Friends stayed with us over Christmas and as much as I was looking forward to hosting them, their visit was a wakeup call for me.
I wanted to help plan their sightseeing in Ho Chi Minh City and recommend a beach retreat.
It should have been a great opportunity for me to see more of Vietnam, the country I’m calling home for now.
The first step was looking at photos of beautiful Vietnamese coastal cities on the Internet.
Ahhh, so many choices. Then I began looking at hotels and resorts.
I drifted from comparing availability, amenities and costs to checking how close the rooms were to greenery, trying to determine how many geckos I was going to find.
No surprise that one of the hotels had a restaurant called Gecko! These little reptiles are a national treasure, after all. But I just could not bring myself to book.
Luckily my friends came up with their own plan.
During their stay, I realised how much my phobia has kept me from enjoying myself. I am constantly checking the walls every time I leave our apartment. I avoid going out at night altogether.
And I leap ten feet in the air every time I hear a creak or spy a sudden movement. Often I realise I am clutching the baby far too tightly and furtively scanning nearby trees when everyone else is happily engaged in conversation.
How can I join this carefree chat when I could so easily be thrown into a screaming fit at the sight of a gecko?
A series of power cuts early in the new year hammered home the dire state I’ve found myself in, here in Ho Chi Minh City.
We have a generator, thankfully. But it’s positioned on our terrace under a giant gecko ornament.
I am reluctant to go out there, so I try to wait the power cuts out.
But one day, after 30 minutes without electricity, the air was syrupy with humidity and the baby was sweating and cranky.
I gathered my courage and marched onto the terrace like a mighty soldier. But when I uncovered the generator a huge yellowish frog leaped out.
I screamed like a banshee, rushed back inside and locked the door in tears. Have I mentioned my phobia extends to all reptiles and insects?
Our kind helper ended up starting the generator. She looked at me with compassion, but without understanding.
I realised I had become crippled by fear. I decided to seek therapy.
This decision set off an internal debate. I’d been to therapy briefly before to help deal with the stress of studying two masters degrees abroad, far away from my support network of family and friends. In contrast, seeking therapy to overcome a gecko phobia seemed somehow childish.
I felt too embarrassed to walk up to a therapist and confess my fear of geckos, especially when I live in Vietnam.
Also, where I come from people who seek psychotherapy are stigmatised. Ah well, being called a lunatic does not bother me so much.
Gladly reason won the day, and I started looking for therapists in Ho Chi Minh. I didn’t find many of the English-speaking variety, and none who seemed to specialise in phobias.
Also there’s the scheduling issues that all new mums experience.
I opted for online therapy, it’s flexible and there’s no language barrier.
After a brief search, I found an online therapy service that offers different tools for communication (texts, emails, Skype calls, phone calls).
The profiles of the different therapists showed some had expertise in the field of phobias.
The online hub is based in the US with a 12-hour time difference, so I had to approach several therapists until I found a very nice one who was flexible enough to chat in the early mornings and late evenings.
We agreed to put off Skype calls till we feel it was needed.
The therapist suggested reading about systematic desensitisation which will allow me to see geckos in a different way and therefore to react differently to them. According to my therapist, being able to visualise my life differently is the only way I will be able to realise my vision to live a normal-ish life.
Easier said than done I suppose.
Let’s see how it goes.