There’s a new ‘phobia app’, apparently, which claims to be able to help arachnophobics ‘cure’ their fear of spiders through daily exposure to increasingly graphic images of the creatures they fear most. I say ‘apparently’, because my phobia is so severe that I can’t bring myself to read any of the news articles about it, or even download the app itself, just in case there’s an image of a spider to go with it. Not much hope for me there, then.
“Everyone’s scared of spiders!” “They’re more scared of you than you are of them!” “You live in Britain – they can’t hurt you!” go the thoughtful, but misguided, words of comfort. And once it comes up in conversation that I’m afraid of creatures with eight legs, well. Everyone’s got a story, haven’t they?
Your ‘story’, however, dressed up as it’s bound to be with a grimace, mock-shriek or shudder, is likely to start my heart racing, make my mouth go dry, shoot waves of painful adrenaline to my fingertips. If you persist, and there’s nowhere for me to go (for in the classic ‘fight or flight’ reaction to an adversary, my animal brain does the latter), then I’ll probably have to resort to breathing into a brown paper bag to calm myself down. I’ve experienced spider-related panic attacks that have led to such severe bouts of hyperventilation that my body has seized up completely, a condition known as muscle tetany. Like I said, everyone’s got a story.
I’ve been known to sleep in hallways if there’s a spider in my room; I swerved and almost crashed my car when one dropped down on me from the ceiling. I once spent all night outside on the pavement in the freezing winter cold, waiting for someone else to come home to open the communal front door, because I couldn’t muster the courage to get close enough to one near the keyhole. I avoid going out at Halloween and shamefacedly had to ask the person who runs a local nursery group to remove a plastic spider from a box of toys.
My friends and family know me well enough to warn me from films such as Harry Potter and The Hobbit, and turn the corners of books so I know which graphic descriptions to avoid. I can just about use the word ‘spider’ because it’s reached a ‘safe’ level of familiarity. Any others, particularly the ‘T’-word, to describe a certain type, make me scream out loud – and I’ll probably cry if you decide to ‘test’ me by showing me a photograph, as so many people do.
I’m confident that when it comes to dealing with spiders, I’m always going to be the last resort; that it’s someone else’s duty to grab a broom, vacuum cleaner or glass. I’ve even discovered that if friends or neighbours are hard to reach, local taxi firms will come and get rid of unwanted intruders for a fiver. And when it comes to self-preservation, humiliation goes out of the window. I’ve been known to leave the house in a panic – half-dressed, with tears in my eyes – to plead for the nearest stranger in the street to ‘save me’ from my nemesis.
I’ve been pathologically scared of spiders for as long as I can remember, and over the years I’ve heard it all. I’ve been told to ‘grow up’, ‘get over it’, and to ‘stop being such a girl’. But as everybody knows – but hardly anyone understands – phobias are irrational. I can no more stop myself jumping out of my seat during the credits of I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! than I can prevent myself from reacting to pain, heat or heartbreak.
It may sound like I’m avoiding my fears, but if there’s a phobia ‘cure’ out there, I’ve probably tried it. I’ve been through several rounds of hypnotherapy, with several different practitioners; I’ve been for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), a stint on GMTV with Paul McKenna – I even wrote my undergraduate psychology dissertation on phobias and treatment options.
As yet, nothing has worked, so forgive me for being sceptical about an iPhone app that claims to be able to help people like me. For now, and for the sake of my daughter – for many phobias are learned, and I’m determined to do whatever I can to avoid passing it onto her – I’m gritting my teeth and singing ‘Incy Wincy Spider’ with the rest of them, even if my heart skips a beat at the actions.
Everyone’s got a story about spiders. Just please, don’t make me hear yours.