I have trypophobia, and this is what it’s like.
Disclaimer: I will be discussing trypophobia (one of my phobias) in this post, which may potentially cause distress if someone has this same phobia. There are no images in this post that I would personally consider worthy of a trigger warning for someone with trypophobia. The image below is intended to be a metaphor and an extremely small representation of the “holes” a trypophobic person is triggered by.
The time I learned what it was like to have a real phobia – and not to just be scared of something – was when I realised I had trypophobia. I feel like most people will either know what trypophobia is, or know someone who has it. Wikipedia describes trypophobia as:
Trypophobia is an aversion to the sight of irregular patterns or clusters of small holes or bumps. It is not officially recognized as a mental disorder, but may be diagnosed as a specific phobia if excessive fear and distress occur. People may express only disgust to trypophobic imagery.
People often call trypophobia a “fear of holes”. While it can be be described that simply for some people, I personally have the same fear of irregular patterns that are not holes, or droplets, or honeycomb – which is what some people with trypophobia normally fear.
I will write more about my experience in detail later in this post, but I wanted to start by explaining why I wanted to write about my phobia in the first place. It’s something that I don’t think a lot of people fully understand, and I have met some people who claim to have the same fear but don’t have the same kind of reaction that I have.
Why I have trypophobia – a real phobia, not just “a fear”
The thing that I personally find separates a real phobia from simply a fear of something is the reaction to it. Sure, I’m scared of falling off a building, and my heart skips a beat when I finishing bouldering a wall and have to jump off, and on a plane I get scared that it will be my last plane ride – but these are just fears. Fears where I feel scared in the moment but I know if I put my mind to it, or try really hard, I can push those thoughts away and overcome my fear. As for falling off a building, if I’m on an observation deck and there are railings and I am safe, I will look over the edge and know I am safe. I can think, “oh dear, I might fall off, that would be awful!” but, ultimately, I know that if I don’t do anything silly, I am safe.
I’ve had one bad panic attack in my life. I remember what it was like. It was really scary – I was curled into a ball, hyperventilating, sitting on the floor and feeling like the floor was spinning, feeling like I had a complete lack of control of my body and of my surroundings, even though I was in my bedroom, alone.
There are some things about seeing irregular patterns that, to quote the Wikipedia article, suggest that I am not “simply disgusted” by these irregular patterns, but I react to them with genuine fear and distress. A bit like a panic attack.
I literally feel like my skin is crawling. My hands and my limbs shake. I feel extremely uncomfortable and I can’t simply look away, I feel like I have to duck down on the ground and curl into a ball. I feel like I have to hide from the thing that has caused me to react like this, if I can’t run away. I will keep my distance or back away, depending on if I’ve seen something on a phone screen or in real life. I don’t feel disgusted, but I feel very put off. Ultimately, I feel so uncomfortable and my limbs shake – I feel like I can’t control my body or my emotions and feelings about what I have experienced. I’ve heard that people with a real phobia will behave this way about something they fear – their fear is often, like mine, completely irrational.
And I definitely understand that it’s irrational, but it’s kind of why I have this phobia. It’s irrational because I can’t control the fear. It makes no sense to me, and to be honest, I feel downright stupid having it sometimes. 😅
My fear of “repeating patterns” – specifically what kind
So I’m kind of generally OK with seeing holes. People have said that the three cameras on the back of some of the newer iPhone models has triggered their trypophobia. People have laughed about the new Apple Mac Pro having a bunch of holes on the side and commented on how it would really trigger someone with trypophobia. I’ve seen it in real life, and I’ve seen some pictures of it, but it hasn’t triggered me. However! The one that is displayed on their website in some crazy rendered high resolution that appears gigantic on my 27″ display – yeah, that’s kind of triggering. It’s very in-my-face and I do. not. like. it.
I don’t so much mind honeycomb patterns, and droplets are OK. Organised, repeating spots on clothes are not an issue. But the one that some people seriously don’t understand is repetitive cartoon-style patterns. I don’t know how to explain them without searching for an image on the internet, triggering myself, and then publishing them in my blog post. 😂 However, I have something that might help one visualise what I mean.
Before I continue, I want to repeat that this phobia is – I get it – totally irrational. I myself can laugh a little about the fact that I’m writing this. But I know I also have fellow trypophobia sufferers and I wanted to be open like this so no one thinks we’re freaks. 😥
Certain styles of drawing/illustration
I used to play a game called Doodle Find on my iPhone 3GS with my friend Seb. But every time I played it and we played together, my skin would crawl every time the images animated onto the board. I somehow felt so scared that the images were out to get me. I would cower as I touched the screen of my phone. Sometimes I felt like I was holding my phone so cautiously, because I didn’t want to have so much of my hands and fingers touching the screen. I felt like something was going to jump out of the screen and get me. If you search for the game on the internet I’m sure you can find some screenshots of what it looks like.
