TV is not exactly the ideal way to view animals; on the other hand, they can’t bite you from the TV.
This past week I watched one episode of a series on Animal Planet called “Built For The Kill”. This particular episode concerned cold-weather killers, from polar bears to orcas. But I had a special epiphany watching it. It was about cats.
One of the things people don’t like about (domestic) cats is their habit of “playing with” the live food before they finally kill and eat it. I’d always heard that was a teaching tool of sorts, but this show was finally visual evidence. A mother puma catches a snowshoe hare, marvelous creatures by the way, but she only maims it. She carries it back to her two cubs and lets go of it. It immediately tries to escape, but is too slow in its wounded state. One of the cubs pounces on it and eats it. No sharing. So Aha. It really is a teaching tool after all.
It’s sometimes a little quease-inducing to watch these things, but you have to get over it or live in a cartoon world. It isn’t like wild predators can go to McDonald’s (where someone else would have done the hard work of killing the food animal involved).
Last night I watched an episode of a show, also on Animal Planet, called “My Extreme Animal Phobia”. It followed three people who were actually phobic about three different insects. In one case it was butterflies; in the second case, spiders; in the third, cockroaches. Butterflies, you say? Well, that’s the thing about phobias. They’re irrational.
So these three people go for treatment to an anxiety treatment center and are “roommates” in a cottage, where on Day 1, they are very interestingly disdainful of one another’s phobias, especially Butterfly Woman. How can you be afraid of butterflies? Very, very quickly, they develop an understanding that her fear is irrational, but so is theirs.
The center uses a technique called exposure therapy. I understand that at some point the person has to be confronted with the object of fear, but I thought they did it too quickly. They only had 5 days, and I didn’t think that was long enough to counter a lifetime of fear. So they rushed it. I almost quit watching at that point, because I didn’t want to see the horrors I knew they would face. Back in the day that used to be called aberrant conditioning. But that was even worse. There was no time–not five days–it was, You’re afraid of spiders? Here…Catch. It would turn out to be not a baseball but a tarantula.
And it started to work. So I kept watching. The fact that it worked was largely due to the fact that all three of these people were hugely motivated. Their phobias were affecting their whole lives. Butterfly Woman could not go outside. Too many butterflies. But staying inside didn’t help either. Because one could fly in. Spider Woman and Cockroach Guy weren’t comfortable either inside or outside. They were hypervigilant about where the dreaded insect MIGHT be. (Answer: anywhere.)
As a person with a phobia, I related to this a lot. I’m not scared of any insect or animal, but I know better than to disparage anyone’s phobia. So when they initially laughed at Butterfly Woman, I wanted to say, Shame on you.
My fear is of driving over bridges. It’s relatively new, and quite inexplicable to me. I’ve driven over some major bridges in my life. Why now?
I’ve tried to trace it back, and think I figured it out. Once I drove to Jacksonville, which is where I-10 and I-95 meet. That’s scary enough, but at the time there was construction going on and it was almost impossible to figure out where you were supposed to be. The interchange is very high, like a flyway. From the I-10 direction, you get the sensation that if you goof, you will fly off into the ocean (never mind that you wouldn’t make it that far). At least on I-95, you’re parallel to the ocean. At the moment of the interchange, you have to make an instant decision, and at 70 MPH, you just can’t think that fast. Semi trucks, which own the road on I-95 and at that interchange, on I-10 als0, are whizzing past you at 80. Anyway, you get the picture.
When I got ready to leave Jacksonville, I asked my friends to find me a different route to keep me away from that interchange. And they couldn’t do it. I think it’s because they thought I was silly. I even called my boss, who also lives there, and said, “How can I get out of here?” He told me how, but my friends couldn’t follow his directions. And I couldn’t, because I didn’t know the streets. But my boss at least didn’t think I was silly.
That was my last trip to Jacksonville, but I don’t plan on it being my very last one. My plan is to go again, but I might have to take the turnpike to West Palm Beach and drive up I-95 to get there. I am never, repeat, never, going through that interchange again.
But still. That experience diversified. Now I am scared of all bridges. And like all phobias, that’s irrational.