Saturday, February 2, 2008

Fear of Cockroaches

(Note: I have removed the roach photo originally placed near the beginning of this article because it traumatized roach-fearing folk whom, seeking to fix their phobia, couldn't get past the terrifying roach pic, to read the good stuff. Sorry Nimisha!)

Bugs and I. I have a love-hate relationship with insects. I love most insects and hate some of them.

In fact I am stricken by a malady known as Entomophobia, which is a fear of insects. More specifically, Blattodeaphobia, which is a fear of cockroaches. Not all cockroaches, just one species, Periplaneta americana.

I guess I am Periplanetaphobic.

I've no problems with other insects... unless I think that the critter crawling across my leg is a cockroach. This usually produces reflex scream-leap-flap actions that continue until the critter is positively identified as something other than a cockcroach. That is, Periplaneta cockroach.

This irrational fear of roaches does not befit my job title, which contains the words 'entomologist' and 'Dr'. I study insects and spend a lot of time with them. I have been an entomologist for nine years, not including four years chasing insects and conducting mini insect research projects in my undergrad years (ah the joys of life). You would think I would have gotten over my fear of roaches by now right? Somewhat, yes. But sometimes, when caught unawares and with my defenses down, I realise that the scream-leap-flap reflex lurks still within my psyche.

Take comfort my friends, you are not alone. An insect scientist is among you roach-fearers. I have somewhat managed to overcome my fear of cockroaches and I'll walk you through the process a little further down this post.


Why am I afraid of cockroaches?

Past horrors with cockroaches. I've had plenty of traumatic run-ins with roaches, which are too many to go into and at the moment, invoke such stressful and negative vibes that I'll save telling these creepy tales for another time, in another post, in a galaxy far, far away, and on a nice sunny day (Update 8 Aug 2012, if you're up to it, I've posted my horror stories HERE).

Cockroaches look ugly. And guess what, it's because they want to look ugly. If you look at the dorsal view of a roach (from the top), you will notice that it has two huge, horrifying eye-like things on its head. These are fake eyes, designed to scare off predators and torment me. I know where exactly the real (very small) eyes are, and these belong on the cockroach head, which is actually very small compared to the rest of the body.

Cockroaches are fast. Their long cursorial legs are adapted to running at high speeds. At 5 m per second, the American cockroach (yes, it's the aforementioned Periplaneta americana) holds the Guiness World Record as the fastest insect. And its six legs do not take credit for helping it achieve these top speeds because the roach goes bipedal (on two feet, just like you and I) in sprint mode. I don't like that they are so fast. I would prefer if they moved very very slowly, so that I could keep my eye on them as I picked up a large heavy object to smash them with.

Cockroaches are sneaky. Their flat bodies let them get into cracks and hide in crevices, squeeze under your door and into your home safe home. There aren't very many places that a cockroach can't slip into. They have flexible tubes for airways, which can temporarily be collapsed as they squeeze past a tight spot to freedom.

Cockroaches are dirty. They like to aggregate in colonies where it is warm and wet, and sewers and drains are their five-star digs. After wallowing in filth, a cockroach can easily spread lots of nasty disease-causing bacteria all over your kitchen countertop, eating utensils and so forth as it scurries around looking for food. A cockroach is not a fussy eater. It can dine on elegant cuisine and junk food, and consume non-foods such as cardboard and glue with equal gusto.

Cockroaches stink. I am a human cockroach detector. Pheromones in their small black fecal pellets and scent glands may be a big turn on for each other, but smells horrible to me. I am hypersensitive to cockroach odors (and many other allergens and chemicals because of my ailments: Multiple Chemical Sensitivities and Henoch Schonlein Purpura described in my other blog wealthhealthwise.com). Even worse than their stink is that they are sources of potent allergens that can cause and worsen asthma and other health conditions. I've handled live Madagascar hissing roaches, which make extremely cute low-maintenance pets, but had trouble breathing afterward. And dead roaches in your home eventually break down into small particles that become airborne and inhaled, with negative health consequences.

