Thursday, 6 August 2015

Spiders - What’s The Worst That Can Happen?

There are few phobias more wretched than arachnophobia. A proportionally tiny, almost certainly harmless creature will inevitably cross your path now and again, and your reaction is to scream black leggy murder and either run away to find someone who will deal with it, or - if brave - to batter the life out of it with whatever is handy. In the olden days that was a rolled-up newspaper but these days you have to smack spiders with either an iPad or a shoe.

You know it’s stupid, but the shock can last for hours, or even days. Your body, for no apparently rational reason, invokes a huge flight-or-fight response, fills you to the eyeballs with adrenaline, then proceeds to make you jump at shadows, your own hair, a slight breeze, or that green stalk on a tomato, for as long as it takes for the temporary PTSD to pass. That’s Post-Twatting-Spider-Disorder, a condition which should be nothing but instead is stubbornly something. WHY?

Any article on why humans are afraid of spiders is always illustrated by at least one photo of a spider, rendering it unreadable to the people it’s about. It doesn’t really matter though, cause no-one has a definitive answer on why. A combination of learned behaviour (thanks mom) and maybe some evolutionary throwback (although that’s always tricky because not everyone is an arachnophobe, and some studies show greater prevalence among females). 

Anyway, I’ve always had a hefty fear of spiders, and over the decades it’s developed into a pretty debilitating phobia. The list of things I can’t do is large, and although each alone is trivial, combined they become more than an inconvenience. I’m constantly anxious and watching out for spiders, I have to check every corner of a room before I can relax - under pillows, behind curtains, in shoes. I can’t walk around barefoot, either indoors or out, I won’t stay anywhere that has spiders, so no country cottages or camping for me. I won’t use outdoor toilets, I won’t sit on the floor in my own home, I jump at nothing and have thrown up and even fainted upon encountering a spider. I will have night terrors for days after, and have done since I was small. It’s bad. 

What’s the worst that can happen?, well-meaning idiots will ask. Oh my god, have you no imagination?! A spider might GET ON ME. It might crawl across my skin and into my ear and lay eggs and the eggs will hatch INWARDS and EAT MY BRAIN AND EYEBALLS, I don’t know. It’s not a rational fear! You can’t reason me out of something I didn’t reason myself into.

But…then…something happened. The worst happened, or at least one version of the worst. I was lying naked on my belly on the bed the other night, maybe 3am, happily watching some Netlfix on the iPad, when I felt a tickle on the back of my thigh. Usually such tickles are one of the three cats we own, but this was too fast and leggy. I turned to look and yup, there was a large chunky spider pegging it up my leg, in my bed.

A faithful reconstruction of real events

I don’t remember how I got down our spiral staircase (those things are hard to navigate in a rush so maybe I slid down the bannister, no idea) and into the arms of my confused boyfriend who until that moment had been peacefully playing PS4. He said I was screaming so loud he thought there was an intruder. I do remember following him upstairs (by this time I was wearing shoes, but nothing else) and him finding the bastard intruder, going “ugh its big” and me shouting “STAMP ON IT DAN KILL IT NOW” like a Tarantino baddie.


He killed it. We slept downstairs for three nights. Stupid, no? It is what it is, or so I thought. But weirdly, since that was a version of the worst that can happen, I’m somehow ever so slightly less afraid of spiders now. One did crawl on me, in the sanctum of my bed, and I survived. I am brave. I am unharmed. There was one in the bathroom last night and I laughed as the cat paffed it to death. I am not nice. But maybe I am finally getting over this pointless fear.