When you can’t get out.

Long ago, in a galaxy that is this one, my employer decided that the annual holiday party should be a dinner and carolling cruise around the Vancouver harbour.

Open bar.

Dinner cruising is a popular local pastime – yachts of various sizes run them year-round featuring this theme or that one. They host them for the annual summer fireworks festival as well, though if you plan to reserve a spot, sign up now.  

It wasn’t a small event; we had about a hundred and fifty people in attendance. The open bar meant w were bused in, and I learned something about myself that day.

I don’t like not having my car. I would rather forgo the alcohol.

I suppose it was cold, but I don’t remember the details about that. I remember the clear night air, and the Christmas lights on our yacht, boats nearby, and on the shore. I suppose it was the cold temperature that made it easy to see more clearly.

I just realized – I’d have still had glasses then. Laser eye surgery was still in my future.

The dinner was a buffet, and I liked every single thing. I know I did because I helped organize the menu, and I was young enough to mostly not put other people first. I don’t remember eating though. I didn’t carol either.

I would’ve been anxious. My eating disorder was already aggressive, and I felt fat, wrong, and insufficient everywhere.

I stood on the deck, looking at the shore as we motored along, thinking that I could probably make the swim. It didn’t seem that far, and I’m a good swimmer. The temperature would’ve been cold – we’d had snow – but ocean temperatures don’t change much. The problems would come when I got out.

And maybe in the water. Sharks and sea monsters. I worry about the things that swim under me when I’m not in a pool.

Luckily, I didn’t surrender to impulse. Given my history, that’s surprising. I have a long history of making very bad calls. Not getting in the water that night was a good one. Distances over water are deceptive, and it would’ve been embarrassing to need a rescue for a non-suicidal exit from a functioning boat hosting a benign work function.

I tell this story now and again for laughs. Everyone is much amused as is my intent – I’m good at putting a funny spin on my mental health moments.

I tell them that until I was on that cruise, I didn’t realize how much I hated not being able to leave work functions. I tell them I was Rose before there was “The Titanic,” ready to toss myself over the edge to escape the horror dogging me. They laugh, not believing for a second I was serious.

I was serious. The situation was giving me big-time panic, and I’ve not been on that type of cruise since. [i]

But it’s not the boat. I’ve been on other boats before and since without issue.

We cannot get out.

I don’t like closed doors. I don’t sleep with the door to my room closed even though I know it’s the fire-safe thing to do. I don’t like closed closet doors either; I’ve removed most of them from my house.

I can’t stand it when people touch my neck.

Someone told me once that these things were claustrophobia. That seemed to make sense. A fear of confined spaces explains my affection for open doors and windows.

But a boat doesn’t keep people confined.

Neither does a turtleneck.

It’s interesting, the things we think we know.

In addition to what I thought was claustrophobia, I tend towards agoraphobia. That I’ve known for years. My house is my safe space, and before that, it was my room, and if the world is becoming too much for me, I tend to stop leaving.

 This can be a problem in that after a bit, choosing not to leave becomes “can’t leave.” So, I leave. Every day. Even if I don’t want to. And to different places. Out isn’t out if you only go to the places you’ve made safe. That’s just extended in.

I’m going to be jettisoning the claustrophobia label, however. I may even do a happy dance. Label reduction isn’t the norm for me. The reason it didn’t ever feel quite right is that it’s wrong. As it turns out, agoraphobia isn’t only the fear of leaving your house or your safe space. Agoraphobia is the fear of being unable to escape or get out, to get help if things go wrong. It’s the fear of panicking about those things in public. This explains why I don’t have issues with elevators and MRI machines: I can get escape.

This revelation reminded me of something I often forget: you don’t have to believe people, especially when they’re telling you things about yourself.

The neck thing is particularly interesting to me. I don’t like it when people touch my neck. And for “don’t like it,” you can read “will leap out of the way, slap at hands, and step back to avoid it.” Think, trying to bathe a cat. I rarely wear necklaces, and turtlenecks are a hard “no.” It’s been this way for as long as I can remember. It turns out to be common in people with agoraphobia.  

It’s also common in people who’ve been sexually abused.

So are eating disorders. The sexual abuse-eating disorder-agoraphobia triangle is quite the trifecta.

People who suffer from anxiety disorders often experience panic attacks, and I’m not the exception. But it occurs to me that excluding attacks that were triggered by my fear of anaphylaxis, they mostly occur when I’m out, when I feel vulnerable and out of control.

I think it’s probably why I always take my car, and why I gave serious thought to jumping off the side of a carol cruise ship once upon a time.

Agoraphobia all this time. Who knew? Claustrophobia is, in fact, a subset of agoraphobia. The latter is a collective term for a group of related fears. Who knew that either, except doctors and people who look things up.

Do you have any fears that reach the level of phobia?
Do they interfere with your life?
How are you dealing with them?

Types of agoraphobia.

[i] It’s my experience that people without mental illnesses mostly think we’re kidding when we describe our bad moments. For instance, bridges also cause me serious distress. I can manage it if the car is moving. Recently, however, I was trapped on a local bridge due to a protest and things weren’t moving at all. I didn’t exit my vehicle and run for the end of the ridge my exerting the kind of willpower I didn’t know I had. Plus, I didn’t want my car impounded.