Cockroaches breed fast. The sewers and drains mentioned previously are also seedy roach motels where six-legged orgies take place. These unsexy unions produce 150 young from each mated female. If you kill one, many more will arise to take its place (creepy huh?). If you spray a bunch of roaches with pesticides, the ones that don't die may pass the pesticide-resistant gene to the next generation of super roaches. Not much good news here sorry.

Cockroaches are here to stay. Sad but probably true. Roaches were around when the dinosaurs were. They survived when the dinosaurs did not. They can subsist on most anything, and not just survive, but thrive in most conditions.


How to overcome my fear of cockroaches?
There are probably no hard and fast rules for this. What worked for me may not work so well for others, but I'll talk about what worked for me: Thinking and doing.

Cockroaches don't bite. You will not get bitten by a cockroach. These critters cannot directly cause you any physical harm. When I see a roach, I utter this mantra: This roach cannot harm me, this roach cannot harm me. If you have ever been unfortunate enough to have a cockroach crawl on you, you will realise that you actually did not get lacerated, bitten or stung. It just tickles a bit, which still is horrible I admit. Just repeat the "This roach cannot harm me" mantra.

Cockroaches are smaller. You are humongous compared to a roach. A roach has every reason to harbor an unholy fear of you, and it does. You can kill it, but it can't actually kill or even hurt you. That's why it does everything in its capacity to get away from you - run and fly, and fast. YOU are the predator, the top of the food chain. Not the cockroach. Your second mantra could be: I am the predator. Roach is prey.

Cockroaches can and do die. When confronted with a roach, my preferred extermination equipment is a sturdy rolled up magazine or newspaper. To kill a roach, one must be faster than a roach, which is very possible. Approach very slowly to avoid startling the critter. Roaches have extremely unsexy hairy legs that can detect a puff of wind, which subsequently triggers movement in the opposite direction. Very slowly position your execution device about one to two feet directly above the roach, all the while being ready to swoop in for a strike (remember "I am the predator" mantra) if the cockroach panics and tried to make a dash for it. Then take careful aim and WHACK. Repeat until the roach is dead. Dispose of the roach. Roach baits, gels and sprays aren't my favored methods for killing roaches in the house. Either way, the roaches end up dead somewhere in the home, usually in hard to reach places, and as we discussed before, become airborne asthma-triggering particles. However, if you're set on using a pesticide, baits (such as the one pictured on right) are better than spraying (which leaves pesticide residue in your house). (For a review of pesticides used in cockroach control stay tuned by subscribing to my updates).

Cockroaches can be persuaded to leave. A better first alternative to reaching for the bug spray is hygiene. I mean, very very strict hygiene. Your best tool in your arsenal of weapons in the war against roaches at home is Prevention. Since roaches need food and like dark, warm, humid places (the norm in homes in the tropics), your efforts should focus on reducing available roach food and hide out spots. Whatever isn't stored in the fridge must be kept in sealed containers. Clean up after every meal. Dispose of all food scraps before going to bed at night (take out the trash). No food or scraps of food should be available for the hungry Mrs Roach when she crawls out for a meal at night. A crumb of bread or a grain of rice is a feast for a roach. It doesn't take a lot to feed an entire roach colony, so again, clean up after every meal and don't leave snack crumbs around the house. Place moisture-absorbing agents in damp cupboards or a dehumidifier in humid rooms, if practical. Over time the roaches will leave.

I've also read elsewhere that confronting your fears (for those hardcore roach-fearers out there) by forcing yourself to look at a picture of a roach and then touching that picture is a technique that is used to help overcome roach phobias. Since I've dissected bunches of roaches and can pick up a roach if I steel myself with some heavy mantra-talk, it probably won't help me much. I've inserted a roach pic here if you wanna give it a go. :)

Hope this helps, let me know if you have any questions and I will do my best to answer them. Otherwise, for the funnest, easy-to-read, light-on-the-wallet ($4.99 used) book on roach biology, control and other fascinating facts, you can read Dave Gordon's The Compleat Cockroach: a comprehensive guide to the most despised (and least understood) creature on Earth. On the web, a handy pictorial guide to common roach species can be found at the Terminix site.

Peace.

P.S. It would be great if you could click on any ad here - my sponsors give me a few cents per click. Thanks for supporting my blog!

