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Blog Wars 2013, Essays

Arachnophobia and Me

Here’s the thing: I am terrified of spiders.

I know, I know, you’ve heard it a million times from a million different people:

“I am SUCH an arachnophobic person!”
“Spiders are, like, THE WORST.”
“I just can’t even deal with spiders. They’re, like, so gross.”

But, seriously, y’all, let me talk to you about spiders and how they make me feel.

Shadow of the demon, indeed.

This is as close as I could come to putting a photo of a spider on my blog.
Photo courtesy Darren Johnson/ShotHotspot.com.

This is how I remember it all beginning: as a very young child—we’re talking around 2 years old—I was sitting on the floor, playing with a teddy bear of some kind. Something caught my attention behind me, so I turned and looked around, finding nothing of real interest. (Or maybe the teddy bear was more interesting than whatever noise I heard behind me; who knows?) I turned back around to my teddy, expecting to see nothing but its furry, cute face staring calmly back at me, only to find that a spider had descended from the ceiling on an invisible thread of web and was now hanging mere inches in front of my face, twirling slowly and maliciously, as it continued its slow descent to my lap. Needless to say, the tears came fast and furious.

I’m not sure what happened after that (or how accurate that retelling is; it is legitimately my earliest memory, though also arguably one of my most vivid), but from that point on, the penny had dropped: I was petrified of spiders.

Well, “petrified” is maybe not the correct word. “Petrified” implies that my fear causes me to freeze up silently like a statue, and let me tell you, that is NOT my typical reaction. As an adult, I’ve basically managed to curb my initial impulse to scream loudly, shrilly and repeatedly—though, depending on the size and proximity of the spider, a few little yelps still occasionally sneak out—but every instinct I have forces me to remove myself from the situation as rapidly as possible, order and decorum be damned. I may have been able to curb the impulse to shriek, but the impulse to flee is practically unavoidable.

Once I’ve done the fleeing, however, I am filled with another irrepressibly strong desire: to remove the spider from my former locale in a rapid and deliberately harmful manner so I can return to whatever I was doing with as much piece of mind as possible. That being said, my intense fear of being remotely close to a spider keeps me from being able to do the deed, so I tend to enlist the bravery of those around me. I have no shame, NONE, in admitting that I still make my parents kill spiders I find at home when I visit, or that I have made my roommate, Dut, come into my room and dispose of eight-legged beasties late at night on multiple occasions, especially when we lived in our old basement apartment that was plagued by every creepy-crawly you can think of. (Seriously, if they’re native to central Kentucky and are considered gross by any fraction of humanity, I bet you we had them in that apartment.)

However, masochism plays an important role here, too: I need to SEE the spider meet its end to truly feel at peace. (My fear is a complex beast, not unlike those octo-marauders that lurk in dark corners, suspended on invisible threads of gossamer, waiting for some unlucky pest to fall into their trap.) I want to watch a trusted friend or family member crush the offending arachnid firmly between his or her fingers, knowing that the fragile body of the web-spinner has been mutilated beyond repair. I don’t need to physically see the broken corpse after the damage has been done—because, eew—but I do need to be in the room to see for myself that the spindly intruder has been dealt with accordingly. I tread a fine line between needing to be close enough to experience the spider’s demise firsthand and needing to be far enough away that the scuttler can’t get to me.

And don’t even get me started on those horrifying moments where my metaphorical knight in shining armor brandishes his or her paper towel or tissue ineffectively and the eight-legged horror gets away. It is almost an impossibility for me to reenter that room and not be constantly thinking about the lost spider or imagining that I feel its imminent arrival on my flesh. (Talk about formication, am I right, Kelcie’s fiance Mark?)

All right. Here’s the point in this post where you quote me all that research about spiders being beneficial, desirable organisms that help manage the populations of other harmful bugs and insects, yadda, yadda, yadda.  You can even throw in a couple jabs at my wussiness and/or lack of manhood. Go ahead, I’m listening, I promise.

