(Image by Rachel Ker)


This American high school life: Peculiar phobias

Almost everyone has a phobia. Some are just more peculiar than others. Prologue: “So describe a phobia you have.” “I absolutely cannot poop in public.” Yes. You read that right. Imagine the astonishment I had when I heard this during the interview, which was immediately followed by awkward laughter, of course. The topic of “phobias”…
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/rachelhker/" target="_self">Rachel Ker</a>

Rachel Ker

January 6, 2020

Almost everyone has a phobia. Some are just more peculiar than others.


“So describe a phobia you have.”

“I absolutely cannot poop in public.”

Yes. You read that right. Imagine the astonishment I had when I heard this during the interview, which was immediately followed by awkward laughter, of course.

The topic of “phobias” is to be addressed, in that it has come to our attention that the students of Beckman High School have managed to develop both unique and puzzling fears.

Phobias themselves are such a complex web of personal stories or psychological explanations weaved into one endless, confusing circle. Everyone is scared of something. Some people just experience more intense waves of fear than others.

And for teens, with their hormonal levels raging at an all time high, this fear combined with anxiety is severely amplified.

Today we discover what peculiar phobias scare Beckman students the most, in which we acknowledge fears that have to do with restrooms and publicity, aquariums in Korea, the deep-end of pools and “Shark Week.”

Act 1: Poo-ing in the Loo

What’s the first thing you think of when the word “restrooms” is mentioned?

Well, obvious references to the actions of “number one” and “number two” come to mind. But generally, as such a mundane part of daily life, humans barely acknowledge the presence of restrooms, unless they develop the urge “to go.”

However, the word “restrooms” combined with “public” has more of an effect on sophomore Jason Oetken than you might think.

“I hate them. They are super dirty and there is zero privacy,” Oetken said.

Ever since the age of seven, Oetken claims to become super attentive and aware of his surroundings upon entering the unsanitary confinements of the men’s loo.

“I am always careful to step on the cleanest parts of the floor,” Oetken said.

Whether it is at school, at restaurants or the movie theatre, there is absolutely no exception as to what is considered a sanitary public lavatory.

“I was at a summer camp for two weeks, and after seeing the bathrooms, I refused to use restroom for like the rest of the two weeks, and I would only use this one that was like semi-nice in the auditorium,” Oetken said.

At age 13, this was an astronomy camp Oetken had attended in Idyllwild, Calif.

This is one of our more minor phobias, as Jason can be labeled as just a generally clean and hygienic person.

For others? The phobia is a little more life-altering.

For varsity swimmer, Liyang Sun, it is not the word “restroom” that causes millions of shivers to skitter through his body, but the act of using it publicly itself.

In fact, in reference to the opening line of this article, it was Liyang himself who proclaimed that quote.

And he would choose to resist the urge to do “number two” as opposed to just facing his fear any day.

It is a strange phobia indeed, in that he does not recall feeling this anxious fear before his junior high days at Pioneer Middle School.

“I think I was in sixth grade. I was taking a dump in the bathroom during class, but there were people in the other stalls, and I didn’t want to [poop] with them in the bathroom for some reason, so I literally waited for them to finish [pooping] and leave until I could [poop] myself,” Liyang confessed.

Ever since that fateful day, Liyang has been plagued with the thought of doing “number two” in public restrooms.

“It’s just a lot of anxiety,” Liyang said. “I feel like I can’t let the people around me know that I am taking a [dump]. I try to hide my identity when taking a [dump] because I feel like people will judge me for pooping.”

This makes Liyang sound insecure and self-conscious. Yet, many of his friends describe him as “weird,” “quirky,” “humorous” and “fun to be around.” All evident qualities of a confident, well-liked character. With one concealed insecurity, that seems unique to Liyang and Liyang only.

“[The phobia] does not run in the family. When I am out with my family, I have to wait for them to take [dumps] all the time. It’s so annoying,” Liyang said, accompanied with a minor eye-roll.

His cousin, Jingyuan Sun, claims that Liyang always experiences this fear during family outings at restaurants. She calls his phobia “weird.” Jingyuan, 16, currently resides in Nanjing, China.

As a swimmer, this phobia is a particular pain-in-the-behind, as Liyang commonly experiences his phobia at swim meets.

“One time at a swim meet, I needed to go and I kept waiting for everyone to leave the restroom but then I saw someone I knew, and he would not stop talking to me,” Liyang said. “I had to leave the restroom and I held it for four hours straight.”

