How my love of vampires helped me conquer my fear of spiders
The moment when I began to fear spiders
When I was in the third grade, I opened a large textbook at random, and what I saw frightened me so thoroughly that it gave me a phobia for the next two decades.
It was a two-page spread of a tarantula — its eight legs were splayed out across the book’s bound center, and above two hairy fangs were eight small eyes staring right at me.
The third grade version of myself yelled, and to this day — if I see a close-up of a spider, I might still yell.
Make no mistake, I know — cognitively — that spiders have incalculable value.
Without spiders, pretty much every ecosystem in the world would collapse, and on an individual level, one species of spider may have saved my life.
I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Namibia, Africa many years ago — and though the wall spiders in my room never even attempted to bother me, they kept my place free of malarial mosquitoes.
So to be accurate — no, I don’t fear spiders, per se.
What I fear is what I saw that day in third grade.
I fear how spiders look, especially how they look close-up.
And be assured, there will be no close-ups of spiders in this post
There’s a description a few paragraphs previously, but there will be no photos, and definitely no photos spread across two bound pages.
But let’s get back to the question of why —
Why do I — and around 350 million arachnophobes around the globe — fear a spider’s likeness?
I have given a great deal of thought to this question, and I think it has to do with the fact that their appearance is so radically different than that of a human’s.
In fact, compared to humans, perhaps no creature on earth holds a more foreign morphology than a spider.
Imagine you’re in the forest, and you see a wolf
You might be frightened, but the fear is most likely born of self-preservation, and not a phobia.
That wolf has two eyes, soft fur, and an expressive face.
It’s a fellow mammal, and though it could be a threat, it’s not that different from us in the grand scheme of things.
Even if we go beyond mammals — birds, fish, reptiles — they don’t quite repulse us like spiders.
You can look into the eyes — the two eyes — of a fish, or even a snake, and see something.
But there is nothing in the face of a spider that we can hold on to.
Does it even have a face?
And if you consider how it lives — the female lays traps for other insects, and then mates with a male, and then eats the male, and then gives birth to countless spiderlings, and with her last act allows her offspring to eat her.
Eating one’s own mother.
There is nothing quite so foreign to a human than the concept of matriphagy.
And that is what scares me about spiders — they are so radically inhuman, that perhaps everything we take for granted in modern society — from morality to motherly love — might not hold any fundamental truth.
And so, for two decades I lived in fear.
Until one day, I got some help from Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire.
Vampires don’t fear anything — and they certainly don’t fear spiders
There’s a scene in the book where the protagonist Louis first realizes that he’s a vampire, and takes a trip through the swamp.
The swamp is filled with alligators and snakes — and spiders of course — but Louis realizes he no longer needs to fear any of them.
He’s a vampire!
And he had no need to be afraid — if the world’s largest, most ferocious alligator attacks even the weakest vampire — I feel bad for the alligator.
And one night, I — an arachnophobic non-vampire — was stuck in a spider-infested hotel room in Las Vegas.
I had to fall asleep, and I couldn’t afford to get another hotel room — so I decided to channel Anne Rice’s Louis.
I knew I wasn’t immune to swamp-alligators or snakes — but spiders?
Hotel-room spiders? The kind that creep you out but don’t have any human-harming venom?
I cognitively knew I was immune to them.
In fact, compared to the spiders of my hotel room, I was even stronger than Louis — or the vampire Lestat for that matter.
To the spider, I’m more than a vampire — I’m a giant — and with very, very, very few exceptions — none can hurt me, no matter how frightening their faces might be.
And this lesson, dear reader, applies to you as well.
Spiders — or whatever your phobia is — most likely pose no threat to you.
In fact, your worst fear might actually be quite afraid of you.
Fear is good for us — it kept our ancestors from running towards large packs of predators, and it makes us wait until the walk signal is on before we cross the street.
But phobias — aka irrational fears?
We can do without them, and sometimes all it takes to wade through a night of spiders is just to close your eyes and pretend that you’re alone.
To a spider, or whatever your fear is, you may be even stronger than Anne Rice’s vampire Louis.
You might not quite be invincible — but I bet when you finally decide to open your eyes, you’ll see that you’re a bit stronger than you realize.