9
May
2016
2

Guest Post: Going into a spider’s den with arachnophobia

A couple of months ago I had the pleasure of meeting an American gal from Oregon, USA. She was part of the grape-picking crew deployed for our annual wine making extravaganza. Pretty hard out on the surface, she’s the kind of girl who radiates with confidence and wouldn’t turn down a challenge. She uses the word ‘cunt’ pretty loosely and I dare say she’s unlikely to take much shit from nobody.

Which is why it was so surprising to see her completely break down that day in the vines. I’d never actually seen anyone with a phobia before, but I watched this girl’s genuine, deep-rooted fear transform her from poised and outgoing into messy and totally unreachable, in seconds. She was out of control, utterly consumed by the terror of spiders.

Once we got her home and she chilled the heck out over a cold beer, we talked about it and I asked her to write her story for my blog. Because basically, she knew what was going to happen when she got into the spider-riddled grape vines, but she consciously made the decision to go in anyway.

***

Lisa Harris 01

written by Lisa Harris

I can’t do this.

There’s more in there.

What if they get all over me?

They could get in my hair.

I can’t see them

But I know they’re there.

What if one crawls in my ear?

They could be anywhere.

What if… nope. I can’t. I CAN’T.

My first memory of my arachnophobia is when I was 7, and although it reads like some sort of poem from a children’s book, these thoughts were serious and debilitating. We were nearing the end of a family gardening day and my mum instructed me to go into the shady, dry area behind the house. A spot that only the dog walked through. Grudgingly, I traipsed over to the first fern and bent down to get to work. My hand went right through a dense web and a golden garden spider began crawling over my hand. Immediate panic washed over me, I withdrew my arm and cried out in terror.

I returned to my mum, very unhappy. “Mum, I can’t pick weeds in there.”

“Lisa, I don’t want to hear excuses. We’re all working today, you’re not getting out of this,” she replied sternly. And understandably so, I am known to cut corners.

I lost it; I sobbed. I begged, I pleaded to do anything else. There were spiders and I physically couldn’t be in there with them. Mum watched as I broke down histrionically and could see I was sincere. She hugged me, comforted me, and relieved me from the arduous task.

I reckon it just got worse from there. I subconsciously started scanning rooms for webs when I entered them. I recoiled from all insects until proven non-8-legged. I swear, they started coming after me – I would find them in my bathtub, my room, my closet. No one else in the family did; I had hyperawareness.

In my freshman year of college, one crawled from my bed straight at me. Due to the stress of starting university in conjunction with my unaddressed phobia, I had a panic attack and literally fainted after running from the room. My fear was getting pretty bad.

After this incident I went to fear counselling sessions and learned to keep my shit together when I saw one. By the last session I was able to go out and find a tiiiiny garden spider and let it crawl on me. Badass, I know.

***

Australia

There’s a well-known phrase in the states (mostly said by Texans): Everything is bigger in Texas. And it’s true when it comes to serving sizes, trucks and belly fat, but let me tell you this: spiders are DEFINITELY BIGGER IN AUSTRALIA.

I knew I was going to have to confront my fear when I visited Australia this year. You know, so I didn’t faint around a deadly spider, get bitten and DIE.

The first “opportunity” I had was when Cal (my Australian boyfriend) and I were walking down a bushy pathway to the beach and I spotted a big (bigger than I’ve ever seen), black spider in a web the size of a coffee table. I screamed and bolted in the opposite direction.

I started crying, shaking, shuddering. Cal followed me wondering what in the world all this was about, and I spluttered out a short, embarrassed explanation. “Spiders… I can’t… big one… I’m sorry… I can’t go that way.”

It was immediately clear to me that I had failed to maintain a healthy grip on my phobia over the years since the counselling. I had regressed quite a bit. Because phobia control takes maintenance and I guess I wasn’t super proactive at organising meetings with spiders.

