My attention was recently drawn to Matt Holohan's Scary Spider Adventure. I made the foolish mistake of clicking a link to some pictures of nasty Floridian banana spiders in the comments. Eeeeugh. I'm now in full Defcon-1 Spider Alert Mode. I'm pacing about the apartment nervously, inspecting nooks for arachnoid invasion, jumping when I brush my arm against the door out of fear that it might be a spider.

I hate spiders. I can't stand them in any context. Without a diagnosis, I believe I can make a persuasive case that I am a full-on arachnophobe. Many people claim to have a phobia, but are really exaggerating. A phobia is an irrational fear of something. A momentary panic attack when you look over the ledge of a 30 story building isn't a sign of acrophobia; you're expressing a very rational fear of falling from a height that is certain to seal your doom. Having that same panic attack when you stand on a footstool, however, is probably a good indication that you're acrophobic.

I think I'm arachnophobic because I have absolutely no problem with big scary insects. A gross, hairy bug has absolutely no effect on me, and I can inspect one with detached bemusement. But a tiny spider just sets me off. I'll jump, I'll rub myself, I'll be completely unable to relax for hours after I see one. I doubt I'll get any sleep tonight because my mind will create imaginary spiders crawling all over me, or waiting on the ceiling in silence to pounce.

This is another reason why I'm not such a great exemplar of masculinity. Under traditional male gender roles, men are the official killer of bugs, spiders, and other gross things. I'm utterly useless about this. If it's an insect, I take a laissez-faire attitude. "Who cares?" I say, "If you want it dead, kill it yourself. I'll not be your insect executioner. Your insectiocutioner. Heh. That's clever." On the other hand, if we're talking a spider invasion, I have no moral qualms about killing it. In criminal law, there's such a thing as justifiable homicide. One of the justifications, commonly accepted, for homicide is self-defense. Well, it's a well known fact that spiders seek the utter destruction of the human race in general, and me in particular. The very existence of a spider is prima facie evidence of its malicious intent and of the imminent threat that it presents to my life. This belief is entirely reasonable, and I would act on it if I could exert any kind of rational control of my body upon learning that there's a spider about.

But I can't. I was in a shower once and noticed a spider crawling on the curtain. I leaped three feet and climbed up on the corner of the bath to get away from it. After ten minutes there carefully watching it (and craning my neck to look for its sinister cohorts who were no doubt waiting to pounce when I let my guard down) I cautiously made my way to the shower head and turned it on the spider. After knocking it down and pushing it to the drain, I darted from the shower and made my way, speedily yet gingerly and still soaking wet, into the (fortunately unoccupied) living room, where I was safe, if in a somewhat indecent state. I eventually made my way back to the bathroom for a quick hit-and-run operation to grab my towel. After carefull inspection to make sure it was spider free, I dried myself. It took fully half an hour to calm myself down, and I left the bathroom door locked until my roommate came home and took care of the spider, which as it turns out was slightly smaller than the nail on my little finger.

So. Spiders: Can't stand them. I have no problem if the given little arthropod has 6 legs, or 10 legs, or 100 legs, but if it has 8 legs it scares the living fuck out of me. So this means that Hawaii is added to my List of Places I Can Never Go, along with Florida and Iraq.


Add my house to that list. It's old, sat empty for a while, has crawl- and attic-spaces, and is situated smack up against an old and cobwebby wooden fence. I take spiders outside in cups more often than I wash dishes, and while my dishwashing certainly isn't as assiduous as it should be, I mean that to reflect on the spider population rather than my housekeeping.

There's one (spider, not dish) hanging out in an inaccessible corner of the room in which I'm currently typing, and since you mention it, the fact that I'm able to observe this fact and continue coexisting with it does probably mean I'm not arachnophobic. I don't like the creepy little bastards, but they don't inspire irrational terror in me except in irrational circumstances (I consider large, numerous, or otherwise intense spiders to constitute an irrational circumstance all by themselves). Still, Matt's story gives me the heebie-jeebies.

Also, continuing my recent argumentativeness (which is arguably not such a recent development at all), I don't consider myself acrophobic because of panic attacks on 30th-floor ledges. I consider myself acrophobic because there's no goddamned way you'd get me onto a 30th floor ledge in the first place, because at floor 8, even on well-fenced and sturdily-constructed terraces, I become morbidly obsessed with my imminent death and exist in a state of constant anxiety until removed to ground level. Same for other structures according to height and sturdiness -- for instance, a ladder at 20 feet equals a balcony on the 5th floor equals an enclosed room with an outside view on the 9th floor. They'll all panic me equally while none are likely to result in my actual death. So I insist that I do not exaggerate, except in that my fear of heights is in fact a process of exaggerating perceived danger. Phtbt.

I may get blocked as a spammer for so many comments in a row, but this just occurred to me:

When I say I take spiders outside in cups and then mention dishwashing in the next breath, I swear to you, they're not the same cups. I have a dedicated spider vessel which doesn't ever get used for food consumption. That would be gross.

I don't dispute your particular acrophobia; I don't even think I was even hinting at your case in using acrophobia as a counter-example. It just seems as though I hear a lot of people making claims to acrophobia who then describe symptoms entailing a perfectly normal fear of very tall heights. I don't think acrophobia is non-existent, just over-self-diagnosed.

And, to be fair, I also don't know that I'm not being inaccurate in my own self-diagnosed arachnophobia. I'm not sure what the standards for phobiae are; do you need to be so fearful that you absolutely can't function? If so, I probably don't have that; there are spiders everywhere, so logically I shouldn't be able to function at any time, ever, outside airtight sterile rooms. And obviously everybody has their own peculiar fears, so it's not enough to just say "more than the normal fear of X." But I don't know where the line between "unusually scared of X" and "X-Phobic" lies.

In any case, subjectively it seems like your level of irrationality in fear of heights is about equal to my irrationality in fear of spiders, so let's say that if I'm arachnophobic, you're acrophobic, and if I'm not, you're not.

That sounds much better than staging the limited-entry Heights and Spiders Olympics to determine our precise respective levels of phobia.

In any case, I'd meant to be slightly less defensive there, but it didn't work all that well. It's just that the mention of acrophobia and 30th story ledges immediately reminded me of a past blog post about dinner on an 8th-story roof terrace and I became suspicious that you might have been thinking of it as well.

In truth, though, I will admit there's something inconsistent about my fear of heights. It's the subject of a future blog post, possibly the kind of future that happens this afternoon. Don't touch that dial!

...because it might have a spider on it.

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This page contains a single entry by Zach published on April 4, 2006 1:13 AM.

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