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This is Mike, and he has a small problem that you might be familiar with. He’s arachnophobic, which means that he’s terribly afraid of spiders. Even the word “spider” gives him the creeps if he says it out loud. However, he learned to live with his phobia after one dangerous episode. This is his story.
Mike had been afraid of spiders all his life. Some people with the same problem explain that some past scary episode with a spider prompted their phobia, typically when a spider bit them. But this is not what happened with Mike. His phobia is purely irrational; it’s stronger than the usual “fear” many people have – it’s more like a psychological condition. When he sees a spider, he doesn’t scream or jump or run away, nothing like that. Mike just freezes and can’t move a muscle, nor scream, nor even breathe. He just watches the horrible creature move, with eyes full of terror and his heart rate at 250. It’s more than ordinary fear, it resembles paralysis or shock. It’s not pleasant at all.
Mike wishes he’d been conditioned to a world full of spiders when he was still a toddler. But maybe his parents were a bit too caring in this case. When he went into a room or sat down somewhere he needed them to check every single surface so that there wasn’t a single spider within a 10-meter vicinity around him. It took time and effort, but his parents were ready to do anything to make him feel comfortable. He sometimes thought that it would have been better if they had told him to just stop being so fearful and get a grip. In this case, maybe the hypothetical spiders he’s now scared of wouldn’t have grown to such gigantic dimensions. Mike can’t blame them, of course – maybe his phobia is innate, who knows. But the thing is, today he still has to check every single inch of a space he’s in. He can’t look at pictures or videos of spiders, even the cutest ones – he comes close to either crying or fainting. All in all, it’s pretty debilitating.
What’s worse is that once at school, he involuntarily revealed his secret when he spotted a spider in the vicinity and…well, you know, he’s already explained. The bad thing is that the school bullies saw what happened, and they thought it was really funny that a guy could have problems like that. Once, one of them found a particularly fat spider and threw it at him. Another time they saw a prank video of a small dog dressed as a spider running at strangers and decided to do the same thing. They found a dachshund, dressed it up as a horrible hairy spider, and released it towards him when he least expected it. Of course, they found it funny, whereas Mike came the closest he probably ever would to a heart attack at the age of 14.
He spoke about it to his dad, who said that instead of fighting the bullies he should fight his phobia. He said that Mike could try that exposure therapy thing, when they make you get accustomed to the source of your fear by gradually increasing your contact with it: first by seeing pictures of a spider, then watching videos, then looking at a real spider, and then finally holding one in your hands. The idea terrified him, and he refused. But very soon Mike realized that maybe he ought to really consider trying it.
At the time, his dad was teaching him to drive. One day, his dad was in the passenger’s seat and Mike was driving at medium speed along a wide, empty road. Everything seemed absolutely safe and nothing could go wrong until…until Mike noticed a huge spider on the wind shield – inside, on his side! He panicked, turned the wheel left, crossing into the opposite lane, and was soon fast approaching a big tree nearby! He doesn’t remember what his dad did, but he managed to stop the car right in front of it. While they were regaining their breath, his dad said in a trembling voice, “Do you still not want to try therapy?” At that moment, he understood that it’s ok when a phobia is someone’s private business, but when you can’t control it, it can be dangerous for others as well. He had to accept his dad’s proposal.
Mike started therapy several weeks ago, and it’s going pretty slow. However, he’s already able to look at pictures of spiders and even watch a couple of videos of the cutest ones, like jumping spiders (it sounds horrible but check them out if you’re not scared – they really are the height of cuteness). It’s hard work and very stressful, but his dad has promised him a treat when he completes the full course. Mike’s always dreamed of going to Australia, but…well, you know. A person who’s afraid of spiders should probably stay away from Australia. But his dad said that when he finishes he will take the family there, and that’s turned to be a pretty strong incentive. Besides, Mike can’t wait to see his bullies’ faces when during their next prank they realize he’s not scared of spiders anymore!
Music by Epidemic Sound: https://www.epidemicsound.com
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