Category: Personal

Sabrina and the hunstman

Sabrina and the hunstman

I saw it out of the corner of my eye, all brown legs and twitching. I yelled and backed out of the bathroom. It’s incredible I didn’t wet myself, given what I’d gone to there to do. The spider crawled sideways up the wall, further into the bathroom, away from me.

Another one. Ugh.

I first heard of huntsman spiders because they were the ones used in the movie Arachnophobia. I’ve never watched the entire thing, but I’d watched a couple of scenes while flipping through the channels, looking for something to watch one night. The movie wasn’t for me—I don’t care for spiders.

Arachnophobia screencap

The spider in front of me in the bathroom was the second hunstman I’d seen in my apartment that night. The other was sitting motionless on the ceiling of the main room. This one was much more lively.

I knew species of huntsman live all over the world. They’re large and scary-looking, but essentially harmless. Their bite hurts about as much as a bee sting, but doesn’t do any lasting damage.

You see, I may not want to watch a silly fictional movie about spiders, but I will spend hours reading up on them. Anxiety is the kind of condition where you tend to ruminate on things that upset you. My fear has led me to know a lot about spiders.

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Earlier that day, before I realized I had eight-legged roommates, I told my coworker about one of the spider blogs I follow. Catherine Scott, the blogger, is a PhD student at the University of Toronto Scarborough and she was featuring a different spider every day for #spiderweek. That day was fishing spiders (aka dock spiders).

Shortly after telling my coworker all my new spider facts, a black and yellow spider descended from the tree canopy above us and almost ended up in my hair.

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I was having a bad spider day.

I managed to go to the bathroom while watching the huntsman skitter about on the far wall. Then I got into my mosquito net sanctuary and warily watched the other spider from the corner of my eye.

First huntsman

“I don’t like you,” I said. “Go away.” It ignored me.

It took a long time to relax enough to fall asleep. To keep my mind occupied I read a great thread maintained by Museum Victoria in Australia that calms people worried about huntsman spiders. As I already knew, they’re quite harmless. Some species also like living in houses. A lot.

Eventually I did asleep and managed not to have spider nightmares. When I woke up, the wall huntsman was gone. The bathroom spider was in some sort of sleep state and when I threw shoes at it and it just stepped over a couple of inches. Not wanting to shower with it, I ended up killing it and feeling guilty.

When I came home this evening, the other spider had returned.

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Another thing I’ve learned from living with anxiety, is that being constantly afraid eventually means not being afraid. The fear dulls to a low hum in the pit of my stomach. Sometimes I even manage to feel brave in the end.

I’m not at zero fear yet and I have been checking on it every few minutes to see if it’s moved. My neck is a little sore. But I’m not cowering in my bed or making plans to change apartments.

My coworkers reminded me that huntsmen are harmless and eat the cockroaches. I’ve read they eat mosquitoes, too. So if I’m not delighted with my new roommate, it’s kind of like it pays the rent in a way.

I’m thinking of naming it. Maybe I’ll even come to like it.


Bell, let’s talk about fixing the system

“I wish someone had told me this simple, but confusing truth: Even when everything’s going your way you can still be sad. Or anxious. Or uncomfortably numb. Because you can’t always control your brain or your emotions even when things are perfect.” —Jenny Lawson


“Sabrina, can I talk to you?”

I walked into my office, expecting another thing to be added to my list. Being editor-in-chief of the Fulcrum, a student paper in Ottawa, meant I was doing a lot less reporting than I’d wanted and a lot more of being responsible for other people’s problems.

She launched into a series of apologies for bringing it up. She said she was sorry, but she couldn’t work this way. Why was I being so abrupt and unfriendly?

I looked at her through watery eyes and felt like someone was seeing me for the first time in months. I burst into tears

*          *          *

It’s not the kind of thing you worry about, having a bad day. Everyone has them.

An occasional bad day turned into bad sets of days. Eventually the good days were so rare that I wouldn’t want to go to sleep at night, terrified of losing the normal, good feeling.

And I should have been happy.

Everything was going great. I had a job I loved with great co-workers; our paper hosted a huge student journalism conference and I got to meet Peter Mansbridge, Diana Swain and Anna Holmes; I got paid to write my first freelance pieces; and I had my first press pass so I could report at the House of Commons.

