Arachnophobia, fear of spiders, is one of the most common phobias. In the United States, more than 30% of the population is afraid of the eight-legged creatures. For the first 19 years of my life, I suffered from this phobia as well, until I unintentionally overcame my fear.
My irrational fear of spiders used to dominate a big part of my life. I used to avoid places where they would usually hang out, such as our attic and our garage. Seeing a spider somewhere meant avoiding that particular location for the next couple of weeks, even if I had to be there.
Years of fear
I distinctly remember several instances where arachnophobia got the best of me. One of the last times it happened I was 18 years old. I used to check my bedroom for spiders every evening, and one evening I noticed a big spider under my bed. That must have been my worst fear at the time. I yelled, and I cried, and my dad had to come over and kill the spider. But I didn’t feel safe anymore. For the next week, I slept downstairs on the couch. I slept terribly and looked like a walking zombie for the entire week, but I was too afraid to return to my room.
Shortly afterwards everything started to get better. In the first year of college, we received the assignment to invent an alter ego and to create a visual introduction to the character. I made a list of all the things that defined me, including arachnophobia, and decided to give my alter ego opposite traits. The alter ego turned out to be this scary woman that was in love with spiders.
I did a lot of research about spiders back then because I wanted all the info around my fictional character to be scientifically correct. I spent my evenings reading Wikipedia articles and watching youtube videos related to spiders, so I got to learn a lot about them. The chance of dying from a spider bite is minuscule these days. Black widows haven’t killed anyone in years. Knowing all those facts made me feel a lot safer already.
For the artistic part of the school project, I decided to make self-portraits dressed up as my character. I used stock photos of big spiders and photoshopped them on my back. To my surprise looking at spider pictures didn’t make me feel scared anymore. I also wanted to use my attic as a background because it looked a bit scary up there. I always avoided that place because it was filled with real spiders. But I decided to give it a try anyway. I ended up spending a couple of hours taking pictures in the attic, surrounded by spiders. For some reason, they didn’t freak me out anymore.
Am I really cured?
It started to feel as if I had overcome my fear. So to test if my assumption was correct, I went to an animal convention where spiders were sold and asked if I could handle a tarantula. I was way too surprised by its fluffiness to actually be afraid. After that, I started to grow more and more comfortable with them. I even handled a few wild spiders in the house. I had overcome my fear. Unintentionally. I no longer suffered from arachnophobia. When I look at spiders now, I no longer see monsters, but I see animals instead.
For me, the combination of education (research about spiders) and exposure (forcing myself to look at them over and over again) helped me to get over my fear of spiders. I’ll share a detailed guide on how to overcome arachnophobia in a later blog post as well.