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Woman With Crippling Michael Jackson Phobia Finds A Cure In Hypnotherapy

Woman With Crippling Michael Jackson Phobia Finds A Cure In Hypnotherapy
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A bartender plagued by a phobia of Michael Jackson since she first saw his acclaimed "Thriller" video at five years old has turned to hypnotherapy to finally beat it for good.

Poppy Johnson, 23, remembers feeling absolutely petrified when she saw the iconic music video on TV one day as child – with her fear becoming so bad that the mere mention of the King of Pop or one of his songs would cause her anxiety.

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The phobia was a real handicap, as her parents were big MJ fans and had lots of memorabilia.

Scared of being ridiculed until finally deciding to seek help earlier this year, Poppy, of west London, said: "I never really spoke about it or told many people. I worried they'd think I was silly, or struggle to understand how I could possibly have a phobia of Michael Jackson.

"But now, opening up has given me the courage to go and see a hypnotherapist. I've had four sessions so far, and I can already feel that fear lifting."

Recalling how her phobia was triggered when she saw the "Thriller" video on a music channel, while her parents – who she does not wish to name – were in another room, she was haunted by the scary scenes, which include Michael Jackson turning into a werewolf and a zombie dancing in a graveyard as the undead rise from their graves.

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Hailed as one of the best music videos of all time and incorporating references to horror movies, Poppy said of the film: "I tried to watch to the end but couldn't. I just remember being absolutely terrified, especially of the bit where Michael Jackson's face changes into a werewolf.

"From then on, I'd get flashbacks to that bit in particular if ever I saw him on TV or in magazines or newspapers – or even if I heard one of his songs."

With MJ enjoying his heyday as she grew up, his songs and videos were playing everywhere – making it impossible for Poppy to avoid him.

She said: "My parents were quite big fans, so we had things around the house like Michael Jackson posters and mugs. I never told them about my phobia though, so they didn't realize the effect seeing him had.

"I would get physical symptoms like sweating and shaking. Even seeing him out of the "Thriller" costume in every day life on TV would bring back all that fear.

"I was living with constant anxiety of seeing him, hearing him, or someone bringing him up. I just couldn't stand it."

Dogged by scandal, there were times when MJ was constantly in the news and, after his death in 2009, then again earlier this year when the Channel 4 documentary Leaving Neverland aired, Poppy even tried to avoid using the internet and social media, as talk about the star was non-stop.

She continued: "It's hard to do in this day and age, but I'd try to just stay off social media and avoid places where anybody might be posting anything about him."

Poppy has even had to devise strategies to manage her anxiety over the years, in case she caught sight or sound of Michael Jackson.

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She continued: "If I'm out in a café with friends and a Michael Jackson song comes on, I'll take myself off to the loo and try to breathe, calm myself and focus my mind elsewhere, away from the fear.

"Only a handful of people in my life knew about my phobia, so often when people asked me if I was okay, when they saw I was panicky, I had no choice but to say yes.

"I didn't feel comfortable telling lots of people, when I knew they wouldn't take me seriously. Lots of people misunderstand phobias and don't realize how debilitating they can be. It doesn't matter if it's an irrational fear or not, it's still a fear and real to the person who's feeling it."

Eventually, in early 2019, Poppy decided enough was enough and, after reading about him online, booked an appointment with top London hypnotherapist Aaron Surtees.

She said: "I'd heard really good things, especially about people who he'd helped overcome unusual phobias, like mine. He has an excellent success rate, so I figured I'd give it a go."

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To date, Poppy has had four sessions with Aaron, and expects to need around six in all.

Already noticing a difference, she is confident she will one day be able to conquer her phobia for good.

She added: "If I hear songs now, I can feel myself getting gradually calmer. I see a difference every time. People have been really nice and supportive since I told them."

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By speaking out, she also hopes to encourage other people out there living with unusual fears to seek help and to reassure them that they need not be embarrassed.

She said: "I feel so comfortable with Aaron. During our sessions, we will speak and try to pinpoint where my phobia came from – which I think was the 'Thriller' video – and to tackle that anxiety head on."

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"It's hard to explain the actual hypnotherapy side of things, but I just feel I'm in such a calm place. I can definitely see it getting to the point where I can go out without feeling on edge.

"To others out there living with an unusual phobia, I'd say try not to be embarrassed. Opening up to someone may just give you the courage to go and get help."

For information about Aaron, visit