So here’s the deal: I’m a wee bit afraid of snakes.

Okay, okay, I’m completely and utterly and psychotically afraid of them. All of them. Even the small ones. Even garter snakes.

ALL OF THEM.

VERY, VERY AFRAID.

I’ve had this problem as long as I can remember, and no, I’ve never been attacked or bitten or even really threatened. And it’s not that I’m afraid of that–no, I’m afraid of the damn things themselves. My brain rarely makes it past “snake!” and on towards “poison! constriction! what fun!”.

I’d figured, for the longest time, that I was afraid of them due to the following memory: When I was about 5, I went to a birthday party at the zoo, and we got taken behind the scenes to see some of the baby animals or animals that weren’t on display. At the time, there was a large boa of some sort there. I remember some adult taking my hand and forcing me to touch it, probably to make me realize it wasn’t slimy or going to hurt me in any way. I remember being absolutely terrified of it.

I mentioned this to my parents, and my mom said that that person? Was her. And I was already terrified even before she made me touch it.

The only possible explanation she or my dad had was that when I was a couple months old, they’d been out hiking in the deserts around Tucson and had seen some fairly rare rattlesnake. Now, my dad’s a reptile person–he works with lizards and has always liked them and snakes. So, naturally, they wanted to get a bit closer to see it. I was in a little backpack thing on my dad’s back, and apparently just started screaming my head off. (Clearly I was smart back then–who’d willingly want to get closer to a rattlesnake??) My parents think that the backpack or a diaper pin or something poked me, and now I associate that pain with seeing the snake. Possibility.

So in general, I’ve avoid snakes like one might avoid the black plaque. Let’s just say that The Crocodile Hunter wasn’t my favorite program on TV, eh?

This fear generally manifested itself irrationally–I actually went to see Anaconda when it came out (brilliant, I know–my earlier brains had deserted me in the face of peer pressure and a lack of any other summer movies worth seeing), and had to get up and walk out of the theater, but not until I’d left fingernail scars on the arms of the two people on either side of me.

When I’d be flipping through TV channels, if I came across a snake, I tended to scream, cry, hyperventilate a bit, throw the remote away and press myself as far back into the sofa as possible. This usually resulted in John coming and turning off the TV with equal parts exasperation (WHY would you throw the remote away? WHY not just change the channel?) and sympathy (It’s okay, it’s gone, stop crying).

It wasn’t fun, but it didn’t really impair my life in anyway.

Then, if you remember, there were snakes galore up in Chico in May when we (Amelia and I) rode the Wildflower Ride. There were two snakes encountered on that trip–one crossing the road while I was driving, and one (dead) on the side of the road. Neither experience went very well, let’s just say.

And my reaction to the dead one that I biked past? Was to swerve out into the road, far away from it. Aside from the general crying/screaming/hyperventilating, swerving out into the road on a bike is not a good idea. I’m just sayin’. If there had been cars, I know that wouldn’t have stopped me. This was too instinctive, too “get far away right damn now”, to control. I just went.

And that was a bit terrifying to realize. A dead snake, or even a live snake that I bike past, hopefully isn’t going to do me too much damage. A car, on the other hand? Will do a lot of damage to a biker.

General safety point number 2: We’re going on vacation next week with Nate and Shelly, James F and Cara, James M and Rae and Aaron. We’re going on a dive vacation, to be specific. And we’re going to a place that has… sea snakes.

So, if my instinctive panic-reaction (prior to any sensible rational reaction about 10-20 seconds later) is to get as far away as possible, there are two options. One: I’ll turn and swim away at torpedo speed. Two: I’ll use my low pressure inflator button to shoot for the surface at rocket launch speed, possible bursting my lungs or giving myself an air embolism or giving myself decompression sickness in doing so.

Like arguing with a car while you’re on a bike, these are all things best avoided. Death is not really preferable to a snake encounter, no matter what the irrational part of my brain says.

So it was decided, in company with John and Amelia, that phobia therapy was in my immediate future. Luckily, Student Health is (not) equipped to deal with this. Bah.

But go I did, for 6 sessions. We mostly talked about snakes, although at my first session the guy wanted to know all about my family and my relationships, my medical history, if I’d had any thoughts of suicide, etc, etc, etc. I appreciate his thoroughness, but really? Snakes, buddy.

Step one was to buy a large toy snake, which John did for me. He was 5 feet long, blue, fluffy, and had purple eyelashes. I named him Jake, as in Jake the Fake Snake. Since then, I’ve decided that Jake may be female (see above, Re: eyelashes) but oh well. Jake wasn’t too bad, although he gave me the willies at first. Then the therapist decided if Jake was sort of okay, we’d move on to step two: watch a video.

Unfortunately, the first one he pulled up on Y*uT*be was of an anaconda (see above, Re: Anaconda the movie) that had crawled into someone’s livestock pen, eaten a member of the livestock (goat? sheep?) and now was too big to crawl back out of the pen BECAUSE IT HAD A FREAKIN’ GOAT OR SHEEP INSIDE IT!!!! Needless to say, this did not go well. I’m not sure what the people in the rooms on either side of us thought, but I think I did prove my point to the therapist that this was irrational and debilitating at times.

So we took a step back to pictures, and eventually to videos, and eventually, on my 6th visit, I made it through 6:30 of a 7 minute video of a guy playing with a 14-foot King Cobra. I kid you not. Google it. The thing is damn scary. The guy says that it’s highly venomous, though not at the top, but given it’s size, it probably packs enough venom to be the single most deadly snake out there. And he’s playing with it. And his dream in life has been to touch one on the head. Which he does.

Umm, I’m so not there. But hey, I watched most of it, right?

Since then, I haven’t had too much exposure, other than attempting to visit the snake that I recently found out lives next door to James and Cara. It wasn’t home (or at least, it’s owner wasn’t), so that may be the plan for this Saturday. There had also been a plan to visit the SF Reptile House, but that was nixed when we did the math of gas prices+time+(theoretically) easily accessible snake next door.

And last night, when the snake came on in the show? (The show about mold–WTF?? I think it was a metaphor for how fast mold can strike, maybe? Still, WTF??) I tensed, I shook a bit, but that was about it. There was no screaming, no crying, no hard breathing, no real panic.

All of this bodes well, but the real test will be when I see one in the ocean. Let’s just say that my fingers are crossed, and I’m feeling sort of maybe okay with this.

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