Afternoon InquisitionSkepticism

AI: Overcoming a Fear of Muppets

I know this post is a little late. It has been a wild and crazy few days for some of the Skepchicks and A can’t make it to a computer so I have volunteered to jump in. Woohoo!

We have been at Dragon*Con spreading skepticism all over Atlanta and having a blast doing it! This particular conference was extremely special for me because I almost didn’t go. I came very close to stabbing myself in the foot so I wouldn’t have to get up in front of a live audience at the Skepchick Dragon•Con panel. I know it may seem silly to a lot of you but I was terrified! I have never spoke in front of a live audience, EVER. I was so nervous that I actually almost barfed on A.

Fortunately for everyone involved (especially A) everything worked out fine and I managed to give a (very) short talk on “magic” jewelry and I honestly feel like a better, stronger person for having done it. I now look forward to the next time I will have the opportunity to be on a panel.

Oh, did I mention I used to be scared of Beaker from the Muppets too? Yes, Dragon*Con helped me overcome that fear as well!

So, what fears, irrational or otherwise have you overcome? How did you master them and how has it changed your life?

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia, science-loving artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and is currently in love with pottery. Daily maker of art and leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Tip Jar is here.

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  1. I very afraid of heights. I haven’t mastered that fear but I can work within it when I have too. A few weeks ago some shigles were blown off our roof during a storm. The insurance adjuster checked our roof and said the damage was below the deductible. He told me any roofer would be happy to come out and repair it for the $350.00 minimum charge. I couldn’t see myself paying that to get 6 shingles put on. So I did it myself. It was terrifying. I had to stare directly at the roof the whole time. I was so scared I got dizzy and had trouble breathing. But I did the job and I did it right.

  2. When I was younger, I was always afraid to voice my opinions, to the point where I would often ‘go with the crowd’ rather than voice my own thoughts, or express myself. As I grew older (especially in my teen years, natch) I taught myself to be less concerned with what others thought of my opinions and began to ‘hey presto!’ express myself. This came through making art, starting the obligatory high school punk band with my best friend and of course learning how to be obnoxious. I’ve toned down a bit over the years. But then I discovered Skepticism. Now I’m afraid that I’m being overzealous and obnoxious ALL the time! My own little 180. Need to work on that.

  3. It is amazing how your mind can mess with you. I felt dizzy and barfy right up until I was finished speaking. Then POOF I was better. It’s like the anti-placebo effect!

  4. Hospitals, recently. Got over it because I was so grateful to the people who were working there. And by realizing that without hospitals, things would be a lot worse. Still not thrilled with the idea of going there but at least getting over the fear means that it won’t be about me.

    But zombies? That’s not fear, it’s caution.

  5. I used to get panic attacks associated with school, and it screwed things up for me in my teenage years.

    I still get the panic attacks, but now they’re unfocused, and its very strange. I can now recognize the symptoms and look at myself fairly subjectively while I wait for the thing to die down. It’s very odd to have all the symptoms of fear but not to have anything to actually be afraid of – and it’s even odder to watch yourself going through it.

  6. I used to have a phobia of strange foods, broke that this past June with friends (Chelsea & Jason) in Philly by trying for the first time: a tomato, crab, falafel, baklava, cucumber, goat cheese, scallops, portabella mushrooms, and guacamole, among others.

    And then, thanks to a certain skepchick’s persuasiveness (looking at you SurlyAmy), at Dragon-Con this year I was able to over-come my irrational phobia of chicken salad.

    Changed my life in that I realized how good it all was and how dumb I was in not eating any of those things listed until the end of June this year ~

  7. @Amy: Naaaa… A ‘Hip-hip-hooray’ is not too overzealous. Getting into an argument at a party with someone who thinks their friend had alien implants removed from their body to the point that they leave the room is overzealous. For me at least :)

  8. I used to be afraid of spiders, which I always considered irrational here in Canada, where our spiders are little and harmless. Then I moved to a tropical country where the spiders were huge and actually poisonous… now that I am back in Canada, I find our little harmless spiders kinda cute. So I’ve talked myself out of the irrational fear. I have a completely rational fear of huge poisonous spiders though!

  9. I thought you did a great job! It’s kinda funny, I had an anxiety attack just trying to say hello to you :-) For me, Dragon*Con was a huge exercise in overcoming social anxiety. Not entirely successful, but I had a blast anyway. I will definitely (maybe) actually (possibly) talk to more people next year.

  10. Oh, lots of stuff. I’m pretty much a bundle of phobias that happens to be vaguely shaped like a person. Been working on it though. This past weekend at Dragon*Con was an effort to push me out of my comfort zone…

    Travel – Six hour road trip. It’s a start.

