I hate spiders. When I was a girl, spiders were the ultimate in creepy-crawly. I was afraid of bees because they might kill me. But I was afraid of spiders because they were the carriers of death. Somehow, in my fear-laced mind, this made sense. Bees might kill me, but I could die from a fear of spiders.
This fear exploded in the mid-80’s when I watched the Disney film Something Wicked This Way Comes. At one point, the two main characters (both boys around 13) huddled in a bedroom while Mr. Dark’s witch cast a spell of evil and malice that was personified/zoomorphised through tarantulas. Not one. Not two. It looked like hundreds. At one point, as the boys recoiled on a bed, one noticed that the blankets were literally pulsating. The boy leaned forward and flipped over the sheet where tarantulas spilled out, falling over one another as they sought secure footing? A way to eat the boys alive?
I don’t know. I only know that even as I type this my legs have psycho-somatic tingles as though hundreds of tarantulas were walking upon me. I am doing my best not to throw my computer across the room and start checking my bed for the hysterical spiders that are not there but my legs/nerve endings are convinced exist.
So, it wasn’t hard for my brain to decide that all spiders are evil tarantulas sent by Mr. Dark’s witch (that can be killed by a smile, literally). As I grew up, my fear did not minimalize. No, it only became more exacerbated as I left the solid borders of my house and decided that gardening was a wonderful pass-time. Surrounding my gardens are rock borders. Guess what likes to live under rocks? Spiders. Not just any spider. Black widows.
I have created an understanding with the spiders in my gardens. So long as they don’t get huge and overly hairy (like tarantulas), then they are allowed to live. But if they decide that becoming black and shiny is a good thing, then they better beware my hammer. Yes. I carry a hammer into my garden. Because the stones like to sink into the soil thanks to rain and when I roll over the stones, I generally find my sweet shiny-black-ladies.
I’ve forced myself to release my fears, to let them flutter-fall off my fingertips so that my children will grow into their own fears and not inherit mine. This means that my understanding with the garden spiders eventually did include the widows, so long as they stayed on their side of the rock and I could stay on mine.
Note, as I am writing this, the prickles and tingles are intensifying and my chest is starting to tighten thanks to this anxiety. I am remembering my last hyperventilation panic-attack when I picked up a brick that had a huge black widow and her nest in it. That was not fun. It took me over ten minutes to stop pacing and be able to breathe better than a shallow pant.
When I was stung by a yellow jacket and didn’t die and only used Benadryl as my medicine, my fear over bees died. I might eventually re-develop a severe bee sting allergy. But I figured that I give bees their space and respect the unwritten laws of yellow jackets, then I will be fine. But spiders?
Last week, daddy longlegs were everywhere. Every time we stopped, it seemed like daddy longlegs were magnetically attracted to us. And my hiking parnter/tent-mate is a vegetarian with a huge heart for animals. All animals.
I really like my hiking partner. And because of that, I really wanted to respect her feelings towards our eight-legged friends who thought our tent was the perfect escape from the rain. I hate it when people do not respect my emotions, especially those in terms of compassion for others. Therefore, I wanted to show respect to my hiking partner.
So, several times, as we were setting up the tent or taking apart our campsite, I would have to deal with the stubborn daddy longlegs that thought it was quite rude of us to dismantle their living spaces. And to show their frustration, they set up a picket line along the zipper. Because if I was going to do an adequate job of putting away the tent, it was easier to have the “doors” zipped up so I could compress everything more easily.
I had several choices. I could hold up everyone and beg my partner to take care of the tent and look like an idiot who is 43 and afraid of daddy longlegs. I could shriek and squish the spider which would really cause me to lose quite a bit of respect from my hiking partner, my husband, and the other Boy Scouts (some of whom will eventually be my students). Or, I could just relax and remember that, according to Mythbusters, daddy longlegs are–essentially–harmless.
So, several times when I was cleaning up the tent or putting away gear or just tying my shoes, I literally held my fear in both hands. I was surprised at the lack of tactile sensation, meaning I felt nothing. No prickles. No tingling as the spider did a little boogaloo dance across my hands as it attempted to leap off my palm.
Because I was frightening it.
A spider smaller than the letter “a” was trying to build a web in the tent. I stroked my finger against the filament of its webbing so that the spider was hooked to my finger. Gently, I swung the spider outside and zipped up the tent door.
Nothing but calm.
Because, once more, this was what I took from the Appalachian Trail.
In so many ways, I have loosened my grips on the fears that have clung to the edges of my life. I used fear as a way to keep myself from trying things because I was afraid of failing.
I used fear to keep me from experiencing the brilliance of life because I was afraid of pain.
I used fear to enable me to construct distance between myself and others because of fear of rejection, abandonment, betrayal…pick a word. Fill it in. Let this be an emotional mad-libs.
But as I walked through fog that kept me from seeing beyond myself, I lost my sense of fear.
As I stared at a bear clasping a tree, the bear having an even more shocked expression than I was feeling (I’m serious, it looked like a cartoon character with bug-out-eyes), the surprise I felt never leaked into fear. I maintained a distance and just watched this incredibly beautiful animal shimmy down the tree and then nonchalantly stroll into the woods.
I felt no fear when I held a six-inch long ringneck snake. I felt no fear when it vaulted from my hands and into the water. I only loved the luxuriating feeling of life when I gently clasped its body between my finger and thumb.
I am not a fearless woman. I will not allow myself to take on that definition. My daughter is getting ready to attend the middle school a half mile from my high school. And she can walk that half mile after school to meet me in my classroom. But I am afraid. I have those paranoid fears of someone hurting her.
I am afraid of failure still. I want to do a good job. I want to make sure my students will learn.
But so many other fears are gone, much like the prickling in my legs. As I have once more re-introduced myself to my hidden courage, I realize that my fears are just as psycho-somatic as the prickling on that was never truly there. They were mere perceptions of what might happen, of what might be there.
Tomorrow, I will be signing up for my first 5K. My daughter is going to run with me. She doesn’t want to because she is afraid of failure. Together, we will beat that fear of hers. And she will see, too, that the daddy longlegs she’s always been fearing were never dangerous in the first place.