By Mako Muzenda

I woke up to my screams, my legs frantically kicking off my blankets as I rolled off my bed and hit the floor. Hugging my legs to my chest I squint with tear-filled eyes, trying to penetrate the darkness and see if what I had seen was real. My vision, already poor, struggles to distinguish anything, and crawling on the hard carpet, I make my way to the light switch. The bulb comes on and I take a deep breath before looking at the wall again. Nothing. My mind had been playing tricks on me. There were no spiders covering my wall. No eight-legged monsters coming for me. Although I saw that I’d been wrong, the damage had already been done. I stayed on the floor for another hour, rocking back and forth as I try to calm my breathing.

I’m arachnophobic, have been for as long as I can remember. Most people assume that it’s a simple fear of spiders. I mean, who isn’t afraid of spiders? They’re creepy, some times poisonous, little monsters and they’re not universally loved. However, phobias go beyond rational or understandable fears. Classically defined as “an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something”, phobias go beyond what can be explained or rationalised. There’s no trauma or incident that triggered my phobia for spiders. I’ve always been terrified of them, since I was a child I’ve been terrified of them. Although it has gotten better somewhat, the arachnophobia is still there. I can’t sleep in the same room as a spider. If an image of one pops up on my social media, I have to control myself and not scream or panic. The worst memory I have is when one day, a spider ran over my foot. I screamed and cried, descending into a panic attack that resulted in me blacking out.

What’s important to realise is that, phobias are a real and scary thing. The fact that they’re an illogical fear makes them so frustrating: you know you’re being irrational, but you can’t help it. Furthermore, there are those who would believe that black people, specifically Africans, cannot have phobias, and those who suffer from them are simply being scaredy cats or cowards. I assure you, they are not. Phobias are not limited to a particular race, nationality or gender: anyone can have a phobia. While some phobias may seem outlandish (Pogophobia, the fear of beards, comes to mind), it’s important not to treat someone’s phobia as a joke or source of entertainment. I’m fortunate enough to not have had anyone tease or bully me about spiders, but many other people have had to endure bullying and teasing for their phobias. They’re labelled as overly-sensitive, and their discomfort and reaction to being intentionally exposed to their phobia is NOT something that should ever be funny.

Ultimately, it’s important not to underestimate your phobia. I’ve learnt that I’ll never really understand why spiders incite that level of fear and anxiety in me, but I’ve also learnt that it’s okay for me to not understand. Living with a phobia often means descending into a spiral of fear and uncontrollable panic, and not understanding why your mind and body are reacting in such a way.

I take a few deep breaths and, with shaky legs, I slink back into my bed, checking the wall one last time. Even though I know there’s nothing there, I pull my bed away from the wall and sleep on the far side of the bed. My nerves are still shaken, and my limbs still feel like jelly. With one final glance at the wall behind me, I close my eyes and hope the spiders don’t follow me into my dreams.