Last time I posted (which was way too long ago, I apologize), I wrote about how I’ve started doing exposure therapy to try to get my arachnophobia to a reasonable level. I’ve gone about five times now and there’s already been significant improvement. Because, you know, now I have a tarantula in my trunk. And another in my purse, cause why have only one spider when you’re deathly afraid of them, right?
But, before I get too far ahead of myself, let’s back up and start from the beginning.
About two weeks ago I was wandering through my friendly neighborhood CVS when unexpectedly, in the middle of the Christmas toys/gifts section, I spotted a tarantula out of the corner of my eye. This seemed strange since Halloween has already passed over a month prior, so I turned my head to see if it had just been my eyes deceiving me. But no, there truly was a tarantula in the Christmas aisle at CVS. And not just any tarantula – a remote control one. I froze. Every part of me wanted to turn around and walk as far away from it as I could, like I would have done before, but I knew that would only reinforce my fear and ultimately be counterproductive to the therapy I’m paying for. So I stopped, stared at the box for a minute or two, and then held my breath and walked as calmly as I could past it and through the rest of the aisle. Major victory!
A few days later at my next appointment (during which I stared at a picture of an actual wolf spider for half an hour, by the way), when the therapist asked if I’d had a chance to try any exposures on my own, I mentioned the CVS adventure. And then when she asked what we might be able to try for an exposure the following week, I told her that I’d been considering going back to the CVS and actually purchasing aforementioned remote control tarantula since I had, as of that point, still not been able to actually touch any spider things. She was surprised and impressed, but thought it was a great idea and encouraged me to do so.
And that brings me to this past Thursday, the day before I had another appointment. I was running out of time, and I knew I had to at least try, so I stopped at the CVS on my way home from work and went to seek out this toy. For a brief moment I thought I was going to get lucky because I didn’t see it, but those hopes were quickly dashed when I found it turned sideways on the same shelf I’d seen it on before. The good news was that, with it turned sideways, I could only see the pictures on the box and not the actual tarantula (which to be completely honest, I still haven’t really gotten a good luck at).
I was definitely not prepared for this act of bravery, so I decided to take it slowly. I started by standing about four feet away in the aisle and just starting at the box, trying to get to a point where I wasn’t insanely uncomfortable with looking at the pictures before I even had hopes of touching it. I tried this for about five minutes, but I just kept focusing on the words that were written on it – things like “life-like movement,” and “glowing eyes!” Eventually the mental video of this thing crawling across the floor was too much for me, so I walked away to track down the other item I needed from CVS (a lighter, which I didn’t find).
I took that opportunity to text my sister for reassurance. She did her best to provide some emotional support, and after a few minutes my panic had subsided a bit and I was ready to try again. This time I stood a few steps closer, still just staring at the pictures on the box. I must have stood there for ten to fifteen minutes, reminding myself to breath, feeling my arms covered in goosebumps, trying really hard to talk myself into stepping even closer so that I could reach the box. I even tried to take a step forward once or twice, but the effort spiked my panic and I had to step back again after only a few seconds.
Things were starting to feel hopeless. I’d been standing in that aisle at CVS for quite some time. I started trying to rationalize my way out of having to buy it. “Maybe I just won’t do it.” But then what will you do for an exposuretomorrow? “Maybe I can text her, tell her I couldn’t do it, and then she can stop by on her way in tomorrow morning and grab it since it’s just right across the street.” But do you really want to have to tell her you failed? “I’m pretty sure this is more scary than a reasonably sized, actual spider a safe distance away from me would be. So this is totally unnecessary.” And how are you planning on acquiring a reasonably sized spider? This went on for another probably five minutes or so. And I even tried to get my sister to back me up on it, but she just kept trying to be supportive.
Eventually I started to imagine it crawling around my feet and up my legs, my panic suffered a major spike, and I had to walk away again to calm myself down. I spent a few minutes among the cookies, crackers, and other snacks, trying to bring my face back to a normal color and my breathing down to a normal rate. I just kept thinking about how, if I couldn’t do this, I would have to go in to my appointment the following morning and tell her that I’d failed. I don’t like admitting defeat.
So finally, I resolved to just go and buy the thing. I told myself not to think about it, walked back up to that aisle, grabbed the box (while being careful not to touch any of the pictures of the toy that were on every side), and rushed up to the front counter to pay, praying that there wouldn’t be a line. Fortunately there wasn’t, so I set the box down and took a few steps back. I could feel that my face was bright red, and I was still reminding myself to breathe. The clerk, of course, took her sweet time. She walked away for a minute to grab something, came back, rang it up, had some trouble getting it into the plastic bag (because it just barely fit)… meanwhile, I’m still trying not to break down in tears in the middle of a CVS because I’m standing too close to a box containing some plastic, rubber, and wire in the shape of a tarantula.
After what seemed like forever, she finally handed me the bag. Except now I had a new problem. Because the box just barely fit, I couldn’t hold both handles in one hand. And this was just your standard plastic bag, meaning I could see through it, plus there was one picture on the top of the box that was completely exposed. I started carrying it with both hands, one hand on each handle, arms out as far in front of me as I could reach, but I barely made it through the door before the panic set in that that was too much for me. I dropped one handle and carried it through the rest of the parking lot by just one side, terrified the entire time that it was going to fall out of the bag and I was going to have to pick it up and put it back in when it was very clear that time was running short on my full-blown anxiety attack meter. Fortunately I was able to make it to my car, literally throw the bag into my trunk, and then just barely get into the driver’s seat before that meter hit its max.
But just barely. The second I closed the door I completely lost it. I was still bright red, covered in goose bumps, and rotating between hyperventilating and not breathing at all from before, and now I added uncontrollable tears and shivering into the mix. So that was fun. I sat in my car at CVS for about five minutes trying to calm myself down, drove over to my Costco for free samples (and to look for that lighter I couldn’t find at CVS), and then spent the rest of the night eating comfort food and watching a movie because I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced anxiety quite that intense before in my life and I felt I deserved it.
But, I did it. I got to go in to my appointment the next day successful, and my therapist was thoroughly impressed. Plus we didn’t even use it for an exposure, so all my fears about it being too much for me were premature because I haven’t actually had to use it yet. (I practiced touching some of the smaller plastic spiders we’d used before instead, which is how one ended up in my purse – I took it home so I can practice more on my own time.) Now it’s just sitting in my trunk, waiting for me to get brave enough to try to do something with it.
So, yeah. That happened.