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No spelunking for me!

I have never been particularly fearful of flying, and as a matter of fact, have always been thrilled whenever I’ve had the opportunity to get on an airplane. Granted, the events and resulting security issues that have evolved over the past number of years have certainly added a new dimension of anxiety to the process of air travel; however, flying in and of itself has never been a real concern to me.

Something most definitely DOES bother me about flying, however – in fact, this particular something terrifies me about flying – and to me, it is far worse than even the notion of being suspended thousands of feet above solid ground with only a thin layer of metal for protection.

So what is it about flying that terrifies me so?

Airplane washrooms.

I’m not kidding! I have refused to set foot in an airplane washroom – and in fact have actively developed strategies to eliminate the possibility of having to do so – ever since I was a kid of 12, flying for the very first time on vacation to Hawaii with my family and discovering that tiny, terrifying room for myself. To this day, the thought of that little “click” made by the airplane washroom door as it closes sends a little frisson of panic through my being, even if I’m on the OTHER side of the door rather than stuck inside that tiny space (that only seems to get tinier with every passing second).

Welcome to the world of claustrophobia.

Well aware of my weakness, on any flight I’ve taken since I have refused to drink anything for a couple of hours prior, as well as on the flight itself (and yes, I know this is a terrible thing, and that you’re supposed to stay hydrated on the plane). If there’s a layover anywhere, you’ll find me running to take advantage of the spacious real washrooms in the airport – whether or not I actually have to “go” – just to make sure.

That “click” has haunted me elsewhere, actually. When I was in my 20s I visited Disneyland with friends, and made the mistake of joining them on the submarine ride. I was fine – mostly – until I heard the “click” of the door shutting before the ride started. Once the door had closed and effectively trapped me in a contained, locked space, the panic started to bubble up and for me, the ride couldn’t end soon enough. Despite the fact that I was in absolutely no danger, that we were in nothing more than a couple of feet of water, I was terrified.

Claustrophobia isn’t logical.

There have been several other notable occasions where this illogical panic took charge. One of the worst times was when I was visiting New York City with my family (why do these things always happen to me when I’m on vacation?!). We went to see the Statue of Liberty (as all good tourists are required to do), but the elevator to the top was broken so we had to use this wee spiral staircase to get to the observation area in the torch. There was quite a crowd, so the line on the staircase moved very, very slowly, and sometimes came to a complete halt for minutes at a time while the people far ahead of us in the observation area stopped to look and take pictures. It wasn’t too bad if I was on the outside of the spiral when we stopped… at least I could look over the railing and feel some sense of space… but if we were on the inside of the spiral, with people jammed in front and back of me trapping me and preventing my escape, the panic returned. Luckily I was with my sister, who purposely chattered away and engaged me in conversation in an effort to keep me distracted until we got moving again.

Then, three weeks later the small puddle-jumper we boarded for the last leg of our trip ended up on the runway for ages waiting to get the go-ahead to take off. Worst of all, my sister and I had ended up squeezed into the last available seats, which happened to be the tiny cramped ones that faced everyone else and had no window. The only thing that kept me sane was aiming the air vent directly at my face, closing my eyes, and listening to my sister employ the same distraction techniques as she did on the Statue of Liberty staircase. (She’s great to have around when you’re in the middle of a panic attack!)

I suppose it could be a whole lot worse… many phobias affect your life in everyday situations, while claustrophobia is fairly easily avoided (unless you explore caves for a living, in which case you’re hooped).

Want to hear my theory as to why I’m claustrophobic?

I’ve been claustrophobic since forever – I remember specific incidents of feeling panicky and claustrophobic when I was a small child – and I figure it goes right back to my birth itself. See, I’ve been told that instead of choosing the normal route out, I apparently decided to fold myself up and make my appearance into this world bum first… and, not surprisingly, I got stuck. It took the doctors awhile to get me unstuck, and as a result I started my life with a rather interesting blue shade to my skin tone. So I believe that my subconscious remembers that nasty feeling of being stuck in an enclosed space, and being unable to breathe or escape, and translates that into a feeling of claustrophobia.

Thankfully, this particular phobia doesn’t present itself too often, and is fairly easily planned-for.

How about you? Do you have any phobias? How do you deal with them?

Laurel Storey, CZT – Certified Zentangle Teacher. Writer, reader, tangler, iPhoneographer, cat herder, learner of French and Italian, crocheter, needle felter, on-and-off politics junkie, 80s music trivia freak, ongoing work in progress.