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Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Claustrophobia

By Johna Ferguson

I wanted to write about my phobia and how it affects me. I went to Google to see what was available on the subject and found they had pages and pages of references, but I was drawn to one of the first, a list by Robert Haining who has an indexed 486 referenced phobias. By referenced I am not sure what he means, but I will accept his list as it is.

I found some really strange ones: the fear of automobiles is listed as motorphobia, the fear of beautiful women is califynephobia, the fear of anything new is neeophobia, the fear of criticism is enissophobia, of ghosts is plasmophobia, of getting wrinkles is rhytiphobia and of taking a bath or shower is ablutophobia.

I also read from the National Institute of Mental Health, that between 8.7 and 18.1 percent of Americans suffer from phobias, but women more often than men.

As I read on I found out how phobias may start, sometimes guided by genetics and the rest by environment. There were pages on how to treat them; the latest psychological treatments available, but I just wanted to know more about mine.

I know when it started. My husband and I had rented a cabin cruiser to go with friends into the northern waters north of Seattle, past Vancouver, B.C. and into Canadian waters. Crossing the straits of Juan de Fuca we met strong winds just south of Vancouver. We were more than half way across so nothing to do but keep going.

My husband told me to go below and latch all the cupboards so things wouldn’t fall out and also to tightly close the hatch in the forward compartment where we slept. I hurried down to that lower level and latched everything tight, and then went into the forward cabin to shut that hatch.

While I was doing that the boat was rolling from side to side, but somehow I managed to shut it, but in doing so, I failed to realize the door to that compartment had slammed shut and locked in the process. That meant I was stuck in that dark enclosed space until the winds died and my husband would hear my call for help.

I became terrified of the dark, the constant rolling of the boat and being locked in such a small place. I screamed, but to no avail for my mate was on the upper deck steering the boat through the terrible storm. Eventually the wind died and he came down to find me.

I was a basket case by then. I could no more sleep in that enclosed cabin than die. Instead I opened out the dining table, which made into a bed, and slept on it. I even occasionally had to walk outside on the rear deck during the night to get a breath of fresh air for I felt my lungs were still constricted.

For the next 12 nights I had to sleep on that table, where at least I could see out the windows and get up to gulp some fresh air as needed.

After that episode, I found I had trouble entering an elevator. I would rather walk up and down the stairs than ride in that enclosed, without-windows space. Then I found I didn’t even want to fly in an airplane for there was no way I could open a window and breathe in fresh air.

If I was taking off a blouse or sweater, my arms often got caught in the process and the panic attack that ensued really was terrifying. I struggled, even tore the seams if I couldn’t get my body and head free. Seemed everything was going downhill and much too fast.

I decided I would just have to cope with it; I’d just take it a step at a time. I finally got so I could ride in an elevator, at first only for a few floors, provided it wasn’t crowded. Then I got to higher floors and now I can finally ride to the top – well, unless it is too crowded.

I vomited on many flights due to my panic attacks, but finally decided I just had to get a handle on it since I traveled so much. Now I insist on an aisle seat and near the front of the plane so I think in an emergency I can get off quickly. The vomiting has stopped but I still worry about the closed-in feeling, so I try to read a good book or watch a movie.

But now I have this new feeling. It involves long underwear that I must wear in China because it is so cold. I find my legs just don’t want to move quickly enough because long johns are so constricting even though they are plenty big and stretchy. It seems to make climbing a hill or stairs really difficult.

I don’t know if it is all in my mind or what, but I do find lots of things are constricting – say, even the quilt on my bed. In the middle of the night I just must thrust my legs out from under it or I think they will suffocate. How legs can do that I don’t know, but it seems real to me at the time.

I always think I have outsmarted my claustrophobia, but somehow I never seem to get away from it. Who knows where it might pop-up next. I know phobias are irrational ways of thinking and I continue to fear certain predictive things but I do not avoid them completely. If I did then my claustrophobia would definitely be a problem for a psychiatrist.

As it is, I just go along and hope that by avoiding unpleasant entities, I can manage life without too many obstacles. But please, don’t put my dead body into a coffin; I just might die a second death.


[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

Johna,
I can relate somewhat to your claustrophobia. I avoid places and situations in which I feel trapped.
In your story you mentioned something about the latest psychological treatments. Have you heard of, or tried, a process called EFT? If not, Google it. You may be pleasantly surprised. Or go to a website
Good luck. I enjoy your stories. You are a good writer.

Chester

Johna - Wow! What a story. You seem to be dealing with this rationally and methodically. Obviously, writing about it helps.

I must apologize in advance for my narrow and literal thought process, and a silly observation. I'm having a problem with how the door of a yacht's forward sleeping compartment can lock only from the outside. Sorry! - Sandy

Good for you for facing and dealing with your fear. I've said for years that fears faced head-on are never as powerful as when you're running from them. You rob them of their powers when you do that.

I heard a story recently on the radio; a man had bought an old hearse. He was in the rear compartment getting something, when the door blew shut - and he discovered he was trapped there - since there were no handles on the inside of the doors. He had to bang on the doors until someone heard him and let him out. I am not claustrophobic, but I see how that could be a problem!

To Sandy: This forward cabin was only for storage, not for sleeping or anything else, so it only locked on the outside.

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