I discovered two spiders living in my house one week. Whether learned or innate, I have an adequately phobic reaction to anything spidery. There’s typically a scream, which alarms my dogs and any human guests, followed by shuddering and a high-pitched whine. Once I finish hopping around like an idiot, a kind of paralysis sets in. I stand, at an overly safe distance, and stare at the object of my fear while my mind races through possible courses of action.
When I was younger, I might call for someone to do my dirty work. I’m ashamed to say that many died under my former command. I’m 30 years old now, which seems like an appropriate age to not ask your dad if he can stop by your house to squash a spider.
I definitely can’t kill one myself. It feels wrong to take a life that, rationally, I know has not wronged me. Even if I could wrestle my bizarre conscience into submission, I can’t fathom getting close enough to splatter its spidery guts. My heart races just typing it. What if it retaliates? Leaps onto my face? Crawls into my hair, and then in the process of trying to shake it out I accidentally slam my head into a wall and knock myself unconscious and the monster has free reign over my body until I come to?
So I do what I always do: nothing. I live in fear until they disappear. I agonize over their return and whether I should’ve ended their lives for my sanity. Eventually, I forget them.
Here’s the thing: I know I’m not in any real danger from spiders. But my mind and body convince me otherwise. How do you outsmart yourself? Better yet, how do you outsmart your fears?
The time I discovered two spiders living in my house began no differently: a yelp, a shudder, a whine, a paralyzing stand-off while my dogs sat at my feet, wagging their tails with excitement.
The first was the size of a penny. I spotted her on my kitchen ceiling. She had a large brownish body and short legs. She explored the corner above my fridge with great enthusiasm. I was tired and hungry and had work to do.
You see, lately other terrors creep and crawl through my head. They disturb my peace, drain my energy, and cripple my productivity. I had no capacity for this spider. I wanted to skip the whole puppet-master-of-death act and move on with my day. I stared up at her, knowing I couldn’t—wouldn’t—do anything about her presence, and I named her Bridget. How could anyone fear a Bridget?
Later, I stifled my hyperventilation and wished her good night. The next morning, I jumped when I spotted her above the sink. “Bridget,” I laughed, “I see you’ve made a move.”
That afternoon, I stalked down into my basement to do laundry and had my first meeting with Monica. I’ll admit it wasn’t my finest moment. I screamed and dropped the basket on my bare toe. In my defense, she was quite sinister-looking: much larger than Bridget, black as sin with legs so long the knees sat taller than her body.
“Hello,” I said shakily. “I shall call you Monica.” I gathered my clothes and went about my business, peering over my shoulder to make sure she hadn’t strayed from her place on the wall. “I’m sorry I screamed like that,” I muttered, rushing for the stairs.
Monica stayed put all evening. Super respectful, in my opinion. “Do you ever feel like all you do is laundry?” I asked her when switching out my third load.
This went on for a day or two. Me, politely cohabitating with two spiders. And while they still startled me, and while I still kept my distance, my fear-based reactions were softened.
I decided to apply the Bridget-and-Monica method to my other aforementioned terrors—name each one, no matter how ridiculous—instead of skittering around their residency inside my brain:
I fear I will die alone.
I fear I will find love, lose it, and die alone.
I fear I already found love, lost it, and will die alone.
I fear the deaths of my family and friends.
I fear the deaths of my dogs.
I fear no one truly likes me except my dogs.
I fear there is very little reason to like me at all.
I fear I am uninteresting, unsuccessful, and incapable of becoming so.
I fear I am ugly.
I fear everything I write is garbage.
I fear everything I do, or don’t do, is garbage.
I fear that literal garbage is taking over the Earth.
I fear my fears are entirely insignificant compared to the very real, very concrete fears of other people.
I fear I am self-absorbed.
I chose names at random: Bill, Harold, Georgie Porgie, etc., but that became more confusing than helpful. How to get a grip on this ever-evolving slew of maniacal thought without upping my Lexapro? A collective name, the most ridiculous one I could summon—that of a colorful, gumdrop-shaped character from an early 2000’s British television show. I dubbed all of my egotistical phobias Boohbah.
Google it. No one can fear a Boohbah.
It has served me quite nicely thus far. When my anxieties keep me awake at night: “Sleep now, Boohbah.” When my brain interrupts my focus to remind me the polar bears’ homes are melting: “I hear you Boohbah, but give it a rest.” The name lessens their power and creates an opportunity to coexist somewhat peacefully.
After all, whether the danger is real or imagined, we are so much more than the sum of our most ridiculous, and even darkest, terrors—no offense, of course, to Bridget and Monica. With any luck, the rest of my nightmares will take their cue from my spidery friends: no “goodbye,” no “thanks for having me.” Just an absence I wake up to one morning, a space waiting to be filled with something new.
Natalie Mucker lives and writes in Bellevue, Kentucky. She received her Master of Fine Arts from Spalding University’s School of Creative and Professional Writing. She is fond of animals, humans, yoga, art, kindness, all things food, and traveling—not necessarily in that order. Find her on Instagram @natalie_e_m.
* Natalie Mucker is a two-time Musepaper Essay Prize winner!