Sunday, August 28, 2011

Tickle->Bug->Shudder->Spasm Reflex.

I'd say most people learn the Tickle->Bug->Shudder->Spasm Reflex at a young age.  The reaction is almost identical among all homo-sapiens.  One feels a tickle, automatically imagines the bug most likely to be the culprit of the terrible sensation, shudders and reflexively kicks, flicks, flings or whips the limb or body part where the sensation was felt.  It is a learned behavior, though the insect (or arachnid) that teaches each person this behavior is different from subject to subject.  For my husband it is spiders (Tickle-> SPIDER -> shudder -> spasm). For me it is cockroaches (Tickle-> COCKROACH ->shudder -> spasm).  It takes only one encounter with an insect to ingrain this reflex into a person for life, and years of therapy and self-degradation to rid oneself of this reflex.

As I mentioned, the culprit of my imprinting experience was a cockroach.  I believe I was in first grade at the time.  I was wearing my super stylish ked slip-ons (my go-to school shoe for 12 years) when I felt a tickle in the arch of my foot.  What was that crazy sensation?  I tried tapping my foot on the ground a few times, swinging it wildly under my desk, but nothing seemed to be helping.  Finally I slipped my shoe off to investigate.  Nothing seemed to be on my foot.  I ducked under my desk and tipped my shoe over trying to get a better look inside when a giant 3-foot cockroach crawled out of my shoe.  It stared up at me for about 10 seconds as if to say "that was the worst experience of my life."  I stared back in horror, hopefully broadcasting a similar sentiment.  I watched as it scuttled out from under my desk and across the classroom floor.  The rest of the school day was spent imagining tickles under my foot, thoughts of cockroaches, involuntary shudders and spasms as I took my shoes off over and over to investigate their contents.  From that moment on any tickle I felt, anywhere on my body was automatically associated with a cockroach.  

The problems with this reflex are: 

1) it isn't remotely helpful for survival.  Any poisonous insect that is close enough to tickle has probably already killed you, and any amount of spasming isn't going to reverse that.  
2) it isn't remotely subtle.  If you have this reflex in public everyone will notice you.  It includes giant gestures and often girly squeals.  You are now the embarrassed center of attention. 
3) it isn't remotely accurate.  99 X out of 100 there is no bug.  You have just shuddered and spasmed (and possibly wet your pants a little) in public over a stray hair, a falling leaf or some d-bag tickling your neck with a cattail.

Realizing that it would be better for my social standing to lose this reflex for life, I went through countless years of trying to overcome.  Every time I felt a tickle and automatically squealed and spasmed I would berate myself.  I would point out the leaf or raindrop that had startled me so, and lecture myself on the improbability that every tickle I ever felt for the rest of my life came from a cockroach.  Over the years I made incredible progress.  And today, I triumphed.

As I stood at the counter, dishing leftover dinner into a tupperware, I felt a small tickle on my toes.  "COCKROACH!" My mind screamed frantically, but my training prevailed.  I didn't shudder, I didn't spasm.  I finished what I was doing and then calmly looked down to investigate what had tickled my baby toe.  

A half smooshed cockroach perched there, antennae flailing wildly.  


I think I literally went into convulsions trying to get that thing off my foot.  When it was finally flung away I unrolled half the paper towels and rolled the thing up into a ball and shoved it into my trashcan which I then tied up and took out to the dumpster.  I came back in and bleached my entire leg.  And yet I still feel it perched there.  ***sob!!***

The Tickle->Bug->Shudder->Spasm reflex.  1% accurate.  100% necessary.


Cox Family said...

One night after I had fed Owen I was putting him back in his bed and I stepped on something. I thought it was a little toy so didn't worry. After I put Owen down I lifted my foot to see what toy I had stepped on and a big cockroach crawled away under the bed. I yelled at Rob (not too loudly, I didn't want to wake Owen) to find it and crush it but he couldn't find it. Two nights later we found it and crushed the life out of that thing. I totally sympathize.

Kendra and Jason said...

I got the shudders just reading your post! And since then, I've had the reflex like 10 times this week! haha! And I've thought about you every time :-)

Kat Curtis said...

Oh, how funny! I was just thinking today about that same response, and how I've gotten to the point where I will check first because I need to know which flavor of bugs to worry about - be they ants, spiders, whatever. That's traumatizing though to find a half-squished cockroach on your toe. Especially when you were triumphant before. :)