We’ve all heard it many times before – the best way to get over your fears is to face them. Abena Bailey gets up close to a tarantula.
In my case this meant popping along to AmeyZoo in Bovingdon where managers Siouxsie Gillet and Mark Amey offer gift vouchers for people to handle spiders or snakes to cure their phobias.
I’ve been afraid of spiders for as long as I can remember and I’m soon embarking on a trip to Thailand where I’m told the eight-legged creepy crawlies are quite huge, so it was the perfect time for me to face my fear. How? By holding a massive hairy tarantula in my hands, and holding it all together at the same time.
Now I once jumped out of a shower and ran, soaking wet, wrapped in a towel to the next door neighbour because there was a spider on the shower curtain. I was too scared to return to the bathroom for the best part of that day, so you can see the scale of my spidey sensitivity.
As the phobia appointment loomed, memories of the 1990 film Arachnophobia, where giant spiders kill their way through the cast, haunted me.
I wasn’t sure what to expect so I had a chat with Siouxsie, who was scheduled to take me through the session and boasts a 100 per cent success rate.
She told me that it could take a few minutes or a whole day, but I would hold a tarantula in the end.
Reassured – I think – I kept a clear head and tried not to imagine myself throwing the tarantula on the floor before running screaming into the streets of Bovingdon.
Our fears can manifest themselves in the strangest ways and often originate from some small incident in our childhood.
Siouxsie said: “We have a really negative perception of spiders and I think it’s really sad. Childhood phobias and scary movies concentrate on all the negative side of spiders.
“It’s the same with snakes. The typical image is of them open mouthed about to take a bite, or of a spider in attack mode.”
I have no idea where my fear of spiders came from. I told Siouxsie I was nervous about a spider crawling up my arm and attacking my face or burying itself in my hair, or even creeping into my mouth in the middle of the night.
I wasn’t actually scared of one killing me with its bite, it was the way they moved that freaked me out.
Talking about my fear was an important part of the phobia session.
First I sat next to a cabinet full of tarantulas kept in small tanks, and the next step was opening the cabinet and looking at all the spiders inside.
The hairs on the back of neck instantly stood up in protest.
I was going to hold a pinkish Chilean Rose tarantula called Rosie, who Souixsie assured me was the gentlest speciment they had – she had even been on visits to schools in Dacorum to meet the children.
I perched at one end of the shop while Souixsie, at the other end, took Rosie out of her tank and rested her on the counter.
“You will hold this spider,” she told me. “Come a bit closer if you want.”
I had no idea that it would take me the best part of an hour just to approach the desk.
I felt hot, itchy and any sudden movements, such as hair tickling my neck, made me jump out of my skin.
Siouxsie calmly invited me to touch Rosie’s leg.
I put my hand out, got a millimetre away and then panicked and retreated back to the far side of the room.
The patient process of soothing my panic continued, until eventually Rosie and I came into contact. Her leg touched the tip of my little finger.
Was I cured? No, I felt like I was going to be sick.
But next I stroked her abdomen, then Siouxsie told me I was ready for Rosie to crawl over my hand.
Mark stood next to me for reassurance and I linked arms with him tightly.
First Rosie crawled over one finger, then two, then three, and eventually my whole hand.
After that, the prospect of holding Rosie didn’t seem so frightening and I felt silly that I had been such a chicken for two hours.
Then came the big moment. I held Rosie, and then I held her again, and again, spurred on by the achievement of conquering my fear.
When Siouxsie asked me if I was ready to hold a tiny house spider, I thought it would be no problem – I had conquered my feat, and anyway it really was incey wincey.
But when Mark put it on my hand it ran around so quickly I panicked, and for some reason my reaction was to bury my head into Mark’s shoulder and bite him!
I really don’t know what came over me, but being scared of smaller spiders isn’t unusual.Siouxsie said most people were more frightened of house spiders than tarantulas.
And did it work? Well, a few days later I found myself searching through my lock-up for bathroom paint when a huge spider scarpered out from its hiding place into view.
I was startled yes, but not scared. I just got on with what I was doing and let the spider, and the neighbours, do the same.
Find out more about Ameyzoo online at www.ameyzoo.co.uk