I’m in the bathtub. It’s Sunday evening and I’m mid-way through my weekly ritual of relaxing in an envelope of bubbles ahead of the new week. I open my eyes and within a millisecond I let out the most blood-curdling shriek of my life. Dangling above my head on the ceiling is a humongous beast: one who I am convinced is on a mission to kill me. I’m not exaggerating the size either, for this is a cardinal spider: the biggest variety of arachnid that exists in the UK.
I scramble out of the bathtub and leap into my bed naked, dripping from head to toe. I lie still with my head under the duvet for two hours until my partner returns home from a night out with his mates. In tears I relay the events and insist he goes into the bathroom and obliterates the demon.
He returns five minutes later assuring me that the spider has gone. Breathing heavily and wobbling from nervousness I push open the bathroom door and there it is, perching on the frame. In looking for the suspect he’d had his back to the door, and missed it completely. Once was terrifying, but being face-to-face with my living nightmare for a second time sends me into a complete frenzied meltdown. Enough is enough. I have to sort this out.
For as long as I can recall arachnophobia, the fear of spiders, was part of me. Many people dislike spiders but my fear was a debilitating condition that controlled my life. At any given point on any given day, I was alert and on spider watch. Every decision I made was based on whether it would result in me being in the presence of a spider to the point entire days of my life were being wasted. If a spider was spotted in a particular room of my home I’d avoid it for a week. My parents were my original saviors, throughout my childhood they’d be on call to get rid of intruders that wondered into my room and currently I had a man to save me; but in reality I knew this wasn’t good enough. I wanted my independence and I craved normality, so I booked in to see a hypnotherapist.
Dealing with fear
Everything I knew about hypnotherapy up to this point was what I had witnessed on television so when I turned up for my first appointment I was surprised that there was no bed to lie down on and no dangling pendulums being swung between my eyes. Instead my hypnotherapist Bhavin Patel asked me to sit down on an ordinary chair and placed me into a trance, just by talking softly. I closed my eyes and fell into a state of deep relaxation where I could hear what he was saying but my eyelids were so heavy that they couldn’t open. Most of the session was spent focusing not on the negativity of my fears but on the aspects of life that I enjoyed and which brought me pleasure; memories and activities that made me smile and filled me with joy.
Fear as Bhavin explained to me isn’t rational: “It’s a response the mind and body experiences to protect you from something. Hypnosis is a way to talk to your sub-conscious and change its thinking, coming up with a solution, so you no longer need to be protected, giving you a way to express the feelings differently.”
It sounds so straightforward and it is. I became flooded with positivity, so much of it, that it drowned out any notions of fear. I left the session feeling euphoric and I couldn’t explain why.
The focus of our second session was on tools I could use if fear tried to creep back into my thoughts. The method Bhavin used on me was called anchoring. Whilst under hypnosis I pressed on different parts of my fingers and thought about things that made me feel happy. The theory is that if faced with a spider I could simply press my finger in the same spot and any fear would be replaced with positive thoughts.
There are different types of hypnotherapy and skilled hypnotherapists may combine different forms or use hypnosis in conjunction with other treatments depending on the needs of their client. Hypnotherapy is commonly used to treat fear, addictions, eating disorders and anxiety by changing a person’s patterns of thought, and changes can happen quickly.
A new beginning
For me just two sessions changed my life and this is common in cases of fear. After the second session, I didn’t feel as euphoric as I had the first time. When you’re under hypnosis you’re effectively half asleep so it doesn’t feel like anything has actually happened, but when I stepped out of that room and went home I was a new person. I was no longer obsessively thinking about spiders and where they may be lurking. I just felt normal.
The biggest challenge was when I started living on my own as there was no longer anyone to rescue me. The first time I carried a spider out of my flat using the traditional glass on top of a piece of card method I tweeted every stage of the experience and encouragement from the online community was a major help, but now I don’t think twice about it: setting a spider free isn’t pleasurable but it’s not an ordeal either.
10 years on from undergoing hypnosis I’m still experiencing the benefits. Today like every morning I applied my make-up in a mirror on my windowsill which has become a spider sanctuary. There’s a family of two who reside there and I’ve even started talking to them.
Spiders were once an enemy but now they’re my friends and I’m already thinking I’ll miss them, when the pair eventually move on.