Phobias, by their nature, are stupid. They are effectively emotion overriding common sense. Compared to the number of automobile accidents in a given year, airplanes have a much higher safety record, yet people are still terrified to fly. Others cannot stand heights, even if there are numerous precautions that prevent you from going over the side of the Empire State Building.
No matter how much you show yourself or others the numbers, be they statistics or simple facts, a phobia will almost always win the fight.
But sometimes you can learn to live with and eventually overcome them.
My first recollection of bees wasn’t a positive one. According to my mother, a neighborhood pal convinced me that bee stings would kill me. Being 3 or 4 at the time, her words were the Gospel. Never mind the fact that I wasn’t allergic to stings, the seed was planted.
Soon after my friend altered my perception I stepped on a bee in my front yard. My reaction was nothing short of horrified.
Thus began my fear of bees.
The terror of stings continued over the course of my life. There was the time when I was ten and a friend and I were walking in the woods of my family home. We disturbed a ground-bees nest and attacked immediately. We were stung several times and raced to the safety of the indoors. While standing in the kitchen, sobbing and shaking and being consoled by my mother, I noticed a ground bee (aka: yellow jacket) circling my feet. With a scream, I ran upstairs and barricaded myself in my room to include shoving a towel in the crack under to door to prevent the bee from following me. I spent the rest of the day locked in my room, stricken with fear.
There are other stories. Our Husky getting into a ground bees nest while walking the property that became the future family homestead. Disturbing a nest while inspecting a tree house at a home my parents were thinking of buying in
As I grew older, my outward reaction decreased, but the internal reaction remained the same: uncontrollable fear. A fear based on a childhood conversation long lost in the file-cabinets of my mind, but remembered on a sub-conscious, instinctive level. Common sense dictated that stings, while painful, were not fatal, yet there was no convincing my conscious mind of that fact.
Why then, was there any desire to get into beekeeping? I wish it was based on an initial desire to overcome my fear, but the reality is far less impressive: I was wooed by the science of honeybees. That fascination grew into education and the more I learned, less intimidating they became.
But educating myself did not completely cure my fear and even now, after years of keeping bees, I occasionally feel the rise of panic when things get busy in the hive. That being said, the fact that the hive and it’s 60,000 some-odd inhabitants does not terrify me anymore is a personal milestone. Having spent time with honeybees up close, I now understand their nature more than I did when I was 4 and that, more than anything, is reason enough not to fear their sting.
One caveat: as of this posting, I’ve yet to be stung by my girls. I am still fearful of the day when, not if, it happens, but experience has helped me overcome the irrational fears and follow a road I would never have taken years ago.
Lessons learned from experience:
Honeybees, unlike hornets, wasps, and yellow jackets, are not aggressive. Unless you threaten the hive or attempt to squash one in your hand, they won’t normally attack. There may be times when they get extra defensive (i.e. late summer as the nectar flow winds to a close, evening when more bees are in the hive, rainy days, etc), but by and large, the hive usually has more important things on its mind. Mine barely notices me when I work it.
Honeybees are curious. Pop the top on a hive and you’ll have hundreds of girls come out to see what’s going on. If it’s chilly, they’ll take a break on your suit to warm up. They like to investigate, will bump your veil to say “hello” and will wiggle into cuffs, under shirts, or up your sleeves if able. Slow movements and a keen eye for where they are keeps everyone happy.
Stings kill the bee, therefore it is a last-ditch option. Given a choice, their natural reaction in “the wild” (aka more than 20 or so feet from the hive) is to run. Foragers are usually more concerned with getting the nectar or pollen they’ve harvested back to the hive than they are trying to sting you.
In the end, it’s hard to explain a fear to yourself. Rational thought and common sense usually take a back seat to inexplicable emotions. But with a little education and a willingness to take a risk, you may open the door to a fascinating new hobby.