38 comments:

  1. I will click on all the ads if you remove the image of that cockroach..I am sorry but I couldn't even read a word (of your article which I really wanted to read)after seeing that gross gross gross image...I screamed my lungs out and thankfully I am alone at home right now -_-...its not a very good idea to keep the image of such a fugly roach when your article is meant to be read by people who are scared of them:'(

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  2. Gosh, Nimisha, I am so sorry I traumatized you with that roach photo! The thought had never crossed my mind, but then again you are absolutely right. Please accept my abject apologies.

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  3. Hey please don't apologize.I am so sorry.I hope I did not sound rude.I read you entire article and it is very interesting and informative(I have this strange thing that even though I am scared to death, facts about cockroaches fascinate me a lot!!).I will definitely try your mantras the next time I encounter a big cockroach :D.Thank you so much for posting this article and to start off, I will google for cockroach images and try to touch them (and not shout this time) :)..thank you for this wonderful article and I apologize once again for my first comment :)

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  4. Thank you very much for posting this article. My family and friends think it is funny and even a little bit crazy that I fear cockroaches so much and I never thought other people felt the same as me. But thanks to your article I feel a little more encouraged to actually kill one the next time instead of just screaming and watching its every move in horror. Well, atleast I will try, it is a different story when I am actually confronted with one. But I appreciate the facts on them and how they function and what they like so now I can definitely try to prevent seeing more. Thanks again.

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    1. Hi Charenda, so happy you found my article encouraging and useful! Now you have the know-how to keep roaches away, and also the courage to attempt a KILL! Yeahhhhh. :)

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  5. Thanx...yet i am still scared and freaked out as ever!! Apparetly NLP holds the strategy to overcome ones fear and accept in a calm state....shall do it

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    1. Heya Asad, you're most welcome! It's understandable that you're still freaked out, heck, I'm still scared too! But at least the fear is manageable. Did NLP work for you? Would love to hear your experience!

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  6. Interesting article, and I have to say that I even looked at the picture for a while. It's nice to see that even an entomologist can feel this way, I've often wondered about that!
    I've been repeating these mantras to myself over and over, trying to prepare for my next encounter with one of those hideous animals, but to no avail. As soon as I detect their presence, my fear takes over and I immediately panic/start screaming and running in the opposite direction. The very idea of killing one with a rolled up newspaper as you suggested makes me shudder, as I can't even bring myself to look at them. I once had to pick up a dead body by myself (I don't care what you say about pesticides, the exterminator is my best friend! I don't know what the situation is like where you live, but in my home in Athens, Greece it works wonders), and it took me three failed tries and about a quarter of an hour! My mantra on this occasion was "it can't hurt me, it's a thousand times smaller than me and freaking *dead*!".

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    1. Haroula, CONGRATS on your succeeding in looking at the roach pic. That's a huge step forward for a person with cockroach phobia - well done! And for you to muster up the guts to even pick up a dead roach - I'd say you definitely have it in your to some day manage your fear of cockroaches. Using an exterminator is OK, as long as they are licensed and use permitted pesticides - baits are better than spraying the whole house because they target roaches and don't leave poisonous residue everywhere.... There are fortunately no roach problems here in my Pennsylvania home, but back in Malaysia where I grew up, and in backpacking around Asia, roaches can be abundant. One of my memorable experiences is overnight sleeping on the floor of a boat to Nias Island, Indonesia where cockroaches crawled up my leg and all over my body all night. Eeekkkk!

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  7. The article scared me more. I'm trying to get over it and I know the things you were telling us was supposed to make us feel better but it just made me more scared. I remember one time rubbing my hand raw and that was four years ago and I can still feel where it touched me. I don't know where this irrational fear comes but I just found a roach and I want to deep clean the whole dorm. I'm scared more by the fact that I don't know where it came from. I live in an enclosed area and it is basically impossible to come in because the windows are sealed shut. I dont know how long its been here Its not because I'm unclean its probably because its Florida and I live near the bathroom but I don't even know where it comes from. I hyperventilate at the fact that there could be more. I'm terrified of sleeping and terrified of being inside my dorm. I'm terrified that they are going to crawl on me and it's going to lay eggs in my ear. I've heard real stories of that happening. They call it blattodephobia I call it hll. I'm okaiy in large groups of people when there are roaches and I thought I was okay when I saw one dead near the front door and one live one in the garage. But I'm still scared, it doesn't make sense. I feel like a failure.

