I want to share this story because people in my life had been trying to convince me to get treatment for my phobia for fifteen years. I wanted to get better, but I just couldn’t imagine how I could possibly be treated for my problem. In fact, I really couldn’t imagine why everyone wasn’t as terrified as I was.
I have been phobic of snakes since I was four years old. Most people will tell me that they don’t like snakes, but just the idea that I could see one would send me into a complete anxiety attack. Many people in my life have had to physically carry me out of an area where I either saw a snake or even just became convinced I MIGHT see one. I only vacationed in places where there are no native snakes. I didn’t spend any time outside from spring to fall. I love being outdoors and hiking and gardening, but most of my adult life I couldn’t do any of that. I used to cry on my way home from work at night because I was convinced that somehow a snake got into my car. I became angry at my husband for watching any kind of nature or animal channel around me because there could possibly be a snake on the show. I refused to go anywhere in the grass and was furious when someone who knew about my fear suggested I should do something outside during “snake weather” because they didn’t think about it the way I did. As a kid, I checked my bed for snakes every night before I would get in it. I had constant nightmares about snakes. I never wanted to tell anyone about my fear unless it was absolutely necessary because I was afraid they would mess with me and even put a fake one near me to scare me. When I started dating my husband, my mother was worried that it wouldn’t work because he was very outdoorsy. And it did cause a huge amount of frustration in our relationship. Everyone close to me knew not to even say the word “snake” if I was around and I had so many rules about how others should deal with the issue around me. If I saw one (which, despite my avoidance methods, I still did with upsetting regularity) it ruined my day, and that of anyone with me. The panic would last hours and I would become unable to function. I was even afraid to have children because a) I didn’t want to pass on this awful condition and b) if I didn’t pass it on, what if my child actually liked them and I had to face the issue. Even in the winter when it’s impossible to see a snake outdoors where I live, I thought about snakes all the time and stressed about when they would emerge from hibernation.
I also had some other anxiety issues and ended up with some pretty difficult postpartum anxiety and ocd after my first child was born, but I rejected suggested medication because I was breastfeeding and wanted to become pregnant with my second as soon as was safely recommended. I wish I had reconsidered, because I do feel that I could have received treatment and fulfilled my parenting wishes at the same time. But the most important thing is that after my second child was born, I still had extremely heightened anxiety and finally went on medication. I am not saying that everyone who has an anxiety disorder needs medication, but I believe that in my case, it was what got me to the place where I could consider CBT and exposure therapy. In the past, any time that such treatment was suggested to me, I reacted with anger and frustration because the idea scared me too much. But I was motivated by the desire to be able to hike, camp, travel, and be normal with my kids in the outdoors, and the daily anti depressant that also treated my anxiety made treatment seem manageable. So I made an appointment at a local mental health facility with a top notch anxiety disorder program and started my treatment. It was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I am so happy to say that I can now garden and hike, and I can show my daughter that the snakes that live where we live are not dangerous (which made no difference to me before). My treatment started off VERY slow and proceeded at a pace that I could handle. Today we went to a children’s museum with a huge snake exhibit, and I was able to go through it like anyone else. In the past, I wouldn’t go near any exhibit that looked like it could potentially house any animals, just in case there might be a snake. I still have to work on certain situations, but the progress I’ve made was unimaginable to me a few years ago. Anyway, I just wanted to share this in hopes it could encourage others like me to get treatment. Because I know seeking treatment is in itself, pretty terrifying. But in my experience, all the hard work improved my quality of life immensely, and I am so relieved that there is a new me!