*header credit: Barends Psychology Practice

15 thoughts on “When you can’t get out.

  1. My father used to tell me that if enough people tell you you’re dead you have to lie down, and that’s why I’m not a parent.

    As for going out I do the same thing until it becomes driving around in circles for a couple of hours guzzling iced coffee and chain smoking. Two weeks ago I quit smoking but otherwise the song remains the same.

    You realize of course that these are all imaginary problems, or more accurately coping mechanisms created in childhood. I recently read how drug addiction, alcoholism and all other fun ways to self destruct are really coping mechanisms because they help us get through the day and I believe its true.

    The real problem comes when you let them all go, then you have to deal which whatever they were protecting you from.

    Life is fun isn’t it? 😲😨🤯😱😵🤫

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I like that saying. I’m going keep it, at least for a few minutes.

      I hope that the driving in circles is accompanied by epic songs you sing along to. I find that helps me some.

      Childhood is definitely a problem. That we make children do it seems wrong.

      Yeah, most of adulthood seems to be collecting and then resolving coping mechanisms. I wonder what we could accomplish if we managed to raise a generation of non-traumatized children?

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Well said about addictions being coping mechanisms. I firmly believe that coping skills should be taught in school these days. I was lucky enough to grow up in an environment that forced me to learn those without being able to reach for ‘ways out.’ It sucked and still does, but at least I’m having fewer meltdowns than people who grew up without being taught such skills. Masking issues is NEVER a good thing for more than 5 minutes.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. That sounds really tough to deal with. Well done for still getting out to different places that must take an enormous amount of mental and physical energy 💖I don’t have agoraphobia but my anxiety definitely increases when I feel trapped. Work events are also a big trigger for me. I find if I have an escape route then I often don’t need to use it but if I don’t have one I’m pretty much guaranteed to melt down. I’m glad you didn’t jump in the water though. Loved the use of the LOTR clip!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t really have any of the -phobias because the moment I see them, I fight them, and they leave. (Or maybe I don’t push myself as much as I think I do, and that’s why I haven’t identified them?)

    Not being able to escape definitely stresses me out. When my partner and I would go somewhere to socialize, we would often take two cars – so I could leave earlier. Otherwise, I would have to wander away and find a place where hopefully, people would not find me too quickly. But, some see that as rude, so sometimes I just sit there in my head. But that’s rude, too. Supposedly. Ughhh

    So yes, I totally understand wanting to jump off a boat. For most of my life, I lived in places where taxis were easily available, so even if I didn’t have my car, I would just hail/call one. Not anymore. They seem to barely exist, and there are a million hoops you have to jump through to order one. I miss the times when I could just walk home from wherever I was (I’d do hour-long walks at times, and I liked them. They allowed me to re-center myself.) But again – not anymore… I wish for a simpler, smaller life… Never knew I’d get here lol.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I couldn’t say if I have any true phobias. Not accurately, anyway. I think it’s far too tempting a thing for me to have something other than myself to blame for my problems; Can’t quite be certain I’m not fitting the symptoms to the disease. It probably doesn’t help that whatever issues I might have, I diminish when I’m not having them. I distance myself from it. Leaves a lot of room for understatement — or exaggeration. I’m not always sure which.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s okay to not have a phobia. I think it’s likely a good thing.

      Diminishing your lived experience, however, is less good. I used to do it myself, especially the distancing. And you’re right, it does leave room for understatement.

      I used to worry that I was exaggerating things, but I’ve mostly discovered that’s not true. I wonder if thinking that about ourselves and our experiences is also a defence mechanism?

      Thank you for commenting 😊

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Huh. I wonder the same thing. I also wonder if it might be one of those defense mechanisms with a purpose, or the kind that winds up being more of a liability.

        You’re welcome. You write extremely well — but then, you don’t need me to tell you that.

        (Sorry for the late reply)

        Liked by 1 person

  5. “Out isn’t out if you only go to the places you’ve made safe. That’s just extended in.”


    We especially enjoy paths through prairies so that we can see a long way. Sometimes the woods are too scary and confining. Sometimes the woods are the hug we need. Sometimes seeing too far creates too many what-ifs

    We like the lights off and blinds open at night because then we can see any potential danger. Spouse likes lights on, blinds closed. Before turning the lights on and closing the blinds, Spouse “asks” If it’s okay but it doesn’t seem like a question or that we can say no

    We tend not to have phobias that all insiders share. Some noises will drive us to cover our ears (plastic spoon on styrofoam) and some textures make our skill crawl just thinking about them—but not always

    Exceptions are probably how we can’t stand toileting and dislike showering—sexual trauma

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like the connection between environment and mood. For myself, the prairies scare me some. Maybe it’s something to do with where we grow up as children?

      Questions like Spouse proposes are tricky – they’re phrased as questions, but the feelings the generate encourage only one answer. Perhaps taking turns?

      Styrofoam makes hideous noise and textures. Scrapping things on cement is another one that make my skin crawl. And the texture problem is also one I share.

      I’m sorry about those consequence of sexual trauma for you. For me, it’s mostly the neck.

      Thanks for such a thoughtful response 💖

      Liked by 1 person

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