A couple days later, Cal asked if I want to go pick grapes up in Mudgee, NSW, on a friend’s organic grape farm. Based on how much I like wine, the countryside, weekend getaways, and new experiences, the answer was a quick yes, without much thought. It was only as we prepared to leave that it suddenly hit me… That’s their digs… their turf. There’s going to be a tone of spiders in that vineyard. Our ride to Mudgee was waiting out the front. We’d committed, we were on our way.

When we arrived late that night, I tried to tell 15 strangers that I have a pretty serious fear of spiders and that I may not be able to pick grapes in the morning. People were nice. Assuaging me with kind words. There were lots of Australian “she’ll be right”s, and I got the feeling they didn’t quite understand the scale of my problem: I’m not just scared of spiders, I am an arachnophobe.

Big difference.

People with arachnophobia tend to feel uneasy in any area they believe could harbor spiders or that has visible signs of their presence, such as webs. If arachnophobics see a spider, they may not enter the general vicinity until they have overcome the panic attack that is often associated with their phobia. Some people screamcry, experience trouble breathing, sweating or even heart palpitations when they come in contact with an area near spiders or their webs. In some extreme cases, even a picture or a realistic drawing of a spider can also trigger intense fear. – Wikipedia

I woke up determined; supported and encouraged by Cal.

But less than an hour after arriving at the vines I have my first freak out. I nearly walked into the web of a big, fat, hairy beast of a thing. The Mudgee crew started to realise the severity of my fear.

After recovering with deep breaths and self pep talks – I can do this, I’m strong, I’ll beat it – I go back into the vines and try to keep it together. But as the day goes on, they just keep on surprising me with their fat egg-filled bums and tickly little legs.

I can’t do this.

There’s more in there.

What if they get all over me?

They could get in my hair.

I can’t see them

But I know they’re there.

What if one crawls in my ear?

They could be anywhere.

What if… nope. I can’t. I CAN’T.

The heat rises, my energy lessens, and I start to spook at every little thing.

I feel my mind beginning to slip down that slippery slope, and when I almost pick a spider instead of a bunch of grapes, I call it quits for the day. Everyone supportively congratulates me on how long I hung in there, I coyly smile and eat up the compliments, proud of how many hours I picked fruit in what I can only describe as my version of hell.

A hug and kiss from Cal, and into the truck I go to do the non-spider job of driving around to pick up the full buckets of grapes.

But then, as I get in the truck with sigh a breath of relief… I feel a tickle on my leg.

I look down.

And it’s a mothertrucking Australian Orb Spider. Bright orange. Giant, bulbous, round thorax. With eight, pointy, skinny legs. Just cruising up my thigh.

Sheer horror engulfs me.

I scream and violently hit it off me.

My mind is a blur and I can’t understand why the hell the door isn’t opening as I scratch and hit at the handle, still screaming.

I faintly hear the word “lock” muffled among screams and confusion coming from both me and the poor woman in the car with me.

I slam the lock open, shove the door and hysterically run. And shake. And sob. and scream. I slap and scratch at my leg where the monster had just been. And breathe so hard and so deep that I feel darkness closing in over me. I kneel to the ground because I know I’m about to faint.

***

A big part of these overwhelming reactions is about how much I hate the fear itself. Psychologically, in that moment, I am trying to manage how I actually deal with the fear, on top of experiencing the fear. This makes the whole experience that much more difficult. When I can’t gain control over my behaviour, I acknowledge that, and suddenly I’m aware that I can’t control much at all, and my mind overloads.

It’s really hard to find success in moments of perceived failure. I find it especially hard to go into something with good intentions, courage, and an open mind, just to be completely shut down.

Picking yourself up, dusting yourself (or spiders) off, pausing for a breath, and then starting again… it’s damn near impossible sometimes. Whether it’s overcoming a phobia, patching a broken heart, or starting a new journey; failing when you’re vulnerable hurts. But, you know, the pride I felt as I walked past that big, black spider on the path to the beach today… that felt gooooood.

I’m competitive. I compete, and sometimes I lose, and when I do, there aren’t many words needed to express the depth of pain I experience. We’ve all been there, right? However! I’m going to keep competing with my fear, because eventually, some day… I’ll win.

Lisa Harris

Lisa Harris

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