Do you know stink bugs? They look like a cockroach but smaller with a lighter brown color. They also act quite differently from cockroaches. Roaches scurry; stink bugs crawl. While roaches cause all sorts of problems inside a human residence, stink bugs are harmless. They do not carry disease, do not bite or sting, or damage the property. They got nothing to cause me to fear except they do.
I was visiting my parents-in-law’s lakehouse, which is located close to the woods. First, I found a stink bug when I got out of the shower. It was slowly circling in the center of the bathroom floor. I felt quite vulnerable to be alone and naked in a small space. I said, “It’s okay. I’ve seen you before. Please just stay there.” I calmly wrapped myself in a towel and exited with my clothes. I wish my story ended there.
Image by Harvey Boyd from Pixabay
It turns out autumn is the season for stink bugs. In late September, they start coming into houses to find a cozy spot for the winter. They certainly found it in our room: walls, ceiling, floor, curtains, bed, clothes, and bags; pretty much everywhere except sealed spaces like inside drawers. My partner and I had the first mass extermination of approximately 15 stink bugs. One time I screamed in shock because one of them flew right in front of me. I didn’t know they were able to fly. When all the bodies were picked up with tissues and flushed down the toilet, we speculated that they were getting in through the window A/C unit. My father-in-law took it out promptly, and the tightly-closed window gave us hope for peace, which didn’t last.
They must have already moved in. When I retreated to our room for the night, I found two on the bed. I felt fearful but successfully removed them with several deep breaths. However, when I looked around the room and found a bunch, I felt overwhelmed by the number. On the way to the living room to ask for help, I said to myself out loud, “It’s okay to ask for help. It is not a sign of weakness.” My mother-in-law volunteered to help, and she calmly removed all the bugs in a few minutes. The way she picked them up with a tissue was extremely nonchalant as if she was picking up kidney beans. She tried to reassure me by repeating that these bugs won’t hurt me in any way. I believed every word she said, but it didn’t erase my fear.
I realized then that my fear of these bugs is ungrounded, which prompted me to look up more information. I learned the clinical term for the fear of insects: entomophobia, which is one of the most common types of specific fear. I also learned that entomophobia is more common among people who grew up in cities with less frequent contact with bugs, like me. As I read the physical symptoms of entomophobia on Healthline, I cross-checked them with what I had experienced.
panic attacks - yes
rapid heart rate - yes
chest tightness - no
sweating - no
hyperventilation - yes
dry mouth - no
shaking or trembling - yes
crying, especially in children – sort of (I whimpered.)
In addition, two of the mental symptoms confirmed that I have some level of entomophobia:
anxiety that worsens as an insect comes closer
inability to control the fears even though you’re aware they’re unreasonable
My partner and mother-in-law had a hard time understanding my fear because it was unreasonable. It looked unreasonable to me until I read the possible causes of entomophobia:
A negative experience
Learning from family or friends
Traumatic brain injury
I don’t have a traumatic brain injury, and I do not have any genetic information to confirm whether it is the cause, but I can claim the first two on the list as the potential causes of my entomophobia.
Episode 1: Middle School Girl Scout Camp
During the camp, I was stung by an insect. I felt the sting on my leg and saw the insect fly away, which I couldn’t identify. The stung area got swollen, and I couldn’t walk without pain. The counselors had me take medicine and rest. Watching other scout members do the activities at a distance, I felt isolated and lonely. I wished I was strong enough to participate. Do you see how fast I jumped to blame myself for my condition? I was not the only one who did that. Some girls said I was faking it in order to get out of chores.
Episode 2: Summer in Argentina
One summer, my partner and I spent a month in Argentina. Unfortunately, I was sick throughout the trip. I had a fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, and rashes. I did not know what it was and kept taking cold medicine. When I came back to the US, I was diagnosed with Lyme disease. Right before the trip, I had been bitten on a hike and visited an urgent care facility; however, the medical staff there had failed to detect the real problem.
These are two negative experiences I remember as major ones. Once I recalled the severity of distress in these experiences, my entomophobia made sense. My fear of insects was not ungrounded; they were legitimately grounded in my past experiences.
How about you? Are you afraid of bugs or spiders? The fear of spiders is one of the most prevalent forms of entomophobia. What would be the cause of your fear? You may have learned it from your parent or other family members in your childhood. Two of my aunts scream and flinch instantly at the sight of every bug.
Do not despair though. The outlook for the people with entomophobia is hopeful. While the fear of insects is real and can be crippling at a certain level, it is curable through treatments such as exposure therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), medication, and homeotherapy. For me, just learning about entomophobia was helpful. I was able to shed the sense of fragility and inadequacy. After all, I was not being irrational or weird.
Do you have a family member or friend who suffers from entomophobia? Why don’t you share my story with them instead of dismissing them for making a fuss? They will appreciate your understanding and support. I definitely would.
PS: I am participating in The Writers' Rooms Virtual Author Event along with other indie and local authors on November 7th and 8th. I will be in the sessions listed below (Central time). Check out the full schedule and all the authors’ profiles. I look forward to “seeing” you there!
Sat. 11:40 am - 12:40 pm CST: Ask an Author (live panel)
Sat. 1:40 pm - 2:40 pm CST: Diversity in Writing (live panel)
Sun. 11:20 am - 12 pm CST: Author reading (recording with a live chat)