While most of us are praising the return of summer and heading outdoors as often as possible to enjoy the sunshine, a select few are locking their doors, closing their curtains, and holing themselves up in the darkest corners of their homes until winter arrives like a bizarre form of reverse hibernation.
These modern-day vampires suffer from what is known as heliophobia: fear of the sun, sunlight, or any form of bright light. In fact, some historians believe that Vlad the Impaler, on whom the character of Dracula was based, may have been a heliophobe himself. If only the Ottomans had had access to flashlights, and perhaps fewer of them would have ended up as human shish kebabs.
The phobia’s name is derived from the ancient Greek word “helio”, which unsurprisingly means “sun”. It may seem irrational to fear the live-giving entity that provides us with light and warmth, but heliophobes might be on to something. After all, if it wasn’t for the ozone layer, the sun would have killed us all a long time ago. In most cases, heliophobia derives from a fear of the health risks associated with overexposure to harmful UV rays, which can cause skin cancer and, in extreme cases, blindness due to macular degeneration.
Hypochondriacs and nosophobes (people who fear contracting a specific disease, such as cancer) are therefore at higher risk of developing heliophobia. For those with a penchant for vanity, an obsession with the aging effects that sunlight has on the skin may eventually lead to heliophobia. Spending your entire life in a darkened room may not actually stop you from getting wrinkles, but at least you won’t be able to see them.
In some cases, fear of the sun can be triggered by a pre-existing medical condition, such as porphyria cutanea tarda, photodermatitis, erythropoietic protoporphyria, keratoconus, and chronic migraines that are triggered by bright light. Porphyria cutanea tarda is the most common subtype of a rare and debilitating disorder known as porphyria, in which substances known as porphyrins build up in the body and have a negative impact on the skin or the nervous system. When exposed to sunlight, the skin of the sufferer is prone to itching and painful blistering.
Similar symptoms occur as a result of photodermatitis, which is a form of allergic contact dermatitis where the allergen has to be activated by light before an allergic response is provoked. Erythropoietic protoporphyria, another subtype of porphyria, results in extreme photosensitivity of the skin, which can lead to swelling, severe itching, inflammation, and even second degree burns. Keratoconus, on the other hand, is a disorder of the eye that results in the progressive thinning of the cornea, which can make the eyes incredibly sensitive to sunlight and bright lights. When a jaunty trip to the beach ends in crippling migraines or an angry rash all over your body, you can understand why certain individuals might be worried about more than just weird tan lines on a sunny day.
If they make the brave decision to head out in dreaded daylight, heliophobes will often cover themselves in long, protective clothing, carry a sun parasol, and slather themselves in high-factor sunscreen in order to protect themselves from their flaming enemy in the sky. In more extreme cases, they may cease to go outdoors at all when the sun is out.
This means that heliophobes are more prone to vitamin D deficiency and this deficiency, combined with their self-imposed isolation and feelings of alienation from others, may lead to depression. Short-term solutions involve taking vitamin D supplements, but long-term plans must be implemented if the fear is to be conquered entirely. These plans involve tackling both the symptoms and the source of the phobia.
Techniques such as meditation and breathing exercises, as well as anti-anxiety medication, will ease the passing of an anxiety attack, while desensitisation to the object of fear over time will cure the phobia itself. Since the sun isn’t going away any time soon (we hope), exposing the sufferer to it gradually is very feasible. The bold heliophobe might even consider booking a trip to Svalbard, although the temptation to book during the Polar Night instead of the Midnight Sun might be too much. For those with a deeply embedded phobia, use of talk therapy, psychiatric counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy or even hypnotherapy may be needed to deduce the source of the phobia and in turn combat it.
Sometimes the road to recover may seem long, and it can be hard to let the sunshine in, but we should all remember that fear is our daily constant; it is what connects us and what threatens to consume us. Whether it be a fear of the sun, the stars, or the man in the moon, in some way we all have fear and we will always have fear, for time immemorial. So next time you open the curtains and your friend runs into the nearest closet, have a little compassion.
While there are no specific celebrities who suffer from heliophobia, it has been a part of mainstream media for a long time. Well-known mythological figures such as vampires, orcs, and ghosts have traditionally been portrayed as being heliophobic.
In terms of modern-day usage, from 1994 to 1996 there was a short-lived magazine known as Heliophobe, which was self-described as “a not-so-sexual fetish magazine exclusively devoted to pale-skinned women”. We’re sure the incredibly creepy nature of this magazine had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that it was cancelled after only three issues.
Heliophobe is also the title of an album by a German rock band delightfully known as Scumbucket, while Heliophobia is the fifth song from the album “Days of Summer Gone” by an artist who simply refers to himself as “Chris”. Evidently vitamin D deficiency significantly affects one’s ability to come up with creative names.