Being phobic – an open letter about living with irrational fear
Written by a Mercy staff member – name withheld
I’ll openly admit it. I am phobic. That isn’t an easy line to say. It doesn’t mean I am squeamish or fear anything and everything around me. But distinct things trigger an intense reaction that cannot easily be described. In fact, I would even go on to say that you might actually have to have a phobia to understand the complete feeling of dread and despair experienced when that phobia gets triggered. That feeling can be triggered practically anywhere and by anyone—and that is why I am sharing my phobia story with you, to help the fortunate non-phobic people understand what it’s really like to live with a phobia.
DISCLAIMER: This is a personal story from someone much like yourself and does not represent any clinical expertise.
A phobia origin story
My phobia—drum roll please—is arachnophobia: the intense fear of spiders. It is possibly one of the more common and, alas, also one of the most mocked phobias out there. Thanks to a big budget Hollywood film, everyone is well aware of this term and they LOVE to bring it up in conversation when someone mentions they fear spiders. My phobia started out simple enough—being exposed to thousands of spiders over the summer camping seasons near the Mississippi River as a young pre-Kindergartener.
Though there were plenty of positive experiences with other wildlife and even within the insect kingdom, for some reason my young little brain couldn’t handle the eight-legged variety. Though very young—some would say too young—I swear I can still remember the light green cabin slowly turning gray over the summer season due to the infinite masses of daddy long legs and river spiders encasing the family vacation home. They were everywhere, clingy and invasive in every way imaginable. That icky creep-crawly feeling of them inching their way up my legs is hopelessly unforgettable. When others saw harmless or even friendly, bug-eating creatures, my own personal torture was forever cemented and, for the better part of a lifetime, has not been dismissed.
A day in the life with a phobia
For many people with fears and phobias, there is a good chance they may be able to avoid said trigger in their daily lives. If you fear heights–avoid flying, ladders and skyscapers–DONE. Arachnophobia however, is a tricky phobia to have as spiders are wily creatures, capable of surviving just about anywhere. Though there is a brief reprieve during the coldest of Midwestern winter days, rest assured, a spider could be lying in wait–anywhere. Think about it. From moving furniture to laying in your hammock on your deck to helping your grandmother do laundry in her basement, having a deathly fear of something as common as a spider has a DAILY impact. All of the noted activities above—have been either greatly altered or forgone due to the spider risk. Want to help clean out your parents’ attic to help them move? Forget it. Invited to go to the zoo or even to the pet store with your nieces and nephews? Only if you find out ahead of time where the bug displays are at and give them an EXTREMELY wide berth.
Those examples are the times when you have the opportunity to avoid potentially nerve-wracking and completely humiliating situations. There are other times, however, when the spiders just seem to find me. There have been countless times where spiders have appeared out of thin air on my school desk, work stations and in completely random places. I’ve been trapped in dressing rooms with spiders lurking on the back of the door. What do I do? Go near the spider to get out or sit and stare at it all night? I’ve had to run out of my garage countless of times, screaming and crying as hairy wolf spiders descend from the lifted garage door. Outwardly, I must seem like a crazed drama queen to my neighbors and acquaintances, or anyone who doesn’t know my ridiculous personal struggle. Inwardly, I can’t help but feel like I am somehow a spider magnet or that nature has some sort of vendetta against me.
It is truly sad to think about all of the missed opportunities due to an uncontrollable irrational fear.
Rationalizing the irrational fear
Before going any further, it’s important to clarify the difference between common fear and true, deep-seated phobia. Not the text-book definitions—the real palpable disparity between a phobia and merely being slightly afraid. Knowing what it is like to have common fears of truly threatening situations or scary things, I can tell you that a phobia is genuinely not every day fear. It’s a whole different beast—an all-consuming, scarier-than-humanly-possible emotion that no amount of rationale can possibly overcome. Not a very fun picture to paint, let alone experience.
At this point, many readers are probably saying get some sort of professional help or have written me off as a hopeless case. Please know, that under no circumstance do I feel that a simple spider is going to kill me or that they have some evil, magical power etc. They are nature’s perfect bug-eating machine that do wonders for us humans. They are more afraid of us than we are of them. They mean us no harm…blah blah blah. It’s all true and yet none of it means a thing. And that is why I know I have a phobia. There isn’t any amount of science or explanation that can wash away this fear. It is completely irrational and defies all logic. I’m the first one to admit how irrational it is, but when it comes right down to it, it’s a mile-high hurdle that I haven’t been able to clear. Some people feel the need to try to clear that hurdle for me.
When a person outwardly admits to having an irrational fear, arguing with them about how foolish or invalid their fear is won’t instantaneously fix the problem. People have tried time and again to convince me otherwise… If it we’re only that simple. There are treatment options out there but I can’t bring myself to try them.
The real impact of a phobia
Having a phobia doesn’t just interfere with my own personal activities, it can even wreak havoc on relationships. When my brave, outdoorsman-type husband wants to adventurously trek through the woods but I’m too afraid to go near any trees, debris or anything resembling a possible spider habitat, that wound cuts deep—for the both of us. When the family gathering is at a park and the only restroom is covered in creepy, looming webs with what must be a mega-spider somewhere in the vicinity, I have to drive to a “safe” location or cut the day short. People take note of these things.
Sadly, it can get much worse. The alternate side of the irrational fear coin is how others react once they learn I fear spiders. Some of the lovely examples include being chased down the hallway between classes by fellow classmates ferrying spiders for the sole purpose of watching me freak out. Young children of my in-laws quickly learned the joy of surprising me with a rubber tarantula. Eventually, I had to talk to their parents and make a formal request for the thing to be put away. We’d all regret a knee-jerk reaction involving someone getting screamed at or worse—accidentally slapped. Imagine the fall-out…
Why does any of this matter
If you’re phobia free you might not understand why this long open letter truly matters. But let’s put it in perspective. Even if you are phobia free, your close friend, your significant other or even your own child may have or develop a phobia. It’s not easy to openly admit an irrational fear, be it due to embarrassment or worry of being harassed like the sorry illustrations above. Through this brutally-candid letter, perhaps there will be a greater understanding of the very real struggles people with phobias have in everyday life. It can be tough enough out there for the phobic, and there is no need to taunt and bully.
Just to clarify, there is nothing special about being phobic and there isn’t typically a reason to warrant special treatment. However, if you ever come across someone willing to open up about their fears and phobias, show a little compassion and keep those rubber tarantulas out of sight.
If you or someone you know is suffering from phobia or other anxiety issues, please see your primary care physician to discuss treatment options.
Keep the conversation going
Do you have any intense fears, phobias or related stories? Please share your experiences below!