bigger than the Empire State Building, it was game over.
“The size comparison, it shoots me off,” he said.
By crossing all of these phobias, the Ever Given crisis provides the perfect storm to trigger these anxieties, psychiatrists say.
While people may not actively focus on these fears, “they may experience intense and sometimes even debilitating anxiety when exposed to them, or even images of them, and may experience panic and sometimes even physical symptoms, “explains James C Jackson, a psychologist in the department of medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. While there is little data to trace these phobias, Jackson suspects that they are underdiagnosed.
Los Angeles-based behavioral therapist Jon Roos notes that “phobias are relatively common, but some do not usually interfere with daily life because the stimulus is rarely found.” Furthermore, “phobias can be experienced more acutely when experienced in conjunction with other events, such as pandemic, which increase a person’s initial anxiety level, ”said Roos.
Like Anderson, people who react fearfully to large ships often feel the same apprehension about windmills, tall buildings, and whales. It’s especially bad if the object appears somewhere where it doesn’t make sense, he said, like in the middle of a field. He lives in Chicago, a city full of skyscrapers that, grouped together, do not bother him.
But, “if you were standing next to the Sears Tower in the middle of nowhere, you would probably have a heart attack,” he said.
Scale is a huge factor.
“I’m not necessarily afraid of large objects, I’m afraid of the size comparison of [myself] compared to big things. An image of an astronaut, if it were super small compared to just one of the jet holes on a spaceship, that would scare me. I can’t even explain it, I get very anxious. I just have to look away, ”Anderson said, breathing fast.
Hence the terror of the tiny bulldozer. “It is such a strange phobia. Why am I afraid of this? It can’t hurt me. Unless it was like I was swallowed by a whale. Then I would pass out, ”he said.
Kate Horowitz, a writer who often writes on marine biology, has also ketophobia, fear of whales and big ships, despite having both in sight of his home in Portland, Maine. Similarly, living amid her fears on England’s Isle of Wight, 28-year-old Sarah Hart, a manager had to skip the news for the last week to avoid seeing the big ship. “Can we talk about Covid again instead?” joked.
“I am really terrified of large objects, mainly ships, airplanes, deep sea and marine animals,” she said. “It’s not so much that I panic or cry, but it almost makes me feel dizzy and gives me a feeling of dread.”
“It’s an overwhelming feeling of feeling small and like that thing is falling on top of you or overshadowing you. It makes my stomach feel empty and knotted, like you’re driving down a hill really fast, ”he said.
Both Hart and his British compatriot, illustrator Shannon Johnston Howes, can trace their fears back to a childhood trip to London and feel overwhelmed by tall buildings.
For Gibson, negative feelings take over the objects that are submerged: photos of shipwrecks, underwater statues, the Titanic. She will never dive, despite the insistence of her friends. Scuba training in your home state of Virginia often takes place on a lake with a submerged bus, definitely not possible.
She is at least the second generation of her family who is afraid of the big ship. Two of her aunts and one uncle share the phobia, although it is varied. His father does not. He does not like to drive or pass large ships such as marina ships, or even yachts.
Once, the Kardashian yacht was in nearby Marina del Rey, when Gibson, a recruiter, was in the neighborhood. “That was pretty massive. I was like, ‘I need to avoid getting close to that one.’
Soon, those eager for the Ever Given will be able to breathe a sigh of relief, as the ship has set sail. But that doesn’t mean smooth sailing is guaranteed, Horowitz said. “The ship’s story will end, but your phobias will stay with you.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism