Isn’t Everyone Scared of Snakes

I recently returned from a trip of a lifetime in South Africa. If you are the kind of person who likes listening to someone talk at nausea about how amazing their last vacation was feel free to reach out separately. I won’t do that here. But I do want to share with you a short story about facing fears and the 3 key lessons I took away from that experience.

One of the adventures I decided to take was a 2 day hike along the Cape Good Hope Trail just outside of Cape Town. A friend had organized the hike, finding a local guide which is a must for this excursion. I had shared with my friend my intense fear of snakes previously. When I did, I got this interesting expression from her that I interpreted as ‘oh poor you’.

Just to give you a clear perspective of the level of my fear – if a snake appears on TV I have to cover my eyes. I know how silly that sounds and I cannot really explain why I fear snakes other than I feel like I have always been scared of them. I wish I could blame it on Indiana Jones and that he somehow transferred his fear to me through the movie screen when I was 10 years old watching Raiders of the Lost Ark. Who knows?

Day 1 of the hike I am waiting in the hotel lobby at 6 am waiting for our guide to pick us up. Nick walks in and I start to ponder when the right time is to share my intense fear and do I even want to know if we will likely run into snakes on this 34 kilometres hike. Brief introductions are made and as we are still waiting for my friend to join us, I decide to give him the bad news.

Me: “I’m terrified of snakes and a little worried about this trip.”

Nick: Expressionless face for about 5 seconds. “Will you faint if you see a snake?”

Me: Thinking oh no there will definitely be snakes if he’s asking this question. “I don’t think so. I’ll probably just jump really big and scream.”

Nick: Thinking. I imagine he is thinking why the hell are you going on this hike then. And I’m almost prepared to say maybe I shouldn’t go but as it is just me and my friend going (our brave husbands are staying behind) I can’t really abandon her. And then he says in the most matter of fact way possible. “Isn’t everyone scared of snakes?”

Me: Big sigh of relief.

Yes. He’s totally right. Most everyone is afraid of snakes. If only a little. Most of us are not going around trying to find them or eager to pick them up. I think we all find it unusual when someone decides to have a snake as a pet. Yes, my fear is a little more intense than the average and certainly irrational as most snakes are more scared of us and will be desperately trying to stay out of our view.

I took a deep breath of courage and reconfirmed to myself this was going to be OK. And largely it was. Day 1 of the hike was hillier but the pathways were fairly open with only a few instances where I felt certain that Nick was pausing to tie his hiking boots because he felt there was a snake around and wanted to give it time to move on. I never confirmed this with him but instead let my imagination wander and my thoughts be absorbed in the fear of seeing the snake. At some point I would catch myself and say, “thinking about seeing a snake is only going to increase my chances of seeing one”. So, I would take another deep breath of courage, look around to take in the beauty and carry on.

Day 2 was flatter terrain and more dense brush. Great. More places for those snakes to hide and pop out on me. But I was exhausted from the lack of sleep as we all attempted to sleep on the open porch of our hut. Attempted for me because all I could think about was a python slithering its way up the ramp of the porch and then swallowing me whole. At some point in the night, I gave up and moved inside the hut like any reasonable (snake fearing) person would do.

On this hike we saw baboons (who tried to steal our lunch), ostrich’s, bontebok, eland, a turtle, several birds and loads of beautiful plants and flowers. Not to mention some of the most breath-taking coast lines. I’ve thrown in a few pictures below that do not begin to do it justice. But we never saw a snake. For that matter I managed to get through the rest of the trip with only seeing one snake as it slithered across the dirt road on our approach to the Sabi Sabi Little Bush Camp.

How much time did I obsess about my fear of snakes on this trip? I’d guesstimate 8-10 hours or equivalent to a working day.

How much sleep was interfered because I was having nightmares of snakes? At least one full night of sleep. I couldn’t let myself fall asleep on our porch deck at the safari as I was sure one would be there to join me at any moment or fall out of the trees into my lap.

My husband thinks I’m irrational and that there are far worse things to fear. I did get a little vindication from him as one night I asked two complete strangers, separately, both locals to South Africa, what animal are they most afraid of and both said snakes immediately. They must have watched Indy just like me.

This has been a bit of a meandering story, almost as bad as you having to listen to my entire trip. But there was a point that we skipped through about mid-way. Supporting others with their fears. Nick’s response was completely non-judge mental. He thought carefully about how he could best support me and created space for connection. We all have fears and for some of us our fears can interfere with fully experiencing life. But when someone takes the time to express empathy and walk beside you, either literally or figuratively, we all can find the courage to face those fears for the sake of more joy.

I’m not less scared of snakes because of this journey. But I do feel braver.

When facing our fears, whether snakes, letting go of trying to please everyone and starting to not only set boundaries but also say “no” more, or maybe taking that next big leap in your career that means a bit of a scary transition into the unknown…I’ve learned three key lessons from this journey that I hope can be useful for your journey.

1 – Share your fears with others. Don’t keep them trapped up inside. Sure, maybe one or two people might not understand what the fuss is but you will find just as many people who will truly be empathetic to your fear and possibly have the same fear. I can be that someone for you.

2 – Find 6-seconds of courage to take one step in facing your fear. My fear never went away but I kept finding moments to just breath in some courage and take a step forward. You might need multiple strategies or hacks to have ready in those moments when your fear might suddenly appear. I used deep breathing along with self-talk that ranged from self-depreciating humour to wouldn’t it be nice to not see a snake all day to stomping as loud as I could to make sure they knew I was coming. You just need enough momentum to keep going – not to eradicate the fear. I can help you build your personal hacks based on not only your unique way of thinking but what I know about how the brain operates in these moments of fear.

3 – Don’t forget to celebrate and enjoy the journey. You better believe I shared my hiking story with as many people as I could. And I found moments throughout the 2 days to just pause and just enjoy the moment, the beauty all around me, the feeling of strength in my body as I hiked and the sweetness of chocolate hob knobs and creamy Rooibos tea when we paused for a break. Just like having strategies to change your way of thinking when the fear voices creep back up we need strategies to remind our self to be fully present and savour the moment. Yeah, I can help with that as well. 😉

Enjoy the photos. And have fun facing your fears. We all have them.

2 thoughts on “Isn’t Everyone Scared of Snakes

  1. Hi Julie. What a great story! Not that you have this fear of snakes, but your story of those two days and rationalizing into words how real your fear is and how you got through it. Thank you for sharing. It’s a lesson to all of us, how a struggle, visual or one that can’t be seen, how we deal with it, sometimes daily and you were able to capture that; metaphorically – for non-visual fears – Capturing it in a way where one may have no words to explain to someone to help them understand. It was brilliant. I am chuckling at your friend there, you two on the ledge overlooking the ocean, looks like she has a death grip on you 🙂 When you shared with your friend, your intense fear of snakes, maybe she was contemplating, ‘What!!!! We are going to see snakes out there!! Snakes are poisonous, how many snakes, should I bring my trekking pole, I don’t know poisonous snakes from non-poisonous, I have no anti-venom, where do we get the anti-venom from’. Either way, what a great adventure, I absolutely loved it.

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