SHEREE’S STORY WAS PRINTED IN ‘WOMAN’S WAY’ MAGAZINE, IRELAND. DO YOU HAVE A STRANGE PHOBIA THAT YOU’D LIKE TO RAISE AWARENESS OF? IF SO, GET IN TOUCH FOR THE CHANCE TO SEE YOUR STORY IN PRINT.
After pulling the sleeve of her cardigan over her shaking hand, Sheree presses the button for the lift.
The doors slide open and, taking a deep breath, she moves forward, careful not to touch the steel sides.
It may sound strange, but it’s just one of the everyday things the 55-year-old does a little differently because of her phobia.
Sheree’s fear isn’t of lifts or small spaces, though. She has a fear of metal.
“I’m completely scared stiff,” admits Sheree, from Weymouth in Dorset.
“I can’t bear to be around metal, let alone touch it. I start to feel claustrophobic and go hot and cold, hot and cold. I just go loopy.”
The rare fear, known as metalophobia, is something that has affected Sheree since she was a child.
“I remember being scared of metal at school. My godmother used to live down the road and I would run to her house at lunchtimes to avoid the canteen. I couldn’t use cutlery or be close to the metal beakers on the tables,” Sheree explains.
“I’d try and skip PE, too, just to get out of having to use the metal showers afterwards. Other kids didn’t really say anything because I tried my best to keep it to myself.”
Back at home, however, it wasn’t easy being so secretive.
“I never really told my mum, Ivy, but I’m sure she picked up on a few things,” Sheree recalls. “I would refuse meals simply because I didn’t want to use a knife and fork.
“Me and my brothers all had jobs after meal times and mine was to put the dishes away. Mum would see me using a tea towel to pick things up and ask what I was doing. ‘I’m packing away like you told me to’, I’d reply. I didn’t know what else to say.
“My mum would tell me off for ruining so many woollen school jumpers, too. I had two paper rounds when I was younger and, of course, there were a lot of metal letterboxes. That was a problem.
“I used to stretch the sleeves of my jumper over my hands so I could slip a ‘paper through. It’s a habit I still have.”
After finishing school at 15, Sheree started her career as a nurse. And despite being forced to come into daily contact with metal, she found comfort in her uniform.
Sheree says: “I worked on an infectious disease unit and so had to wear a mask and gloves. It was quite a blessing – it allowed me to go about my job feeling almost protected from metal. It was like an armour.”
After more than 20 years as a nurse, however, Sheree was forced to give it all up after a car accident left her wheelchair bound. But the skills she obtained later helped her love life.
Sheree arrived home one day to find future husband Phil (65) having an epileptic seizure in the road. She leapt into action, cushioning his head and reassuring him until he recovered. The rest, as they say, is history.
The couple married a year later, in 1986, and have been constant companions ever since.
“Phil’s not just been my husband, he’s been my soulmate and best friend. He’s been there when I’ve needed him and has been nothing but supportive of my phobia,” Sheree explains.
“My husband checks everything to make sure I’m safe in my own home. He’s always turning on taps for me and opening doors.”
As well as supporting her, Phil introduced Sheree to another lifelong friend – sticky brown tape. For years now, Phil has taped up certain objects so Sheree can use them, such as keys, taps and even toilet seat hinges.
Sheree adds: “There are things you can’t tape up, though, like sinks. Well, you can, but it’s a bit weird when people come and visit.”
Other typical household items are simply replaced or avoided. Sheree uses plastic cutlery to tuck into her meals and her trusty disposable gloves are never far from reach.
With Phil’s support, Sheree even made attempts to overcome her fears by starting professional counseling.
Sheree says: “The counseling was absolutely brilliant. I had a session every week and the counselor was really getting into the back of my mind.
“After six months she was about to start introducing me to the metals I don’t like, but then I had a letter saying she was leaving.
“It said if I wanted to carry on with counseling I’d have to start right back at the beginning. It was hard enough the first time. I thought, ‘no way’.”
Sheree is open to anything that may help free her from her strange aversion, but for now has learnt to cope. But that still doesn’t mean everyday tasks are easy.
“Life is difficult,” Sheree confesses. “Shopping can be a no no, especially on my own. Phil has to take the trolley because it’s metal and there are some things, like cans, I can’t touch.
“We travel to London a lot by train and I can’t use the toilet without Phil. You have to press a metal button to get in and then the taps are metal. It’s a nightmare.
“It’s taken over my life. We rarely go out for meals or on holiday because of the metal situation and we turn down most social invites. I’m stuck at home.
“The dentist is the worst, though, because of what they put in your mouth.
“Luckily, my dentist knows about my phobia and is very patient. I still screw my eyes shut and have to squeeze Phil’s hand, but he explains everything he does and why. The dentist normally gives me a hug afterwards!”
Now well-adjusted to living a life with a phobia, it’s not just Phil and the dentist Sheree has confided in.
As the years have trickled by Sheree has been more open about her phobia. It’s on her doctors’ records and a number of friends, relatives and local businesses know about the difficulties she faces.
“I often get a strange look the first time I tell someone,” Sheree reveals. “But a lot of people are very understanding.
“We actually went out for our wedding anniversary not long ago and they moved anything metal away from the table. It was very sweet of them.”
Sheree may find herself limited due to her fear, but she is determined to live as much of a normal life as possible.
And for every difficult situation she faces she throws herself into another – she is constantly dreaming up events to help raise money for charity.
“I’ve been fundraising for 25 years and raising money for a local centre, Dorchester’s Joseph Weld Hospice, for the last two-and-a-half years,” says Sheree.
“I don’t do it for the medals or the publicity, I do it because I want to.”
Sheree’s feats over the years have included kayaking, yachting, paragliding and swimming across Weymouth Harbour using just one arm and one leg.
Sheree adds: “People always say they feel sorry for me, but I’m not after sympathy. There are a lot of people worse off.
“We’re just normal people going through life the best we can and, anyway, not everything’s metal.”