The car was mostly dark inside except for a dimly-lighted portion of the front seat headrest I was staring at. I spotted a single, pinkie nail-sized baby cockroach hanging out, unafraid in the center of the headrest. Supposedly, a healthy female cockroach can produce between 300-400 offspring—a Wikipedia fact that fails to comfort me. Seeing a baby, I assume there must be dozens more, potentially of varying sizes, yet their whereabouts are unknown in the darkness.
I try to hold my composure. There’s three females of the human variety in the car with me and I’m not eager to self-emasculate so easily. I do my best to look straight ahead. So long as I don’t actually see other cockroaches, I might survive the ten-minute car ride. Too late, I spot something moving out of the corner of my eye and break focus. Baby cockroaches, harmless though they may be, are everywhere.
Despite having just completed a marathon 35+ hour journey across some 9,000 miles, I instantly muster the strength to throw the door open and jump out of the still parked vehicle.
Overcoming deep-seated, sometimes irrational fears
Cockroaches have always been my worst nightmare, literally and figuratively, you could say. A recurring dream of mine as a kid was the thought of a cockroach crawling on my face in the middle of the night. I’d spring out of bed to throw on the lights only to see no cockroaches anywhere and eventually calm myself down enough to go back to sleep.
Knowing that unflattering fact about me, you might assume that just about every little thing that moves scares me. Yet I can honestly say there’s one household pest that doesn’t bother me enough to even get out of bed: Rats.
That’s right. A rat, or rats in the house is not enough to get me out of bed in panicked hysteria like cockroaches do. I could cite a few logical reasons why if it would help, but it won’t. Here goes.
Rats are afraid of humans. I’ve dealt with enough of them to know that after my first movement towards the light switch, they will have vanished out of sight. If I leave them to their scavenging and munching (so long as it isn’t on my toes), there’s a good chance they’ll be lured into my trap and caught.
Cockroaches have no such fear. Don’t believe me? Try running up to a cockroach and yelling “Boo!” sometime. Odds are it’ll run or fly at you, not away from you. Cockroaches are also something you can kill relatively easily because of their lack of fear. Poisons for roaches could take hours to kill should it even come in contact with them.
Still not convinced to be unafraid of rats in your house? I didn’t think so. And I’m not claiming to be the normal one here, either. But I am trying to demonstrate the incredible adaptability of humans. We truly can learn to live anywhere in just about any conditions.
Malaysian farm rats and me
My first experience with rats (outside of the pet rats we had in my first grade class) was during the first night in my one-room bungalow in rural Malaysia. I sprang out of bed in cockroach-dream-fashion and threw on the lights when I heard what sounded like small teeth nibbling followed by a loud snap. To my surprise, a live rat trap was baited and set on the far side of my bed, and I had just got “lucky”.
That was my first of eleven such encounters with rats in my house that year. Before perhaps the third or fourth rat, my subconscious had taken the wheel to give me peace of mind enough to sleep through the nightly rat raids. I simply woke up one morning and was no longer very troubled by the presence of the rats.
You might then wonder why my ability to tolerate something as grotesque as a live rat in the house hasn’t translated to an ability to tolerate a small cockroach or three. Put simply, I haven’t been exposed to many cockroaches, I guess I’m fortunate. If I were, I imagine I’d be able to rid myself of that illogical fear for life within a few weeks.
“Adapt or die.” -Billy Beane, Moneyball
The powerful truth of it all is that truly any fear can be overcome. And any situation, no matter how destitute, can be made tolerable or even preferable. I grew to love my little rat-infested bungalow, and I missed it when I was off wandering other beautiful countries or staying in fancy, rat-free hotels. In my mind, it became home to me, seemingly overnight.
We all have stories like these in our lives. We’ve grown to appreciate things we at one point utterly abhorred or detested through simple repetition. Sometimes through circumstances beyond our control, and other times through deliberate exposure to improve in one area or another.
Bookmark in your mind your moments of profound adaptation and call on those memories when life presents you with an uncomfortable situation, be it a new place to live or some kind of temporary financial setback that forces a lifestyle adjustment. If you can remember and trust in your remarkable and uniquely human ability to adapt to your circumstances (so long as they are not physically or emotionally harmful), the moment of discomfort will be over before you know it.
So, adapt on. And try not to scream and flail your arms hysterically like me when a cockroach gets a little too close for comfort.