I have ATM phobia. All these years, I had kept that painful secret to myself, but now I am ready to let it out. I try to avoid facing the ATM. As far as possible I rely on online transfers, cash transactions, and anything that keeps me away from the dreaded machine. My life isn’t as easy as it seems, people.

As I approach an ATM, I feel as though I am climbing the stage to make a speech (at the mere suggestion, my knees have begun to knock against each other). My heart begins to pound the living daylights out of my ribs. I brace myself for the inevitable, and open the door of the ATM cabin. I look around suspiciously. Is there anyone lurking around, to steal my money? (Not that I have a few crores in my account waiting to be stolen.) Will the machine confuse or refuse me? Will the door open again to let me out or will I be imprisoned for life?

I recently traced the origin of my fear. In the late 90s or maybe the early 2000s (when ATMs first became popular and I got my first ever ATM card), a friend informed me of a traumatic experience that one of her friends had. He went into the ATM booth, took out cash, and when he tried to open the door, it didn’t budge. He was locked inside. Mobile phones were not yet common those days. (Yes, those were prehistoric times.) With the help of a friend who fortunately was waiting outside, they contacted the bank and got the door opened. How can I not be terrified at the very thought? We don’t always have friends waiting outside when we go into this self-locking prison mechanism. The phobia must have begun somewhere there.

Matters did not improve when one day I went into an ATM where the display and keys were different from what I was accustomed to. Same bank, but different ATM. This time, when I shoved the card in and pulled it out, nothing changed in the display. It did not welcome me, let alone acknowledge my presence. It stood there, cold and indifferent and unemotional, while I slid the card in and out about ten times. Finally, I opened the door (luckily it hadn’t locked me in) and begged one of the men waiting outside to help me. The world of ATM cards was still young. No one knew what to do. Eventually, after two men tried their hands with my card, something happened and the machine woke up and welcomed me. Gratefully, I began to punch in my PIN, only to find the two helpers still hovering around. How could I tell them to leave, after all the support they had rendered?

I suppose these two incidents – though they happened well over a decade ago – left me with a strange fear of the ATM machine that I experience even today.

I consulted the all-knowing Google to see if this sort of thing was common – after all, the world is full of phobias – but Google could offer no consolation. It appears that I am the only one suffering from this strange affliction, after all.