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    1. Dear Anonymous, thank you for your comment and for sharing how crippling your fear of cockroaches is. So sorry that reading my article made you more afraid - that certainly wasn't my intention! I think for many people, knowing their subject matter - and in the case of blattodeaphobia, knowing they can't actually hurt you physically - helps with overcoming that fear. Then again a phobia is an irrational thing. It doesn't make sense. Please don't feel like a failure.

      I truly feel for you, because I have lived in Florida and the roaches there can be horrendous. The best you can do is develop coping strategies and do everything you can to keep your own dorm room clean. I definitely recommend a deep cleaning of your dorm room. Previous occupants probably ate in the room and left food crumbs that attract the roaches. Every nook and cranny should be vacuumed and disinfected. If you share the room with someone, try explaining your phobia and ask that they not eat in the room or keep food in the room. Even then, a stray roach may still get in, but it would likely be by chance. For these, get the cockroach baits and place the bait stations around the room - you only need a few of these. I don't recommend spraying the room with pesticide at all. If you have any questions please feel free to ask some more. Good luck and take care.

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  8. Thanks for these tips. While cleaning out my shed today, I came across a box that had at least a dozen big roaches. Fortunately, I grabbed the bugspray and got some of them. Your blog will surely help me deal with the rest of boxes in the shed. I'm sure there will be many more roaches in there. When I saw the droppings, I thought they were lizard or mice droppings. I didn't realize that roaches had droppings that look similar. I guess my big mistake was putting so many cardboard boxes in the shed. Anyway, thanks for the tips. One tip that I use for dealing with roaches is that I put on my "protective" gear. I make sure that I put long pants and a long sleeve shirt, then I'll put on a hat, coat, and gloves. Basically, anything to help keep the roach off of me while I try to kill it. I'm glad to hear that they are harmless.

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    1. Thanks for your comment DAG and I am so pleased to hear my tips came in useful in your dealing with that nasty roach infestation in your shed.

      You are right in that roach and lizard droppings look similar. The easiest way to tell them apart is to give them a sniff (if you're up to it) - roach poop has an unmistakable stink that no other poop possesses. It reeks!

      All the best in eradicating those roaches in your shed and do take care not to inhale too much of that bug spray!

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  9. Just killed a cockroach an hour ago, that's 2am here. I heard the fella fly in (through the open window), but couldn't see it for a while, so I wasn't sure initially. Yet the sound of its wings hitting something & landing was quite unmistakeable... yes, I am that sensitive to cockroaches. Normally, I'd be really freaked out (not that I wasn't just) & run to get the bug spray but I needed to get rid of the thing organically because of my 7-month-old, who is fast asleep in the same room. The last thing I want is for the roach to crawl onto the baby. So I waited & listened, & finally the creature showed itself. It took me three tries (in between which the fella tried to hide behind a crevice) before I whacked it dead with a rolled up newspaper. My heart was pounding in my ears, my entire being was trembling, but it was dead. I thanked God, washed my hands, & googled "fear of cockroaches"... & here I am. Thanks for the write up. I hope I'll remember it the next time I need to do a whack job.

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    1. Mummy Dearest, wow, what a traumatic experience you had to go through to kill that cockroach! Hats off to you though, for not using bug spray and sparing your baby from pesticide exposure. It sure takes a LOT of patience to outwait a cockroach, and even more guts (for a cockroach fearing person) to face and whack a roach. Well done!

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  10. Thank you for the info! I am searching around the internet for success stories in overcoming this fear in preparation for my trip to Mexico in 2 months. I will be staying with my boyfriend's family in a house that is infested with giant cockroaches. I spent my last trip there terrified to leave my bed at night since thats when they show up everywhere. Since I will be staying there for an extended period of time this time I am doing my best to confront my fear and be prepared. I am hoping that hearing other people's success will help me with my own!

