You already know the first part, but 10 months after I graduated from college, it was like God shot a blessed arrow down from the heavens, which struck forcefully through my naturally-apathetic heart; I became pregnant. If you’re a parent, you know already, but nothing could adequately prepare me for this massive shift in awareness. It was as if my eyes were opened for the very first time. I woke up from my civilized slumber and found I was being liberated from all the superficial distractions and the cerebral cocoon that had been created over the years. All of a sudden, I’d been given a sort of microscopic focus, inspiration to uphold an examined life for the sake of my unborn child. Science, the intricate study of our world, seemed like it had spontaneously burst forth with more color, brightness and vigor than I previously thought possible, with every sight, sound, smell, taste and texture made new. My education and experience began to overlap, coming to a symphonic climax just as I was beginning to stretch out my wings for flight as a mother.
Nature’s influence and dominion, the reality of of the global environment as a whole, of which humans are only a small part, settled in like a crack of lightening echoing across my brain. Slowly, light began to be shed on the darkened rooms of my childhood, where my eyes and heart first beheld its wonder. A sort of restless curiosity sprung forth from within. I wanted to ensure my baby could benefit from everything I had learned or could ever learn about the world, so I became like a child again myself, seeking to explore and understand as much as possible. After a while, nature regained my respect in even its smallest forms.
In school, I had become disturbingly aware of the vast numbers of species living alongside and within our homes and bodies. Bacteria, yeasts, molds, mildews, parasites, and insects are everywhere, like salt in the sea. Back then, I thought it was in our best interest to ensure our human environments were as sterile and microbe-free as possible, but after playing a part in a life-giving process, now I couldn’t help but see through a more life-friendly lens. I started to think.
Sure there are life-threatening germs, sure we need to look after ourselves, but ecological balance is never going to be achieved or maintained by extermination. Whenever we react violently toward one organism, we’re negatively affecting others too, many times even ourselves. The earth is never going to be a gigantic Petri dish, so why should I pretend any human environment on it can or should be fully controlled, either? Competing forms of life don’t seem to me like fires to be stamped out, and I’m pretty sure we don’t want to be consuming fires, either. “Live and let live,” as they say. At some point, I realized that even bug infestations were merely a visible exclamation of a perceived war we lose daily, one which we may fight only to make ourselves feel less vulnerable to an ever approaching, even greater fear, death. If we’re the bullies who can bully us…
By now you probably realize losing the fear of bugs was just a bump in the road on a very personal journey to discover my own symbiotic relationship to the environment, but you still want to hear how I did it, right? I’ll go ahead and admit now that I should have broken this article into at least three parts, sorry for that, but won’t keep you waiting any longer. Without further ado, this intriguingly odd and highly practical story of how I defeated entomophobia.
Hello, I’m an environmentalist type homeowner. This time of year nature tends to assail our homes with numerous afflictions, not the least of which are bugs. We all have different ways of approaching these issues, but one summer, a millipede invasion forced me to face my hands-off mindset head on.
I don’t mind saying, there are few things more annoying than a dried, lifeless bug body on the floor against a baseboard. Have you ever tried to pick up a dead millipede? I use tissues to pick them up, in attempt to avoid physically touching their brittle and string-like bodies. Most times, the moment I pinch hard enough to pick one up, it breaks apart into crumbly pieces right back onto the floor. Alive millipedes are even worse. They seemingly appear out of nowhere, several at a time, and no matter how many I could wad up in tissue and flush down the toilet, more would always show up soon after, their tiny and mechanically synchronized legs carrying them from one side of the room to the other, like miniature alien carpet pioneers. One summer a few years ago, the problem got so bad that I eventually learned to detach and tip-toe around them, but still there came a time when I started to regularly flinch and get chills thinking about my uninvited house guests. The stress became too much and finally, I started looking for natural and safe ways to get rid of the millipedes, so I could go back to a more comfortable state of denying their creepy-crawly existence in my “green” lifestyle.
After a few different searches, I came across a video of a pest control expert discussing millipede invasion. He talked casually about how they lay eggs anywhere that’s moist, how the only way to get rid of them is to first get rid of their source of moisture and then physically remove them until there are none left to proliferate. To bug-o-phobes, he suggested using a simple sheet of paper to lift them up and then out the door. I remembered a few years prior there were some monastic men who had tried for hours to rid their home of a horsefly without killing it. Initially, this fiasco seemed like a terrific waste of time and energy, but after now hearing even the pest control man suggest being merciful to the little nuisances, I suddenly became interested in the welfare of harmless ouse bugs. Who would have thought a pest control man could have heart for bugs, really? No, I couldn’t relate to the entomologists just yet and didn’t have much sympathy for invading insects, but the concept was so completely bizarre and unorthodox, I thought maybe it would work.
As a now begrudged millipede lifeguard, I listened to more about what the bug man had to say, but what I heard next changed my view forever. He said that, personally, he didn’t understand why people were afraid of millipedes at all, because, to him, they reminded him of a smaller and skinnier version of a roly poly! I think my jaw must have dropped quite noticeably when that thought finally registered. Millipedes like the roly polies of my childhood? Instantly, I remembered catching as many roly polies as I could in my Florida back yard, before they unfurled and launched their tickly attacks. I remembered that, like roly polies, millipedes curled up, too. Both my irritation and curiosity got the best of me. There was no feasible alternative, anyway. I had to take the guy’s advice and try out the method.
First, I prepared myself with full sheets of printer paper as a would-be platform for each of the lone little beasts. I had to keep reminding myself millipedes were like the ugly cousins of roly polies, and that they wouldn’t pinch or bite. After a few days, I got used to the process and graduated to using smaller pieces of paper. The little pests didn’t care that I was losing my fear of them. Every day they emerged like they wanted a piece of me. I continued to think of the roly polies of my childhood and remembered the odd but not entirely unpleasant sensation of their tiny legs marching across my skin. At some point, I must have slowly and nervously laughed myself into a new perspective, because one day, quite unexpectedly and without more than a wrinkle of the nose, I instinctively picked up a live millipede with my bare fingers and quickly tossed it out the door. I didn’t even have to run or “shake off” that dreadful, ick-nasty feeling of anxious tension. The millipedes had met their merciful match.
It felt a little strange to become an active bug wrangler, but by the time all the millipedes had been sent on their way, I realized it wasn’t a house full of millipedes that had been making me feel crazy, it was the acceptance of an irrational fear of them and the unseen and uncontrollable world they represented. Maybe not with my bare hands each time, but I started to catch and release all kinds of bugs: roaches, spiders, moths, weevils, night crawlers, etc. I didn’t need a bug-less world as much as I needed to accept humanity’s place alongside other living creatures in this one. While relearning to explore the world and view it like a curious child, I also started learning that if I can manage to surrender to my fears of nature even on occasion, I might more easily find the peace that comes from knowing and accepting a more balanced source of power outside myself.
Really, you could blame pregnancy for my zeal for nature and the environment. Since then, a side of myself I haven’t seen since my own childhood has been slowly waking up to the living, breathing, and always becoming world. I bird watch and do container gardening. I catch all kinds of bugs and send them on their way without injury. Without my millipede nightmare, I might never have realized how much easier and more freeing it is to befriend the bugs than clean up their squishy guts. That was a huge surprise! Talk about good karma. I have a long way to go before I can effectively dig in the dirt and wander as if I were a child, but I’m on my way. Yes, my fellow desensitized humans, I’m on my way.
This was the fourth and last article the summer series, In the Heat of Things. Check back soon. GBB posts weekly!