I was forwarded an email from the psychology department of the university and urged by my boyfriend to consider it. It read as follows: “Overcome Spider Phobia”. After a lot of thought, spread out over a couple of days, I decided to go for it. What could I lose? I probably couldn’t become more scared of spiders than I already am and the techniques used claim to have 80% success rate with people who feel the way I do about spiders. It’s time to reclaim control.
So, how do I feel about spiders? When I see a spider that’s all my mind can focus on until the spider is eliminated (sorry spider-lovers, I wish this weren’t so). I have nightmares about spiders that wake me up in the middle of the night, thrashing about, only to realize that I had been scared by my own curly hair lurking by my face as a big, dark, hairy, spider-like visage. Terrifying, I know.
A dark clump of threads that fell on the floor – Brain, “SPIDER! Oh…”.
A big, dark fly crawling across the wall – Brain, “SPIDER! Oh…”
A small, dark spider on the floor – Brain, “SPIDER! SPIDER! SPIDER! S…” You get the point.
Why must I kill said spider? Because it is the quickest, surest way to know that the threat is gone. I know people put cups over them, or can even be brave enough to mercifully scoop the thing into a cup and put it outside. I wish I could do this, but (currently) the fear is too paralyzing. Nor can I just leave the spider, because do you know what that spider’s going to then do? It will (surely) either lay eggs and one day there will be a hellish eruption as its spawn flood my apartment, or it’s going to resurface from the place I least expect, at the worst time possible, most likely when I’m alone and trapped in a corner or something.
If you too, dear reader, are scared of spiders, you get it. To those of you who are not, I apologize if you are feeling frustrated or impatient reading this. I will try my best to explain my perspective. That being said, people experience arachnophobia in different ways and my experience does not describe all.
It is a fear. An irrational, mind-freezing, gut-wrenching fear. And I say that because I recognize how stupid this fear is, yet I want to explain how insidiously it cuts through my brain-body communication and makes me violent.
I am very aware, that the majority of spiders I come across in daily life will do absolutely no harm to me AND that I pose more physical threat to a spider than it does to me. I’ve tried the rational approach when encountering spiders. My boyfriend has taught me that as soon as my brain screams, “SPIDER!”, my inner monologue should respond quickly with a “Yes. (Pause, deep breath). Okay, now what?”. This allows me to think through to that next step and recognize that I’m not in immediate danger and can tough it out a little longer to make sure I deal with the spider in a more appropriate way. I’ve practiced this enough that it has become a habit and has saved me from a number of embarrassing public outbursts. It has also helped prevent impressing my fears onto young children, who learn to mimic the behavior of adults. Not to mention, it has saved me from doing something stupid on the occasion that I saw a spider crawling across the dashboard as I was driving.
That being said, this doesn’t work for me at all when encountering bigger spiders. Since everyone’s perception of “big” is a little different when it comes to spiders, let me clarify; I’m talking about any spider that is at all thick-legged or thick-bodied and is the size of a quarter or bigger.
Some of you may be wondering, “Olivia, you went backpacking, you garden, how can you do such activities with such a debilitating fear? Spiders are everywhere.” You are correct; however, for some reason, my brain differentiates between my territory and their territory. Any spider that enters my territory (i.e. my apartment, the bus, my lab, other human spaces) must die. Whereas, when I am outside, my brain recognizes that this is spider land and that I’m going to come across some and am not going to be able to kill them. When I’m out there in the garden, I will typically just move away from said spider and work somewhere else for a bit until my nerves calm down; as long as they are not on me, things are generally fine. I’m sure some of you are thinking that everywhere is technically spider land, and yes, you may be correct, but not to my brain.
I don’t know why I’m scared of spiders; that’s exactly the reason I’m doing this study. It’s a feeling that I can’t think my way through. It’s something about how they move, how sturdy they are, how hairy, how chunky. It’s something about the eyes, the body shape, the webs, that screams “CREEPY” and “EVIL INCARNATE”. It’s a loss of control and uncertainty that I feel around them that makes me react in such a way.
For me, the bigger and thicker the spider, the more terrifying. It is no overstatement to say that my worst nightmare is being trapped in a small room with a tarantula…
…And guess what I’m going to make myself do?