You'd think that after 3 months in Japan my arachnophobia would be improving. After all, I'm pretty sure that therapists treat arachnophobics by exposing them to spiders, after which their fear gradually subsides. Given that I've got the exposure part down (well, I have seen 3 massive spiders here so far), I figure I should give talking, the other aspect of spider-therapy, a try. That way maybe some day I'll be able to sleep soundly at night.
This morning as I was heading into the library building at school, I spotted massive spider number 3 making it's way in ahead of me. It was not a huntsman as far as I could tell. I mean to say that it didn't walk sideways but forwards. That said, it was bigger than any other breed of Japanese spider is supposed to be so maybe it was a huntsman...It crawled into the librarian's office where they key for the audio-visual room (where I teach) is kept, and hid behind a stack of newspapers. I pointed it out to my JTE, who didn't look too worried.
Later that day...I had to go back into the room 5 more times to take and return the key between classes! Each time I was frantically scanning the walls/floor/ceiling and preparing myself to be lept upon by the hideous beast. At one point I bumped into the innocent librarian, whom I probably shouldn't have told about the spider. (But I had to warn her!) In fact I didn't tell her, I mimed it and she understood fairly well. I even learnt the Japanese word for spider, kumo. So now I know what to yell when one accosts me suddenly.
In any case I spend the rest of the day in turmoil. If there's one there, there could be others around the school! Is there one under my desk? Hidden under the A4 paper in the photocopying room? Lurking in the microwave?..I swear I opened it so cautiously when I was heating up my lunch.
All this living in terror got me thinking..is arachnophobia irrational? After all, I've had people laugh at me for it in the past.
In fact the accusation of irrational fear begins with the assumption that I belive spiders to be dangerous and so I'm afraid of them. Spiders are mostly not dangerous and so I am irrational. Actually, I know that most spiders are pretty harmless. Particularly in Ireland, where no spider is even big enough to hurt a fly..kind of.
Even though I know that spiders can't hurt me, I still admitt to having the fight-or-flight response. I definately have one of these (hence the butchering..and the swearing never to shower again when I saw Japanese spider number 2 in my bathroom). According to Wikipedia, many sufferers are aware that they are not in danger, but their body thinks they are..hence the panic.
The second wiff of irrationality comes from one of my childhood experiences involving spiders. Apparently, phobias are often a kind of post-traumatic stress disorder. When I was 8...I used to freakin' love spiders. I collected them in jars as a pastime. Then one day, as I was releasing a particularly lovely one onto a picnic table, I dropped the jar on top of it! The beautiful roundy ball on it's back got all smushed and I felt SO bad, like SO, SO bad. It was such a tragic climax to my day of spider-hunting. After all, hadn't I been trying to set it free at the time?
The thing is...I wasn't traumatised. I wasn't afraid at any point. If anything I should be afraid of accidentally killing spiders...but man am I not. In fact, if they so much as come inside my apartment I happily butcher them.
Ok, so maybe I am arachnophobic, but maybe it's not my fault...
There are some evolutionary psycologists who claim that arachnophobia may be a natural reaction to the existence of poisonous spiders. Our ancestors who were afraid of them avoided them, and so less of them got spider bites, more of them survived...and here I am today. This theory is kind of discredited though, seeing as people tend to be less afraid of more dangerous insects like wasps. People are disproportionately afraid of spiders..and don't I know it.
...but maybe it's just embedded in popular culture. Look at Miss Muffet! And indeed it turns out that in some countries people eat spiders and they're not afraid of them there.
Most promisingly...studies with crickets have shown that arachnophobia may develop before birth! Makes sense...my birthday is in November, so I was fetal during summer, the most spidery season on the year. I also know that my mother travelled to Greece when she was pregnant with me...maybe she saw a really big spider there, and her terror travelled down the umbilical cord and embedded itself in my unconscious..that could explain it all.