Written by Jane Bostock


Handling your fear

Jane Bostock had been scared of spiders her whole life, but not wanting to pass that fear onto her son led her to take action. Here’s what happened when she took matters into her own hands.

spider on wristIt’s that time of year that many dread. The summer sun waning, autumn arriving in wet, cold bouts and open season for those eight-legged hell dogs. Or, as I now can call them, spiders.

Basically, now is mating season and, a bit like some politicians, those randy arachnids will put it anywhere. The males leave their webs in search of a mate and in their eroticised delirium end up in our homes running around like a horny Benny hill.

“They are not,” I am told, as I sit in a lecture hall a quarter full, at London Zoo, “after you.”

I am at the Friendly Spider Programme looking for an exit. I have always been afraid of spiders. For as long as I have memory, whenever I see one, no matter the size, my body shuts down. I go cold. It feels like my skin is slithering off my body onto the floor, leaving me standing there, just meat and gristle, my senses zinging on overdrive. Unable to move in terror because of a money spider, while ear-splitting screams inform the nation.

And I was happy with that. I did not want to befriend one; I was content with us mutually avoiding one another. That was until my child arrived on the scene. While he was a baby, he was blissfully unaware that I used his Tonka truck as a spider-eliminating device through September/October. But I realised if I continued in such a manner, my kid would inherit my unhelpful phobia. This, reader, is what spurred me on to do something I absolutely had no interest in doing.

At the Friendly Spider Programme I wait with tea and biscuits outside the lecture hall with other people who looked to be in varying degrees of discomfort about what they were about to put themselves through. We are asked to rate our phobia from one (really, unbelievably terrified) to 10 (meh). I meet a couple of sevens and am utterly mystified as to the reasons for their attendance. A seven is where I aspire to be. I check my back pocket for the letter I wrote the night before, begging myself not to hold a tarantula.

Back in the lecture hall, listening to an expert on spiders explain how wonderful they are, I fixate on a small black dot on the ceiling. It seems to grow legs. I cannot take my eyes off it. It is a nail, but not in my mind. The experts talk rationally and calmly about the benefits of spiders. Without them, we would not be able to see each other for flies, which would be horrible, right? Meanwhile, the dot gets bigger and seems to be waving at me.

The experts joke about knowing that none of us buy bananas. They say tomato tops are a particular issue for arachnophobes. They talk of us juggling spiders. They explain passionately why killing spiders is wrong, which elicits derision and laughter. The dot on the wall follows me around the room. I cannot imagine for the life of me this session helping.

“Some people just dive on in: the seven or eighters mostly. One shouts: “I am spider juggling!” as a house spider the size of their hand scampers up their arm.”

We break, then go into a room and are asked to lie down for the hypnotherapy session. As soon as they say “relax”, my rebellious teenager is awoken. I will not relax. The longer the session goes on the more I tell myself it’s not going to work, rather than thinking of a nice beach somewhere as directed. Relaxing brainwash finishes.

Now this shit is about to get real. We leave the room and enter London Zoo across the road, heading right to the invertebrate collection.

We walk around the displays, which house a number of deadly spiders, black widows, golden orbs, funnel webs. It’s a bit like an out-of-body experience. I am looking at spiders at close quarters but reassuring inch-thick glass makes this feel a bit too easy. But, I am not screaming and clawing at my face.

Then round the corner is a sequence of tables with large plastic containers with their lids off. I don’t look in. Volunteers mill around with smaller Perspex boxes with their lids on containing spiders, like waiters offering the world’s worst canapés. After around 20 minutes, I touch the box.

Jane, meet spider.

Jane, meet spider.

Some people just dive on in: the seven or eighters mostly. One shouts: “I am spider juggling!” as a house spider the size of their hand scampers up their arm. A huge wave of jealousy and frustration comes over me.

I decide I need a break and head for the door. Apparently some people at this stage make a run for it and I seemed to be exhibiting those qualities because a volunteer sprints after me. (“Where are you going?” “The loo.” “Shall I come with you?” they reply.)

Post-toilet stop, I return of my own free will. I lurk in the background watching people overcome their greatest fear.

Eventually, perhaps spurred on by not wanting to be the last to do it, I take my turn at handling a house spider. One crawls over the back of my hand, which is being ‘persuasively’ held by a volunteer. Then, as I become acclimatised to having my enemy on my hand, I let it walk around. I feel a thread of silk wrapping around me. It’s hard to explain. It felt like I was looking down at someone else’s hand. I was full of disbelief and euphoria.

The last half hour is spent with everyone who manages to hold a spider (there is a small percentage of people for whom the programme didn’t work) queuing up for another go. I forget about my anti-tarantula letter.

A few years on, I can deal with most spider situations without a homicide being involved. They still give me a shock when I see them but my skin feels firmly on my body and I can then deal with them humanely. It means I can go near them, catch them and show my son without any fear as we look at how amazing (ghastly) they are.

If you want to make Autumn a whole lot less stressful, I suggest you try it.



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Written by Jane Bostock

A human, like you.