People toss around the term "phobia" these days to describe anything they fear or often just dislike. Kind of the same way people will claim to be allergic to a food just to avoid admitting that they flat out don't want to eat it. (I have actually considered this with pickles). I'm pretty much scared of everything, but I do my best to overcome it and have a (somewhat) normal life. I have always been scared to fly, but I've managed to fly a few times now unmedicated and I didn't freak out. It's probably unhealthy how much I worry about being in a car accident, but I still get in the car each day. I absolutely hate being home alone at night and hate going outside by myself in the dark, but I can be alone now without turning into a paranoid freak who jumps every time the ice maker dumps some ice. I obsess over breaking a bone and only half watch any sporting even where such an injury might occur. I won't sleep with the closet door open or with my feet exposed. I'm scared of clowns and dolls and creepy masks. Come to think of it, there aren't many things I'm NOT scared of in the right situation. But I wouldn't call these fears "phobias." No, I'm just a total pansy chicken little girl.
I do have one legitimate phobia, though. It's one of the most well-known and one that many people share with me to a degree. I am an arachnophobe.
With the exception of people who study spiders or consider them pets (*cough*freak*cough*), I'm pretty confident in saying that no one particularly likes spiders. Most people seem to be generally icked out by them, with the best case scenario being rather unaffected by them. No one wants spiders in their house, crawling around on their belongings. My feelings toward spiders go far past dislike, though, and into the realm of pure, unadulterated hatred.
I loathe spiders. Big ones, little ones, black ones, brown ones, hairy ones. There is nothing about them that interests or fascinates me in the least bit. And not only do I hate them, but I am also terrified of them. And with good reason. See, this is not some illogical, unexplained fear.
It all started when I was a little girl, maybe about five. There was a six-foot corner shelf in my bedroom on which I put my menagerie of stuffed animals. I had so many plush toys that they spilled off of the shelf and onto the floor on a regular basis, forming a moat of artificial fur between me and the shelf. One day I went to the critter corner and picked up one of my favorite bears from the overflow pile in the floor. Suddenly everything on the floor turned black and wiggly. The carpet pulsed with life. I don't think I screamed; I was so scared that I froze and (for one of the only times in my life) found myself unable to make a sound. I dropped the bear and ran to find my mother, my verbal skills returning in a torrent of screams, sobs and broken sentences. I told her my room was covered in spiders. My mother was alarmed but stayed relatively calm. Since I've always had a tendency to be rather, um, theatrical, she decided to check things out for herself. I wasn't exaggerating. Turns out the Octomom equivalent of the spider world had birthed her bastard brood in my pile of stuffed animals. There were literally hundreds of baby spiders. Mom had to call someone in to bomb my room and everything was taken out and washed. Needless to say, I was terrified to sleep in there for the longest time. Anytime I needed something from my room, I would run in and grab it and make a dash for the door. Up until that point, I had what I would consider a normal fear of spiders, just like any other kid my age. After the infestation, the fear had blossomed into something ugly. I was on the constant lookout for spiders. Under chairs, my bed, toilet seats, in my shoes--anywhere could be harboring one of the demon bugs. I have never once put on a piece of clothing that has been in the floor. Why? One time I picked up a pile of dirty towels and there was a spider underneath (I also hate to pick up piles of clothes now, too). If my quilt falls in the floor at night, I get up and shake it violently before I put it back on the bed. I will not put a pair of shoes on until they've been checked for spiders. This is a job I used to force on others but have finally been able to do on my own. It's also why I wear flipflops almost year round.
I don't like to see pictures of spiders. I don't like spiders at the zoo. I don't want to hear stories about other people's encounters with spiders. Anything that remotely resembles a spider--another bug, an oily spot on the ground, a half eaten Oreo -- automatically puts me on guard.
I know I sound totally off my rocker, but there's more to the story than just the childhood infestation. There have been other...incidences.
