Yesterday I did one of the scariest things I've ever done in my life. You see, Autumn for me, brings with it something I'm not at all fond of, in fact hate would not be too strong a word! September for me equals spiders and lots of them. I sit in the lounge at night, one eye on my laptop and the other glued to all corners of the floor, waiting for the next little beast to hurtle in my direction, seeing laptop closed rapidly and me moving with a pace that Usain Bolt would be proud of!
However, after 35 years of living this way I decided enough was enough and booked myself a place on an 'Arachnophobia Workshop' at Dudley Zoo. At the time this seemed a very good idea but when push came to shove yesterday morning, I knew the time had come to face my fears and began to wonder what the hell I was thinking!
The workshop started at 10.30 and was held in the Discovery Centre at Dudley Zoo and Castle in the Midlands. There were around 20 of us altogether and I'm sure we were all thinking the same thing when we arrived....."no-one can be as scared as I am", but how wrong we were. The first half of the session started with David Riley, our presenter, asking us to come forwards to write about our fears on a flip chart. It was soon clear to see that I was not alone and that many of the fears people were feeling were the same as mine.
David Riley was an excellent, very knowledgeable presenter, he talked us through our fears, gave us information and was very careful to put us at ease and not introduce too much too soon. In fact we weren't even allowed to use the 'S' word until some way through the course!
Part two of the course after our mid morning break saw us breaking down some boundaries. We started gradually by viewing just 2 slides showing spiders and then we moved onto a detailed diagram. All the time we were kept calm by reciting a mantra and using breathing exercises. This all may sound very silly to anyone out there reading this who doesn't have this phobia, but believe me just to hold that diagram in my own hand was a challenge!
The final part of our workshop saw us breaking down even more barriers with the help of the 'real thing' so to speak. Now, normally at this point I would have been a clear winner in a race for the door, but something was different. Yes, I was scared, shaking even but something about the fact that I was in a room with 19 other people who felt exactly the same way, made it seem a little more bearable. David, after warning us, presented two exo-skeletons (or tarantula shells for those not in the know!) and invited us to come to the table to touch, hold and examine them if we felt comfortable to do so. Slowly and with a little gentle encouragement we all moved forward and gingerly complied. Some were slower than others to take part, me being one of those but gradually everyone had shared the experience.
The grand finale saw us being introduced to 'Raptor' the Mexican Red Kneed Tarantula. I can tell you that it took every ounce of control, breathing and sheer gumption to get me out of my chair and even towards the table. Again, one by one we placed our hands flat on the table and David placed 'Raptor' in them. Now if you'd have asked me the day before I'd have said NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS and if you'd have asked an hour before I'd have said NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS but something about that room, the company and David's continual encouragement and knowledge of these lovely....yes, lovely and fragile creatures made me want to do it. And I did!
Don't get me wrong, I am by no means 100% cured but I certainly look at spiders in a different light now. David said that the workshops are not a miracle cure and it will take time to 'not be afraid' but I certainly feel more able to approach them now and know that they are not interested in anything I have to offer them or in harming me.
For all of you out there who suffer from Arachnophobia, this is really something you should try, what have you got to lose? But be prepared, it can be a very emotional experience.