For people who know me you will most definitely know about my phobia. It is, or hopefully was, a big part of who I am. My life, for as long as I can remember, has been controlled by my fear of spiders. As I got older the fear got worse to the point where I would check every room I entered, couldn't look at pictures of them and even the word ‘Spider’ prompted a feeling of nausea in me.
If you haven’t got this phobia you probably think this sounds pretty dramatic and ridiculous. Don’t worry – we know. It is ridiculous. However the ‘they won’t hurt you’ or ‘they’re more scared of you’ comments do nothing to help improve this fear. Our logical brains know that these little things aren't capable of harming us seriously and that they are scared of us but then you have to realise that a phobia isn't logical so those things may be true but don’t make us feel any better. If you are someone who has laughed at a person with arachnophobia then shame on you. I doubt you would do that to someone who had a fear of heights or flying, and yet those people don’t have to face their fear if they don’t want to. Someone with arachnophobia has no choice they WILL encounter spiders, they are impossible to avoid.
To understand how extensive my fear is I will tell you a few stories, things I can remember and my reaction to those incidents.
I was once driving my car with the window open in the summer and I had pulled up to some traffic lights, as we were pulling away from the lights a tiny spider, no more than a money spider, came in through the window on its web. I saw this and panic so was completely distracted and didn't notice the car in front of me had stopped. I drove into the back of them. Luckily it was at about 10 miles an hour and caused no damage to either car – but if we were going faster or were on a motorway that could have been seriously dangerous.
At work I was told a story about a girl that had a big spider fall on her desk earlier that day – my reaction was to burst into tears and sit on my feet. I had never had that sort of reaction to a spider story before but, unfortunately, it wasn't the last time that happened. In a meeting a picture of a spider came up on a YouTube link and I had to leave the room because I was uncontrollable. I knew it was stupid and I tried so hard not to react like that but I had no control over it.
Numerous times I have had a spider at home when I was alone and had to call Dan, my mum or my dad to rescue me – each time I was luckily enough that they could get to me and help otherwise I don’t really know what I would have done. I once left my house in PJ’s without my shoes and just my car keys to go pick up my parents so they could come and get rid of a spider in my room. I had my mum on the phone the whole time trying to get me to breathe and calm down.
That was my life. Every room was scanned before entering, my bed checked each night for spiders and I had numerous nightmares where I would wake up telling Dan there was a spider in the room and he had to sort it. It was beyond ridiculous and my life was being controlled by these little animals.
Last year there were stories flying about the internet about the ‘false widow spider’ – this meant that every day someone on my Facebook feed would share an image of this little critter. I had to get people to check my feed and remove the stories before I saw them. I was watching the news and this story came up and without warning they put a big picture of the spider on the screen – it made me so angry because arachnophobia is the number 1 phobia in this country and for people with serious cases of it, like me, they can’t look at images of them. It was then I decided I needed to try and sort this out, I was sick of living my life constantly thinking about Spiders.
So in November last year I went to the London Zoo website and booked on to attend the ‘Friendly Spider Course’ – reassuringly there were no images of spiders on the website! Again for someone scared of them, this is a big tick to that website. I have never been able to type any form of the word spider or phobia into the internet as I know there will be an image, even typing about curing the fear an image comes up. If you are scared and looking for a way to help you get over it then any website that has an image doesn’t understand the phobia enough to help – so I trusted that the London Zoo got it.
The first session wasn’t until April this year but for me that was a good thing as it meant I had time to get used to the idea that I was about to put myself into a situation I tried to avoid at all costs usually – talking about and, potentially, seeing Spiders.
6 months flew past and before I knew it, it was a few days before. I was terrified. I haven’t felt that anxious or nervous in ages and was dreading the actual day. When Saturday came I was very quiet and anxious all morning. I managed breakfast but couldn’t stomach lunch, it didn’t help that I was going up to London alone and wasn’t completely sure where I was going. When I was standing on the platform alone I started to panic, I was close to tears and didn’t know what to do. I messaged my family and my ‘Beasts’ (group of best friends from school) and got some lovely messages telling me how brave I was etc, all making me even more close to tears. My mum tried to call me but I didn’t want to start crying on the train so I had to ignore the call. I wasn’t in a great place and would have done anything to not to have gone.
I found the place very easily and was over an hour early, this just added to my panic and I then had nothing to distract me, I had already found the venue so I had left to do was wait until it started. Luckily, about an hour before, a volunteer came and spoke to me and explained the day and how successful it was. It made me feel less panicked.
We eventually went into an auditorium, there were about 40 of us. The first part of the session was to hear about phobias and talk about our phobia with everyone. Then we had a guy from the Zoo who worked with Spiders tell us all about them, no one wanted to hear about them at first but it was really interesting – Spiders have bad eye sight so even though they have eight eyes, they can’t really see very well out of them. Spiders all shed their skin. They mate in the autumn (when you will see more of them) and the babies are born in Spring. They don’t want to be seen and don’t want to be in your house – they have come in by accident but don’t realise that at first.
