For those of you who have never suffered from a phobia, it may be hard to understand why someone cries or panics when they see something so small; like a spider, bug, snake, or bee. For the person with the phobia, it does not seem so small.
For as long as I can remember I’ve had a severe phobia of snakes. My parents believe this phobia developed because my dad scared me as a little girl and they believe the phobia just resonated with me. When I was only five years old, I was in the woods at a family picnic. I wandered off with my dad on a path and started playing with a bunch of curly twigs, throwing them up and down. My dad was messing with me but screamed SNAKES as I was playing with the twigs and I screamed and ran back to my mom. My parents thought this somehow created the phobia for me. My phobia was so severe that I was not able to see a stuffed animal or rubber snake without feeling numb or having an anxiety attack. Even saying the word or seeing the word would also create a lot of anxiety for me. The fear was not only active upon seeing them but a constant anxiety surrounding the potential of seeing one as well as vivid dreams of the story. My phobia had become so bad over the years that it stopped me from doing things I loved to do like going hiking, swimming, or camping because I was constantly thinking of snakes. Even if I did find some courage to participate in these outdoor adventures, my fear was constantly on my mind.
For the longest time, I let my fear get the best of me and avoided snakes at all cost. As much as I tried to steer clear of them I would see them on TV, pictures on the internet, and even in the streets. Oddly enough, I felt like they were always following me. How weird was it, I thought, that I would turn on the TV at the exact moment one was on there or just so happen to walk by them in a store. Recently, I felt as if I had been seeing them a lot more. When I was on vacation in California, I randomly saw a man walking with one around his neck at a beach. This also happened in New York City. At PetSmart, a man had one out of the case to show a possible buyer. They were appearing everywhere and I just didn’t understand why.
My colleague and friend, Dr. Nick Carruthurs, inspired me to work on the fear. I shared my experiences with him and he believed that all this time I was scared of the story, not the snake. In order to retrain my brain about the story we created a wacky narrative so that I would associate the story with something funny rather than fear. That story I mentioned evolved into…
I was five years old, in the heart of the woods, dressed up like Goofy while my dad was dressed like Mickey Mouse. I was jumping in and throwing around a bunch of sour gummy worms. My dad screamed for me to run away because the gummy worms were high in sugar and I was going to get diabetes. So I got scared of getting diabetes and ran away from the gummy worms. (Comical, considering I’m a nutritionist)
My homework was to repeat this story every night, and visualize it with my eyes closed while doing a tapping sequence on different meridians. Three weeks later I would make a list of four reasons I am grateful for the phobia & four reasons why I am not. Sounds a lot easier than it was. It was easy for me to find the reasons why I was not grateful but I found myself staring at my screen for hours searching for reasons why I was grateful. How could I possibly be grateful for something I was so terrified of? Then a light bulb went on and I realized I needed to think outside of the box.
Why I’m not grateful for the phobia
- Fear– Not able to enjoy hiking, holding myself back from doing certain things
- Anxiety– Constant Anxiety of seeing them
- Vivid Dreams– Vivid dreams of the “story” causing restless sleep
- Embarrassment– Feeling uncomfortable around people with snakeskin shoes, tattoos, or clothing.
Why I’m grateful for the phobia
- Building Courage– Although I was afraid to go hiking and unable to enjoy myself as much, I built courage from going even if I was thinking of them constantly.
- Personal Growth– Allowing room for growth, shifting my mindset and overcoming the challenge
- Strength– having the will to manage and overcome the challenge brought strength. For a long time, I was scared to go to bed at night but overcoming this demonstrated strength.
- Self Esteem & Vulnerability– Realizing it is ok to feel embarrassed when stuck in a situation when you are scared or feeling uncomfortable and to ask for help.
About a week after the grateful and ungrateful method, I walked into my office at work and turned the lights on to see a stuffed animal snake sitting on my table. I jumped but did not react as badly as I would have usually. I was able to walk up to the fake snake, pick it up, and put it back in our office dog’s toy box.
Could this be working?
Aside from my work with Dr. Nick, I found myself in a very interesting situation. I was at a networking event recently and there was a woman at one of the vendor tables with tarot cards. My friend and I were sampling snacks but something drew me to her table. As I was walking over, she flipped a card and it was the snake. What are the odds? When I asked her what it meant she said the following:
“The snake is the guardian of unawakened magic & creative potential. The snake is said to represent our creative life force dormant at the base of our spine in the form of a coiled snake. Regardless of whether this image rings true for you, it’s well worth considering the amount of unawakened or untapped potential within. What would life look like if you woke it up? How can you stir it from slumber? An experienced yoga or meditation teacher can lead the way. Make haste the snake card appears when there is no more time to waste”.
Chills crawled down my spine and I had goosebumps all over my arms. I told her everything about my phobia and the exercises I had recently started to try to overcome the fear. The woman told me how interesting that was and said… “Could you have a fear of snakes or is it truly a fear of achieving your full potential?” I thought back to all the times I saw snakes in the past year. I feel like they had been showing up everywhere and in the oddest places. Could the universe be trying to tell me something? Have snakes been appearing more in my life because I have not achieved my full potential and there is no more time to waste? Was the phobia actually a phobia? Was I afraid of a story my mom and dad told me when I was a little girl that I don’t actually remember living? Or did that experience as a little girl, the fear of snakes, create a phobia of finding my full potential? Maybe it resonated as a fear of snakes because of what it resembles? There are so many unanswered questions.
Life can truly be amazing in the way that it unfolds. Life challenges you and all things happen for a reason. I feel so much lighter like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I can not comfortably say my phobia is gone, however, I am working to recreate the story and understand why this manifested as a phobia for me. I’ve come so far allowing myself to write this blog and share my story because if I wrote this a couple months back my heart would be racing by now and I’d be in tears. Allowing myself to type the word out on the screen as I share my story or hold a stuffed animal may not seem like much improvement, but for me it is. If you are going to learn any lesson from my story, it is that when it comes to a phobia you can either be paralyzed by it or choose to process it. For me, it’s time to challenge myself and my full potential. I will continue to work on my exercises to recreate the story.
Small steps will have big outcomes.
The universe is preparing me for something greater and I’m excited and ready to see my full potential. I will keep telling myself that I am not afraid of snakes & I will overcome this phobia.