What’s under the bed: Gunn’s worst fears revealed

The passage of time, ketchup, people with large eyes, empty eye sockets and death: these aren’t elements of a horror movie, but some of Gunn students’ worst fears. Some of these fears incapacitate nearly all of us to some degree. For other, rarer fears, it takes having them to truly understand how terrifying they are.

Fear of Ketchup

It’s the perfect condiment to fries, sauce for burgers and drizzle on hot dogs. It’s also senior Allyson Dinh’s worst fear: tomato ketchup. In fact, Dinh has never eaten ketchup and avoids touching it at all costs, because she is repelled by its sight and smell. As funny and inexplicable as her friends—and Dinh herself—find this fear to be, she describes it as akin to what someone afraid of spiders might feel upon seeing one. “My friends would chase me around with ketchup packets, and it’s genuinely terrifying to me,” she said. “I’ve had legitimate panic attacks from people chasing me with ketchup.”

Dinh traces this fear to elementary school, when people placed ketchup packets under the toilet seats, causing ketchup to explode on the walls. “People would also just put ketchup everywhere—they were on the rock walls and on the tables,” she said. “I [thought] that was the most disgusting thing ever.”

The closest time Dinh has come to eating ketchup was when a friend dared her to try it for 10 dollars. Dinh couldn’t bring herself to taste it. “I stared at it for 30 minutes,” she said. “I was crying, and I was [saying] ‘I can’t do this,’” she said.

Although her fear of ketchup doesn’t impede her everyday life, she does face small inconveniences. When confronted with ketchup (such as next to her fries), Dinh has to ask others to move it for her. “Mustard is fine, mayo is fine and everything else is fine,” she said. “I just don’t know what it is about ketchup [that makes] it one of the worst [things] ever.”

Fear of Time Passing

It’s not uncommon for worst fears to veil others. Junior Irene Kim describes her worst fear as not having enough time: being unable to reach her career and life goals as a result. “I have the fear of running out of time, despite not doing the activities that I want to do in a way that will push my life and my career forward,” Kim said.

COVID-19 quarantine first caused Kim to spend more time on unproductive activities, exacerbating her fear of running out of time. According to Kim, she often opted to listen to music or scroll on social media instead of being productive during her free time. “To cope with [the loss of social interaction], I pursued random, meaningless tasks that gave me a sense of happiness,” she said. “Even though I knew what I needed to be doing—for example, studying—I did these things to make myself feel better.”

Kim has put strategies in place to reduce this fear, such as using a calendar to organize her time better, but she acknowledges that unwavering self-discipline is difficult at times. “I still find myself self-sabotaging,” she said. “I do get mad at myself for it. But then at any given moment, I just do what I feel like doing.”

Chronophobia is ultimately a common fear, according to Kim, with many people having a derivative of it. Kim offered her take on how to approach this fear. “Everyone runs out of time in the end, so you should just do what you like doing,” she said.

Fear of Eyes

Never mind the eyeball-filled jars of horror movies—junior Melissa Sandoval, whose worst nightmare is people with large eyes, has to face her fear on a frequent basis. She finds it petrifying to come across people whose eyeballs seem to be on the verge of popping out. “I feel like I’m constantly being watched, because they just have such big eyes,” she said.

Sandoval’s fear of people with large eyes has hampered social interactions, sometimes making it difficult for her to interact with people. In an anxiety-inducing experience with a large-eyed new acquaintance, Sandoval was nervously observing their large eyes from the onset, but it was only when they laughed that Sandoval felt the need to leave. “Their eyes just blew up,” she said. “I got really anxious and I was like, ‘I want to leave.’”

On the other hand, junior Callum Budas fears not the presence of large eyes but the absence of them. Budas’ fear of empty eye sockets developed when he watched “Coraline”—a kids’ horror movie where the characters have buttons for eyes—as a child. He generally feels trapped and uncomfortable when confronted with images of empty eye sockets. “It’s so disgusting for me,” he said. “I’m stuck in a moment of being frozen.”

Encounters with empty eye sockets can leave lasting impressions. Budas once saw a woman with no nose, no eye and no bandage covering either in Santa Cruz. “I still have that image in my mind,” he said. “It’s kind of a scar.”

Fear of Death

It can take just a single incident for dormant fears to emerge into full-blown phobias. After sophomore Raph Zhu was followed back home after last year’s Homecoming dance by two men in a car, he started to feel a stronger fear of death, because he grew more concerned for his safety. He describes the fear as being connected to a fear of the unknown and fear for his safety. “It’s about not knowing if the neighborhood is actually safe in Palo Alto [and] in general,” he said.

Knowing dangerous situations like this might happen again has put Zhu on guard more often. “When I’m on my own, or especially at night, I’ll just pay way more attention to what’s going on and who’s behind me or in front of me,” he said.

When he’s alone, Zhu often considers what might happen and how he might react in similar situations. “It’s just a really scary thought to me,” he said.