Night of the Nyctophobe

Nyctophobia is “a phobia characterized by a severe fear of the dark. It is triggered by the brain’s disfigured perception of what would, or could, happen when in a dark environment.”

I have been nyctophobic since I was a child. I remember the defining moment that my fear emerged vividly; my brother persuaded me to climb inside an ottoman under the pretext that it would be “just like being in a coffin”, and as a naive boy, I agreed. Upon getting inside, my brother proceeded to sit on top trapping me inside and when our parents came to investigate the shouting and asked where I was, he told them that he didn’t know. They didn’t fall for these tall tales and soon got a shaken miniature me out and into the light.

Contributing to this, I also watched a lot of television programming that I probably should have avoided during my younger years. Shows about aliens, films about monsters and late night intruders. All of which were factors that increased my fear to an irrational level. I started to tuck my bed sheets under my feet to prevent being grabbed and pulled from the bed. I stopped sleeping in the dark and began using a light to aid my slumber and settle my mind.

Modern-day Darkness

According to the NHS a “…phobia is a type of anxiety disorder. You may not experience any symptoms until you come into contact with the source of your phobia.

However, in some cases, even thinking about the source of a phobia can make a person feel anxious or panicky. This is known as anticipatory anxiety.”

So, fast forward to 2014 and here is a 30 year old man that is scared of the dark. Not just any 30 year old man, but one that already has anxiety and compulsion issues. Discussing this phobia is something that I used to avoid. People tended to find it either funny or a little odd that this fear still affects me in adulthood and I think they probably still do. As I’ve grown though, I’ve learnt to accept that it is just like any other phobia and nothing to be ashamed of.

It only really affects me at night, as you’d expect, more so when Claire is working nights. One a regular evening when we are both at home, the worse it gets is having to close the bedroom door a little more and pull the sheets over my head. Claire can’t sleep with a light on, but when she’s there I tend to get on with it.

When she’s working however, and I’m in the house alone and Isaac is in bed, it’s completely different story. Every sound puts me on edge, the thought of the darkness outside the kitchen window prevents me from spending very long in that room and if I have more to do, like the pots to wash, I become increasingly panicky. Going to bed is the worst part, even the thought of being in bed alone stresses me out and I will hold off going upstairs for as long as possible, sometimes until 2 or 3am. Once in bed it doesn’t get any better, it takes me a lifetime to drop off as a million thoughts run through my head.

‘What was that noise?’
‘What would I do if someone was in the house?’
‘What if someone is stood over me when I pull the sheets back?’

It has now gotten to a stage where I dread looking at Claire’s shifts incase she has some nights. In the week of those shifts I become stressed, on edge and snappy. This phobia is getting worse and increasingly difficult to deal with and rationalise. So much so, that I am thinking about seeking professional help.

Facing Fear

Treatments, such as counselling and psychotherapy, are common ways of treating phobias. In particular, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be very effective.

CBT helps manage problems by changing the way you think and behave and can be used to develop practical ways of dealing with a phobia.

To treat simple phobias, one part of the CBT process involves gradual exposure to the fear, so that you feel less anxious about it. This is known as “desensitisation or exposure therapy”. Although the thought of this type of approach is frightening in itself.

How I’m going to deal with this phobia is something I’m looking into and a solution is still a long way off, but I’m excited that there is a possible next step.

Out of the darkness and towards the light at the end of the tunnel.