    Heights – Actually got into a glass elevator. Wasn’t happy about it but managed to do it anyway.

    Crowds – Navigated through a sea of nerds dressed up in weird costumes. Was actually kinda fun.

    Talking to strangers – Did OK. A bit fumbly at times but not too bad. Even managed to man the JREF table for an hour without breaking out in hives.

  11. @Gabrielbrawley: Me too. I could work on a roof only if…
    One time I fell off, about 2.5m. My only injury was a rib separation which was painful if I took a deep breath or tried to lift something heavy, but otherwise was easy to ignore. After that, if I tried to go up a ladder or something like that, I could only get about a meter off the ground, and my muscles would refuse to cooperate. No fear or anxiety, but a most peculiar sensation – sending instructions to the leg to go up one more rung, and the leg whistling a tune – no way. It just would not obey.
    It wore off gradually but it took several years. Now I’m back to the same old fear of heights I grew up with.

  12. Phobia: Won’t name it. Even thinking about it brings up nerves. It is a mix of two or three fears.

    Conquered: Not yet, if ever.

    Affect on life: Outside of waking up and being unable to sleep due to panic attacks, minimal.

  13. I usually just refuse to be afraid of a thing, or practice avoidance. I hated being tickled when I was younger, so I stopped being ticklish. I refused to be afraid of the boogeyman so I used to get out of bed and check for myself that there was nothing there, that I was being stupid.
    I hate speaking in public and talking on the phone, so I refuse to do it unless it’s unavoidable.
    I hate to lose or fail at anything, so I simply never try anything new or compete in any way. “Do or do not” Yoda said? I do not.

  14. Public speaking, certainly. Finally overcame it when I realized it could sort of be done “in character” where my character is a confident chick who knows what she’s talking about. Purely fictional, of course. But I needed to overcome it to do out reach and research talks, which I love.

    Amy, I thought you were great! Seemed very natural :-)

    @Steve: It was so great to meet you! A great way yo overcome shyness seems to be to hand out tree lobster buttons. Well done!

    @Tim3P0: I love all kinds of weird foods… and I’ve only recently forced myself to eat tomatoes. I’m a bad Italian.

  15. The only people I cared to meet at DragonCon were skeptics. I stood near your table of ceramics forever (and took forever to pick one) trying to get over it and talk to people. I finally ran up to the SGU men and said hi but I never talked to Rebecca. Alot of people got worked up over the celebrities there…I got worked up over the skeptics and scientists.

    I watched your panel and you seemed to do well. When I am nervous I tend to ramble on and embarrass myself.

    I have a lot of random things that freak me out…but the major one is flying, because my uncle was in a plane crash when I was 5 and cannot walk or talk. I realize its irrational but that doesn’t help matters at all. I am hoping to work on overcoming it so I can fly from TN to Vegas next year and go to TAM (and skip DC which was just a bit too much for me).

  16. This is going to sound like I ripped it off from episode 121 of the Geologic Podcast, but when I was little I was afraid of clapping. I wasn’t afraid TO clap, but I got totally freaked out in large groups where there was a lot of applause. I think it peaked when I was taken to Valley Forge Military Academy for a parade. I was 5 and I sat in the bleachers crying my eyes out because everyone everywhere around me was clapping for hours. Not a decade later, I was on stage multiple times per year in school performances (chorus & musicals). Very strange.

    I still have a fear of hospitals. Especially of going to the ER. It’s where my dad died, so when I’ve had to go and lay there looking up at the ceiling it makes me think about how that’s the last thing he saw. Have I told you I’m an absolute bummer today?

    @Tim3P0: Haha I still think about that when I make something with tomatoes – What would my life be like if I’d never had one? Interesting.

  17. I had a near death experience that showed me that I have better things to do with my time and energy than be afraid. That said, I have never been able to get over my fear of balloons. Them things are creepy!

  18. @hardcoregirl:
    Be sure to say hello to all of us next time! I know Rebecca can seem intimidating at first but she really is fantastic and I’m sure she would be happy to say hello. :) And yes TAM is MUCH more fun for skeptics (in my opinion) so do try to make it. I’m not a fan of flying either but it is SO worth just to experience all of the wonderful things in the world and after you fly a few times it gets easier.

  19. I have a completely rational fear of the Smurfs… I’ve never gotten over it.

    Seriously – bees. I used to be deathly afraid of them after getting stung like four times in one day. I didn’t do anything about it until I was an adult, forcing myself to hang around places where they were buzzing. I’ve gotten to the point where if one lands on me I don’t freak, but they still make me nervous.

