No need to put up with phobias

YOU would have thought a woman who made her name by prodding about in other folk's poo could stomach just about anything.

But when it came to joining the contestants on I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, Gillian McKeith quickly emerged as, if not the queen of the jungle, then certainly the queen of the scream.

Since the jungle series started she's squealed at creepy crawlies, wilted in the presence of rats, almost hyper-ventilated at everything from a piece of bark that landed on her top, to the sight of a spider's web in the distance.

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But as debate rages over whether her fears are real or embellished for the sake of the television cameras - and as her behaviour becomes more erratic - there are plenty of others only too aware of the real nightmare of having a phobia.

More than 16 million in the UK suffer from some kind of anxiety or phobia; coping with seemingly irrational fears which, when left to fester in fertile imaginations, can soon mushroom into full-blown terror and panic attacks.

And while many may share McKeith's loathing of spiders and heights, few have probably endured the hell of Mandy McCartney's phobia.

For eight years the 41-year-old from Barnton has wrestled with a debilitating phobia of falling asleep - sparked by a horrific assault in her own home.

"I'd been introduced to this man by a friend of a friend," she recalls. "We'd been sitting in my house having a drink when he suddenly hit me. I suffered two brain bleeds and fractured cheek bones."

Mandy's physical injuries healed, but her emotional impact took longer. "I had horrendous nightmares. It got to the point where I wouldn't let myself go to sleep.

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"I'd sometimes drift off for 15 minutes than wake up again and sit listening to my heart thumping. In all I probably slept about 40 minutes a night for seven years."

Unable to stand it any longer, she sought help from hypnotherapist Kenneth Cairns who used a series of therapies to ease her through her torment.

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"It worked right away," she says. "Before I'd lie in bed listening to every creak and hearing my heart pounding in my chest, now I can go to bed and know I'll be alright."

Kenneth, of Cairns Hypnotherapy in Balerno, says genuine phobias can take over sufferers' lives.

"A fear becomes a phobia when it causes someone to change their lifestyle to avoid it. It's when someone will drive to Stirling and then to Dunfermline because they can't face crossing the Forth Road Bridge," he says.

"Phobias are generally the result of something that's directly happened to a person when they're very young, or something they've witnessed. It can even be passed on from a parent to a child."

He uses a range of gentle techniques to encourage clients to revisit their first encounter with the source of their fear, and relaxation tricks to help them cope with it.

"Often phobias have their roots in bizarre situations," he adds.

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"But it's usually quite a traumatic experience which the unconscious mind then tries to protect you from over and over again."

For Bathgate fitness trainer Alan Lockhart, 28, a fear of public speaking - one of the most common of phobias - seems to have been rooted in the bullying he endured at school.

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"I found it harder and harder to stand up in front of an aerobics class - I'd be scared I'd do something wrong, I'd freeze or people wouldn't take me seriously," he says.

"It was a big step going for help. But it definitely worked. I've learned techniques to reinforce positive thoughts which gets me through."

Gary Flockhart of Edinburgh therapists Brain-Train says phobias can have their roots in both normal and abnormal situations.

"The most typical ones are fear of flying, and public speaking, beasties and driving on certain roads.

"But I've also seen stranger ones, such as a fear of vomit and even a phobia of eating a banana. There can also be what's called 'secondary gain', where someone has an advanced fear of something but it's because they get something in return for it - often that could be attention."

Mary Dailly from Ratho, believes her spider phobia was handed down from her own mother. "My mum made a huge fuss if there was a spider in the house. It didn't help that one of my friends would wait at the bus stop in the mornings with a crane fly which she'd throw on to my hair.

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"Eventually I couldn't be in a room with even the smallest spider. I'd have to get a neighbour to come and remove it."

Now therapy sessions have beaten her fears - to the stage that she has even gone on to handle a tarantula.

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"Kenneth took me right back to when I was little when the phobia started and taught me this "tapping" technique, where I tap certain pressure points on my hands to relax me.

"He talked to me about spiders, so I started to appreciate them as being quite clever little things. Now I don't mind spiders at all."

The same can't be said for super phobic Gillian McKeith, yet even she doesn't appear to share Merle Brown's irrational fear of a certain kind of pasta.

"I'm fine with every other kind of pasta," she explains, "except the spiral one, fusilli. I can't look at it, never mind eat it.

"I know it's going to taste exactly the same as any other pasta, but the idea of putting it in my mouth and chewing it disgusts me."

It's not a simple case of just not liking it, she adds. The sight of a bag of fusilli - particularly the tricolour version - on a supermarket shelf can send her dashing from the store.

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"The other night I went to the shop for pasta and all they had was spaghetti or fusilli. My initial thought was "Oh my God, it's those pasta twirls!". I had to get out the shop."

Merle, 38, of Marchmont, a freelance beauty writer, suspects it dates back to student days when the curly pasta was a staple diet.

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"I have flashbacks of this very soggy stuff in a pot. The tricolour fusilli would always be overcooked so its colour was all blanched out and it just was disgusting.

"As time has gone on, I now can't cope with looking it, it makes me feel physically sick and I have to get away from it. I realise that it's just a bag of pasta and there's nothing rational about it - and there are things out there which are much more scary - but for me, it's fusilli."

• Kenneth Cairns, Cairns Hypnotherapy,, 0131 466 7663

Brain-Train Scotland:, 0845 450 2251


SO you're scared of spiders and public speaking brings you out in a cold sweat?

Don't panic, you're probably perfectly well-adjusted compared to someone with arachibutyrophobia - the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of their mouth.

That's just one of a range of bizarre phobias which may sound ridiculous but bring misery to sufferers.

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For automatonophobes, the sight of a ventriloquist's dummy is enough to spark palpitations. And for geliophobes a burst of laughter is the stuff of nightmares.

A bout of myrmecophobia is perhaps understandable - it's the fear of ants. Likewise, pediculophobia, is the fear of another creepy crawly, lice.

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But peladophobia and pentheraphobia could pose problems in social situations, the first is a fear of bald people while the second is a deep rooted terror of mothers-in-law.

You can forgive a triskaidekaphobia their fear of the number 13.

But perhaps most odd of all is gnomophobia: the fear of garden gnomes.