Phobias, Or: Spider Spider Burning Bright

Yes, I am misquoting a William Blake poem in the title. The actual line reads, “Tiger, tiger burning bright…” Yet it speaks just as well to anyone who has ever experienced a spider phobia, known as arachnophobia.

My progression into arachnophobia started as a child. There were two incidences that I can think of that may have been the beginning of my fear of spiders. I’m not sure which came first. We used to live in a house that was a split level. My sister and I shared one of the basement bedrooms and the room was mostly below ground, with 2-foot high windows at the top. Below these windows was a ledge that ornaments sat upon.

I remember I had this plastic bubble bath container in the shape of Pinocchio as well as a plastic piggy bank that I’ve talked about in an earlier post. One night I dreamt that the top popped off of Pinocchio and out poured hundreds of spiders. One other night as I was falling asleep I heard a “plop” upon my pillow. I don’t know if I actually found the spider or imagined it but after that I feared spiders.

Calgary had daddy longlegs mostly, which, depending on where and how they’re described, may be called Harvestmen and are arachnids but not spiders. Still, they’re spidery enough for any fear. The phobia was manageable while I lived in the colder clime that controlled the spider populations. Then I moved to Vancouver.

The first year I moved in with a friend and she was gone through the summer to Greece. And the spiders came a visiting. There were so many creepy crawlies in Vancouver because of the warmer climate that my phobia escalated. The worst were the wolf spiders; large, hairy (at least I think they were) and fast. I was completely freaked out and like a true arachnophobic, I could not kill them because it meant getting too close to them. So my place was littered with plastic containers that trapped spiders beneath them. I put a book on each container for fear that they would get out. When a friend came to visit, he had to dump them for me.

When I vacuumed I’d moan and shriek as the spiders hung from the edge of the long nozzle. Every once in a while I’d dropped the vacuum cleaner’s wand and run back if I thought the spider was crawling down the pipe. I’m sure it would have looked hilarious to anyone watching but the phobia was very real. Camping was a real issue. My tent was zippered tightly shut and if there was a spider someone had to get it out or I couldn’t sleep.

The worst that first year was this monstrous wolf spider that lived in a hole in the wall of the house, right next to the door knob. It was all I could do to get the key in the lock and at night I was terrified. (Note, that people with severe phobias can die from fright. One should never find it funny to chase the person with the phobic producing object.) This spider was one of those granddaddy wolf spiders, with a body as long as my thumb. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolf_spider

One day I couldn’t take it any longer. I loaded a spray bottle with super hot water and went out to the spider’s home. I started shooting in sprays of hot water…and all the wolf spider did was leap out to attach the water. I couldn’t kill the bugger. Years later I read that some wolf spiders live in warm underwater currents.

My phobia became so bad that I couldn’t go near any spider. It could be the size of a pin dot but if it landed on me I was shrieking and batting it away, in full hysterics. It wasn’t funny and it was getting so bad that I was about to go to my doctor. In a coastal rainforest you can’t avoid spiders and sometimes they fly through the air on their strands. Even staying indoors wouldn’t help because spiders are everywhere. So yes, the spiders burned very brightly in my life.

Along the way I spent a year upgrading hiking trails. I had to hike in and out an hour each way. I started the job wearing gardening gloves and carrying a stick so I could knock the webs out of the way. Imagine being in the forest and keeping watch for spiders. That meant checking every branch I was under, every log I sat on, every piece of foliage I had to grab.

Then one day, about six months later, a spider was on my hand and I flicked it off, calm as you please. It took a few minutes for it to sink in. My phobia was gone. One form of therapy for phobias is a slow introduction to the phobia inducing item. I’d been doing this by being in the forest every day. I no longer freak out or cry. I still don’t like wolf spiders but I’ll leave other spiders hanging in the window and watch them spin and eat. Somehow that natural therapy probably did the job faster than months of counselling ever would have.

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