Thursday, May 22, 2014

fear, phobia or just disgust?

What is specific phobia?
Specific phobia is characterized by extreme fear of an object or situation that is not harmful under general conditions.

Examples may include a fear of the following:

Flying
Dogs
Closed-in places / small spaces
Tunnels
Heights
Insects
Spiders
Birds
Cats
Clowns
Water

I love flying, dogs, cats and birds. I find clowns very boring - in fact I have disliked circuses for as long as I can remember. Tunnels and closed in spaces do not bother me, I don't do well with heights if they are open, that is on the edge of a cliff, or high up in an open space. A high window or an air plane doesn't bother me at all. I do hate insects and spiders. and I am genuinely afraid of water, I have had so many swimming lessons in my life and have only succeeded in learning to swim for long enough to make drowning take a little longer and prolong the agony.

When I was 18, and still having swimming lessons, I arrived at the pool and as I walked passed the deepest end, heading to the shallow end for my lesson, I was pushed into the pool by some young boy who clearly thought that was amusing. I never forgot the feeling of going down for what seemed like forever, and having the greatest difficulty getting back up to the surface. I didn't panic, but when I eventually broke the surface I saw the life guard about to dive in after me, he was beginning to panic at how long it was taking me to come back up. I continued with my swimming lesson that day, and then didn't get into water other than a shower or bathtub for another 11 years, when I finally did try to learn to swim again I mastered a width of the pool and felt that was sufficient as I got absolutely no enjoyment from being in the water.

While I have always hated spiders, and I really dislike most insects. I can remember playing with woodlice when I was a child (also known as pill bugs or roly polly bugs) and there are some bugs that I do have more tolerance for, but NOT inside my home. I love snakes, but naturally I have a healthy respect for them as I do know many can be extremely dangerous. And, while I hate spiders I find tarantulas absolutely fascinating, again - not inside my home. I do believe that all creatures have a purpose and I do try not to kill them, certainly outside I ignore them and if they do stray inside I do my best to capture and release rather than kill, no matter how grossed out I might be.

I don't believe that I have a phobia, that is to say it is not so much a fear of insects or spiders, more that they positively disgust me. In fact, after some research on phobia, I suspect if I have one, it is a fear of being contaminated by insects. I consider them to be absolutely filthy, and I do have a (what I consider to be healthy) fear of dirt and germs. According to About.com :  "... In many cases of entomophobia (fear of insects), the sufferer is afraid of becoming contaminated by insects. Many bugs, such as cockroaches and flies, do carry disease. However, people with contamination phobias take cleanliness to an extreme..."

mud dauper
I got to thinking about this because we recently had a flying creature invade our home. I am not sure if it was a wasp or a mud dauber - actually all the same family and almost identical in appearance. My husband was certain that I was afraid of being stung and went to great lengths to explain to me that it was a mud dauber and would not sting me.

Now, while I don't enjoy being stung, that really is the least of my worries. I would prefer to be stung than have the thing flying around me and bumping into things (me), but worse, landing on surfaces and possibly spreading disease. And my research tells me that while mud daupers rarely sting, they are actually the wasp family and are capable of stinging. But, as I said, that is not my prime concern.

It is very difficult for someone who doesn't have this reaction to understand it. Generally their first instinct is to make fun of the unfortunate person who is already feeling totally stressed out, no amount of rationalizing or teasing will help, and suggesting you 'snap out of it' is ludicrous, some even go so far as to antagonize and feed the stress, as once happened to my sister (who really does have a phobia) and myself when her husband (glad to say now her ex-husband) thought it funny to open the door of the room where we were busy sewing, and throw a handful of insects directly at us - I believe they were grasshoppers, but it didn't matter in the least what they were the reaction was absolute terror on our parts, and disgust, which quickly turned to fury. And I do believe that as a doctor, he should have known better.

However, back to the flying invader of my home and my comfort level - he/she disappeared, that is to say, was never spotted again that evening, and so was most likely still somewhere in my house and that thought grossed me out. I went to bed knowing the creature was somewhere in the house, woke up still fully aware it was likely to suddenly reappear. The next day, after some research I established that a wasp can live up to 40 days inside a house! I would be a nervous wreck if I had to keep a watch for it for 40 days - and clean every surface over and over again during that time. Luckily the following day, when I came home from work I noticed this on the floor in the living room:


Panic over.