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    1. You're most welcome! There are a few things you can do e.g. make sure the bedroom is very clean (no snacking in the room), pull the bed away from the wall so that the roaches can't get onto the bed so easily. Cockroaches scatter when the light comes on, so if you need to use the bathroom at night, turn the bathroom light on first and wait to give the cockroaches a chance to disperse, then enter the bathroom - it's also a good idea to check around and under the toilet seat to make sure they didn't decide to hide there. :)

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  11. Woow!hope to remember and try your mantra if there roaches appear.my mantra before is "i am brave i'm not afraid of you"sometimes it works but most of the time i run and cover myself with blanket i hate seeing them.i almost hit by a vehicle passing coz i run accross the street in panic.horrible!!!! -Marit-

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    1. Marit, thanks for your comment! It's good you have a mantra that helps you even if its only half the time. My goodness it would NOT be good to be run over by a car because of your roach phobia!! Hope you are able to get past the phobia some time. :)

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  12. Congrats on overcoming your fear! I had one crawl up my leg in my sleep once and since then I have been mortified of them. Looking at them makes me jump and scream and run. Even the dead ones. I get goosebumps (literally). I hate the way they move. Hate that they're stupid and come flying at me to check me out (why can't they just hide!) Hate that they're everywhere! I'm trying to get rid of them but my housemate has issues with clutter (whole different topic) so I'm just going to have to finish my studies, and once I get a real job move out!

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    1. I feel ya! It's too bad your housemate is worsening the roach problem - you could still do something about it though - baits like those you could get from Walmart could help bring the roach population down somewhat. Good luck!

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  13. I live in a heavily forested area in Georgia, and we have tons of huge, flying cockroaches like you describe. I think they are called "Smokybrown Cockroaches," which is basically a darker colored American Cockroach. I've done my research. Although I keep a clean room, they have made appearances nearly every night for a couple of weeks. I am utterly terrified, and it has only gotten worse with each exposure. They are not shy about flying across the room! I have had a roach crawl across my hand, another crawl onto my bed, another crawl out of my pants (yes!), and another land on my neck. There is no feeling more horrific than feeling roach legs scurry across your skin! And yet, they are unable to bite or hurt me in any way, they are defenseless against a shoe, a rolled-up magazine, or a can of Raid. So why am I so completely terrified??

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    1. I would be terrified too! What you're going through sounds nightmarish. Your proximity to the forest is likely where the roach problem lies and not so much whether your room is clean or not. Could you install screens on your windows to prevent the roaches from flying/crawling into your room?

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    2. I think that would help, and I will look into it! I can't usually tell how they got in, but I have seen some squeeze through the cracks around the door. I never open the window, but I'm sure they can squeeze around it, too. I am not alone this year, as some friends and family members have experienced the same issues. It has been an unusually rainy and humid summer, and we have had many more cockroaches, mosquitoes, and ants than usual. The roaches especially like to come in on rainy nights, although I thought they liked wet conditions. I am also really sick of hearing them referred to as "Palmetto Bugs" and "water bugs." Let's be real and call it what it is: a cockroach that happens to be very large and capable of flying.

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  14. thank you so much for writing this article....and congrats on making out enough steps to overcome your fear of roaches,,,i am scared to death everytime I see them,,,hopes someday i'll get better....

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    1. Thanks for your comment and hope you manage to overcome your fear of cockroaches too!

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  15. I am a twenty year old man who is deathly afraid of American roaches. Every time I see one in my room at night, I can't be in there with it. As I type this, I'm waiting for the roach to get what it wants and leave. Thank you for writing this article. I want to get over this fear I have so I can own my room again, and your article is helping me already.

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    1. Hi there thanks for your comment and so glad to hear my article has helped you get over your fear of cockroaches. Did you have to wait long for that roach to leave? Or did you seek and destroy? :)

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    2. I'm not over it yet unfortunately. In fact, I had to drown it in spray before I could even go near it. But this article still helped me get started, and I thank you very much.

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    3. I totally understand. I'm sure you are well on your way to managing your fear of cockroaches. The quickest way to kill one whacking with a rolled up newspaper - messy too. If spraying, target the abdomen - that's where it 'breathes'.