This situation happened yet again, at the Phillips 66 National Championships for swim. But this time, it was with his roommate.

“I did not want to poop in my hotel room when my roommate was inside. I had to wait until he had left to the lounge before I could poop peacefully,” Liyang said.

That just goes to show that some teens are willing to go to great extents to avoid experiencing that uncomfortable pit of anxiety in their stomachs, which supposedly feels worse than feeling bloated.

Act 2: The Sea and Everything Underneath

Speaking of swimming, two students at Beckman do not enjoy the idea so much. Or rather, one is scared of the unknown creatures in the water, specifically the sea, whilst the other fears something a little more unusual.

For lacrosse player Sandy Choi, it is easier running with a stick on land in broad daylight as opposed to being completely surrounded by water.

This gives off the impression that Choi is scared of swimming, or bodies of water in general.


Choi is scared of aquariums.

As odd as that might sound, she has an elaborate backstory.

“So when I was young, I used to go to aquariums all the time. I even had a season pass back when I lived in Korea when I was younger. But then, when I was in sixth grade, I was in the deep section of the pool with my aunt, and she was grabbing my arm and was clinging on to me because she did not know how to swim. She kept pulling me down to the point where I was drowning,” Choi said. “This happened at night too, which made it all the more scarier.”

Sandy goes on to say that ever since that night, she has felt scared of aquariums. Before, she went to Coex Aquarium in the Gangnam District of Seoul, Korea almost every week with her family. But what once was a beloved family-bonding activity during the weekends, became an everlasting nightmare.

“Swimming itself during the day is fine. But doing it in the dark?” Choi is visibly shuddering at the thought.

“I think that is why I am so scared of aquariums because they are dark and I just get this intense anxiety when I am in them. I feel trapped,” Choi said.

What seems strange that someone could be scared of aquariums is not actually so peculiar after all.

Yet, her hesitant and unassertive justification is further confirmed by professional sources. Psychology Today claims that phobias commonly develop after you experience an event that triggers such a fear. And for Choi, it is that one traumatic late-night swim she delved into with her aunt.

Sophomore Thomas Jang experiences a phobia somewhat similar, but very different at the same time.

“I have a phobia of sharks,” Jang said. “Whenever I swim in a pool, I feel like I’ll get attacked.”

Like Choi, Jang’s fear developed from traumatic experiences. But in comparison to Choi’s “hands-on” trauma, Thomas’ is less physical and more visual.

“After I watched movies like ‘Jaws’ and ‘The Shallows,’ I started to get this feeling whenever I swam, particularly in the deep end, that something was going to attack me,” Jang said. “Oh, and when I was watching ‘Shark Week’ on my couch, I always put my feet up. I don’t know why.”

Watching these scary films give off the illusion that you are actually experiencing the scene with the characters, causing reactions like such.

But it seems Jang’s fear goes a little deeper than just sharks in general.

“Ok, I have a fear of anything underwater,” Jang said amidst a blush. “I am even scared of piranhas now.”

One would think with all these developing fears of sea creatures would cause Thomas to be rid of all sources of entertainment related to this topic, but he seems to have watched more than one might choose to believe.

“I watched the Animal Planet documentary called ‘River Monsters,’ and I’ve never been able to swim happily,” Jang said. “When I go swimming, I always think that there are actually piranhas or a shark in the pool and then I start to swim frantically. Yesterday when I took a bath, I couldn’t even go into it because I thought that a piranha would come out of the faucet,” he added. 

Jang goes on to say that he starts to sweat, his heart begins to hurt and he even feels a little dizzy when experiencing this phobia. All common symptoms of an ever present fear, according to Medical News Today.

The term “dramatic” might come to mind when judging Jang and his phobia, but one look at his genuinely terrified face would be enough to confirm the fact that this is a true phobia through and through.

As an optimistic person, Thomas tries to face his fears through these movies and TV shows, but his sisters told him to stop watching any movies that have sharks or piranhas.

Medical News Today claims that phobias, despite its logical explanation behind its development, also possesses a scientific explanation. Phobias are often linked to the amygdala — a part of the brain known to trigger hormones as well as phobias, according to Medical News Today.

The environment in which one is exposed to also plays a part in this forming these fears.

But whether it is a phobia of the dark, bugs or ghosts, or in the case of today’s subjects, restrooms, aquariums and sea creatures, there is treatment.

People with these mildly severe phobias often find that simply avoiding the fear works. To an extent of course. Otherwise, small steps of increasing exposure to the fear may help too.

All it takes, is a little courage.

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