Anxiety Society: Meet Jenny and Her ArachnophobiaMeet Jenny Whalen. She’s a Rutgers graduate who lives in New Jersey with her husband, Patrick, and their cat, Dr. Watson.  She works a day job in a corporate office but keeps busy the rest of the time creating and selling handmade products for pets.

She loves art, music, cooking, and writing.  Jenny enjoys reading and her numerous bookshelves are filled with art books, classic literature, and true crime works about serial killers.  She is outgoing, loves meeting new people, and is always up for an adventure.  Jenny hates close-minded people, disrespect, and Ugg boots.

Oh, and she hates — hates — spiders.

Summer: So, I understand you’re afraid of spiders. Is the word “afraid” an understatement?

Jenny: In most situations, I would definitely say yes.  If I see a spider when I’m not expecting it, my reaction is complete uncontrollable panic.

S: What is it about spiders, exactly, that makes you panic? Is it their legs? Their behavior? Their ability to bite? 

J: It’s definitely their behavior that scares me the most.  It’s a combination of the way they move, and sometimes jump, and their ability to show up in the most unexpected places.  They can hide under or inside things, climb up walls, crawl across ceilings, or just suspend themselves on a web just about anywhere that you’re not expecting them to be.  I can’t think of any other creature that can be practically invisible, then suddenly appear in quite the way spiders do.

S: Was there ever a time in your life when you didn’t have this fear?

J: Yes.  As a small child, I was fascinated by them.  I played with Daddy Long Legs and chased my brother around with them, and when I found a particularly interesting looking spider outside, I would always ask my grandmother to put them in a jar for me.  I distinctly remember a very large black and yellow garden spider that I kept in a jar for several days as a sort of pet until my mother, who is also terrified of them, made me let it go outside.  Thinking about the exact same spider now makes me shudder.

S: When did the switch flip, then? I mean, were you totally okay with spiders one day and then completely fearful the next day? Did some kind of event or experience trigger the fear?

J: I think I was always bound to have at least some aversion to spiders, since my mother is afraid of them, and she sort of raised me to think they were awful creatures.  But there is definitely one event I can recall that I think sealed the deal for me.

S: What happened?

J: I was small enough to need a car seat, while my brother, who is two years older than me, was big enough that he didn’t.  My grandfather put the two of us in the back seat of his car, then ran back into the house to get something, and while he was gone, a gigantic spider came out from under the front seat and crawled up and onto me.  My brother was able to unbuckle himself and get out of the car, but I was too young and couldn’t undo a seatbelt.

I was trapped, alone, with this huge spider crawling all over me until my grandfather came back outside.  I remember thinking that something that big had to be poisonous and was definitely going to kill me, and afterwards, I wouldn’t get back in the car.

S: Tell me about a spider encounter that happened after your fear had fully developed.

J: There have been so many that it’s become a running joke in my circle of friends, since I’m otherwise a pretty fearless person.  I’ve screamed or run wildly away during some very inappropriate or unexpected moments – I’ve jumped onto my desk while working in a quiet call center, pulled my car over in the middle of a construction zone and just run away and left my confused friend in the car, and I’ve disrupted plenty of otherwise calm moments.

S: What’s the most memorable encounter?

The most memorable of them would have to be my high school graduation, when a tiny spider crawled up my gown and I jumped up and let out a little scream in the middle of the Valedictorian’s speech.

S: Does your fear ever keep you from doing things or going places? For example, are you afraid to go where spiders might congregate — in your basement, your backyard, storage spaces, etc?

J: During the winter, when I know the spiders are all dead, I’ll go into the basement and garage, but I refuse to do it when it’s warm.  I regularly check the ceiling and corners of rooms, especially my bedroom when I’m about to go to sleep.  Every single time I take a shower, I check for spiders before I get in because there is no worse time to come across something you’re afraid of than when you’re soaking wet and stark naked.  Also, since I’ve lived in New Jersey and found out that two different people I know here have been bitten by Brown Recluse Spiders, I check my shoes every morning because they’re known to hide inside shoes.

S: In shoes? That makes me cringe. Yuck. So, I just went camping the other weekend and I can’t even tell you how many spiders I saw while I was in the woods. Do you ever go camping?

J: Surprisingly, I do go camping.  I just do a lot of looking around for spiders when I do.

Check back later this week to find out why Jenny has never tried to treat her fear in therapy.

Creative Commons License photo credit: NET9