Selachophobia - It's not Spielberg's fault.
I was born in 1975. The last US troops were withdrawn from Viet Nam in April of that year, and as my father is a veteran of that engagement, it is that little tidbit of history that I always keep in mind.
What I try not to think about, is that JAWS was released in theatres that same year. I can't say that I've ever seen that movie, and though my mother is quick to blame my father for humming the JAWS theme whenever I was in the water for my fear, I don't think that has anything to do with it. He also used to mimic Darth Vader's breathing, and I am not afraid of Darth Vader. At all. In fact, he's one of my favourite characters and I cry every bloody time he dies.
But I digress...
I'm not actually sure what has caused me to suffer from selachophobia so severe that seeing a still of an animated shark sends me into a panic attack. I remember the cold chill of terror that shot through me when I realised that Bert had called a shark into the boat on Sesame Street. I also remember seeing a clip on another of my shows (might've been Captain Kangaroo) where a fisherman released the baby sharks from his net with the explanation that they didn't have their teeth yet, to which four year old me responded aloud, "But when they get their teeth they'll bite people so why not kill them now?"
Following Sun Tsu's sage advice I have learned all I can about my enemy so as to minimise my potential contact with a shark, but my phobia has nevertheless worsened over the years. I can't open my eyes underwater in a swimming pool, because I can too easily imagine a shark swimming towards me with violent intentions. Rivers and lakes that have rivers or canals attached to them are off-limits because sharks can survive in brackish water, and each year it seems they adapt to water that is just a little bit less salty. Spring-fed lakes used to be safe but now if the water is dark I'm afraid to wet so much as a fingertip. I can't watch anything that has underwater sequences because I am convinced a shark will appear.
I have other anxieties - Social Anxiety Disorder, ADHD-I, OCDP - so I suspect that I was primed for a severe phobia, and the attention that JAWS brought to sharks provided the subject of that phobia. Add to that my too-vivid, far too-active imagination, and you have the perfect storm, so to speak.
Not being able to frolic in the waves has not really impacted me. I have photosensitive eyes, a sun allergy and reverse seasonal depression, so the beach isn't exactly a healthy place for me anyway. I do wish I could swim in a pool without imagining a shark's grin inches from my face, or a lake without my mind conjuring images of some relic time and evolution forgot awakening just to swallow me whole, and it would be nice to be able to enjoy the underwater landscapes in Guild Wars 2 without having a panic attack, but I don't think I could survive the therapy needed to lessen, if not cure, my phobia. The toothless baby sharks outside the shark exhibit in Sea World, though not my favourites, did not send me screaming, so I tried to sit through the movie they show inside. The room filled with people, the lights dimmed and the music started, and I ran out of there so fast I don't even remember getting from point A to point B. I could hear the blood pounding in my ears, feel my heart thumping erratically in my chest and decided it was healthier to try to coexist with my phobia.