The Anxiety & Phobia Treatment Center
Offering the keys to recovery since 1971

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Trapped by Claustrophobia

This is Janet’s story.  It is a poignant article to explain how someone feels when they are so anxious they feel they have to flee.  Janet has since recovered through exposure and cognitive behavioral therapy and you can too.

Every muscle and sinew in her body strained to keep her from screaming and bolting off the Number 7 IRT subway car.  The deafening and rasping clack-clack, clack-clack of metal upon metal clamped like a vice over her ears.  The screeching and side-to-side lurching of the train brought up the sour tasting bile of motion-sickness.

Each stop prolonged the entrapment in the moving, tubular coffin.  She hoped no one else could see her quivering hands or clenched jaw.  Her skin prickled. She rubbed the red blotches forming on her wrists. Vision blurred as she sat crammed between commuters.  Claustrophobia wrapped its unseen arms around her, pressing inward, forcing her to hyperventilate. She yanked at the neckline of her tee-shirt.

Am I going insane?  

She looked at the crush of people: an old woman with a distant look, moving her lips silently; a man reeking of alcohol early in the morning.  That woman and that man, oblivious to the surroundings, had found ways to cope with inner realities. The train shrieked to a stop at Queensboro Plaza. The doors banged opened.  She stood up with the horde that spewed onto the platform. She stiffened, feeling trapped between the subway lines of the N and the 7.  She wanted to be home to pull covers over her head again and block out the pursuing fiend of fear.  “Are you getting on?” demanded an anonymous voice from the crowd that shoved and jostled her.  She was unable to answer, throat constricted.  Fear had wrapped its hands around her throat again.

“Let’s go, lady,” another subway rider snarled.

She stood as rigid as the steel girders of the platform.

What are people thinking?  

Train after train rumbled and squealed in and out of the station.  Three…four…five trains… She had lost count.  Other commuters’ movements were mechanical, unfeeling, like toy soldiers with expressionless faces.

Why am I different? I can’t do this; I cannot go on.

Another train scraped to a halt.  The doors clattered open daring her to step in.  The car almost empty, she risked it.

Put one foot in front of the other.  Do it!

Seated, she swallowed hard, throat parched.  She glanced at her watch: 8:48 AM.  Twelve minutes until class at Hunter College.  She needed those three credits towards a Master’s Degree.  But every thought of debilitating trips into the City wedged her deep into a well of reluctance.

She squeezed her eyes shut as the grotesque, dark mouth of the tunnel loomed ahead like an insatiable, bloated monster beckoning and luring its next morning delicacy.

What if we stall in the tunnel?

The N rumbled underground, darkness closing in.  She took shallow breaths trying to resist being strangled and buried alive.

The cars whined then slowed into the cavernous, stifling subway station at 59th Street and Lexington Avenue.  The train expelled a loud whoosh as it convulsed to a stop.  She raced into the hot breath of the subway’s urine stench.  Relief pulsed through her as she ran up the steps out of the putrid air into fresh, welcomed daylight.

The class was fifteen minutes into the lecture.  She slid down into the one-armed desk.  Nothing made sense; her thoughts would not let go of the wrecking ball of claustrophobia.

She dropped the class.


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