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  16. I am so absolutely terrified of roaches and think we have more of the big sewer roaches around here in Arkansas. Until recently, I had no clue that they could fly and that is super freaking me out! I can tell you that if you scream really loud, it stops them dead in their tracks. So that's what I've done when I've seen one; scream while holding my cell phone in my hand and staring at it on the wall paralyzed (and let out a new scream every few seconds) while I call my neighbor over and over until he answers the phone and comes over to kill it. I will not sleep until it's found and killed. When I do get the nerve to kill one, it's NEVER been to step on it because the crunchiness sends me over the edge! So I'll get a book and throw it...or something else until I know it's dead. Then I leave the book on it forever and let someone else clean it up or put on gloves (so as not to feel it in my hands) then a wad of paper towels and scream the entire time I'm picking it up to throw it away outside. I'm a super freak!

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    1. Celeste, thanks for sharing about your fear of roaches. Gosh I totally empathize with you. If my silent screams could be heard, they would be deafening I'm sure. At least you are able to pick up dead roaches while wearing gloves. Trust me you are not alone!

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  17. I have this problem where I'll see it and I'll freeze for the longest time, wide eyed. Then eventually after a few moments of telling myself to move my legs, I do and walk backwards until I'm far enough, then run. I can't kill them. It's too scary because they always seem to run towards me when I try to spray them or hit them. I just can't. And since we have two bathrooms, if I see one in one bathroom, I won't go in there for weeks. But now I've seen one in each in the past week and I'm terrified to step foot in either one or touch anything. Ugh.
    I also tried touching that picture but I could only hold my finger there for like a millisecond and now I have the chills...

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    1. Oh dear I know how that feels! Hey if it helps, if you switch the lights on and leave them on for a few minutes before going into the bathroom then the roaches will go into hiding and won't be visible.

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  18. wanted to say first off thanks for opening this topic of conversation its nice to hear there are others on this planet just as crazy as me when it comes to these disgusting creatures.I've done a lot of research into this in my past because this has become a disability rating fair for me... what I've learned, is that there is some good news and bad news. bad news is that you can never fully eradicate
    this fear it will always be with you until the day you die... the good news however is that you can change your REACTION to the fear which often times significantly reduces the amount of anxiety felt during an encounter, as this gives you more of a sense of control over the situation.

    One trick I use is everytime I see one I need to get past it in order to run away, I like to play the Indiana Jones theme song in my head as I try to muster up enough strength to run past the thing.... and no I can't kill it- I can't be around it at all, dead or alive. I'm talking about the encounters were they are blocking my exit, (or my escape route) and all I want to do is get out and away from the thing...

    Playing the Indiana Jones theme song in my head may sound silly, but that's the point. Making a very panic-stricken crisis-type situation seem a bit silly, removes at least some of the power from the fear, making it possible for me to do what would normally be impossible as I used to freeze and be in complete panic for hours upon seeing one before I applied what I like to call my jones-theme therapy . Lol...

    Give it a shot... worst that could happen is you end up laughing at yourself later as you picture yourself as Indiana Jones with that huge whip, fighting off a tiny cockroach! Lol

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    1. Tammy I have to say I love your positive spirit in dealing with your fear of cockroaches and am glad that Indiana Jones has helped you cope with roach encounters!

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  19. I just had the WORST encounter with a giant cockroach. I am freaking out right now, and I'm convinced i have babies on me, or im diseased. I went to the bathroom, and while I was using it, the giant roach was hiding under the seat. It took three flushes to get him down. I didn't feel him on me, but then again I wasn't exactly noticing, or thinking a roach would be under there!! I need advice or calming words. I feel like I should be quarantined. Did he scurry on to me or on to my....area???!!! Would he do that??? Oh god, it's terrible. The horror. I probably sound really stupid right now. But until you have a roach under your toilet seat while your using it, you have no idea! :( It happened at work, which is clean, but in dirty Los Angeles. :(

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    1. Oh gosh you have my total sympathies. I always check under the toilet seat and all around the outside of the bowl too, before sitting down. If you didn't feel him on you, you are probably fine. Fortunately, I am quite sure he didn't get on you. It may take a while to get over this scary experience though. Deep breaths and good luck!

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