To most people, snakes are extremely frightening. They’re slimy, they’re gross, and worst of all, they can bite! They fall in the same category as spiders, according to many people. However, there is a community of people who have a deep love for snakes; myself included. In my journey as a first-time snake owner I’ve been able to successfully chip away my negative self-image piece by piece.
I had been feeling patronized and rejected by the world around me. Because of this, I learned to be a loner and found only a few people with whom I could genuinely relate. I found myself afraid to speak my opinion for fear of what my classmates might say. This led to a lot of self-doubt and self-hate. I began to worry that I should change myself to conform with my peers, so that I could fit and escape the position I was in. It reached the point that I began to lose all sense of who I was, and I was lying to impress the people around me and gain their favor. And then I became interested in snakes.
The more and more I learned more about snakes, the more fond I became of them. Snakes are extremely misunderstood. While they may appear frightening, most are not inherently dangerous unless provoked. Snakes may be predators by nature, but they are also prey to a wide variety of different animals. Birds of prey, mammals and sometimes other snakes can all pose a threat. In the wild, a snake would sooner hide from a human than chase it or attempt to hunt it. Humans are a much larger creature, and to a snake, humans are a potential threat. But humans often target snakes. As an animal lover, it was hard for me to witness these kinds of acts and not sympathize with these creatures.
I purchased my first snake when I was 16 years old. She was a female ball python hatchling that I named Charlie. I raised the money on my own to pay for her and take care of her, so I was really proud of myself.
Learning how to take care of her became a pivotal point for me. When Charlie first came home, she would not come out of her defensive ball when I held her. It was disheartening, but I knew that I had to be patient. After a month and a half, she began to refuse her meals. I wasn’t sure how to help her or make her eat. After lots of work and research, as well as adjusting the humidity and temperature in her enclosure, she began to accept meals again. I remember that I felt so happy that I dragged my younger sister out of bed just so that she could watch with me.
When Charlie and I had been together for six months, she finally began to trust me. She began to move up my arms and explore my shoulders and my shirt. She trusted me enough to take her outside. I got to watch her as she slithered through the grass and then ducked beneath my leg for shelter when she was frightened by a beetle or a gust of wind. I could see all of my hard work finally beginning to pay off, and it was so rewarding.
I had always heard that hobbies were meant to help people who struggled with similar issues but I’d never actually seen it work before now. It was eye-opening. I spent my nights after school and work cleaning Charlie’s cage, making boxes for her to hide in and holding her, allowing her to move between my fingers and my hands. Keeping her healthy and making sure that I was doing everything right took up so much of my free time that I didn’t have a spare thought to give about my body image.
For the first time ever, I could see the world in a brand new light. I had found my own coping mechanism in this new pet, and it was life-altering. I had to learn patience and perseverance, not only with myself but with her. I learned how to be gentle, how to think carefully about my words and about my actions before I committed to them. And lastly, I learned how to empathize and put myself in another person’s (or an animal’s) shoes — to see a situation as they did and understand them.
I worried a lot less about what my classmates would say to me at school. I began to think less about what my peers thought of what I was wearing or who I was talking to. I looked at myself in the mirror and I was able to see myself as a pretty girl without fussing over my eye bags or my hips. My problems had not vanished completely, of course, but my overall mental health saw an extreme improvement.
There are millions of coping mechanisms out there and different things work for different people. Never be afraid to try something that might seem extremely out of the ordinary. It might change your perspective on life forever.