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Confronting an eight-legged fear

“An arachnophobe walks into a spider exhibit” sounds like the beginning of a bad joke but stick with me.

I’ve battled arachnophobia ever since I was a kid. I hate spiders. I hate them. I don’t like all their legs or their quick little movements or how they invade my kitchen, forcing me to take my dinner elsewhere.

And it’s not just the hatred of them; my burning distaste is accompanied by an all-consuming fear that I’ve dealt with ever since I was a wee lass. Even at 25-years-old, the tips of my ears turn red, I want to cry, and I can feel them crawling all over me the second I even see a spider. I also can’t move and refuse to do so until someone removes it from my line of vision. True story: I came home one night at 11:30 p.m. and there was a spider dangling in front of my house’s door. So, I needed to literally stand there and watch it string down on its web and then back up again for five whole minutes before it eventually crawled far enough away. I actually contemplated sleeping outside just to avoid this one spider.

Anyway, that’s how bad my arachnophobia is. It’s senseless and consuming and exhausting. But, apparently, that’s not enough to stop me from seeing an entire exhibit of spiders at the Royal Ontario Museum.

I saw posters for it and advertisements in the theatres (I couldn’t even look at the big screen when a spider crawled across it). As soon as I saw the advertisements I knew I wouldn’t be going. Of course not!

But, my boyfriend suggested that I need to go. It would behoove me to confront my fears and I’d also have a killer article at the end of it. After much deliberation, I told him that I would only go if he accompanied me… mainly so I could squeeze his hand until I crushed it. He agreed.

As soon as I entered there were huge faux spiders to greet patrons. I immediately wanted to go home and hoped to hell they didn’t have live spiders (which they did). He and I kept moving in and there was a wide array of little displays to get lost in. You could learn about their webbing, what they eat, how their blood is blue, and how they hadn’t killed anyone in Canada in 2012. I mean, that wasn’t exactly comforting but kudos to the ROM for trying.

My boyfriend and I went to see the live spiders. There was a centipede, which didn’t freak me out as much, and a few tarantulas hanging around in their cages. Despite my initial fear that they would be sharpening knives and waiting for me, the spiders were really calm and weren’t moving around too much. Their lack of movement allowed a bunch of people to take photos of them, which I wanted to do.

He and I moved a bit closer and I handed the camera to my boyfriend to get some photos. But as I gave him my phone he went, “Wait. Why am I doing your job? You can do it. Go ahead.” I’m pretty sure I had a headache with how much side-eye I gave him. But, I approached the cage and gulped down the belief that this tarantula would gain Herculean strength, smash through the glass, and murder me. I snapped a few photos and quickly walked away.

My boyfriend and I walked around for about an hour exploring all the different live displays and learning facts about spiders. For example, I had no idea that they had blue blood. I also didn’t know how intricate their web designs could be. I also learned facts that re-affirmed my fears, like how some spiders can kill fish because they’re huge and gross and strong.

Towards the end, I started getting tingles on my legs that I kept mindlessly brushing away. Suffice to say, I had had enough. My urge to cry and run away was getting stronger the longer he and I stayed in there. But, eventually, he and I made it to the end, which included a wonderful Spider-Man display. I felt overwhelming relief seeing my favourite web-slinger. My boyfriend and I took photos inside a life-size comic book and I marvelled over first edition comics that were on display.

To be honest, as I walked out I didn’t feel any better. The exhibit stated how over 90% of people feel better once they confront their fears, but I think I fall into the minority. I can’t begin to express how happy I am to be out of there. Though I will admit that even if I still fear spiders as much as I used to, it was a heck of an experience.