I am terrified of bees, and wasps, and anything I think might be a wasp. Don’t get me started on hornets. I don’t just mean that they make me nervous, when there is a yellow jacket around me my mind descends into mind-numbing, gibbering terror. If I’m lucky, I completely shut down and stay as still as I can while shaking like an incontinent Chihuahua on a priceless Persian rug. If I’m at my breaking point however, I shriek and run as fast as I can in the opposite direction, and towards the nearest door I can hide behind.
The fear is completely irrational. There are a couple occasions where it was possible I was stung. It hurt, but it wasn’t overwhelming. It was enough that I was never sure whether or not I had been stung.
I have no idea how it started. My parents insist that it was me trying to be like my best friend, an older girl that I thought was absolutely amazing. She was afraid of bugs and so I was afraid of bugs. I don’t know if that’s true, it might be. I remember exactly the moment that I became uncomfortable around crickets, but my fear of bees just always seemed to be.
It gets in the way of my life. My fear of bees keeps me from spending time outdoors. If we go out to eat and there is a patio, I come up with excuses about why it is better to eat inside. The sun is setting and the mosquitoes will be out soon. It looks like it might rain. Or maybe it’s too hot, and I would rather eat where there is air conditioning. I can’t let people know just how much this affects my life. How I avoid going for a picnic, or reading in the park.
Most of my time outside with people, I work hard to appear calm. My eyes dart around, locating every winged creature around me. If I spot a wasp, I watch it so I know exactly when it passes by me. I tense so that I don’t jump or run. I can’t relax because if I do, I know that I can be taken by surprise and my secret will be out. My ability to modulate my response always follows the same pattern: a the start of summer, the bees are too new again for me to be able to stay calm. After a few weeks, I can function just barely. I can sit still under an umbrella and slowly talk myself out of completely breaking down. But by the end of the summer, I’ve used up all of my reserves and I just cannot handle it. I stay seated for maybe the first five, even ten minutes, but after that I have to get away. I have to put distance between myself and the object of my terror.
The tracker-jacks in the Hunger Games series are my nightmare.
It’s one of the reasons I love water. Bees cannot live under water, so when I am in a pool I can be safe. I can swim away, I can duck under. Spending time in a pool is one of the few ways I get to spend time outdoors.
It’s why I love fires, where the smoke keeps them away and anesthetizes any that might be in the area.
For years I was terrified of wearing perfume, or deodorants with floral scents, convinced that the smell would attract them to me. I used to love the feeling of grass on my bare feet, but now I am scared lest I step on a fallen bee.
I know my fear is irrational. There is no basis for my fear. I’m not allergic. I haven’t been badly stung. I’ve never been attacked by a swarm, or even lived somewhere where bees are especially dangerous.
My fear is why even though I love plants and flowers, I despair of ever having a proper garden.
I look for solutions, since a life completely indoors is not healthy. One such innovation I managed last year, was putting up (albeit badly) a screen around my balcony. Effectively keeping a barrier between me and my winged terrors. Even the fact that some wasps had built a nest by our living-room window was ok, because there was a screen between them and me.
This year, I need to find the money to do the same thing again. Maybe this way I can finally spend enough time in the sun to take me through till winter.
This is what is meant by a phobia. It’s not just being afraid of something. It is a fear that actually impacts your life is significantly negative ways. It can mean preventing healthy social interaction, or being unable to perform healthy behaviour because of your fear. Coming in contact with your fear is not just a startle and a moment of fear. It is a traumatic event. I’ve hurt myself trying to get away, because the fear provokes a survival response. In my brain, that encounter provokes the same response as being attacked.
It’s not something I can just “get over”. It’s not something I can rationalize away. I know that bees are important to the environment. I heartily support community beekeeping programs, even as the thought makes my stomach plummet to my feet.
This is why it infuriates me when people think it is funny to call something a phobia. Or worse, when people think it is funny to respond to someone sharing a fear by scaring them. Like people who post spider pictures, when someone says they are afraid of spiders.
It is not a laughing matter. My heart stops and then races. I can’t breathe. I am like a deer in the headlights. I want to curl up in a ball and cry. I shake. My crohn’s acts up later. I become so cold. It takes me a while to recover.
I am working to get better. I have already improved, and in the meantime I find ways to reintroduce myself to the outdoors. With luck, I can install a better screen this year and spend more time on my balcony. And now you know.
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