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Why My Entomophobia Isn’t ‘Just Being Scared’ of Bugs

I am currently sitting on my couch. Sobbing. I’m in the middle of a panic attack. Offering people money to come kill a stink bug for me.

I have entomophobia — a type of specific phobia characterized by an irrational fear of one or more insects. I don’t remember when this started or how, but for as long as I can remember, I have been extremely scared of bugs and my reactions have been far from “normal.” This is not just “being afraid.” Even just typing the word “bug” out, my eyes are closed and my face is grimacing. I can feel my body clenching up, images coming to mind.

Shut them out, shut them out, shut them out. Think happy thoughts. Snow, snowmen, fall, coffee…OK we’re good. We’re OK.

I have many vivid memories growing up of finding some sort of bug in my room or in the bathroom. I would scream, freeze, start to cry and become overwhelmed by anxiety. My body tensed, my heart raced, I started hyperventilating and I called out for one my brothers to come kill it. My older brother always told me to “just get over it,” but my younger brother was a lifesaver. He always came to my rescue, regardless of how annoyed he might have been that I couldn’t simply kill the bug myself (especially in the middle of the night). My parents would kill them for me as well, but did not understand my fearful reaction. My father still tells me, “You used to be so brave, what happened?” They both tell me eventually I’m going to have to do this for myself and I can’t continue to be so reliant on others. While their words sometimes hurt, I’m typically too anxious and overwhelmed to even process them. My mind and body cannot rest until I know the bug is dead.

The worst is when I see a bug in my apartment or room, and then it disappears before someone can come kill it. This has happened to me twice in the last several weeks. The first was a beetle. I came home from work a little past midnight, stepped into my apartment and saw a giant black beetle on the carpet in front of me. It didn’t take long for my panic attack to start as I texted one of my neighbors and asked if he could come kill it for me. But then the beetle started to move. At this point I was screaming and cursing like a sailor. Tears were streaming down my face, but I couldn’t find the strength to move, still frozen from the anxiety. The beetle went under a permanently locked door of the apartment. My heart sunk to the bottom of my chest. I kept my eyes locked on the door.

When my friend came, he gave me a big hug and sat with me to come up with a plan. He tried luring out the beetle to kill it, but with little success. As we waited for over 30 minutes for this beetle to come out, I began to grow increasingly hopeless. He asked me how I would feel if he sealed the sides of the door, trapping the bug inside. I told him if he could figure that out, then I’d sleep in my bed instead of my car. So, over an hour later from when I first called him, the door was sealed with tape and saran wrap. I thanked him profusely and slept OK with a peace of mind.

Until several days later.

I was sitting in my living room watching Netflix, waiting for a friend to come by after he got off work. All of the sudden, I saw a giant black spider a few feet in front of me. Cue the panic attack. Even writing this, my toes are curling up, shoulders are tense and I’m finding it hard to breathe evenly. As I started to cry, freeze and hyperventilate, I called my friend. He said he was on his way back and to just keep an eye on it. As it went under the door of my roommate who keeps her door locked, I was done. Texting my friend, he said, “Why, how is this so difficult? Smash it. Dead.”

I responded, “I literally can’t. I hate this. Now there’s a big spider in her room and it’s going to crawl into my room somehow and kill me. Beautiful. Can’t wait.”

He said, “First of all. Not how any of this works.”

I think after I yelled a bit (well, texted in all caps), he got the hint. My brain just doesn’t work “rationally” in these situations and eventually he understood. He put a towel under and between my door so no spider come in. But knowing it was still in the apartment was too much. I slept in my car for several nights following this. Currently, the spider has not been found. I rarely go in my apartment and I will only sit out in the common room when I’m with other people who will kill the spider should it appear again. The towel is still under my door and I still have to listen to a meditation that repeats “you are safe” over and over to fall asleep in my bed.

My phobia is not simply “being afraid.” I can’t stomp and smash a bug if I can’t bring myself to even move. I can’t use rational thoughts to realize this bug isn’t actually a threat to me because all the thoughts going through my head are so fear-based and irrational. I can’t think about “the bigger picture” when all I see is this gross, black, meaty body that’s out to get me.

I recognize it’s irrational. I know in my heart a bug is not going to kill me. I know how much bigger I am than it. I am an intellectual human being. But my phobia — this intense and debilitating fear — convinces me I am in grave danger. It convinces me I am trapped. It takes over my body and my mind. Though I am so much bigger than a bug, my fear makes me feel so small.

I have entomophobia and I’m finally talking about it. I should not have to feel ashamed or childish for this (though I’m still fighting to believe that). This isn’t just being scared. This is real. This affects my life incredibly more than I would like (from walking out of classes that have a bug on their screen to sleeping in my car because I can’t stand to be in the same apartment as one). I’m working on it and finally started talking about it in therapy to slowly face my fear, but for now this is where I’m at.

Getty image via gpointstudio.