What’s that thing you fear the most? What’s that thing that makes your heart race so fast and increases your adrenaline level? Some say they fear water, heights, snakes, spiders or even death. Some are so frightened of the dark and some are afraid of being alone. I’m not scared of death or the dark. I’m not scared of snakes or insects. What scares me the most is being in an enclosed space. The world calls it “Claustrophobia”.
It all started when I was twelve years old. Mama had sent me to fetch some firewood from the bush. She had run out of firewood while preparing dinner for papa. I immediately ran to my room, took a small piece of cloth and dashed out to get the firewood. I ran as fast as my legs could carry me.
When I got to the bush, I gathered some firewood and tied them together. I was so tired and I decided to rest for a few minutes before returning home. Looking for where to sit, I stumbled on something that looked like a well that had been abandoned. The cover of the well looked firm although it was full of rust. As soon as I sat on the well, I fell into it instantly. I was wrong. The cover of the well wasn’t firm.
The Well Was Very Deep…
I screamed as I fell. The well was very deep. Fortunately, it had no water in it but it was so deep. “Somebody please help me” I cried out with my tiny voice but no one could hear me. I tried getting out of the well but I couldn’t. I was trapped in it. Then I started crying and shouting but no one could hear me. It was getting late and most people had returned to their homes. There was no one to rescue me.
Three hours later, my papa and some other men found me. They had plunged a ladder into the well and that was how I climbed out. The experience was so awful. I was trapped in the well for three good hours. It was hell! That experience made me develop claustrophobia. I became scared of being trapped in a place without a way of getting out. I became scared of locking the doors. What if they don’t open? I became scared of entering elevators or aeroplanes. What if I get stuck? I became scared of being in a crowded place. What if there is an emergency and I can’t get out?
What is Claustrophobia?
Claustrophobia is the fear of being in an enclosed space. It’s an anxiety disorder that is characterized by the extreme fear of being in a confined space. It’s one of the most common phobias that exist.
People suffering from claustrophobia may experience a panic attack whenever they are in an enclosed space. I had my first panic attack when I was 18. I had visited my aunt in Lagos during the semester break. It was my first year at the university. That very day, my aunt and I boarded a yellow commercial bus popularly known as “Danfo”. We were going to the market which was situated some distance far away from where she lived. The yellow rickety bus was filled with a lot of passengers and I felt we were all squeezed like sardines in a can. The traffic on the road was so terrible that day. Soon, I started feeling funny.
My heart started racing so fast. My head started aching. It felt as if some footballers were playing a match on my head. I could see sweat dripping down my forehead. My chest started hurting me badly. It felt like I was going to die. “What was happening?” I had asked myself. My aunt who was sitting beside me didn’t notice until she saw me trembling and clasping my chest. “Aunty Rose, please I want to get down now” I had said as I held my chest breathing heavily. Aunty Rose became so frightened. We quickly got down from the bus and I was rushed to a nearby hospital.
What’s a Panic attack?
A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger. Panic attacks may begin suddenly without warnings. Symptoms of a panic attack include sweating, chills, headache, chest pain, racing heartbeat, fear of dying and hot flashes.
After the first panic attack I had, I suffered another one. Although, it wasn’t as severe as the first. I had taken an elevator for the first time in my life. My friend had suggested we take it rather than taking the stairs. As the elevator moved higher, I could feel my heart racing like a cheetah and my hands tremble like a leaf. I was so scared that I wouldn’t get out of the elevator. After that experience, I vowed never to enter an elevator again. I decided to always take the stairs irrespective of the stress.
After the second panic attack, the doctor told me I was suffering from claustrophobia. I never knew such a condition existed. As soon as I was diagnosed with Claustrophobia, my fear became so intense. I became more conscious of my environment. I became so scared of entering enclosed spaces. Furthermore I stopped locking my doors. I became scared of entering cars. If I entered any, I made sure the windows were fully opened. Whenever there was road traffic, I would get down from the vehicle and trek the rest of the distance. I couldn’t stand being in an enclosed space. I hated the sight of crowd. Whenever I was in a public gathering, I would sit close to a door or a window.
What Causes Claustrophobia?
Claustrophobia has no specific cause. However, certain factors can contribute to its development. These factors include genetics, traumatic events during early childhood and environmental factors. Some of these childhood traumatic experiences may include:
- Being stuck in a tight place for a long time.
- Locked in a small space as a form of punishment.
- Being stuck in a crowded public vehicle for a while.
- Bullied or abused as a child.
- Being stuck in a hole.
- Falling into a swimming pool and being unable to swim.
- Being separated from a parent or family in a large crowd.
Living with claustrophobia has a lot of disadvantages as compared to other phobias. Claustrophobia affects your daily life. It limits you. I remember how I would climb hundreds of steps just to avoid taking the elevator. I remember how I would skip crowded parties and events. Also, I couldn’t even enter an aeroplane just because of my fears. Soon, I decided I had to deal with my fears. I had to deal with my phobia. It was limiting me.
How To Deal With Claustrophobia
Claustrophobia can be managed and treated by psychotherapy. In some cases, it goes on its own and doesn’t require any treatment or therapy especially when a person grows older. However, one effective therapy in dealing with claustrophobia is ‘exposure therapy’. This involves constantly placing yourself in situations that trigger your phobias. The idea is that the more you face your fears, the less you become scared of them.
Claustrophobic symptoms such as panic attacks can also be managed by taking medications. Such medications include antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications. Visualization and relaxation is another therapy that is effective in tackling claustrophobia. This involves learning ways to calm your fears when you are in a situation that scares you. Some relaxation techniques include:
- Breathing slowly.
- Focusing on something safe, like time passing on your watch.
- Assuring yourself your anxiety would pass away.
Gradually, I started facing my fears. I started taking the elevators frequently. I started attending parties filled with a lot of people. Furthermore I started locking my doors. Finally, I flew on a plane for the first time in my life. It was unbelievable. Before that day, I had thought I would pass out or probably choke to death on the plane. I had overcome my fears. I wasn’t claustrophobic anymore but one thing still scares the hell out of me till date – ’Lagos traffic’.
Writer: Isibor Precious, DELSU.
Isibor Precious is a young writer who uses writing as a means of communicating to the world. Spurred by certain issues of life, a great message lies in every of her stories. Her stories are captivating, educational and eye-opening. Though a student of pharmacology, her choice of words are explicit and emotive.