I don’t consider myself claustrophobic. That word is reserved for others or characters in books to make the plot more interesting. Of all of phobias, I feel like claustrophobia might be the most well known. It’s just always been something that I’ve been aware of but only from a distance. I have a friend who’s claustrophobic. In camp, she would wake up in the middle of the night in a panic with the walls collapsing on her. I’m not like that.
When I was little, my brother and I used to make forts out of the couch cushions. Some of those forts could hardly fit my six-year-old body, and I remember feeling like I couldn’t breathe. Another time someone pulled a blanket tightly around my head and I thrashed about wildly because with that blanket on my head, I was trapped. I was wearing a straitjacket and I needed to get out. Two summers ago, I did a tunnel tour in Israel. My Mach Hach bus of 48 people was lined up single-file in the tunnel shuffling along. I remember feeling like the tunnel was miles long despite being maybe a thirty-minute walk. The slick walls were touching my shoulders, sending a shiver down my spine. The high “roof” created an eerie echo. My friends kept telling me to turn off my flashlight, because people wanted to do the walk in pitch black. I couldn’t convey to them that I physically could not turn off that flashlight, because that light was enabling me to continue walking. All I kept thinking about was what would happen if the water came rushing in. My mind was racing with questions and worst-case scenarios: would I be able to swim or climb to the top of the tunnel in time to gasp for air?
The underlying issue is being trapped, feeling suffocated by the inability to move. Being preserved in one place. Permanence. The idea of permanence utterly terrifies me. The idea of staying in the same place forever is frightening, because I can’t fathom forever. Some people are scared of dying; I’m scared of never moving on.