The Wind

I tried to explain once, to a friend who turned out not to be a friend, that the wind feels like it’s attacking me, personally.  The friend who turned out not to be a friend mocked me.  I was feeling attacked all round.  It hurt. 

It’s a hard thing to tell someone you don’t like the wind.  And it’s more than not liking.  It’s deeper.  More instinctive.  I fear the wind.  And being mocked did nothing to alleviate that fear.

Wikipedia has an entry for ancraophobia, also known as anemophobia, which is an extreme fear of wind or drafts and can cause panic attacks and avoidant behaviour. This is not me.  

Perhaps I don’t fear the wind.  Perhaps my awful feeling is a natural response to feeling attacked.  I feel like I want to retreat.  I want to hide.  I want to escape.

It’s not all wind.  A slight breeze is fine.  It’s the heavy, pushy gusts that I don’t like.

That wiki page goes on to say:

Ancraophobia is never present at birth. The fear of wind most often arises as a result of a negative experience in the person’s past. This experience may or may not be recalled in the conscious mind of the person but this has been imprinted on the subconscious mind. Most often an ancraophobic person experienced a situation where the wind was blowing heavily and they found themselves afraid that the wind might destroy or kill them.

When I was little, I might have been about 8, there was a horrific storm.  It was Christmas Eve and the power cut out.  For some reason or other that I no longer recall, my dad had to go outside in this storm.  The wind was screeching, there was thunder and lightening.  I was scared for my dad.  He was out in this hell and surrounded by trees and who knows what was caught in the wind.  I had seen Wizard of Oz a few times.  I knew about hurricanes.  This was not far off.  He had been outside for what felt like years.  Hours at least.  I was scared.  Tentatively I raised my concerns with my mother. 

A mistake.  Looking back I can see she was scared.  But she snapped at me.  She told me off.  She made me feel more afraid.  I was already scared.  I didn’t need someone to yell at me and tell me not to be so stupid.  It had taken a lot for me to ask if she thought he was ok.  I was scared.  I had a hundred and one visions flashing through my child’s imagination.  Dad knocked unconscious.  Dad under a fallen tree. Dad under a fallen wall.  I needed to be told he hadn’t been gone very long.  I needed to be told he was ok.  I needed her to be the adult.  To act unafraid, even if she was.  I needed to know that in a fight between my dad and the wind, he would win.  Not to be shouted at to shut up.  I went quiet, silent with my imagination and my fears and that silence was filled with the screaming wind and the cracks of trees outside the window.

So when my friend mocked me, she mocked that little girl who was afraid that her dad had been killed by the wind and that her mother didn’t know how to be a mum.

But maybe it was more than a difficult experience.  As late as the 1900s in America, there was an idea that night air is poisonous.  That breathing it in would damage your health, to the extent that leaving the window open at night was a step too far.  Think about the word malaria, it comes from the words bad air.  Air is bad.  This belief may have travelled over from Europe where various types of winds were associated with illness and death.

Going back as far as the ancient Greeks, there was a belief that the type of winds that affected an area also affected the health of the residents.  For example, hot winds were linked with excessive menstruation and irritable bowels.  Hippocrates wrote about winds and health, saying:

“Those cities which are faced towards the sunrise are healthier than those which are faced towards the North and than those which are faced towards warm winds even if the distance between them is only one stadium”

There may have been some element of truth in what the Greeks believed, in that the winds do bring particular types of weather.  So whilst we know that north easterly winds don’t bring chills, croup, sore throats and so on, they may bring the conditions which allow said ailments to prosper.

In a more imaginative vein, a French scholar described the African samiel wind which was said to separate limbs from bodies.  Another horrific wind is the khamsin which leaves bodies warm, swollen and blue.  The harmattan was said to parch the skin but did actually have curative properties and finally the sirocco wind had a depressing effect, stopped digestion and killed overeaters.

Whilst I said these were more imaginative, there is again, an aspect of truth behind these fanciful sounding winds.  For example, the harmattan wind is dry, relatively cool and blows from the north east, bringing relief from the damp heat of the tropics and thus, likely provides an element of relief from certain conditions.

But this cannot explain my aversion to winds.  I am already ill, the winds do not seem to have an immediate effect on this.  Perhaps we need to return to my roots, going back further than 8 years old.  Back to when I was 8 months old.

It is 1987 and the UK is facing what will become known as The Great October Storm.  Most people are aware of it because of an infamous weather broadcast where Michael Fish joked about how a woman had called the BBC to ask if there was a Hurricane coming.

The most damaged areas were many miles away from where I was living but the sheer level of destruction sent shockwaves through the country.  My mother’s side of the family live in Kent, perhaps my reaction to this storm came, like the one when I was 8, through my mothers reaction.  I imagine it was a time of fear.  Ultimately, 18 people were killed by the storm, there was £2 billion of damage (in 1987 terms) and 15 million trees were lost, including ancient and beloved ones.  Whilst the significant destruction occurred in the South, I have found that where I was living was subject to winds of about 30mph and there was flooding in the north of England.  Perhaps, instead of the direct pain of the storm, I felt the pain of the land, of the trees, of the roots that were ripped from the soils.

But is this enough to explain my visceral reaction to gusty winds?  To the way I retreat inside myself when I have no choice but to face the wind?  I feel unsteady, unsteady of my feet but unsteady in myself, in who I am.  I feel unstable as if the person I am could blow away as easily as the autumn leaves that rush down the street. 

Watching a gale from the safety of my home, I still feel the need to withdraw from the window, to wrap myself up in a blanket, as if to hold myself together.  The wind, more so than any other weather, makes me vulnerable.  It is as if I can feel the terror of the trees that are violently buffeted back and forth, uncontrollably.  I feel exposed and as if the wind is whipping through me, as if I no longer am.

Perhaps I am not scared of the wind.  Perhaps I am afraid of disappearing.  Of being unable to hold onto myself.

Another historical reason to fear the wind comes from its link with malevolent spirits.  High winds and storms were often attributed to evil spirits or the actions of witches or the devil.  It was said that a witch could summon a storm by whistling which makes me wonder, does the whistling wind exacerbate the storm? Self summoning?

In many cultures, the wind was thought of as a god or goddess, or a collection of them, often with different gods/goddesses for the different compass directions.  For the Greeks, there were eight wind deities with four chief gods; Boreas for the north wind, Zephryos for the west, Notos for the south and Euros for the east.  Each of these chief gods were associated with a season as well.  In addition to bringing a new season, many of the wind deities were thought to bring change, both good and bad.  Perhaps this is what makes me uncomfortable, the threat of change?

Whatever the reason, the wind agitates both the land and me.  It aggravates me.  It whips under my skin and threatens the integrity of my being.  It is a monstrous, invisible threat, bringing with it cruel taunts of devastation and destruction.  The restless tempest howls, outside and inside.

As I write this, Storm Dennis is swirling in the street, hot on the heels of Storm Ciara. For someone who is not a fan of strong winds, it’s been an intense few weeks…

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