When I lived in Memphis, John and I were outside our apartment one day and saw something in the grass. John thought it was an injured bird so I (being the animal lover I am) ran across the yard in my bare feet to take a closer look. BIG mistake. It wasn't a bird. It was an em-effing TARANTULA. Now, you might be thinking, "This girl is seriously freaked out by spiders, so it probably was just a normal spider and she overreacted." Nope, it was a tarantula. A big, hairy, soul-devouring tarantula. John confirmed it after I went tearing back across the yard screaming profanities in four languages. We assumed it was some one's "pet" that escaped. John decided it would be best to catch the hell beast. At first I was adamantly against this until I realized that if he didn't catch it, then it would be free to sneak into my apartment and attempt to spoon with me. I told him he could catch it but threatened to call a divorce lawyer if he brought it inside the apartment. He caught the spider and then promptly left for work. I called our friend Caesar the maintenance man, hoping he'd dispose of the creature. Our conversation went something like this:
Me: Cesar, I need you to come over here. We caught a tarantula.
Caesar: (laughing) Really? Me: No, seriously, man. You have to come and get rid of this thing before it escapes and eats me.
Caesar: (laughing) I'll be over when I get a chance.
Me: I love you, man, but I swear, if that spider gets out before you get here, I will set you on fire.
Caesar: (STILL laughing) Alright, alright, on my way.\
Caesar arrived at my apartment about a half hour later to find me staring at the spider's box/prison as if it were going to get up and tapdance. He walked over to the box and casually flipped the top open. Within about four milliseconds, he was six feet from the box, cursing in Spanglish.
"That's a tarantula in there!"
"No shit! I told you! Put the lid on before it escapes!"
Caesar admitted that he just assumed I was exaggerating about the spider since I'm a woman. I would have been offended, but I was too damned freaked out to be a feminist at the moment.
Caesar took the spider with him. He even got it a special spider box. Then one day he accidentally left it in the car when it was hot and the spider had a heat stroke and died.
So now I had been through an infestation and an encounter with a monster spider. I was scarred, completely convinced that there could be another monster arachnid lurking outside, just waiting to jump on my face and eat my eyeballs.
I wish I could say my story ended there, but it doesn't. The worst is yet to come.
Flash forward about a year. We were still living in Memphis. John and I were going on a trip, and my mom had come to drive us to the airport so we wouldn't have to pay to park our car. We'd gotten everything loaded, and I was making my last walk though to see if we have forgotten anything. I kept feeling something tickle my cheek around my ear. Thinking it was a piece of my hair, I kept pushing it back. Around the third time I did this, I glanced at my hand. For just a moment, I totally froze. There on my had sat a not very tiny brown spider. The spider had been in the hood of my sweatshirt and had crawled out into my hair and onto my face. It only took maybe a second before I unfroze... and became utterly and dangerously unhinged. In an effort to get the spider off of me, I flung my arm out hard enough to damn near dislocate my shoulder and began screaming like I was being set on fire. My mother ran into the room, half expecting to find me disemboweled. There she found me thrashing around frantically. It was like Flashdance if Jennifer Beals had been cracked out on PCP. Within seconds, I was literally stripped down to my underwear, waving my hair around in my own version of Headbangers Ball. It took both mom and John to calm me down enough to explain what initiated my fit. I finally began my descent back to Earth once mom checked me over and swore there were no more spiders on my body or in my hair. John asked me what happened to the spider that was on me. I had no idea, of course. The last I knew it was flying across the room.
I got redressed (with a non-hoodie sweatshirt this time) and we headed to the airport. I've never admitted it until now, but I obsessed over that spider the entire trip. I wondered if it was in my bed, waiting for me to get home or if it had crawled into my closet to find another article of clothing to inhabit. I actually dreaded returning home because I knew that spider was somewhere waiting for me.
I honestly think I do have a phobia. In the time it's taken me to write this, I've had at least a half dozen "crawling" sensations on my legs. I've checked the ceiling above me twice. I pulled my feet up underneath me so they aren't exposed to whatever may be hiding underneath the sofa. Just thinking about spiders gets me totally worked up. This isn't an illogical fear, though. I may act illogical at times, but I think I'm totally justified in how I feel about those evil little creepy crawlers.
I support spider genocide. There, I said it. It's a terrible thing to wish the death of an entire species, but I am perfectly okay with it. Even the little tiny baby spiders. Kill 'em all.
Okay, that was rather dark and creepy of me to say. Here's a joke to lighten the mood:
What did one spider say to the other spider?
Nothing because I flattened their little spider asses with a phone book!