Today I experienced a new form of anxiety, dare I say, even a phobia. As a placeholder, I’m going to call it engytitaphobia. While I am an introvert, this fear (phobia in Greek) of nearness, or closeness, or proximity (engytita in Greek) is new to me. It’s been brought on by the pandemic, the health threat that others have potentially become, and the social distancing rules that we have been mandated to follow. I don’t think that I’m alone here, and I will not be surprised if engytitaphobia becomes a real concern when we are all told that it is safe to gather again, especially for my fellow introverts who nary need another reason to stay at home alone.
I tried finding an actual name for what I was experiencing. My searches came back with agoraphobia, but that’s not right. Agoraphobia through etymology does deal with a fear of a city market or place of assembly, but has taken on a meaning of a fear of feeling trapped or embarrassed. Enochlophobia is a fear of the dangers of large crowds, like the fear of being trampled, so that’s not it either. It’s also not anthrophobia, or the fear of people. It’s the proximity to people that is the issue for me, with the fear of the pandemic.
Coronaphobia is gaining traction in the health community, though, I don’t have an irrational fear about contracting the virus myself. I’m not worried about it for me personally. I have loved ones who are immunosuppressed and I don’t want to bring the pandemic and certain death to them.
But I feel like I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start with some personal context. I’ve been working from home for over a year now. Last week I accepted a training invitation through email, and later found out that I would have to be in-person at my place of work to receive the training. Reading this email caused me to shudder.
The night before the training, I was stressed at the idea of gathering with others in a public space (I was also a bit shocked at the concept of leaving my jammies mullet behind and actually needing to don full business attire… aka pants). The morning of, I went on email to tell them I couldn’t make it, when I noticed one of the other four participants had cancelled. I didn’t want to strand the trainer, so I put on my big girl pants. (This is a nod to the COVID weight I’ve gained, and my need for summoning the internal fortitude to make this happen.)
Adding to my stress level, there were new hoops to jump through for COVID protocols when I arrived on site. Once in the training room, I noticed that there were only three of us; there was a no-show. Perhaps someone else was feeling engytitaphobia as well? I felt very awkward and was focused almost single-mindedly on how far I could sit from the other participant without seeming like an oddball.
Our trainer was wonderful, and when I expressed my hesitation, she mentioned that she too had felt the same way when she had first worked at the worksite. Feeling slightly validated, I lowered my mask to eat my food (and my feelings). She lifted her mask to drink her coffee, and looked like she was wearing a blindfold. We were a fine pair, and this little moment of togetherness helped me make it through the training material with as little xenophobia (fear of the unknown) as possible. There was one moment of germaphobia (fear of germs) when I had to use the computer set up, unsanitized, that others had just touched. I soldiered on and then casually leapt for my hand sanitizer.
This new phobia reminded me of another fun new anxiety that I now feel watching people in movies and television shows in gatherings not wearing masks. I coin this fear of someone not wearing a mask oximaskaphobia, or for the purists oximasklophobia. Masklophobia or maskaphobia means the fear of masks, costumed clothing, and mascots. Google translate tells me that oxi means no in Greek, so I threw them together. Alternatively, I think I could go with prosopogymnophobia which translates to face nudity fear.
So, why am I experiencing oximasklophobia or prosopogymnophobia and engytitaphobia? Because I am a good person who tries to follow the rules. Maybe then it is actually peccatiphobia, or the fear of sinning? Guilt has never been my prime trigger for inaction (which my Catholic or Jewish friends tell me is a blessing) so I’ll stick with my new words before I get phobiaphobia.
We’ve been conditioned to wear masks and not gather. Seeing anyone breaking those social conventions seems selfish and wrong, but there will come a day when we need to be unconditioned. Hopefully people will continue with healthy hand washing regimes (and not bring back the handshake). I, however, will also need to learn how to stop flinching when I see an unmasked face, or have to brave a non-socially distanced lineup or crowd.