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Living with Claustrophobia and its Triggers

by Tahlula B

I suffer from claustrophobia and I also battle depression. I don’t know if or how there is a connection, but I’m sure they both appear on a Venn diagram somewhere. I’m not a doctor so I’m writing this purely from living with claustrophobia-an anxiety disorder. Claustrophobia doesn’t get near the attention it should. The fear and panic that takes over when confronted with a confined space or a no-escape situation or circumstance is overwhelming. When I know I can’t open a window or a door and escape, I feel like I can’t breathe. At these times a specific sense of panic sets in.

My claustrophobia has thrown me into full-on panic attacks. Where I’m frozen, shaking,and shutting down. Once my business partner and I had to sign papers at a lawyer’s office on the 7th floor. There was no parking anywhere near the building so we had to park underground which is a struggle for a claustrophobe. The whole being underground, the low ceiling…I can’t breathe thinking about it. But then the stairs were closed so the only way was an elevator. An elevator. That was it. I was barely keeping it together being in an underground lot. The elevator put me over the top. There was no way I was making it up so my business partner had to call and have the lawyer bring the papers down to us. I generally did not accompany her to any meetings in an office building for this reason.

Panic Lurks Everywhere when Living with Claustrophobia

Claustrophobes fear common elements of daily life that don’t even register for most people:

  1. Whenever I have to go to a building, my immediate question is what floor is it on? If it’s beyond what I’m comfortable doing by stairs-I don’t go. Elevators are out of the question.
  2. Stairwells are stressful because there’s the anxiety that the next door won’t open. It will be locked. And I will be stuck in the stairwell. What if I can’t get a signal? Whenever I knew I would be taking stairs, I always made sure I had things I could put in each door I passed to keep them ajar in case the next door didn’t open.
  3. I can’t drive through tunnels or park underground. Bridges can be a struggle. If I can’t see the sky or quickly escape it gets hard to breathe.
  4. I’m terrified of the dark. The absence of light makes you feel like there is no air and you can’t breathe.
  5. I can’t fly, but not because I’m afraid of crashing. It’s because I can’t open a window for air or door for a quick exit.

The panic is so draining. I always have to have an escape plan. Like wherever I go, I have to make sure I have a clear path to exit. If there are any obstructions, I will obsess about them and it will consume me. It can be exhausting and difficult to enjoy things at times.

I’m not sure why I wrote this. I know it doesn’t offer guidance or support. I think I just needed to scream it into the abyss and listen for an echo from others living with claustrophobia. Do you live with claustrophobia? Let me know your experience in the comments.

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