I’m afraid of spiders. Like, really afraid of spiders. Like, arachnophobia is almost an understatement afraid of spiders.
I’ve been this afraid of spiders for as long as I can remember; for as long as my parents can remember, even. I’m not aware of ever having had some form of traumatic spider experience, nor can I really logically explain why I’m so afraid of them. It doesn’t matter if it’s big, small, alive, dead, across the room, on me, or even fake; if it’s a spider, I’m probably afraid of it.
So that brings me to an incident about two months ago where I woke up one morning to a spider on my bathroom door. It wasn’t huge, but it was big for me, and it took me about an hour of staring at it, trying to come up with solutions, and generally being too afraid to do anything useful before I ended up accidentally scaring it off the door, losing track of it somewhere in my bathroom, and then wasting another half hour or so trying to figure out what to do next before running to the store for spider poison and cautiously spraying it everywhere I thought it might have gone. All said and done this ordeal took up over two hours of my morning and ruined my work schedule for the week (fortunately I’m allowed to flex my time and was planning on coming in later that morning anyway).
That’s when I finally realized I needed to do something about it.
So, mostly out of shame, I found a therapist specializing in anxiety disorders in my area and decided to make an appointment. I’ve gone three times now, twice for actual exposures, and it’s going much better than I’d anticipated.
For anyone not familiar with exposure therapy, it’s actually a pretty simple concept. You make a list of things related to your fear, ranked by level of scariness. You then start choosing things, working from the bottom (least scary) end of the list up to the top, to exposure yourself to for an extended period of time. For example, during my first exposure I sat and stared at a plastic spider for half an hour. You use different techniques to calm yourself down, and by doing that you’re able to “reprogram” your brain so that, while you will probably still get an initial fear response, you can then logically tell yourself not to give in to that fear because you recognize that the situation you are in is not dangerous, even though it may still be scary.
Before I started, I was worried that this was going to be a very long, very painful process. In the past I’ve always found that on days where I’m thinking about or dealing with spiders for too long, I have difficulty falling asleep because when I close my eyes all I see is spiders. I also tend to be especially jumpy after thinking about or dealing with spiders, because I’m afraid that every little thing I feel is a spider on me. I was anticipating at least these problems, if not more, but to my pleasant surprise I haven’t really had trouble with either.
Even better, I’m improving significantly faster than I expected. I’ve still only done two exposures, and both were with plastic spiders, but the second time I was able to calm myself down much, much faster than the first time – even though the situation was scarier – and I even got really close to touching the plastic spider the second time around (I realize that may sound pretty minor, but trust me, it’s a HUGE deal).
My goal is not to stop being afraid of spiders, as exposure therapy is unlikely to make that happen, but I am hoping that I’ll at least be able to just deal with a spider in my bathroom if I find one again, without wasting hours of my life or making myself late to work. And so far I’m making good progress!