When I first saw Louise talking about this on Twitter, I thought it was a wonderful idea. A scary, terrifyingly wonderful idea. So, of course, I immediately made a joke about sending her a crazy long post about my fear of spiders that would consist of nothing other than pictures of them with me screaming LOOK AT THIS in the captions. I could easily do that, but it wouldn’t be real. I don’t want this to be a joke.
I am afraid of so many things. I’m not really sure where to start or how deep into my fears I want to go or if I’ll even be capable of talking about this in a serious way that doesn’t end in me cracking jokes every other line. Humor is the easiest way to for me to deal with my fears. It makes it easier to pretend they don’t matter. If I can laugh then it must not be that bad, right?
I didn’t actually intend to write about spiders but they are a good example, and they’re also a fear I joke about often. I think most people are at least a little afraid of spiders, and that fear is easily mocked. My fear of them is a bit easier for me to talk about than some of my other fears. I promise I won’t make this 50 pages though.
My fear of spiders is very real. I joke because it helps alleviate some of my fear. Although, as much as it alleviates my fear, it also invalidates it.
It would be a long drawn out death that would include lots of suffering on my part. Or that fear about spiders crawling into your ears and laying eggs? I believe that could happen too. This fear of them has led me to all night vigils. I just can’t bring myself to close my eyes and let down my guard, even if I’ve already killed the spider I saw, because there might be another. I’ll have trouble going to sleep or even relaxing for the next few nights because there might be more.
I have panic attacks when I see spiders. I avoid entire rooms of my apartment for days at a time after I’ve seen a spider in that room. I always look up and around when I enter a room I’ve seen a spider in. I have to check a room for spiders before I can be comfortable in it. I obsessively google trying to figure out what type of spiders I’m seeing, egging on my fear because I cannot stop myself. My fear causes me to leap out of the way when I see them. I’ve injured myself trying to get away from them. My fear has led me to calling my mother at 4 o’clock in the morning crying my eyes out because I hate this fucking spider infested apartment and I don’t feel safe staying here despite the fact that I have already killed the spider that caused this. Want to hear a real joke? As I was writing this, a tiny spider crawled across the screen of my laptop and I threw it. Luckily, my laptop is fine but I’m panicking and guess who’s not getting any sleep tonight.
Afterwards, when the adrenaline ebbs down I feel completely ridiculous because I can’t believe I was acting so silly. I can’t believe I let my fear get so out of control and made such a sobbing fool of myself. My fears feel so illegitimate that afterwards I am ashamed of the way I behaved while I was afraid. I am mortified. I hate myself. I berate myself. Why did I do that/act like that? What is wrong with you; it’s just a spider? Why are you crying!? You need to calm down. Quit acting so stupid.
When I’m around people the only thing I can do is laugh it off because they’re certainly laughing or looking at you like you just grew an arm out of your face. So, I laugh off that mortification. I pretend that everything is okay and save that self-hatred for later when I’m alone. Then I’m even more embarrassed because someone witnessed my mess. And it pisses me off that I’m ashamed of the way I act and the things I’m feeling. It pisses me off that I feel like the only thing I can do is laugh it away. I wish that I didn’t feel this way. I wish I could just have an honest reaction and not be embarrassed by it. I wish that people’s first reaction was to comfort or at least acknowledge that it happened without making me feel worse because of it. The laughing and the weird looks do nothing other than tell a person they should feel bad because of the way they’re reacting. Which is why my first step in creating a world that doesn’t laugh at any kind of mental illness is too stop laughing at myself. I would never laugh at another person; it’s time to stop doing it to myself.
The second step is to spread awareness. I think one of the reasons people are so hurtful, whether intentionally or not, when it comes to things like this is because they just don’t understand how very real these fears are. They don’t understand how much these fears can affect our lives. That’s why I’m so happy Louise started this and so many people have joined in. That’s why I wanted to be a part of this. I want to get to a place where I don’t have to be ashamed of the way I feel or react in the presence of my fear. I want compassion and kindness to be the default response of anyone witnessing someone in the grip of their fears. I want to help shed light on something so many of us are afraid or too embarrassed to talk about with the hope that in doing so we create a world that’s a little kinder. I hope that the next time you see someone seemingly freaking out you remember one of these #TalkFear posts and offer kindness and understanding. And I hope that anyone reading this with fears/phobias will know that it’s okay to be afraid, it’s okay to act on those fears, and that you are not alone.