I really don’t know why it is, and obviously I mean no offence to the creator of that game, but I just remember having my trypophobia triggered every time I played it.
Where’s Wally-esque seemingly repeated illustrations
The same happens for illustrations like Where’s Wally-style illustrations. 😩 Basically, small, detailed illustrations on a large scale. Small, detailed illustrations that are seemingly repeated, or look to be the same. I cannot look at them for long periods of time. I really struggled to look at these books when I was a kid. Yes, I had to “find Wally”, but I could never look at the illustrations for very long. Sometimes I could only hold the book by the edges because I felt like I could not touch it – I felt like something was going to jump out and get me. Or when I found Wally, maybe something would jump out at me.
I really don’t understand why this happens, and it happens to a lesser degree as an adult… but when I was a kid, I felt something was definitely wrong with me.
Certain structured repeating patterns
I remember downloading a few wallpapers for my phone and iPad about six years ago, before Nick and I were together (but when we were already friends). I was telling him about my phobia and he didn’t understand it. Some of the wallpapers I downloaded were by an artist whose designs I liked. There were some summer-themed wallpapers with some nice patterns, and most of them were fine, but some of them really, really did not sit well with me. One of them was a watermelon pattern, and the pattern was the sort of even, structured, seamless pattern that could repeat without you telling where the end of the original image was. I didn’t mind this pattern as my phone wallpaper, but for some stupid reason, when I looked at a bigger version, suitable for a desktop screen, I had the same reaction and the same feeling of needing to cower and curl into a ball under my desk.
Optical illusion books
Similar to looking at Where’s Wally books with fear, I could not look at optical illusions in books – the kind where you hold your face to the page and then stare at it in a certain way so you can see something in 3D. The repeating patterns, coupled with the fact that something would appear to you as you stared up close!!!!!!! triggered me a lot.
The repeating pattern was always a bit, eh, whatever, and often I could deal with it… but I remember trying to view the hidden image with extreme caution. The first few times I saw the optical illusion I almost fell out of my seat. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t even ten years old at this point and I remember going to bed quite terrified of the book after that.
Zooming-in never-ending gifs, rapid small-to-large animation
So we’re in this digital age where animated gifs are aplenty. I’ve no problem with them! But I found my trypophobia relentlessly triggered by a gif that Nick showed me. He obviously didn’t intend to trigger me, but I remember it being a gif of a face, or something like that, and the animation would zoom into the face only to have the face reappear as part of the loop, and then it would loop continuously. Something about this fucked my mind up so much and I felt that same shitty skin-crawling reaction.
Nick really didn’t get it. 😂 It’s funny looking back on it, but I shudder thinking about the gif itself. I think it goes to show that someone without trypophobia can really struggle to understand what the feeling is like, and that it can seem super irrational to them. But yeah – I don’t really know what it is about those gifs, but I think something to do with the fact that the same pattern (of a face, for example) is constantly there, but moving by way of zooming in… is something that triggers me.
I suppose it’s similar to the Doodle Find images in that the way they animated onto the board was like they were small to begin with, and then animated to become larger. Something about that extremely rapid change in size was really triggering.
After writing about my trypophobia I feel like it’s a load off my chest! I suspect I’m not the only one with this fear, though – and I’d encourage you to share in the comments if you have a similar phobia, or if you have a phobia at all. 🙂
In conclusion: if you have trypophobia, you’re not weird. You’re not weird at all. I promise. 💖
This was so interesting for me to read. I had a different phobia (spiders) but I found a lot of what you wrote really fits my reaction to my phobia. The paragraph starting with “I literally feel like my skin is crawling. My hands and my limbs shake. I feel extremely uncomfortable and I can’t simply look away, I feel like I have to duck down on the ground and curl into a ball.” this describes my reaction to a spider (or the thought, a picture, even someone mentioning them). I feel downright stupid as well sometimes with my phobia as well. Lots of people are scared of spiders, but a lot of the time they don’t obsess or think about them or about an encounter, out of sight out of mind, so to speak. Like you said it’s not as easy as just turning away… where did it go? When am I going to see it again? and so on… the crawling skin, the thoughts that something is on me when it isn’t, the thoughts period. I am glad I read this though even though it’s a different phobia and even though it does kind of make me think of my own and is making my skin crawl right now as I write this I am glad and it makes me want to write about my own phobia(s) and be more open.
Thanks for sharing your phobia and experience, Kadie. I definitely knew I had some kind of phobia when I realised my behaviour was totally irrational. It’s also helped me be more understanding of when other people have phobias – it’s easy to think someone is overreacting about a fear when they’re not. I’ve heard about exposure therapy for trypophobia and other phobias but I’m so averse to it that I feel disgusted just thinking about it too. I wish there was an easier way because I definitely don’t love living with it 🙈