From left to right, Hereditary and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Image sources, Wikipedia Commons
I’ll be first to admit I haven’t actually seen Hereditary or A Quiet Place or any of the other critically-acclaimed horror films of the summer, but I can say with absolute certainty these titles combined could not produce the anxiety and terror in me that half a dozen spiders did last night.It took a trip to a not-amazing Toronto Airbnb for me to realize, but thanks to a tendency toward live-in hetero relationships, I haven’t had to kill a spider on my own for nearly a decade.
I’d rather not think about what this says about me—that I, an independent woman of the 21st century, need a man to kill my spiders. It’s so out of step with my own self-image that I must have let this fact fester in some shadow part of my brain, unexamined for years. And in the span of one evening, faced with the prospect of killing even one spider, it’s amazing how much self-inflicted psychological abuse one mind can create.
I generally don’t like killing things, even small ones, and the thought of something writhing in pain while not-yet-dead sends shivers down my spine. Maybe this makes me sensitive, but I know there is some significant fraction of readers nodding along. It’s the suffering and spider-specific movement that triggers me, and no sense of duty or practicality can convince me to face it.The first one I encountered was a little guy, a daddy longlegs in the corner of a bathroom door. These are the kind that I am more than happy to be roommates with as long as they hold up their end of the bargain by eating less friendly bugs. Ideally they are small, wispy, in a ground floor corner, and very rarely move.It was a second dude (all spiders are dudes to me) who appeared in the corner of a kitchen sink, that really kicked off the second act of my freakout. This was a shorter, stout-looking guy who was trying to make himself small in the curve of the sink. I probably could have just pointed the fawcett at it and drowned it in seconds if I didn’t instinctually think it would immediately get super-strength and jump on my face.
This is the power of an irrational fear fantasy—the more imagination you have, the deeper you can go. Logically I know the absolute very worst thing that could happen might be that I touch a spider or feel a mild “crunch” under my shoe. But by leaning into a panicked thought, there’s no limit to an arachnid’s vengeance.Now we arrive at the first twist in the story—just as I’m psyching myself up to roll up a magazine and whack the sink dude, a second larger daddy longlegs makes its way above the kitchen ceiling onto the light fixture. The appearance of an overhead spider is especially upsetting to me because it’s out of reach, and it may somehow find its way into my hair.This is the jumpscare that makes me abandon the kitchen entirely and call my far-away boyfriend. My one crutch—having someone to commit arachno-murder on my behalf—was gone when I apparently needed it most.By now I am fully living in a self-created spider prison. I am nine magnitudes past regular person spider discomfort into full-blown arachnophobic panic. The amazing thing about self-generated fear is it compounds on itself. Suddenly any loose thread or shadow or hair on the side of my arm is a super-spider that’s making its way for my ears.There is a sadistic part of me that enjoys fanning the flames in this part of my psyche. After reading that one New Yorker article about earthquakes, there were a couple nights where I vividly imagined the bricks of my apartment’s chimney falling on my head. (At the time my boyfriend suggested that I wear my bike helmet to bed.) In both cases I fully knew what was normal or rational, but I chose to let the what-ifs run wild anyway.
I decided to read a book and paint my nails instead of face my fear of spiders. Sleep was not an option—that would give them a chance to crawl into my mouth. So I let the spiders win. And then I truly savoured the relief that came when the sun came up and I could go outside and stop sharing air with six eight-legged monsters.That kind of relief is what horror fans are obviously chasing—the realization that a dumb movie screen doesn’t actually have any effect on your physical wellbeing. When your own neurotic trauma centres can build up a tiny bug into a full-on torture scenario, the relief is actually much bigger.I guess what I’m saying is I’m not skipping Hereditary because I think it’s too scary—I think my own self-made brain hellscape is actually much worse by comparison. I’d like to think it takes guts to knowingly lean into the worst parts of ourselves. Maybe I’m even brave for talking about it openly.Or, you know, maybe I’m just really good at being a total baby.Follow Sarah Berman on Twitter.Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox.