Lessons from Spiders 1: Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

Lessons from Spiders 1: Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

When I was a kid, my mom was arachnophobic.  She’s not anymore, claiming to be cured by homeopathic remedies.  Critics would dismiss her claims but not me.  I believe in homeopathic medicine (we’re not going to talk about that here) but the real evidence is the woman I knew while growing up is not the woman I know now.

Without realizing it, my Mom taught me to be afraid of spiders.  Teaching fear is undoubtedly intrinsic to a Mother’s role otherwise our first steps could be our last and the hot stove our ultimate demise.  Yet there are other more impractical things we learn to fear when we are blissfully setting up our doll house and Mom shrieks in terror as she enters the room.

Mom’s fear of spiders was so intense that it defied all logic.  The definition of a true phobia, in fact.  If she spotted a spider—size did not matter—she instantly froze.  Then followed a scream so blood curdling it instantly created neural pathways in my brain that were clearly marked “DANGER! SPIDERS EQUAL DANGER!”  Dad would be summoned to kill the spider and when he would try to show her that he had indeed squished it beyond recognition she would cry.  He then would flush it down the toilet and Mom would then avoid going into the room where the spider had been spotted for days.  Even though it was dead.  And she would refuse to go on the toilet in which it had been flushed to its watery grave.

Looking back, I feel bad for her.  It must be terrible to live with a fear so intense.

I also wonder how she held it so long.  We only had one bathroom.

My neural circuits are already wired for fear.  Another blog will discuss what it’s like to live in a brain with Tourette Syndrome—real Tourette Syndrome—not the colloquial version that people claim to have to excuse their excessive swearing.

Yes, I have Tourette Syndrome—diagnosed by a real live team of neurologists and psychiatrists.  Mom has it, as do my siblings and her siblings.  Our family is rife with it and it has come to be so interwoven into our family dynamic that the line can become blurred between what is normal behaviour and what is so obviously, to an onlooker shaking his head in disbelief (usually my husband) Tourette.

So already having my neural circuits wired for fear based on my (not so) stellar genes, spiders became a cause for panic.

I was never a full-blown arachnophobic like Mom.  I could watch a spider outside go about his business of setting up scaffolds and luring in prey.  I could look at pictures of spiders in books.  Mom would drop the book and run for cover.

But a spider in my home:  YIKES!  Red Alert!  All systems prepare for battle!  Break out in a cold sweat, quietly plead for my husband to squish it if at all possible or slam a shoe on it until it is obliterated.  And if it runs in the opposite direction and gets away, obsess about where it might be lurking and if it is going to crawl across my face while I sleep.  Shudder.

Being wired for fear and factoring in creepy things like spiders taught me from a young age that life is full of “Be afraid…be very afraid” moments.  There are fears and there are phobias.  There are first steps and hot stoves and there are accidents and illness.  Most of us fear the big things in life kind of like the kid who can look at a spider in a book but dreads the spider crawling on him.

Tourette Syndrome creates a condition in the brain that is highly susceptible to impressions and stimuli and the slightest change in environment can send us reeling.  Highly sensitive, in my younger years I was much too afraid of illusions.  I was easily startled and highly impressionable.  “What if’s” danced in my mind like spiders.  Happinesses enjoyed too much invited thoughts of doom destroying those happinesses. Any stressful situation or big change in life created brain activity hatching dreadful thoughts (my morbid fears tend more toward the realms of mortal illness than eight-legged critters) like millions of spiders crawling from a nest.

As I’ve aged, always a reader and introspective person, I turned to books about neuroscience and behaviour—the scientific instead of the self-help variety.  That’s not a shot at self-help writers, so please don’t get your pants in a bunch.  You know what I mean.  I learned the science behind the noisy Tourette brain.  I learned why I fear and why I developed checking compulsions to allay those fears.

And I learned how to stop.

But a funny thing happened when my husband and I moved from Ontario to British Columbia.  Although I was armed with knowledge and prepared for the consequences of a major change in my life, ready for Tourette to show its face with a whole new barrage of “what if’s”, something completely different happened.

I encountered spiders.  Real spiders.  Arachnids.  And they got me thinking about metaphors for life.

So I started a blog.  And the blog isn’t just about spiders and it’s not just about fear and it’s certainly not just about Tourette Syndrome.

It’s about life.  It’s about experience and introspection and metaphors in living.  It’s about people like me who take every experience in life and add it to their web of what they already know then try to understand it and derive meaning from it.  It’s for those who don’t take themselves too seriously and who see fear for what it really is and let it make them wiser than before.


Do you have a comment to share?  Maybe you have a phobia or you have Tourette Syndrome.  Maybe you’ve moved across the country or the planet and faced a whole new barrage of “what if’s.”  If so, I’d love to hear from you!  Please click below and tell me what’s on your mind.

And if you like what you’ve read, please share the link.

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2 Replies to “Lessons from Spiders 1: Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid”

    1. Oh Mom, you are so welcome! I know how to get your attention…after all, I did inherit my brain from your side of the family. 😉

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