Fear and Loathing in North London
I slide into the room, back pressed to the wall. My heart is clattering, my breathing is shallow and my palms are sticky. Dots are dancing in front of my eyes, but my senses are on high alert to the slightest movement. It looks safe…but wait, what’s that in the corner? Did something move? Got to be certain. When I’m convinced the coast is clear, I make it to the bed and collapse, exhausted.
I made it. Until the next time….
Yup, it’s spider season again.
I spend most of September peeking around doorways before entering a room. Since the time I stepped on one of the critters with my bare foot as I was getting into bed [How big was it exactly, you ask? Let’s just say it wasn’t inconvenienced by the full weight of an adult woman] my already irrational fear has reached epic proportions.*
Yes, yes, I know. I should do one of those phobia courses at London Zoo. I write about this kind of stuff for a living, for Chrissakes. But I also know that you end up stroking tarantulas at the end of the course and I will never do that without general anaesthesia [me AND the spider would need to be knocked out].
Don’t think for a minute our eight-legged enemies are my only irrational fear. Oh no. I’m also frightened of fast rides, deep water and confined spaces. I’m not wild about flying. I’d always rather drive than be driven. Oh and I have a bit of a phobia about fish bones and choking. I know I’m not the only one like this. One friend is frightened of lifts and my sister visibly shudders at the very sound of the word ‘frog’.
But creeping around the house like a loon the other evening left me feeling deeply ashamed of my arachnid-based wussery. And then I started wondering whether courage has different faces.
The first time I slipped some of my writing into a big brown envelope and posted it into the big wide world, I felt a rush of adrenaline as though I’d just done a bungee jump [not that I'd know what's that like, but you get the picture]. When the same envelope came back through my letterbox with a standard rejection slip, it really hurt. And again, and again, many times over the last few years. I haven’t developed any kind of a thick skin. It hurts like buggery every single time, so much that I’m sometimes convinced I can’t put myself through this agony again. Maybe I am deluded or mad for trying but each time the punch in the guts comes, I seem to pop back up again, just like one of those Weeble toys from childhood.
So does this take a certain amount of courage? I think perhaps it does.
‘Tread softly because you tread on my dreams,’ said WB Yeats. ‘Weaseling out of things is important to learn. It’s what separates us from the animals…except the weasel’ said Homer Simpson. So if you don’t weasle out of every challenge and you lay your dreams where they may get trodden on, give yourself a big pat on the back right now. You’re just as brave as someone who can stroke a tarantula or bungee jump.
* Please don’t see this as in invitation to share your worst spider stories. I beg you to keep them to yourselves.