I feel like the place is closing in on me. I feel like the air around me is thinning; I feel breathless, almost suffocated. My mind is in a frenzy, bordering on paranoia. I feel like I have to escape! Break free! But I look around. Everything is ‘normal’ outside. No one seems to notice, or even understand. It’s just a matter of the mind… all in my mind.
***This is no sci-fi short story. It is my reality.
I am mildly claustrophobic. No… wait, make that claustrophobic (without the ‘mild’). It is kinda embarassing, but that’s the truth. I really don’t know when it began or when I realized it. But it’s something I have to admit (and live with).
It’s not a situation I find myself often in. But when I do, it’s difficult to control what I think. It has changed my life in small ways:
I do not travel in the rearmost seats of SUV type vehicles like the Xylo, Scorpio, etc. or 8-seaters like the Innova, Omni, etc. The fact that it it has no open windows and is ‘closed in’ from all four sides - windows that can’t be opened, the door and the seats in front - is enough reason for me to panick. (And when I do sit in the middle set of seats, I prefer sitting near the window.)
I do not enter very small lifts. Some shops or places have very small lifts where people need to cram together. I try and avoid those. And some kind of lifts (even though moderately spacious) may freak me out if I feel a sense of being ‘locked in’. Lifts, in general, can cause me to be anxious (because I imagine scenarios of me getting ‘stuck’ in there). Infy lifts, thankfully, are not that kind.
I avoid crowded buses or trains. There have been times when I was in a really crowded bus/train and have had small bouts of anxiety creeping up.
There was this one time we went to Palani (this summer). Usually we climb all the way up to the top (to those who have been there know what I’m talking about – the steep climb which is a workout in itself!). But this time we did not, owing to an injury my mom sustained on her leg. We decided to go by a ‘winch’ (that’s what it’s called there). It’s actually something that looks like little compartments/bogies in a train and is mechanically pulled up all the way upto the top (and down) of the Palani hill. I found the 10 + 10 mins travel in that the longest!
Aeroplanes are another issue. During my childhood travels from Dubai to India and back, I’d never faced this problem (thank God for that!). But recently I discovered that it isn’t so. I was boarding a flight to Hyderabad (for my training) and as soon as I stepped into the plane, it hit me. I even thought of stepping out! Since that was a really dumb option, I convinced myself (logically) to ignore any issues. I kept reading a magazine, and then slept a bit to distract myself.
Another anxiety, a variant of this (that I share with my mom), is a kind of suffocation that is felt when the power goes – when it becomes pitch dark, with no air circulation/movement.
There was this reality show on NDTV Imagine - Raaz Pichhle Janam Ka, whose print ads I used to see (haven’t seen the show yet though - want to catch Season 2 which is set to be aired beginning October first week). It's based on past life regression, the underlying concept being that our fears, phobias and even physical ailments in our present day lives have their roots in our previous life/lives. One ad even said that the phobias in our current life has something to do with the way we died in our previous life. On seeing that I was quite convinced that I was strangled to death in a reaaally dark and small dungeon! Now, only if I could participate in the show and confirm that!