I live with spiders. I’m sure we all live with a million creepy critters, if you count the dust mites, ants, termites, fruit flies and who knows what else inhabiting our homes. But I’m conscious of the spiders’ presence because I’ve chosen to let them stay. In effect, I have three small, dark, and jumpy roommates who share my tiny two room apartment.
The reason why I’ve chosen to let these spiders stay takes a little more explanation. It requires noting that from a young age I’ve had a severe phobia of spiders, to the point where, even after having gotten an exasperated adult to squish the hapless intruder, I couldn’t sleep due to my imagination conjuring feverish hallucinations of the mangled body of the offender crawling back out of whatever garbage can it had been laid to rest.
After years of letting other people take care of whatever spiders I came across at home, I was finally forced to tackle the problem after my human roommate moved out and I realized that running screaming into the next room was a useless response. This led to months of self-imposed exposure therapy, where I’d force myself to get close enough to attack and then either trap and release outside or send it to a watery grave in the closest toilet. In fact, I got so used to this process that, after a while, I managed to forget to make those involuntary shrieks and panicked movements that spiders triggered unconditionally.
Fast forward to the present, and I’ve decided to accept that spiders are an inevitable part of my life; I now see them as an embodiment of all my innate fears. Attacking them with makeshift solutions and casting them as far away as possible is never going to stop them from coming back. At a certain point I needed to accept that they were there, and face them on a regular basis, in order to move forward with my life without them holding me hostage.
We are often told that the only way to remove fear is to face it, and that’s proven true in my experience. I went from being unable to go above the second floor of a building without severe vertigo and anxiety to climbing Mt. Fuji in the dark; I overcame a crippling fear of being alone in public (due to the threat of sexual or physical assault that women are forced to live with on a daily basis) and now regularly travel to foreign countries with no companion other than an airplane-mode smartphone. Just as these fears did not emerge overnight, they did not evaporate the moment I faced them. I regained my personal and mental freedoms with the same slow, painful process that I lost them to begin with. And that’s forced me to realize that there’s no such thing as a conquered fear. They are still there, in my memories and instinctual reactions. Fear is a part of life, and the only real victory is having the strength to live in spite of it.
So I live with spiders. When I see them crawling across my curtain or hanging out on the wall near the light switch, I take a long look and then go on. I keep an eye on their number in case I need an exterminator, but I want to accept this uneasy truce. Only by acknowledging and repeatedly facing these fears can I continue to learn about how strong I am.