And now here’s the point in this post where I talk to you about the irrationality of a phobia: I DON’T CARE. I’m irrationally afraid of spiders, and if I’m being completely honest, no creature with more than four legs is really high up on my list. Trying to explain to you exactly why a tiny, usually-harmless creature who is likely leagues more terrified of me than I am of it strikes such a fear into my heart of hearts is far beyond my communicative capabilities. Phobias—true phobias, not distastes or dislikes or garden-variety fears; I’m talking the thing you are most afraid of, the thing that can keep you up at night or make your breath catch in your throat while a cold sweat breaks out on your forehead—are such intensely personal things that I find them nigh impossible to accurately convey. I know that a good portion of it can be chalked up to my overactive imagination, but beyond that, I can only tell you that I find everything about spiders, from their too-many eyes and their scrawny, pointed legs to their jerky, halting movement and seeming ubiquity horrific.

Before you call me crazy, let me leave you with this excerpt from an article on LiveScience.com that is ostensibly designed to lower the widespread (and I would argue, deserved) fear of spiders that runs rampant across humanity by positing that most “spider bites” aren’t actually spider bites at all.

“When spider bites do happen, they tend to occur because the eight-legged beasts are surprised — for example when a person reaches into a glove, shoe or nook that they are occupying at the moment, Buddle said. … Many spiders aren’t even capable of piercing human flesh. Buddle said he has observed spiders ‘moving their fangs back and forth against his skin,’ all to no avail.”

I want you to do me a favor: imagine that you’ve just reached into a glove and disturbed a spider. I’ll let you decide what it looks like. It tries to bite the pad of your finger as a fearful reaction impulse, but the callused skin keeps its tiny mandibles from penetrating your flesh, so it moves up your hand, dragging its fangs along your skin, trying in vain to break the surface. Its tiny, mute frustration only deepens and intensifies as it progresses. By now, it’s slipped under your shirt sleeve and has made its way to the soft flesh on the underside of your forearm. Clacking its tiny fangs in triumph, it sinks its teeth into you, shooting a tiny amount of venom into your body along with a dose of simmering rage and panicked fear. Unknown to you, the spider continues up your arm, perplexed by your seeming ignorance of its presence. It continues biting you—just an occasional nip to help its cause—as it slips onto your torso, unseen, unheard, un-felt. You think you may have experienced a tiny jolt of pain and a faint itching sensation, but you chalk it up to an overactive imagination and continue about your day: ignorant, happy, free.

Now, go ahead. Call me crazy.

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About Cory Hershberger

Neurotic/eclectic critic obsessed with pop culture who enjoys good food, good company, and, most of all, good books.

Discussion

54 thoughts on “Arachnophobia and Me

  1. First of all, let me commend you for a seriously well written post. The descriptive words you chose were spot on. Secondly, I am amazed at how effectively you communicated the feeling spiders give you and used your words to extend the creepiness to your reader. I’m not afraid of spiders and I was shuddering by the end. Nice work.

    Posted by Kelcie | July 8, 2013, 4:59 pm
  2. The sad thing is, you had come so far in the old basement apartment, not only killing the occasional spider, but also the centipedes, worms, and other creepy-crawlies (need I mention the mouse?). But now, I fear all that progress has been lost. Alas, my subversive phobia therapy has failed.

    Posted by duthersh | July 8, 2013, 8:07 pm
  3. Woah Corey, way to really get the fear moving inside me. Plus I love the line, “let me tell you, that is NOT my typical reaction” Hahah. . . Hilarious.

    Posted by Steve | July 8, 2013, 10:09 pm
  4. This left me itching! Between this and the centipede post I will be more than likely crying myself to sleep tonight. Truly though, both were engaging reads.

