How I Faced My Fear … And Failed

This is my idea of hell:

A semitruck rolled early Friday, spilling a load of honeybees on the Interstate 5 median at the Interstate 405 interchange near Lynnwood….As temperatures warmed and the bees became more agitated, firefighters sprayed a mixture of foam and water on the hives to slow down or kill some of the bees. Television reporters swatted at swarms of the insects surrounding their cameras and clumps of bee carcasses littered the roadway.

Yes, I am an apiphobe (1), also known as a melissophobe.(2)

In actuality, I’ve only been stung by a bee once. I was in my early teens and given to going barefoot whenever possible. While walking through someone’s yard, I happen to step sideways and the outside of my baby toe brushed up against the backside of a bee.

I know the bee had no intention to sting me. It was an accidental encounter on both our parts. A little baking soda and a bandaid and I was fine. Physically. My lack of reaction to the sting proved that I was not allergic – except in my own mind. Although I hadn’t panicked during the actual stinging, now panic is my instant reaction to the approach of any bees, wasps, or other stinging insect.(3)


I tried to overcome this fear. I really did.

During my college years, I had a relationship (4) with a man who intended to keep bees. Somehow I thought that if I studied beekeeping, it might be beneficial to the relationship.(5) As it happened, the college I was attending had on its faculty Roger Morse, one of the world’s most noted authorities on bees. He did mostly research, but also taught two courses, Anatomy of the Honeybee (which was highly technical) and Beekeeping 101.

I signed up for the beekeeping course.(6) It consisted of lectures and a lab component. Lectures were sort of nice, and quite interesting. We passed around samples of honeycomb and honey made from the pollen of various flowers and plants – buckwheat honey, orange blossom, and the like.(7)

Lab was something else again. I was OK when we were dissecting honey bees,(8) but when we got to tending beehives and interacting with live bees, my old fears came to the fore.

At first we were given netted helmets, heavy gloves, and smokers, which were supposed to calm the bees.(9) The rest of the class gradually got away from using these crutches, but I clung to them the entire time, along with a dose of Valium before lab. I would even eat almond cookies before lab, because I had heard that bees don’t like the scent of almonds.(10)

I managed to pass the course, but failed at the relationship and at conquering my fear. To this day, when a stinging insect appears anywhere in my vicinity, even if it is paying no attention whatsoever to me, I freeze, try my best not to scream, and wait in terror for someone braver to shoo the thing away.(11)

And now, National Geographic tells us, bee enthusiasts and scientists are trying to create artisanal (12) and genetically altered bees, in what they call “The Quest for a Superbee.”

To a geneticist, blindly breeding two bees that have a desired trait is like banging together two handfuls of marbles and scooping up the result. It’s much more effective to identify specific genes responsible for the desired traits and insert them.

Great. Now I get to be a superapiphobe.


(1) No, I don’t fear apes. That would be pithecophobia. Didn’t you get the idea that this was about fear of bees?

(2) No, not fear of people named Melissa, either. Seriously? Apis mellifera is the scientific name of the bee.

(3) Ticks, too. Anything that impinges on my bodily boundaries. It’s a wonder I’m able to have sex at all.

(4) Mistake!

(5) Mistake!

(6)  This despite the fact that I was an English Major in the College of Arts and Sciences and the courses on bees were in the College of Agriculture. The university insisted we broaden our minds by enrolling in several classes unrelated to our majors.

(7) Since then I’ve also had lavender honey, which has to be my favorite.

(8) When I got to the bee’s tiny intestine, I learned that bee poop is bright orange-yellow, which makes sense, because pollen. Everyone poops, and that’s how bees do.

(9) I still don’t get why spraying smoke into their homes would calm them. It would panic almost any other animal. Although capnophobia, fear of smoke, seems to mean only cigarette smoke. I would think that nearly all bears have agripyrophobia, or fear of wildfires. But I digress. As if you haven’t noticed.

(10) Which leaves the question, Do they like the scent of almond flowers, but not the nuts?

(11) My husband always tries to convince me that it was not a bee, but a dragonfly or a hummingbird. This does not fool me for a second, but I suppose he’s trying to be helpful.

(12) Artisanal honey, okay. But artisanal bees?

2 thoughts on “How I Faced My Fear … And Failed

  1. Good on you for trying!

    It really doesn’t take much to create a lasting phobia. My mother-in-law ran face-first into an unsuspecting butterfly when she was little, and some of the scales on its wing got into her eye and caused a lot of irritation. To this day she’s terrified of anything that flutters.


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