A perfect summer “re-run” — this post was originally written in response to a WordPress Daily prompt about anxiety.
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No way was I going outside.
I’d been actively avoiding “outside” all summer. My mother must have been at her wits’ end. It’s pretty hard to avoid the outside world at the summer cottage. It must have been exhausting having to battle with me every time the family wanted to go out somewhere that summer. I don’t recall how old I was, but I recall the anxiety like it was yesterday. At first it was triggered by the faintest buzzing sound. As time went by it reached the point where I assumed that the danger was present even if I couldn’t see or hear it.
“It” being bees and wasps. ESPECIALLY wasps. I was terrified of being stung.
So I stayed inside, depriving myself of summer fun in the name of protecting my hide from what I imagined to be a fate worse than death.
One warm September evening my dad set about barbequing supper in the back yard. My younger sister played outside, while I huddled on the safe side of the screen door. My mom made one more attempt to coax me outside.
“Come on out, Anna. It’s so nice out. We’re going to have a picnic supper!”
“Please come out.”
“Are there bees?”
“I don’t see any.”
I screwed up my courage, stepped outside, and started down the wooden steps. The same wooden steps from which hung, unbeknownst to all of us, a massive wasp nest that had been expanding undisturbed while we were away at the cottage.
The wasps, always more aggressive in the fall, were already getting riled by the increased human activity and the smell of grilling meat. My footstep on their roof was the last straw. They swarmed me.
Surrounded by a cloud of buzzing fury, I froze in panic and screamed. And screamed. And screamed. My mother, realizing I was too terrified to move, waded into the fray and pulled me down off the steps. I was stung in three places– once on each leg, and once on a forearm. My mother’s rescue effort was rewarded with one sting on the arm that grabbed me.
For half an hour I was a sobbing, hysterical mess. Having ascertained that I was not having any sort of allergic reaction, my mom calmly tweezed out all the stingers and applied antiseptic and Band-Aids.
And then something amazing happened. I was able to go outside. The worst had happened and I had survived. It turned out that my imaginings were far more painful than the real experience.
I have never again felt the kind of anxiety about stinging insects that plagued me all that summer. In my household, I have become the one who swats the wasp that comes in through the hole in the screen. I am the one who takes down the nests under the deck at the cottage before they get too big.
That was the first time in my life that I understood that worrying about something could be worse than the thing itself. It is a lesson I have returned to over and over again. When the familiar buzz of anxiety starts up in my head I remind myself that the sting of reality is seldom as horrible as anything I can conjure in my imagination.