    Posted by kimramirez | July 8, 2013, 10:11 pm
  5. I understand. I was arachnophobic most of my life, and in the literally petrified way….I would freeze and be unable to even make a sound. I finally beat it….but I sure can remember when it was beating me!

    Posted by syrbal | July 9, 2013, 1:04 pm
  6. Who would win in a fight…a robot spider or a scorpion with poison breath?

    Posted by Christopher De Voss | July 9, 2013, 1:19 pm
  7. i hear ya buddy…so so do…these bloody creepy crawly buggers…so well done and congratulations on being freshly pressed

    Posted by moodsnmoments | July 9, 2013, 1:25 pm
  8. I love da spidies.

    But perhaps now is not the time to tell you that I let them nest directly above me in my bedroom, that I pet the big ones, that I let them reach out their two front legs to “taste” my finger and shake hands with me, that I pick them up and move them to rooms where I think they’ll have a better chance of catching lunch. No, I’ll keep all that to myself.

    Also, the day I saw my first black widow crawling slowly up my bare calf and I leaned down to admire her for a few seconds before flicking her off into the bushes, that one’s probably too creepy to share. Or the time my mother awoke in the middle of the night to feel the weight of a giant wolf spider laying on the back of her hand. That one’s more appropriate for Spielberg. Then there was that long hike up a dormant volcano a few years back when big, fat forest spiders got caught in my hair as I walked through the webs they had strung across the trail. Not knowing whether they were venomous or not, I couldn’t just reach up and grab them so I had to walk on for several hundred feet until I came to a low enough branch to let brush my head and scrape them off. They were so large, I could hear them hitting the forest floor: Plop, plop…plop.

    Instead, I’ll simply say that spiders should be the state bird of Oregon, they’re so prolific. Every summer, our backyards turn into the set of Arachnophobia and I rejoice that the flies, knats, and mosquitoes are being reduced by the thousands on a daily basis. Spiders are my employees.

    Posted by allthoughtswork | July 9, 2013, 1:28 pm
  9. I completely understand. Recently, I had a heart stopping incident with a spider. I was driving along, minding my own business when suddenly there was a sizable spider crawling along the INSIDE OF MY WINDSHIELD. I immediately braked and then pulled into the nearest parking lot. Once my car was in park, I jumped out like the car was on fire and made my boyfriend get it out of the car. I was all for him killing it, but he would not. I seriously thought I was going to die when I saw that awful thing crawling up the windshield towards my head. So I know where you’re coming from. They’re just so terrifying. I’m in terror mode now just thinking about the whole ordeal.

    Posted by momoslow | July 9, 2013, 1:42 pm
  10. So that’s what happened when I lost that “pet” spider in my jacket 20 years ago? It amazes me how you can write so clearly about a topic that disgusts you. I’m a frequently disgusted person myself, but when I right about it, it turns into a series of complex metaphors no one can understand. Can’t help it though. Simple wording isn’t strong enough, traditional profanity is too crude (and trite) and detailed, vivid wording fails me when in the grip of strong emotion. Best I ever did was: https://pezcita.wordpress.com/2012/12/29/musings-from-a-job-starved-city-the-fiscal-cliff/

    Posted by pezcita | July 9, 2013, 1:43 pm
  11. Guess that should be “write” or “am right”.

    Posted by pezcita | July 9, 2013, 1:44 pm
  12. Loved it! I’m with you…I’m a spider non-fan. I get why they’re here, I know what they’re good for. Unlike mosquitos and New York Yankees fans, spiders actually have a purpose in the world. But why are they so ugly and creepy??

    Yes…I’m a guy. And being the only male growing up in a house full of females, it’s always been my job to kill the spiders that made their way into the house. But I never enjoyed the job! Right now, there’s a black widow living INSIDE the body of my motorcycle. I just recently bought the bike, and despite cleaning it, taking off the outer panels, having it repaired, AND riding it on an 800 milk round trip, IT’S STILL THERE.

    Ugh!!

