Hallowe’en has always been Teresa Barker’s worst nightmare.
Just the thought of children and adults in fancy dress was enough to bring on a panic attack. For as long as she can remember Teresa has had a fear of people in costumes. It became so extreme she would never answer the door or go out on Hallowe’en and had to have the day off work when it was Children in Need in case colleagues decided to dress up.
“I have had the fear of dressing up for as long as I can remember,” says the 51-year-old mum of three from York.
“But it was when I was about 14 that it started to get really bad. We were on holiday and it must have been Rag week at the university and there were students dressed up in costumes and I just remember feeling really anxious and started to panic. They were pestering us and I remember feeling really anxious and I think it spiralled from there.”
A fear of people in costumes is known as Masklaphobia and is particularly common in children, although they tend to grow out of it.
But it wasn’t something Teresa grew out of, in fact her fear increased as she got older.
She never thought about seeking help and instead she would go out of her way to avoid ever coming into contact with people who might be in costume.
“If I saw someone dressed up in the street I would go the other way so that I didn’t have to go near them, even if it was a much longer way round. Once there was someone collecting for Help for Heroes dressed up as soldier teddy bear. I just couldn’t move as I couldn’t see a way past him. I started to panic, but felt frozen to the spot.
“In the end my daughter went up to him and asked if he could move so that I could get past, it was so embarrassing, you feel such an idiot.”
But her phobia didn’t just affect Teresa.
“It has been really hard on the children, although they have always been very supportive and helped me when they can,” she says.
“They were never allowed dressing up clothes in the house and on Hallowe’en they had to go next door to get dressed up before they went out trick or treating and then would go back there to get changed before coming home.
“I would never answer the door on Hallowe’en. A couple of years ago I was driving home from work on Hallowe’en and there were lots of kids on our street all dressed up. I had to drive around the block and waited in my car for them to go, there was no way I could have got out of the car. I suffered palpitations and this uncontrollable need to get away.”
But this year Teresa, who works for York City Council, is almost looking forward to Hallowe’en for the first time in her life.
Earlier this year she visited clinical hypnotherapist and Yorkshire Post columnist Andrea Morrison.
“I never really thought anyone would be able to help me,” says Teresa. I’d watch the Speakmans on television and how they cured people’s phobias. They were amazing but I never thought they’d be able to cure me and so I just learnt to live with it.
“My sister is a friend of Andrea’s and saw on her Facebook page that she was offering to fix the most unusual phobia. My sister told her my story.”
As soon as Andrea read about Teresa’s phobia and how it had affected her life over the years she knew that she’d be able to help her.
“During the consultation Teresa explained to me how much it had affected her over the years and restricted her life,” says Andrea.
“The actual ‘fix’ was really quite quick (and painless) and I used a technique called NeuroLinguistic Programming, which in simple terms reduces the phobia quickly and efficiently by ‘turning down’ the intensity of various experiences that we have had of it in our past, so that our brain doesn’t then respond to it in a fearful way in the future.
“Teresa came in hardly able to describe what it was like being next to somebody who was dressed up, in fact she said afterwards that had she known I had dressing up clothes in a box under the desk she would have left the room; but after about 20 minutes with me she was able to have her photograph taken next to me wearing the scariest Hallowe’en mask that I could find.
“We often think that change takes a long time, but often change happens quicker than you think.”
For Teresa the session with Andrea was life-changing.
“Before seeing Andrea even just talking about being dressed up would give me shivers down my back, now I can freely talk about it, it doesn’t bother me.
“She asked me to visualise the time on holiday when I was intimidated by the students and told me to put it in a picture frame and walk away from it. It was as simple as that.”
The test for Teresa came when she visited the BBC Good Food Show in Birmingham.
“There was a man dressed as an apple. Normally I would have run a mile in the opposite direction, but instead I said: ‘I’m going to go and say hello’ and I did.”
Teresa’s biggest test though will come on Tuesday when the streets will be full of children and adults in fancy dress.
“I haven’t really given it much thought,” she said.
“Normally by now I would be stressing about it and probably have taken the day off work so that I could stay inside.
“I walked round Tesco the other day and I was able to walk down the aisle with all the Hallowe’en costumes and masks. Normally I would have avoided it.
“I just wished I had had the courage to see someone years ago.”
Teresa says one of her main regrets is not being able to take her children to Disneyland.
“That was my worst nightmare,” she says.
“But my daughter is expecting a baby at the moment and my goal is to take my grandchildren to Disneyland and my children if they still want to go.
“It is the last thing that I ever thought I would be able to do, but thanks to Andrea I am looking forward to it.”
What is masklophobia?
Masklophobia is the extreme/irrational/exaggerated fear of mascots, masks and people in costumes.
A precise cause for why a person develops maskaphobia is unknown.
Although, maskaphobia is believed to be related to automatonophobia, or fear of humanoid figures.
Some experts believe that these phobias (maskaphobia and automatonophobia) may be rooted in our expectations of human appearance and behaviour.
Masks distort the wearer’s appearance, causing them to look strange and unusual. Also, most masks do not feature moving mouths, so when the wearer speaks, the sound appears to come out of nowhere.