Wednesday 9 September 2015

Task 8: Hold a snake

When I was working as a psychotherapist, people often came to see me because they wanted to deal with phobias and anxieties. 'It may sound illogical' I used to say, 'but avoiding whatever it is that makes you anxious will make you more anxious - the best thing you can do is face your fears'. When compiling my Sixtyat60 list, I decided it was about time I tried facing a few of my own fears, one of which involves snakes. 

My fear of snakes isn't so much about the thought of being bitten, poisoned, constricted or squeezed, but rather a feeling of complete revulsion - I literally shudder from top to toe whenever I see a photo or image of a snake. Apparently this disgust response is quite common and to date it hasn't had a significant effect on my life - after all we're not exactly teeming with snakes in East Sussex - but the principle of confronting a fear is an important one,  and in any case, we're going to Mumbai and Goa in November where snakes can apparently pop up anywhere (just read this article in the Mumbai Mirror - eeekkk!!)

The first challenge in Task 8 was to find a way of getting up close and personal with a snake. As fortune would have it, our vet Kirsty is a reptile specialist, and she was able to put me in contact with a couple called Pat and Mick in Eastbourne who keep a variety of reptiles. I spoke with Mick on the phone, and found out that they own three corn snakes and a boa constrictor called Boris. A visit to their house was duly arranged. No going back now.....

The day of my snake visit dawned earlier this week.  Lisa arrived to clean the house and heard about my latest challenge. She got very enthusiastic about it and said she would double the donation she was planning to give me if I put Boris round my neck. My anxiety levels soared skyward at the image of an 8ft snake wrapped around my neck. The day passed slowly. At 7pm Andrew and I arrived at the House of the Snakes. I didn't want to go inside.  'Just do it' said Andrew (spoken like a true CBT therapist). 

Pat and Mick were lovely - very calm, cheerful and down to earth. They were clearly used to people like me! We went into the sitting room, which is where the three corn snakes are kept in a vivarium. Now at this point I should just explain that my  knowledge of corn snakes is based solely on my experience of a small one called Skittles that our godson James owned in his early adolescence. Like I say, Skittles was a small snake - about 4 feet shorter than the extremely long snake called Arthur that Mick deftly extracted from the vivarium. My anxiety levels hit the ceiling. Arthur was so massive....he looked so slippery and slimy (sorry Arthur, I know that sounds very rude).....and oh my word, he just kept sliding and coiling around and up Mick's arm.... 'Just sit with the anxiety and you'll find it'll gradually settle down' I used to say to my clients. So I just sat with it. And gradually my anxiety did settle and I began to notice Arthur's beady eyes, which were rather sweet and twinkly. 

Then I touched Arthur. He didn't feel at all slimy of course, he just felt cold and smooth, a bit like marble. Then Mick placed part of Arthur's body on my open hands. Oooarrggh.....waves of revulsion.....

Gradually I became more brave. About half an hour or so later - just look at me and Arthur bonding!

And finally here's a video-clip. Pat and I were talking about the effect Alzheimer's has on other members of the family, but as you'll see I was finding it quite difficult to concentrate as Arthur was trying to grab my attention. 

After my session with Arthur, Andrew and I went upstairs to see Mick's collection of gekkos and lizards, and to pay our respects to Boris the boa constrictor, who has been staying with Pat and Mick for 3 weeks since leaving a home where he was apparently unknowingly shut in a bedroom for 9 months without food.  I found myself stroking him quite willingly - poor Boris, what an awful time he's been through.....but we decided it was best not to take him out of his 'viv' so that I could hold him.  Really sorry Lisa - it wasn't to be!  

As I look back at the photos now, I honestly can't believe that I actually managed to hold a snake, let alone one of that size. I'm very grateful to Kirsty our vet for putting me in contact with Pat and Mick - and a huge thank you goes to Pat and Mick for helping me to confront my fears. Pat and Mick belong to an organisation called East Sussex Reptile and Amphibian Society (ESRAS). The website is at and contains lots of interesting information, including photos of all sorts of snakes. I looked at the photos just now and do you know I didn't shudder once - now that's progress!

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