    Anyway, fun article, and keep up the great writing! 🙂

    Dug
    http://tr4f.wordpress.com

    Posted by The Oasis Projekt | July 9, 2013, 2:48 pm
  13. The post sounded like I wrote it (except the basement apartment). I have managed to curb fear for those whirligig things that are so tiny, but the large ones — I’m talking about hand-sized — still gets the best of me. And yeah, I hate it when my dad can’t kill the eight-legged freak (because he’s old). Just last month, he did not get it, and I knew for certain that it would seek revenge; true enough, I saw it plotting to bite me as I exited the bathroom. Good thing dad got rid of some of its legs. I relished the idea that it’s dead (even if the whole idea seems un-Godly) and won’t be around anymore.

    Posted by Rich | July 9, 2013, 3:01 pm
  14. A fellow arachnophobe thanks you for tonight’s nightmares. You’re not crazy. We’re just a very particular bunch.

    Posted by vixen_with_a_cause | July 9, 2013, 3:57 pm
  15. I’ve always said my first question to God will be, “Why those miserable creatures, the spiders?” Don’t worry about your phobia; others have no shame about their fears, so…

    Posted by ithabise | July 9, 2013, 4:29 pm
  16. I understand your plight. My daughter now thirty one has a fear of snakes. She also can not rationally explain why but it is a fact. Even seeing a snake on television throws her into a run into the next room. She went to a couple of islands in the Carib and when she saw a snake she ran like hell.

    Posted by awax1217 | July 9, 2013, 4:59 pm
  17. Arachnophobia is an old invention of nature to keep us safe from more dangerous spider bites than those the normal “house spider” could try today. (Think of times, “we” still lived on trees). Like vertigo this phobia is there to safe us! So no shame anymore – WE Arachnophobists are the “norm” – and the others are insane.

    Posted by franhunne4u | July 9, 2013, 5:11 pm
  18. I agree with everything, I have a huge child-like, something of which I won’t ever want to deal with fear of insects, arachnids, and whatnot. I’m fine with snakes or frogs and other amphibians. I even hate worms, I won’t dare touch them! Trust me, your not crazy

    Posted by tiab1200 | July 9, 2013, 5:11 pm
  19. This was beautifully written, given the ugly subject! I suffer from arachnophobia, and it’s the griping fear of a spider landing on you. I can’t remember when it started, or how, but have countless of terrifying experiences since then. Crying isn’t an uncommon reaction for me, amongst other more harmful reactions (harmful to myself, I must admit) if one happens to land on my bare skin. I’m much better though…
    Anyway, thanks for writing this, it has inspired me for a post of my own!

    Posted by marz | July 9, 2013, 5:59 pm
  20. Indeed. Burn them all.

    Posted by carlosnightman | July 9, 2013, 6:15 pm
  21. I’m not a big fan of spiders either, really well written post, that last bit where you described the spider was great!

    Posted by Paul Bowler | July 9, 2013, 6:59 pm
  22. Reblogged this on thesciencegirlblog and commented:
    Are you scared of spiders??!??

    Posted by thesciencegirlblog | July 9, 2013, 7:16 pm
  23. This made me chuckle. I hate killing things, but I will kill a spider if it is too close to something I deem my “personal space,” like my bed or in my clothing. I was never really afraid of them …until I moved to Kentucky, where I lived in a house with a Recluse infestation (I’ve written a bit about this and how I feel about spiders too…) and because almost 90% of the spiders I find in the apartment now are Recluses also (we are in a bad spot for them, I guess.) Also, having woken in the middle of the night (luckily in an Ambian fugue or I might have just gone insane right there) with a Recluse crawling up my back,) or having put on a dress one time to find a baby one in the bra of the dress….So, yeah, when I’m minding my own business and one drops off the shower curtain, I am a bit girlier about it than I used to be.

    What will tell you if you’re truly phobic…. did my story just now make you wanna pee?

