A 49-year-old grandma who was once a clinical hypnotherapist specialising in phobias has a fear of baths overflowing, causing her to have monthly severe panic attacks and feel as if she is “about to pass out”.
Mother-of-four Darcey Croft, a specialist mental health midwife from Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire, has had the fear since she was four – when she saw her mum lie in the bath as the ceiling came down, causing the water to overflow.
No one was hurt and barely any water was on the floor, but young Darcey thought her house was going to flood and her mum was going to die.
Anything involving water overflowing, including a blocked toilet or film about floods, now prompts panic attack-like symptoms.
Darcey also has an unexplained fear of cinnamon, despite loving the taste. If she smells the aromatic spice, she has an anxiety attack.
She explained: “The phobia is something my mind is doing to me but I am in control over the event, so I wouldn’t say it stops me from having baths completely. I get panicky around once a month when I’m not watching it or get distracted.
“I know it’s really irrational and I can laugh at myself after the event, but I will quite often put a bath on and nip downstairs to do bits while the bath is running, and then I’ll pause, I lose track of time and then it just absolutely descends into chaos in my head.
“It’s almost like that freeze response – everything tends to jelly, so I get muscle weakness, my breathing starts to become rapid and shallow, my limbs and fingers start tingling and I’m probably hyperventilating at that point.
“I really feel like I’m about to pass out, but then I’m so panicked about the idea of passing out and not being able to stop the bath from overflowing.”
When Darcey starts to get fearful, she uses breathing techniques but it does not stop her from going into complete panic mode.
“It’s almost like an emergency situation,” she said.
“I have to scream at somebody in the house to come and save me.”
Darcey lives with her husband, David, 46, and two of her children, Madeline, 19, and Solomon, 17, with the other two, Edward, 30, Dominique, 27, no longer living at home, and explained how supportive they are of her phobia.
“My family are really good. They don’t mock me for it so they will literally get up and drop whatever they’re doing and go upstairs and turn the bath taps off,” she said.
“There have been times where I’ve been on my own and running a bath. I’ve had to force myself and take a deep breath so I don’t pass out and I race upstairs, running into the bathroom.
“If it is getting close to the top of the bath, it’s just the worst feeling I can think about. It’s just so illogical.”
Darcey owns her own business, ISO Mum, which sells electrolyte drinks for pregnant women, and as a trained clinical hypnotherapist has learned extensively about how phobias come about.
“Most phobias are rooted in very early subconscious memories,” Darcey said.
“Let’s say a baby saw a spider in their pram. They wouldn’t have any recollection of that but then they might grow up with the fear of spiders because at that time, it would have been very scary for them.”
Knowing this, she figured out her fear of baths overflowing stemmed from when she was four.
She said: “I went upstairs and my mum was having a bath.
“I remember standing in the doorway and looking at the ceiling and it was like something from a horror film.
“The ceiling was bulging like a demonic wave and I pointed this out to my mum and she let out this blood-curdling scream.
“She jumped up and the whole ceiling collapsed and I just remember this torrent of water coming out of the bath and the ceiling descending on her and she shouted at me to get downstairs.
“In my head it was a tidal wave and I remember running outside the house because I thought it was going to flood the house.
“In a four-year-old’s mind it was very dramatic.”
Before the incident, Darcey remembers watching the 1972 action-adventure film The Poseidon Adventure, about a cruise ship sinking to leave the passengers to drown, which made her even more scared of what might happen to her mum.
“In my head, that was what was happening when the bath overflowed. I thought my mum was dying so it was such a traumatic memory for me,” she said.
“Even though there wasn’t much water and something in the loft had just broken and everything was fine, in my head my mum was about to die.”
Darcey continued to be fearful of baths, especially when she was around nine when she started running her own, saying: “The panic attack-like symptoms started then.”
Even though running a bath has an effect on Darcey, she still has them.
“If I’m in the bath, I can have the water running and the water can get close to the edge and it doesn’t seem to affect me quite so much, so I only get panicky if I haven’t left the room.
“So it’s completely irrational. It’s really silly.
“I have a bath to relax. My job is very stressful so I just love having a nice candle-lit bath. I don’t avoid it.”
Darcey has fears of other things linked to water overflowing, like videos of water lapping up on steps.
Cinnamon is another phobia.
Darcey said: “I know it’s clearly irrational but just the smell of it will prompt anxiety and phobic responses.
“I haven’t worked out where that’s come from.
“To others who have phobias like me, I’d recommend hypnotherapy. I’ve seen it help so many of my patients over the years.”