By: Terri Coffman


Catchy title, huh? However, it’s not exactly accu­rate. To be more precise, at least as far as I'm concerned, terror is ANY spider. Size is not relative. The clinical term for my fear is arachnophobia — the fear of spiders — and mine was born one rainy night in the middle of a Central American rainforest when I was eleven years old. It has had a profound effect on my life ever since.


Living in the jungle in Belize, in a thatched roof house with open doors and windows, one became accustomed to all kinds of unwelcome visitors. But the most unwelcome of all was a big, black, hairy tarantula that stretched close to ten inches from leg to leg and stood almost four inches high. Unfortu­nately for him as well as for me, he fell from the wall into my bed, covering the entire indentation on the pillow where my face would have been. In the split seconds that followed my ear-splitting screams, the monstrous thing was killed by my broom-wielding dad. And, as Fate would have it, the spider ended up in my bed a second time, this time squashed and mangled, and definitely dead.


I remember just standing there, numb, watching my dad toss the mangled mess out the window. Then, somewhere from a hazy distance, I heard my mom say the bedding was changed and it was alright to go back to bed, but I was paralyzed. I couldn't move. I was literally frozen with fear! Only one thought kept flashing through my mind: what if that spider had fallen on my face while I was sleeping?  What if.....? What if.....? What if.....?


Logically, I knew the poor thing was just as frightened as I was. It wasn't lying in wait to attack me; it was simply trying get out of the rain, and if I had not knocked it off the wall getting into bed, the tarantula would have, in all probabili­ty, gone up into the leaves of the roof to find food, and we would have never known it was up there. To this day, rationally, I know spiders, in general, are beneficial to man, but the mere mention of the word sends chills through me.


I love watching wildlife documenta­ries, but when there's a feature on spiders, I turn them off. I watched “Charlotte's Web”. My daughter was on one side of me and a can of Raid was on the other. I even eventually braved half of “Arachnophobia”, after it had been circulated for the umpteenth time to every television station on the planet. I was so proud of myself! I kept shooting my husband and my daughter (one sitting on each side of me) “Aren’t you proud of me, too?” looks — until the family cat brushed against my bare leg during one exceptionally tense moment in the movie. (We had to clean the couch the next day. I’m so ashamed!)


I can no more stop myself from reacting when I see a spider than I can lasso the moon. This is an effect of a single event that happened decades ago.


Yes, it is irrational! But that's what a phobia is: an irrational fear or dread. Logic seems to get lost in the abyss of the subconscious. Irrational though they may be, many people have them. Phobias come in many forms, ranging from the fairly common, like the fear of height, fear of water, fear of snakes, fear of being in small spaces, to the really far out, like trichophobia  the fear of hair; or erythrophobia — a fear of the color red.


 Knowing that I am not alone with my phobia, and that it is one of the more common ones, does make it somewhat less embarrass­ing and a little easier to deal with -- until the next time I encounter an eight-legged terror, and my daughter has to rescue me from it!