    Posted by alienredqueen | July 9, 2013, 9:12 pm
  24. Oh man, you have perfectly described the way I feel about those horrid, terrifying beasties.

    Posted by dswidow | July 9, 2013, 11:07 pm
  25. like post

    Posted by doanvanloi1012 | July 9, 2013, 11:17 pm
  26. I know exactly how you feel. I have to see the spider be flushed, it can’t even just be squished and tossed away it needs to be physically removed or it might come back and get me

    Posted by cuddlebunny77 | July 10, 2013, 12:18 am
  27. This is fantastic! Love the imagery in the beginning where you tell the story of your first (as far back as you can remember) encounter with a spider. I am pretty terrified of spiders, but then again, I’m terrified of everything. My OCD has pretty much left me an anxiety ridden, broken record of I’m-not-doing-that or I’m-not-going-in-there or I’m-not-eating-that, and best of all Did-you-wash-your-hands. Good luck with your arachnophobia! My husband says that all fear is threaded from interest and curiosity.

    Posted by Lina | July 10, 2013, 12:36 am
  28. Okay, that image you painted in my head towards the end got me itching. I don’t have arachnophobia, but I can’t stomach the idea of a spider crawling across my skin, or any other bug for that matter – except ladybirds and butterflies and the occasional ant – makes me terrified.

    Posted by Zen A. | July 10, 2013, 3:47 am
  29. Ok…you NAILED it!

    Posted by Ugly Nikki | July 10, 2013, 3:55 am
  30. i recently had a similar spider-to-face incident at university. i sat down in the lecture hall; though i sat in the back rows, the ceiling was still several meters above my head. i listened to the professor, occasionally reading the powerpoint slides. when i looked up after a couple of minutes to the front, i noticed a blurry, brownish “shadow” in my field of vision. that’s how close the spider was to my right eye.

    as soon as i focused on its descending body, i really had to fight my embarrassing instinct to scream and jump away. the people around certainly noticed my fright, although they might not have seen the actual spider. i wish i could have just killed it, but i’m also very afraid to go near them at all, so in my desperation, i started blowing it away from me (which was a bad idea, really, because it came swinging right back at me. i get irrational, too.)

    eventually, after i had probably made a complete fool of myself, i took my things and moved four seats away, praying that i had not touched the thread, somehow, so that the little beast could not simply dance over to me on its tightrope. it left me nervous and itchy all period.

    so, i do understand that fear you described, very well. i sometimes manage to kill the tinier spiders, if i don’t have to touch them, directly. but they scare me way too much and i cannot even say, why.
    ugh, i better stop writing about this…

    Posted by aformerclarity | July 10, 2013, 4:40 am
  31. Oh my God! I could not finish reading your blog…only read until the part where your description completely matched my fear of spiders…I gotta hand it to you though, you had the courage to imagine and write…I -right now as i write – am blocking spider memories and not thinking about spiders or letting my imaginations run wild… because …well…you know why…hi5 arachnophobic-buddy!

    Posted by adelaidesummer | July 10, 2013, 7:24 am
  32. Ooh, I don’t posess the fear of spideys on the same level as you, but I’m certainly not a fan. I actaully wrote a post on my reactions to spiders as well in May titled ‘To anyone who has ever exited a moving vehicle because of a spider’ three times total in my particular case! Rotten buggers, fantastic imagery and explanation in your post!

    Posted by lissyann | July 10, 2013, 7:29 am
  33. And, you’re not crazy. At all.

    Posted by lissyann | July 10, 2013, 7:32 am
  34. Wonderfully written! I’m so with you on the leg count favouritism ranking. Does that make us leg-ist? Ah well, so be it lol. You took me right back to my walk to work this morning along the Bow river in Calgary (still churning post-flood). I saw a weird speck on the left lens of my glasses and took them off to check it out. My first thought was “oh wow, what a gorgeous complimentary colour combo! Textbook lovely!” (ok, so I’m a nerd, but whatever). My second thought… “oh gawd it’s a SPIDER!!!!” I must have looked quite mad waving my glasses around and blowing on them frantically in the middle of the bike path, but again… whatever!

