This episode of True Life followed the lives of two people with phobias that have been affecting the way they live their lives. The man had an extreme case of mysophobia (fear of germs) which did not allow him to feel comfortable using public restrooms. The woman in the episode suffered from ornithophobia (fear of birds) specific to pigeons. These two phobias were clearly severe medical conditions because they did not allow the man and woman to operate their lives in a normal manner, and put both of their jobs on the line in the process.
Both of the individuals in the episode described their phobias using a chaos narrative originally, but once they realized that there was hope in terms of overcoming their phobias, their stories resembled restitution narratives. What I mean by this is that the woman with the fear of pigeons was sure that there was no way that she would be able to overcome her fear, but after seeing a hypnotist she realized that there was a new hope that she may be able to work with her once debilitating fear. The man in the episode, on the other hand, refused to acknowledge that his phobia was a problem even though he had put his job on the line at one point during the episode. He then tried to rationalize his phobia, and explained that he had no reason to change his ways and, more importantly, he did not believe there was a way to get around his phobia. Just as with the woman in the episode though, he ended up seeking help from a professional which eventually allowed him to feel comfortable using the restrooms at his job. Both individuals in the episode used their narratives in a manner which attempted to make the audience sympathize with the subjects of the show. Since in today’s culture people with what most people would consider to be absurd phobias are looked down upon, the subjects of “I have a Phobia” tried to explain to the audience that their phobias were completely rational based on their personal histories. Meanwhile, their families behaved in a manner that would probably be in character with the majority of the country, meaning they could not understand why their family member could not simply get over their fear and live a “normal” life. I believe that this misunderstanding from their family members lead the man and woman to seek help from professionals (i.e. the psychiatrist and hypnotist, respectively). In the end, I believe it was a good turn for the man and woman to seek help because it seemed to have a profound effect on how they both lived their lives. There could not have been a bigger difference between the man and woman in terms of how the two individuals used the sick role. The woman believed that others should be understanding of her phobia and not force her into uncomfortable situations even if it meant that she was unable to perform her job. The man, on the other hand, simply told other people that they should not worry about his fears, and he tried to explain that as long as they let him “do his thing” he would be just fine.
I believe that illness narratives can be very affective on the public. The best example I have seen in a while was the video of the little girl who was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes[i] because it forced people to take a deeper look at what living with diabetes is really like. Even if one is on the verge of having a different type of diabetes, it served as a warning to others that this was the possible pain one would experience if he decided to overeat and possibly become a Type 2 diabetic. I believe that those illness narratives that act as warnings to others are probably the most powerful way in which an illness narrative can be used.
[i]A Day Living with Diabetes, 2010, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVUOIr8Etow&feature=youtube_gdata_player.