Misadventures of a Claustrophobiac
Some of you know that I enjoy playing with words and sometimes make up new ones. If claustrophobia is defined as the fear of confined spaces, doesn't it stand to reason that one who suffers from this condition might be known as a claustrophobiac? Well, I don't know if "claustrophobiac" is a real word or not, but I do know that the fear of being confined in small spaces is very real.
Locked in a dark basement by accident!
I believe that my claustrophobia dates back to an incident that occurred when I was very young. My best friend and I were accidentally locked in the church basement in the dark.
The restrooms were in the basement of the little country church that we attended. One Sunday night after church we had gone downstairs to use the restroom prior to going to the car to go home.
Apparently nobody knew that we were down there, because the person responsible for locking up the church turned out the lights and locked us in.
We were terrified! My parents, who were waiting for us in the car, heard us screaming and came to rescue us and take us home.
I did not know that I had claustrophobia.
I did not have difficulties with claustrophobia growing up as a result of this situation that I was aware of. In fact, I wasn't consciously aware that I was claustrophobic untill I had my first MRI. When I was asked if I had claustrophobia in preparation for the test, I told them that I wasn't. But I soon found out differently!
I made the mistake of opening my eyes while I was in the tube and had a panic attack that required them to stop the test. Even in "open MRIs", I require medication prior to going into the tube in order to be able to tolerate it.
What about elevators?
Since that time, I have become aware of being uncomfortable and anxious if I am not in the front of an elevator. Having a lot of people crowded around me causes an anxiety attack, so I avoid that situation. If the elevator is nearly empty, I usually wait for the next one rather than taking a chance of being crammed into the back with a lot of other people. Or, if I'm feeling energetic, I take the stairs.
I do not mean to imply that I am a neurotic mess (except in certain situations). I think I sort of instinctively avoid potentially problematic places and am able to prevent stirring up the claustrophobic feelings without really giving it much thought.
Most of the time, it's really not a big deal for me, except...
Oh, those tiny bathroom stalls!
At times I have had a vague fear of getting locked in a bathroom stall, especially if it is a small, confined space such as the ones in airplanes.
Are you familiar with the saying "what you fear will come upon you"? Well....that was the case for me a few days ago.
I was recently in the restroom of a medical facility and got locked in. The deadbolt seemed awfully stiff when I locked the door, and when I attempted to unlock it, the darned thing wouldn't budge! Thankfully, it was a fairly good sized room (for a restroom), and not one of those tight metal stalls. But on the other hand, I was locked in by myself. If it had been a multi-stall restroom, I would have had more panic due to the lack of space, but I wouldn't have been alone.
Then the lights went out.
I was feeling panicky, but managed to keep myself calm by doing deep breathing. I felt around to find the light switch and was able to turn the lights back on. It was a motion sensor type switch, so I stood beside it while trying to get the door open. Luckily, my movements kept the lights from going back off again.
I pounded on the door and yelled for help, not knowing if there was anyone in the hall who would hear me and come to my aid. Finally, someone came and started talking to me.
I told her I was claustrophobic, and she told me that the maintenance department had been called and that and they would get me out soon. Just having a friendly voice on the other side of the door was a huge improvement. I was still trapped, but at least I was not totally alone.
In the meantime, I discovered that the deadbolt lock had screws on the inside of the door, so I asked the lady if she could get me a small Phillips screwdriver that she could slide under the door to me.
When the screwdriver arrived, the manual arts courses that were part of my training as an occupational therapist came in very handy. I was able to take the lock off the door. Everyonel cheered as the lock fell off into my hand. I was was on my way to freedom... or so I thought.
But I was still imprisoned!
The lock was off the door, but that stubborn deadbolt was lodged in its hole in the door frame and would not budge. I was still locked in.
Surprisingly, my sense of humor stayed intact through this whole ordeal once I got the initial panic under control.
Focusing on the work of taking the lock off had helped me to stay calm, and since there were people around, I was beginning to see the humor in the situation. My rescuers and I joked back and forth a little bit while they were working to free me from my imprisonment in the restroom.
Finally, someone found a rubber mallet and gave the door a mighty whack with it. That jarred the stuck deadbolt loose in its hole, and lo, and behold, I was finally free at last!
Wouldn't you know it, this bizarre event had an ironic twist. Just as I was savoring the upcoming moment of my freedom from entrapment in the bathroom and the possibility of my imminent escape, the maintenance man showed up!
I think the whole situation lasted about an hour, but it certainly felt like an eternity.
When I was finally free and had stopped shaking, I was awarded a $25 gift card from Target to appease me or award me for my troubles. I'm not sure which...possibly both?!
However, if I had my "druthers", I would prefer to avoid all of that drama instead. But at least I got a good story out of the ordeal!