Halloween is approaching, so let’s get into the spirit of the season! Imagine a giant spider – not quite Shelob-sized, but larger than your average webslinger. It casually creeps into your open hand, giving you a cold, multi-eyed stare before continuing up your arm. Its intentions are unclear. Its next move is unknown.
Hands getting a little clammy yet? If so, you and I have something in common: a fear of spiders. It’s not unusual. In fact, arachnophobia is one of the most common phobias a person can have. It’s thought to be more widespread than both ophidiophobia (a fear of snakes) and acrophobia (a fear of heights). Some scientists have theorized that the distress caused by spiders is hard-coded into our DNA by evolution. That theory, given the universality of the condition, has always made sense to me. What didn’t make sense, especially after some research, was the fear itself. So, about seven years ago I decided to try something a little crazy to fight my fear.
I got a pet tarantula!
The decision was impulsive, so the reasoning behind it would not be easy to explain. I think my approach was much like Batman’s – to keep my fear close so it could be channeled into something positive. My tarantula and I didn’t fight crime, but our five years together did plenty to change my world for the better. No, really.
His name was Muffin. This ludicrous handle led to plenty of chuckles from friends and family, and that was my aim. Tell people you got a pet spider and they’ll reel back. Say its name is Muffin and they’ll crack up. Awkward moment diffused.
Muffin and I went through a lot together despite his limited lifespan as a male. I watched him eat, molt, spin silky webbing, kick hairs in defense and grow into a behemoth over the years. Something bizarre happened along the way. My reactions to everything he did slowly changed from revulsion to fascination and from fear to respect. Feeding time became a strange new form of entertainment, and I even learned things about the creature that online research hadn’t taught me. (Spiders have personalities. Who knew?)
Once, I was transporting Muffin’s cage in my car and hit a deep pothole. His cage overturned and I panicked, but not because I thought he would get loose and bite me. I was afraid he was hurt! That’s when I knew my brain had been rewired, leaving me afraid of spiders yet also afraid of losing one.
This cognitive dissonance reached hilarious heights when I finally held the bugger in my hand. Sorry, arachnophobes, but the mini-Shelob scenario I mentioned earlier was not hypothetical. It happened, and I got it all on tape. A lot of my YouTube fans told me this video helped them with their arachnophobia, too.
The sheer terror I felt while handling my beloved pet made me chuckle because it felt so silly. There was really nothing to fear as this fluffy, aging animal bumbled around in my palm. Could he bite me? Sure, but a hamster would be much more likely to do so, and I can’t remember the last time a hamster sent a shiver down my spine. In his short trek across my hand and into his new cage, Muffin took with him most of my fear.
When he died, I was genuinely sad. He searched all over his enclosure for a female, and when he couldn’t find one he lost all interest in food and stopped eating. He died a hopeless romantic. The news was posted to Facebook where my friends and co-workers were quick to tell me they were sorry for my loss. The overwhelming silliness of this made me chuckle all over again.
Do I still have some fear of spiders? Absolutely. But, the decision to get a new pet tarantula was an easy one to make. After all, I still have a lot to learn from these eight-legged devils.