What surprised me about these two talks was the majority of the group killed spiders, that was their way of dealing with them – they had to die. I think I was one of the only people in that course that felt the exact opposite. I didn’t want to see them killed, I felt very strongly that this phobia was my problem and not theirs, they shouldn’t trespass but it wasn’t their fault I was so scared of them. I never think a spider is ‘out to get me’, I know when they run they aren’t ‘running at me’ and that they aren’t ‘evil’ or any of the things other people said. When I told a volunteer that she said that I was so close to getting past my fear as logically I knew there wasn’t a problem but it was the illogical part I was having the problem with.
Apparently we have the conscious part of our brain which is the ‘thinking’ part and the unconscious part of our brain which is the ‘reacting’ part. The thinking part is the bit that knows all the logical reasons why there shouldn’t be this reaction to spiders, however if our unconscious has this reaction to them stuck in there it is very very hard to remove that. So even though I knew I didn’t want them killed and they weren’t going to hurt me, my unconscious knew they were ‘scary’ and reacted to that the same way each time.
It all made perfect sense.
The second half was a group hypnosis session. We all had to lay on the floor and were told to relax and then we were spoken to by the hypnotherapist and put into different scenarios. Some people fell asleep but for me I was struggling to relax as it isn’t something that comes naturally to me. I tried to let myself ‘go with the flow’ like I was told but in my mind I kept thinking ‘I wish I was asleep then I wouldn’t be thinking about this’ and ‘if I don’t relax then this won’t work’. At the end he said he would count to 3 and bring us out of our ‘trance’ and I just thought ‘I’m not in one, I could open my eyes right now and be awake’. It really worried me.
A girl I was with felt the same as me and we chatted about the session as we walked over to the bug section of the zoo. As we got close I started to get nervous – this was it. This was where I was going to look at a real spider, something that hasn't happened in years, not on purpose anyway.
We started to walk toward the spider section and the group ahead were stopping and looking at spiders and listening to the expert and I just started to cry. The hypnotherapist came and told me I was ok and doing great but I was so nervous it hadn’t worked as I felt no different in myself. Some of the other girls around me started to cry as well so one of the volunteers said it would be best to come and see the spiders as the tension was probably the thing that was causing us to react. We walked around the corner and the first thing I saw was a tarantula. I straight away said ‘I’m not so worried about those and it isn’t moving so isn’t so scary’. I moved to the next one, a clown faced spider which looked like a little tarantula, again I had the same reaction. Next was a black widow which was tiny! And behind that was a crab spider which looked more like those horrible house spiders that we get. I could look at them all but me and the girls agreed that because they weren’t moving it wasn’t a real test. Though really, that I was able to look at them was definitely a major improvement to before.
Next we went back to the main area and they had the house spiders there. They were the real test. We saw them move and it was definitely harder than seeing the still ones from before but I didn’t turn away, cry or scream. To get our certificate we had to catch this spider in a little plastic pot, put some card underneath and lift it up as if getting rid of it. We watched a few people and I just had to do it otherwise I was going to be annoyed at myself. I was surprised at how calm I felt and even when I had it caught and in my hand I was still trying to test if this had worked so I had to make it move while I had it to make sure I didn’t freak out. I was fine.
Next we had to touch a house spider so put our hand into a plastic container with one. I watched a few people and then again had to try, I felt all brave and confident, put my hand to the top of the container and then freaked out a little. The guy spoke to me and said just to touch the leg and see the spider move while my hand was in there, so I did, then he said to flatten my hand and he would made it run across it. I did that too – that was the hardest thing to do, it felt like nothing but seeing it move across my hand was horrible and it made me go hot and shaky but I did it!
Last test – hold Maggie. She sounds lovely but is a tarantula so the mama of spiders. However for me this wasn’t as scary as the house spider because Maggie was big and slow and didn’t seem… real in a way. I held her and got some pictures and felt ok.
The day was done. I had survived and managed to see some results.
That was Saturday. I feel no different today then I did before the course but I have looked on the internet at pictures of spiders and I was fine so I think it has done something to help me. I didn't sleep Saturday night as I was dreaming about spiders, however they weren't negative dreams just move like a run through of the day I had just had.
One thing Saturday did, other than prove hypnotism can work, is make me realise something about myself that I don’t think I ever did before. I am stronger than I realise. I never thought I would be able to face this fear but I did.. Not only that but I did it alone without relying on anyone else but myself.
I am not my biggest supporter, when I completed the marathon I thought ‘if I can do it anyone can’, when I passed my marketing course with a credit I thought ‘it must have been easy for me to pass it’. I now realise that maybe I don’t give myself enough credit, I am constantly trying to test myself to prove I can do things but the only person I am trying to prove it to is me – my biggest critic. Saturday was the first day I felt properly proud of myself and what I did. It may not seem as much to some people as running a marathon but in a lot of ways it was much harder for me.
I didn't have to do that on Saturday, I could have carried on being scared and have it control my whole life but I didn't. I made a decision to change something negative in my life and try to get some control back. I think I did that.
I am proud of me. Saturday I faced my fear and I hope that is a turning point for me and spiders.