    I’m also claustrophobic, but I consider that simply a very rational fear of being buried alive. It kept me from taking up spelunking as a sport, but otherwise is rather mild and hasn’t affected me since elementary school… okay, once with my third girlfriend but only for a few minutes and it was totally worth it.

  20. @ truthwalker: I sympathise. I, too, used to be afraid of my sexuality — in particular, afraid that being a sexual woman would make people assume I was stupid. I’ve been getting over it by reading a lot of sex-positive sources, and coming to my own sex-positive conclusions, and also by getting to know a very smart friend who was open about his sexuality and helped me to be the same.

  21. @Steve: You only had a vague hint of fish-out-of-waterness. You seemed pretty well relaxed when you were talking to me. Of course, that WAS after you gave me a tree lobster pin. :)

    I can’t really think of any irrational fears.
    “I fear nothing!”
    “Well, I’ve got nothing in my pocket.”
    “Ahh! Keep it away from me!”

  22. You did a wonderful job! I couldn’t even tell you were nervous. I saw your jewelry at the table later that day and I want some! But I didn’t have any money on me. Where can I go to buy it?
    Anyway, to answer your question; I have panic disorder and it’s all irrational. I KNOW it’s in my head, yet I start freakin out anyway about alot of different things. I’ve learned to just try my best to ignore it, despite the sweating and heart beating and dizziness…or I just pop a xanax. :)

  23. Bacon. Ok, it wasn’t really a _fear_ but getting over all the irrational kosher-taboos I grew up with was surprisingly hard work – but very rewarding in the end.

  24. I was afraid of heights (moderate heights, I love flying!), so took up rock climbing (still a bit nervous though).

    I was afraid of medical needles, but I forced myself to overcome it to become a blood donor.

    I was scared of giving public talks, then did a PhD in science. After the first talk I really enjoyed the following ones (to the point of giving my best presentation on 10 minutes notice).

    I am still a bit shy (I have posted like three comments here on Skepchick and did not try to organize any skep-get-together during my tour of the US in August), but I’m trying to overcome that by meeting as many new people as I can.
    To overcome the anxiety of expressing your opinion a good method is to start a skeptical blog (I’ve started one in Italian, Italy desperately needs some skeptics).

    I am really scared of being too verbose in my comments… er…

  25. Of all the irrational fears I have, flying is the only one I’ve tackled-with the help of valium-my new favorite drug. Even with Valium, I was still a nervous wreck, but….it was a free trip to Mexico, how could I pass that up for a silly old fear of flying?

  26. I used to have a fear of ghosts, but then I became a skeptic and it went away. Now I’m scared of real things going bump in the night, not imaginary ones.

  27. @swordsbane: Depends, are you afraid they’re going to covert you and make you marry someone you don’t love (rational) or are you afraid they’re going to strap you down and sing Toby Keith songs to you while wearing a coconut bra and 4 in. stelletos? (Irrational)

  28. “or are you afraid they’re going to strap you down and sing Toby Keith songs to you while wearing a coconut bra and 4 in. stelletos? (Irrational)”

    See? That’s what I mean… are you sure that’s irrational?

  29. Crabs!
    As in the ocean going variety.

    In Korea I had to cross the street or walk all the way around the block to avoid their beady eyes and armour-plated legs (crab restaurants = very popular). In the aquarium I wanted to reverse and exit via the entrance so I wouldn’t have to pass through the room with the king spider crabs (friends shielded me through it), and back in the days when I loved playing Abe’s Odyssey, those damn scrabs would terrify me.

    Haven’t overcome it yet, but I did manage to go snorkelling in Fiji and avoid seeing even one of the things, however when a tree-crab climbed down out of the coconut tree and proved to be bigger than the rum bottle, I hightailed into the bure and took refuge with the lizards in the bathroom.

  30. @devcat: Wow! That is almost exactly what I was going to say.

    I was painfully shy with social anxiety all thru my teen years. Didn’t even date until I was in college. Then, when I was a grad student (psych PhD) I was asked to teach a class because the prof I was TA’ing for was sick. One hundred seat lecture hall, all seats filled. I got thru it by thinking of myself as someone else (a totally confident character, ala Nicole) and even got some compliments from students after.

    This one incident propelled me into the realm of teaching, which I love with a passion. Still have to battle the social anxiety when confronted with strangers, tho. Particularly the ones with boobies.

  31. “Wait. There are Americans who think tomatoes and cucumbers are “strange foods”? No wonder Americans are so fat.”

    That doesn’t have anything to do with it. I think eggs are the strangest food around. Who was the first person to say “That fell out of a chickens butt… I’m gonna eat it.”??

    Eggs also happen to be one of my favorite foods too.

    I’m a complex guy….

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