It's not exactly every 17 years!

Empathizing in Limbo


Still in limbo here in Cicadaphobialand. Spring is really holding off this year and the soil temperature is still not warm enough for them to emerge en masse. This wait is excruciating and part of me would like to get it over and done with already! The mixed messages that the media has been sending aren’t helping, either. In the beginning, it looked like for my area this would be a true Cicadapocalypse, much along the lines of the emergence of Brood X in 2004. Then, some encouraging news started to appear, and it looked like the immediate Washington, DC metro area and parts of the neighboring counties would be spared. Now, more apocalyptic news is popping up and there have been reports of cicadas being seen or heard even inside the Beltway and in the city!

I personally haven’t seen or heard any beasts yet, but this uncertainty is exacerbating my anxiety…

My systematic desensitization is proceeding very slowly and I’m sure I won’t be ready to brave a swarm of red-eyed, multi-legged flying monsters any time soon. I actually doubt I will ever be ready.

Slowly but surely, the Cicadaphobia Facebook page and Twitter feed are populating with followers. It’s comforting to know that there are kindred spirits who’re dreading this ordeal as much as I am. I’m actually sure that there are many more of them, but, due to the limited visibility of this website and the social media associated with it, only a few have so far been able to find us.

Recently, a new follower asked me to refrain from embedding thumbnails of cicada pictures in the news that I post to the Facebook page because the images were only aggravating their anxiety. I dutifully accommodated their request because I don’t want anybody to feel uncomfortable and I totally can see where they’re coming from. Before I started this website and therapy, I couldn’t look at a thumbnail without shrieking. Now I can even stare at larger pictures for a few seconds, but only when I’m mentally prepared and I know I’m going to see one.

Unfortunately, the standard treatment for insect phobia is progressive exposure. You have to force yourself to look at bugs. The more you look at them, the less scary they get — at least in pictures… (Eventually, the day will come when you’re exposed first to toy bugs and then the real thing…). My therapist has even asked me to print out photos and keep them in my purse to look at at any given moment and touch (ugh). However, I’m not there yet. I can look from a distance, but I can’t bring myself to touch even a photograph yet. I’m still too disgusted. It’s not like I’m afraid because I think they can hurt me. I’m just viscerally disgusted. I find them ugly and repulsive, with all their legs, antennae and what not. I don’t even eat shrimp, or lobster, or crabs complete with the shell because I have the same reaction — all arthropods (not just insects) freak me out. Seriously, why do arthropods even exist? Are they so necessary in the big scheme of things?

It doesn’t look like periodical cicadas are so necessary. I have to say, though, that all this reading that I’ve been doing about them has softened my cicadaphobic heart a little bit. It’s safe to say that I’m empathizing more and more with the ugly critters. It must really suck to be one.

Really, if you think about it, a cicada is unwanted, unloved and despised by most people. A cicada has no friends, even among other cicadas — all male cicadas want from female cicadas is sex. A cicada lives all sheltered and carefree under the ground for 17 years, then mother nature calls it briefly to the surface to face a tough destiny and die. A cicada only has a few weeks of glory and then is forever gone and forgotten. A cicada experiences the most undignified death of all, its body decomposing on the ground and trodden upon by passersby. No prayers for it, no tears. No funerals, no memorials. After a cicada is gone, everybody is relieved that the nuisance is finally over. Life will go on and everybody will be left to wonder what a cicada’s purpose in life is. For all we know, there may even be no purpose.

Entomologists marvel at them, entomophagists savor them, entomophobes fear them, most people bear with them as a fleeting annoyance. But maybe cicadas overwhelm us in such large numbers so they don’t go unnoticed and we’re forced to ponder on the true meaning of life…

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