It started in grade 10 science class.
A bunch of kids were sitting around the table and my friends were talking about some disgusting viral photo they saw in an email chain letter (which was an urban legend). At the time, I never knew this phobia (which I later came to know is called trypophobia) existed.
So there I was, sitting in class, as my friend (and yes, we're still friends) looked at this photo of a woman who, while on vacation, had a bug lay eggs in her nipple. As disgusting as the story sounded, I decided to open up the article and look at the image. And there it was. Teeny-tiny clusters of hollow holes in a woman's nipple; each hole was filled with eggs from a mysterious bug. I almost threw up in my mouth.
I'm not terrified of blood or guts, but there was something incredibly disgusting about that image. Eight years later, this picture of tiny, hollow holes sits in my head, and since then, every time I see anything similar, I immediately have to close my eyes and take a deep breath. My body gets stiff, my mind tells me I'm running out of air and even as I write this article, I'm starting to fidget.
Recently, a study published in Psychological Science found up to 16 per cent of people are just like me -- they have a terrible fear of clustered holes. The study found that females are more likely to experience trypophobia (18 per cent) compared to males (11 per cent).
Researcher Geoff Cole says the fear may develop because the brain tells us we may be looking at a poisonous animal every time we see circular patches or spots.
I don't think I'm looking at a poisonous animal, but seeing tiny holes clustered in a batch makes me feel weak. Other trypophobia websites point out people suffer from panic attacks, itchiness and even gagging after seeing things like honeycombs, sponges or seed pods.
But this is where it gets complicated. I, for example, am not scared of honeycombs, but sometimes when I see strawberries in yogurt it creeps me out. Blackheads, pores, holes in logs and sometimes even mould make me want to gag.
Cole says people who don't have the phobia still rated trypophobic images as "less comfortable to look at" in his study, adding that those who aren't aware of the phobia are least likely to be afraid of them.
In my experience, besides being the butt of all hole-related jokes, it definitely can get passed on. When I tell people about my fear or tell them to Google trypophobia, they freak out. And for those of you who tell me it's all in my head, well, it may be. But all I know is giving me an intervention (which was attempted once in university) made my fear even worse. So kids, don't try that at home.
To all my trypophobics out there, don't worry you're not alone. Most of the time, it's an easy fear to block out and ignore, which I assume most of you do. For your sake, you won't find any holey pictures in this post, and for those of you who think you can handle it, search at your own risk.