I have a few cousins in beautiful Australia. When we were children, two of these cousins, Jackie and Julie, told me that everything is really upside-down in Australia. This was where they came from, so who was I to argue? This was back in the late 1970’s when they were, themselves, still kids and I was just six years old. This is a photo of us, back in the day; late 1977 – early 1978. The quality of the photo isn’t great, but this is a very old picture; at the date of writing this post, I am not far short of forty-five years of age:
From that moment on, I knew that I would one day visit Australia which, by all accounts, would be a truly bizarre place! As it turned out, when I visited Australia some nineteen years later, the reality of the country was in many ways stranger than the idea that everything was upside-down!
How so? Well, pretty much every animal can kill you and if the animals don’t get you on the land, there are plenty more that will attempt to sting you, bite you or eat you in the rivers and in the sea! Failing even all of that, then watch out for the plants, for many of those can make you ill, poison you or kill you! If all of these things don’t get you, then the harmless Huntsman spider, which is pretty enormous by English standards, will likely cause you to crash your car or have a heart attack just at the sight of it scurrying towards you!
It’s no joke. Seeing one of those reminded me of the film ‘Alien’, in which a spider-like creature would launch itself onto your face and impregnate you with a baby alien that later bursts through your ribs and out of your exploding body, where it goes on to grow quickly and systematically kill everyone around you! Okay, perhaps I was a little phobic.
Images from the film, Alien, were just a manifestation of my fear of spiders but, despite my humour, the Huntsman is pretty huge and more people die as a result of the panic they go into when they meet a Huntsman, than those who die from spider bites out in Australia. After all, a spider has no need or interest in seeking out human prey.
Then you have all manner of strange creatures that bounce and hop and the Aussie postcards even show how clever these strange creatures really are:
I saw many spiders and even a very large Huntsman. There was also the spider that lived underneath the rim of my cousin Jackie’s outdoor dunny (you are allowed to shriek at this point!), but it wasn’t that bad. Well, except for the cockroaches that were the size of small dogs and which fly about and land on your back as you take an evening walk!! I jest, not. Yet, I did become de-sensitised to it all. I was in Australia for seven weeks and I can honestly say that I got used to it.
In my line of work, as a psychotherapist, ‘Exposure Therapy’ is all about getting the phobic person to come into contact with the thing they fear, so that the repeated experience gradually de-sensitises the person and the fear reduces. I amazed myself at how used to all things, that creep and crawl, I became while in Australia. It just became my new normal, so to speak.
Having got used to the dangers that nature might present, I went with my cousin, Julie, to see her Granny Duffy (known also to me as Granny Duffy). Wee Granny, lived beyond one hundred years of age, eventually. She lived in a slightly tired looking street, in Redfern. This was a street full of Victorian architecture, among more modern dwellings. That all seemed great. What problems could we meet en-route?
Well, we had to laugh (which was probably not appropriate) when, on our journey to see Granny Duffy, we happened upon this:
I’m actually rather proud of this photo. After all, it’s not something you see every day. This was in February 1996.
The purpose of this brief post is really to say that, if you have a fear of creatures great or small, regular exposure to them will actually enable you to become de-sensitised and you will find that your phobia diminishes. Australia is a beautiful country and it made for the perfect place to confront many of my irrational fears. I can add sharks and heights to the list of things that I felt so much better about, after my seven weeks in Australia.
I would recommend, if you feel that you need support around resolving a phobia, that you also consider the support of a therapist. If you have overcome a phobia, perhaps you might like to comment below about your experience?
(C) Dean G. Parsons. 2016.