The other day I was with a child who was openly discussing her fear of creepy-crawlies. Toward the end of the conversation she told me there was a word for her condition and proudly said she was arachnophobic. I responded with sympathy and told her I happened to be a hippophobe. I found I needed to go into some detail about my irrational fear because she politely asked why I was scared of hippies.
Thinking she was going to go round giving the impression that I locked myself in the nearest cupboard at the merest whiff of patchouli oil, I explained that being a hippophobe meant I was scared of horses, and, if she thinks that’s weird, I used to have a friend who was terrified of polystyrene. She looked at me as if she had encountered madness personified.
I told her that while she saw My Little Pony cantering merrily in a flowery meadow, I happened to see a beast with the power of around twenty-five bull mastiffs, the speed and unpredictability of a runaway Ferrari, and the kick of several million vodkas. And it’s no coincidence that equine creatures happen to be the transport for the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Unable to explain the polystyrene thing in any way, shape or form and aware I might give her nightmares, I decided to terminate the conversation quickly.
Spiders and creepy-crawlies in general, don’t really bother me. I mean, there’s not a lot of point being scared of something small enough to incarcerate in a wine glass is there? I know they have a lot of legs and aren’t very cute, but the spiders in this country can’t really do you much in the way of damage can they?
Therapists dealing with phobias tend to adopt the ‘Face the fear and do it anyway’ approach. Good practice, I should imagine, with many irrational fears. After all – spiders lurk about in every house and the likelihood of finding one in your bed every now and then is quite high.
I tend to use the avoidance technique, though, for two reasons. One: in order to exist and function, I do not need to become familiar with horses. Two: unless you happen to be a member of the mafia, it is highly unlikely you will ever, ever encounter a horse in your bed.