It was all of the things I wanted, but I felt so awful. Not awful about those things, just awful about being alive. I opened my eyes every morning and wished I had never woken up. If this was going to be the rest of my life, I didn’t want it.

*          *          *

“Oh god, I’m so sorry Sabrina, I just say what’s on my mind, and it comes out,” she said it all in a flurry and it took me a few minutes to stop crying enough to respond.

It spilled out. All of the awful feelings, all of the unhappiness and the desperation. The trying more sleep, less sleep, staying home, going out. How none of it made me feel better or less numb.

The night before, in a moment of wanting more than this weak half-life, I had prayed for the first time in a decade. My co-worker felt like an answer to that prayer.

She knew a psychiatrist who operated out of her home and could be paid using OHIP. I could talk to someone, finally, without waiting weeks and months for a referral appointment through the university.

The last therapist I’d seen through the school had told me to start meditating and quit journalism. That experience hadn’t felt entirely helpful, but I was willing to try someone new.

*          *          *

This therapist worked out. Now I take medication and I try hard to go easy on myself. I’ve had to convince myself it’s OK to take breaks and get a good night’s sleep and ask for help.

But I was terribly lucky. Most students get six paid therapy sessions through the university and then they’re on their own. If you don’t see eye-to-eye with your therapist, you might have to wait weeks or months to see someone else.

This isn’t a personnel problem. My first therapist had the best of intentions. The problem is she’s probably seen thousands of people in the past few years and she’s limited by time and money, just like everyone else in the mental health field.

I hope the funds raised by Bell Let’s Talk go toward expanding and fixing a broken system. If I’d had to wait for months to see someone, I’m not sure if I would have believed it was worth it. I don’t know if I’d be writing this blog post. A long life of unhappiness stretching before you is a lot to face.

Eat, eat as fast as you can: lunchtime in Centretown

OConnor and Queen 0915Downtown workers rush to food trucks and coffee shops on their lunch breaks, quickly lighting cigarettes and making personal phone calls on street corners. No one wants to spend their time talking to a reporter.

“That smells really good,” I say to the man sitting next to me. He looks up without smiling, his mouth full of fries, then turns back to his food, filling his mouth—within seconds he chews the last bite.

He’s wearing a neon yellow vest, a hardhat sits next to him on the bench, and he balances a small cardboard box filled with a hot dog, a can of Coca-Cola and French fries. The smell of ketchup and grease comes as much from his meal as from the nearby food truck, The Best Fries in Town.

The corner of Queen Street and O’Connor Avenue is a stopover point at noon on a Thursday. The line-up at the food truck has a short, stocky man in military uniform, a businessman in a dark pressed suit, and construction workers with bright vests. Small groups of government workers from nearby buildings stream past, wearing summer skirts, sandals, short-sleeved dress shirts, polos, and pressed trousers. Their ID tags are tucked into pockets, hung around their necks, or clipped onto belt loops.

The construction worker sitting next to me leaves as soon as he finishes his hot dog, carrying a paper bag of fries and his hardhat up O’Connor toward Parliament Hill. Cranes and scaffolding loom ahead and new copper roofs shine in the sun.

Steady lines of cars and pedestrians create a white noise of voices and engines improbably blending together into a single sound. Aside from an occasional car horn and a pedestrian yelling, “It’s my right of way, asshole,” to a passing truck, the sound is constant.

Another man sits down and sets down a tall Starbucks coffee beside him. He’s bald and tall, wearing a dark grey, well-tailored suit, with a lit cigarette in-hand. I try to talk with him, and he smiles, but angles his knees and torso away from me as he finishes his smoke.

More workers stop, consume and hurry off, unwilling to talk for more than a moment.

At The Best Fries in Town, the staff have even less time to talk than the people on break. Between taking orders, the woman at the window gives me a smile and a nod before turning to lift a fry basket.

As 1 p.m. approaches, the streets start to empty.

“Alright ladies, I’m out of here,” says one woman in a groupitting nearby. They’re each wearing brightly-coloured knee-length skirts—green, orange, yellow—and they’ve been talking about a wedding in Quebec.

“It was more like a commitment ceremony,” the woman in the orange skirt says.

They each get up, not quite letting the conversation go, as they continue talking and walk toward the World Exchange Plaza.