So, I’m beginning to think I have adult onset claustrophobia. I don’t like to think about Santa Claus getting stuck while going down the chimney. Scuba diving is to me as oil is to water. And don’t get me started on the dreaded MRI machine. But there are a few other concrete symptoms that make me think I may have developed this tricky anxiety disorder that’s based on irrational fears:
1. Over Christmas I stayed in a Paris apartment that featured an elevator which snugly fit two medium-size roller suitcases — and nothing else. I couldn’t physically make myself get into the thing, even though the alternative was six long flights of stairs. My husband took the lift, I walked. I’ve never loved small spaces, but this was the first time that had ever happened to me.
2. Lately, during acupuncture (which I’ve had done for years), I become completely panicked when Anne, my trusted acupuncturist, closes the door and leaves the room for 20-30 minutes. I refuse to let her put a relaxing, scented eye pillow over my eyes. And I won’t let her turn off the light, even though there’s a candle burning and New Age-y music playing. As soon as she leaves, I start sweating and my heart starts beating fast. I feel like the room is too small, even though it’s not. I feel like I need to get up and immediately leave the space, despite the fact that I can’t, thanks to those needles. When I close my eyes I feel like I’m suffocating, and when I open them I feel like the walls are closing in on me. Lying on my stomach is really bad, but being on my back isn’t much better. During one recent session, I actually yelled out for Anne repeatedly until she came into the room and removed the needles so that I could move around. Embarrassing. Nothing like that had ever happened to me before, either.
3. In December, I got a facial at a fancy spa as a birthday present. Now, I’ve had my fair share of facials in my day, so I knew exactly what to expect. But when the aesthetician pointed the steam machine toward my face, I began to feel like I was drowning. Not cool. Then she put plastic eye guards over my eyes to shield them from the bright light under which she performed extractions for ten minutes. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. It was all I could do to not leap off the table and demand some fresh air and a drink of water, but at that point she was gouging the skin near my eyes with a very sharp implement, so I thought better of it. Again, this was the first time I’d ever experienced that feeling.
According to NYU’s Langone Medical Center, claustrophobia typically presents itself during childhood or the teenage years, and can often disappear during adulthood. (Not with me!) And as if I didn’t need to be any more bummed out, apparently when teens and adults do develop phobias, only 20% of cases can be “cured” without professional help. On the bright side, the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that between 5% and 12% of Americans suffer from some type of phobia, so I guess I can take comfort in the fact that I’m not alone in my anxiety-ridden state — not with all those other irrational souls jammed into my crowded room.
Do I have a history of anxiety disorders? I didn’t think so, but now that you mention it, I have overpaid for several bouts of therapy over the years, and have taken antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds. (My former shrink thought I had a little OCD.)
So what to do now about this disturbing potential claustrophobia development, other than avoid acupuncture, spas, and Paris? I’m consulting a doctor who’s an expert in phobias, so stay tuned for my next post.
In the meantime, share stories about your personal phobias (claustrophobia or otherwise) in the comments section, below. And don’t be scared — you can comment anonymously.