Nature on TV: Animals and Phobias

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.

4 responses to “Nature on TV: Animals and Phobias

  1. So I guess you’ve not been over the Sunshine Skyway? I love that drive…spectacular view.

    As for roaches….perhaps when the Vulcans arrive, they will have the final solution to the roach problem….total extermination for all time!

  2. I enjoyed reading that, thank you. I just did a blog post about my phobia, trypophobia, and then decided to check out what other people are saying about phobias and found yours! The irrationality of them can seem funny at times, and I’m guilty of laughing about them myself (even my own) but of course it’s really not funny to those whose lives are seriously affected by them. Some of them make sense – spiders, snakes, flying etc, and it’s obviously just a disproportionate fear of something that we should all be cautious of, but some just seem so completely random, it’s hard not to smile a little bit.

  3. Vanessa, thanks for reading! As you can see, I checked out your blog and commented…your blog was well-done and funny. I could see you with that beeswax candle just perfectly in my mind!
    Steve, I have indeed personally driven over the Sunshine Skyway bridge…once. Never again! And I wouldn’t know a damn thing about the view 🙂 I had to keep to the inside lane next to the cables, going about 5 mph, to the great annoyance of my fellow bridge crossers.
    That bridge is notorious–the cables somehow set up a sort of optical illusion that makes even “normal” people uneasy.
    Fear of bridges is called gephyrophobia, btw, and is relatively common, believe it or not. Here’s kind of an interesting article about it from the NY Times:

  4. The only reason I drove over the Sunshine Skyway was that I was already on it before I knew where I was, and there was no way to get off but to keep driving to the other side. But I don’t remember it making me scared of all bridges–just that one. And previously, I’ve driven over bridges that many people find very frightening: The Ponchartrain Causeway, 26 miles long, and they post wind warnings on the bridge because you can be blown off 🙂 The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. The scariest bridge I was ever on was the bridge between New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island over Northumberland Strait. But I wasn’t driving, and that’s a critical issue. I’m anxious even as a passenger, but it isn’t as bad.

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