Phobias…and why they’re not all that funny

I have several phobias. The biggest one, and my most well-known, is spiders. I don’t know where the fear came from. I’ve had it as long as I can remember. It’s not an ignorant fear. I know a lot about spiders; how there are different kinds of spinners (orb-weavers, etc), where you are likely to find them (this is how I avoid them!) and even that the largest spiders (this is spiders now, not tarantulas, which are related, but not the same) can eat birds and be bigger than a large pizza. That is the stuff of my nightmares. And FYI, I’m terrified of tarantulas too.

Eight eyes, eight legs, fangs with venom…seriously, I don’t know what God was thinking when He designed these things, but it’s enough to make me cry, vomit, get dizzy and pass out (this is my reaction to a spider — not even kidding). God doesn’t make mistakes — but I really want to have a conversation with Him about these nightmarish creatures (there’s a reason they’re used in movies and on Halloween to scare! They aren’t cuddly!).

So a couple instances of where I got hit with the phobic fear of spiders…I was at the Toledo Zoo with my family (parents, siblings, cousins, etc). It’s a very old, historic zoo and one of the buildings, they turned into a museum of sorts. So we walk in and they are having an insect exhibit! Oh JOY! So, I hate other insects too (my rule of thumb…no legs, two legs, four legs = OK…more than four legs, no…more than six legs, HELL NO) but I could keep my eyes averted and just walk through the place. Until we got to the room…it’s a two story room (picture an old fashioned ballroom with a second story that you can go up to and look down on the first floor). On the walls of this room were giant sized insects…and sure enough, crawling down the wall from the ceiling was a 10-foot yellow spider. I froze. I couldn’t walk and I started to hyperventilate. I’m 18 years old at this point and my mom had to walk me out, with my eyes covered, so I could get outside and get fresh air to breathe. Was it embarrassing? Oh, you bet! Could I control it? Not even a little. I was shaking very badly and in tears. The rest of my family came out after me and stood there while I tried to recover. While sitting there, a little girl came out with her dad and she was upset because she was scared. One of my family members pointed at me and said “don’t feel bad! She’s 18 and look how scared she is!”

And then there was the time in college when the tarantula got loose in the pet store I was working in. I had the best job. It was so fun and I loved it. But we’d get in shipments of animals and one day, we got a tarantula in, because we’d sold one. Who the F would buy one?? Got me. I didn’t have anything to do with them (that was my one stipulation working there). But on this day, one of the other employees was taking it out of the shipping container and it gets loose. It scuttles (it doesn’t walk people!) across a table and drops into a 50 gallon garbage container. I am immediately on top of a stool and screaming at the top of my lungs. Are there customers in the store? Yep. Can they hear me? Oh, definitely! They probably thought someone was being murdered. Then this thing starts trying to jump out of the trash can. Ever seen any of the “Alien” movies, where the parasites jump onto peoples’ faces? That’s how tarantulas jump. This thing was almost jumping OUT OF THE 50-GALLON TRASH CAN. That’s how high it was jumping. At this point, I have locked myself in the bathroom, put towels under the door and would not come out until they told me it had be captured. I had to go home after that.

Are these stories funny? Sure, they are now. But why am I telling you this? Because they’re not funny at the time, and even now, after I’ve been writing this, remembering those situations, I’m nauseated and shaky. Phobias are not rational. They are not something where you can go, “You know? I really don’t have any reason to be afraid of that” and poof! You’re magically not afraid anymore. You can’t reason away phobias…no matter if people think you should or can.

At work today, and this has happened several times, I’ve had people put big rubber spiders on my desk, trying to scare me. They’ve put them on my phone, fan and laptop. I can’t pick them up, even though they’re fake. I have to ask someone to get it for me and throw it away. I know the people doing this think it’s funny, that my reaction is hilarious. I’m the one usually joking with people and cracking up. I’m sure they think that’s what is going to happen, that I’ll end up laughing. But it’s not. My chest is actually hurting right now because of the anxiety that hit after seeing it.

So please, if someone tells you they have a phobia, leave it alone. Someone who is terrified of clowns is not helped by you sending them a photo of a clown. Someone who is terrified of fire is not helped by you lighting matches in their face or pushing them closer to a bonfire. Someone who is phobic about spiders is definitely not helped by you sharing photos to their FB page or putting spiders on their desk. You’re making it worse for them! It’s not funny! Because not only do they have the fear spike, then they may feel ashamed for feeling what they do. And there’s no reason to try and make people feel weird or weak for being afraid or having phobias. I am no longer ashamed about my phobias. They are a part of me and I deal with them the best I can. And you can believe me when I say, I don’t think highly of people who think it’s funny to terrorize others about their fears. Consider the feelings of those people first. No one LIKES being afraid of anything but it happens. Don’t make it worse for them. Please.

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