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.
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.
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?
[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