As anyone who knows me (and anyone within earshot of my flat) would know - I have been terrified of spiders forever (well, for as long as I can remember anyway).
If there was ever a spider anywhere in the house as I grew up, it had to be removed before I went to bed. I became hysterical when a huntsman ran across my lap in the back of a friend's car. My response resulted in a screeching of brakes and an equally hysterical group of teenaged girls throwing themselves from the car as it was still drawing to a stop.
I will always remember the story of a childhood friend whose brother had strapped on his motorcycle helmet, only to feel the leg of a huntsman spider stretch down onto his forehead. The vision of one arachnophobic biker trying to unbuckle his helmet as 3 screaming women ran around him incapable of assisting, has left a lasting impression.
In my twenties, as I planned 4 months of travel in Africa, friends and family asked how I would cope with the spiders. I told them I would just have to deal with it. And so, on the night when hundreds of spiders ran across the ground as darkness fell across the Serengeti, I retreated to the truck. On the night I was meant to sleep in a grass roofed hut in Zaire, and half a dozen spiders and a few scorpions scuttled across the floor within minutes of the lights being dimmed, I slept outside. No safer in reality, but at least there was more space to run away if I had to!
Just last year, when I came across a huntsman in my kitchen one morning at 6am, and I had to get a neighbour to come and remove it with a vacuum cleaner, I finally admitted to myself it was more than a little ridiculous and something had to be done. It was time to meet the phobia head-on and deal with it.
Through some searching of the internet, I found Taronga Zoo in Sydney has a 'Fearless at Taronga' program. It is four and a half hours of education, talk, laughter, reality, hypnosis, relaxation techniques, NLP and confrontation. The team of Tooronga experts were given the responsibility of freeing a group of 12 arachnophobes of their terror of all things eight legged. With each one of us, they had a lifetime of fear to conquer. Without doubt, it was a big ask.
There were promises of handling huntsman spiders and even the possibility of holding a Chilean Rose spider (tarantula). When I enrolled in the course a couple of months ago, I decided holding the Chilean Rose spider would be my main focus on the day and a measure of my success. There were no guarantees, but with a recent 100% success rate of ridding all participants of their fear, it had to be worth the trip to Sydney. It had to be done.
I arrived at Taronga with high expectations and I am happy to say I was not disappointed. This has got to be one of THE most amazing thing I have EVER done. For a life that has so far included seeing gorillas in the jungles of Rwanda, white water rafting in the USA and more recently a year that has included swimming with dolphins and jumping from a plane at 10,000+ feet, that's saying something!
I had a GREAT day. It was all I had hoped for and more. I cannot believe the change across just 4 1/2 hours! As I said earlier, I have been terrified of spiders for as long as I can remember and to be totally freed from the paralysis of fear is incredible. I did all I had hoped. I held the Chilean Rose spider, a real tarantula, in my bare hands. I then caught huntsman spiders and held a couple, letting them run across my hands. Can you believe it? I can barely believe it myself. I now feel more than comfortable with a face to face encounter with a huntsman spider anytime in the future.
If you have shuddered as you read this post, felt a lurch in your stomach, the prickle of cold sweat has appeared on you forehead or you have even felt like vomiting at the thought of touching a spider, this program is for you. IF you are as terrified of spiders as I was, and you have managed to read this far, REALLY REALLY consider taking part in their next course. You would not be disappointed. All the team were fantastic, in particular Warrick (the zoo's spider expert and handler) and Sarah-Jane (hypnotist). The rest of the support team were really supportive too - and their enthusiasm was genuinely contagious.
I can honestly count it as a life changing experience. Really. This is no exaggeration. I actually held a Chilean Rose spider. A real, hairy, hand filling, live tarantula, in my own bare hands. Oh my God. It was amazing. It was the experience of a lifetime. If I can do that - I reckon I can do just about anything.