She simply got tired of being afraid.
In desperation, Lauren Rodriguez, ’06, turned to her husband, a counselor, and asked him to refer her to a therapist. After numerous therapy sessions, Rodriguez had one final assignment: She must interact with and handle this thing that frightened her most.
As a child, Rodriguez suffered several bites by tarantulas and developed arachnophobia. “I got embarrassed by my reaction anytime anything eight-legged and hairy went running by,” she said. Working with her therapist, slowly she began to be desensitized to them, but as a final step she had to do more than stare at pictures of them. After a fruitless search around Austin, Texas, where she lived, she embarked on a new hobby – one that she still fears. She welcomed tarantulas into her home.
“Some are super-fast and bitey. Some are like a rock that eats,” she said.
After starting with babies of the so-called pet rock species, she realized how dependent upon her they were. “They became very vulnerable and real,” she said.
She studied and learned more about them, how they move through their worlds nearly blind and smelling through the hairs on their legs.
“The way they interact with their world is survival and reproduction,” she said. “That took away their power over me.”
Her collection grew from two to five to 20 and now numbers 86. She keeps data on each one: genus and species, environment, food, temperature requirements. She sees it as homage to Ragupathy Kannan, UAFS professor of biological sciences.
“He worked very hard to recruit me into biology,” she said. At the time, she thought of herself as stronger in musical ability than in science. “Now, I realized I was afraid what it might require of me,” she said. “So this is my thank you.”
As part of the continued learning and her therapy, Rodriguez records videos on tarantula biology and maintenance. She posts them to YouTube under the Morgonious channel.
“I use it as a reference to go back and objectively refer to my interaction, to see if there is anything I can go back and change,” she said.
But, she’s learned much more than tarantulas are fastidiously clean creatures or that they will reorganize their environments to make it how they like it. Through her position at the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services, Rodriguez has incorporated lessons learned from working with the spiders.
“Tarantulas have consistent behaviors, special needs, and have to be taken just as they are,” she said. “When someone comes to our agency, it helps me to remember that the people I work with are people before their disability, to interact with them on their terms and to grant them respect.”
And she’s still working against the fear that now lives with her.
“I acknowledge it, but I’m in charge of my feelings,” she said.