    Posted by Cymbria Wood | July 10, 2013, 1:07 pm
  35. I don’t like spiders, I can deal with they tiny ones myself. But I do have a horrendously irrational fear of tarantulas. I can’t even look at images of them without having nightmares for the next week. I was actually nervous about clicking on this post because I was worried that there would be photos of them, but then I thought you’re scared of spiders too, so you probably don’t want to be posting huge photos of them.
    I’m 100% certain that if I ever encountered a tarantula in real life, just in my every day, I would expire on the spot. My brain and body would no longer want to live, that’s how afraid I am.
    And you’re right, when you’re scared of something there’s nothing worse than people trying to minimize that fear.

    Posted by Smash | July 10, 2013, 1:48 pm
  36. Perhaps Little Miss Muffet”,was “frightened away” by a spider had Arachnophobia? What do you think?

    Posted by segmation | July 10, 2013, 2:06 pm
  37. This story reminds me of the last apartment I lived in…where the second floor literally turned into a hall full of spiders. It was the most terrifying thing trying to leave the apartment in the morning.

    Posted by jlmartindesigns | July 10, 2013, 8:01 pm
  38. I’m not afraid of them. . But! I woke up this am, looked in the mirror and a spider was descending on a thread from my hair. That is a bit disturbing! This was before my coffee. Didn’t need coffee after that! Sorry, like button not working in app.

    Posted by Midwestern Plant Girl | July 11, 2013, 6:44 am
  39. I very much enjoyed your post, especially since I had a run-in with one of the little creatures just this morning! I was driving down the road on my usual commute when I became aware of something tiny and wriggling descending from the ceiling of my car just a few inches in front of my face!

    Posted by earlyowl | July 11, 2013, 8:32 am
  40. your description of your memory made my blood pressure rise and I found myself holding my breathe. *sigh*

    Posted by Cheer Up Charle | July 11, 2013, 7:03 pm
  41. well written post 😀 perfectly describes your horror at those freaks of nature 😛 please visit my blog if you like poetry 😀
    thank you 🙂

    Posted by The Thinker | July 12, 2013, 6:34 am
  42. Spiders have always given me the heebie-jeebies!

    Posted by Mary | July 13, 2013, 9:57 am
  43. Exactly how I feel about roaches!

    Posted by ButterfliesWithin | July 15, 2013, 12:54 pm
  44. Amazing post.
    You captured my exact sentiments regarding the eight legged atrocities we call spiders.
    Shudder.

    Very well written.

    Posted by jenny | July 16, 2013, 2:37 am
  45. Uhm, kill it with fire? XD I share your fear.. :/

    Posted by Andreu Cornico | July 21, 2013, 3:33 am
  46. I really enjoy your writing style and your humorous take on being afraid of spiders. Can’t wait to read more from you! (:

    Posted by madisonmckay | July 22, 2013, 1:15 pm
  47. I know how it feels, I share your fear to the point that I struggle to get near it to kill it (that is if I am alone, if someone else is around, stranger or not, they will kill it for me)!

    Posted by midnightbutterfly7 | July 24, 2013, 6:33 am
  48. When a horrific huntsman spider (it was thankfully disposed of) was found in our dining room I went to bed with a fly swatter and bug spray (who knows if these beasts travel in packs!?). I also refused to sit down all day since the spider had first been located scurrying up a chair.

    I understand you exactly unfortunately…

    (sorry you can delete the comment above it links to some random’s blog…? also loved the post)

    Posted by Feather Girl | August 1, 2013, 10:35 am

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"Lock up your libraries if you like, but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind."

-Virginia Woolf, "A Room of One's Own"

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