Welcome to my Blog

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Total Immersion for Claustraphobia

I thought I would include here the account of the day I cured my claustrophobia, to which the previous letter refers, which appeared in my book Depression is a Choice and also in an article.

Here is is:

I once took a vacation during which my regular method of handling claustrophobia on plane trips utterly failed. I have been successful with short trips by always getting an aisle seat and concentrating on a good book. But this was a six-hour flight to Hawaii and I was stuck in the center of five seats in the middle of a fully loaded plane. At first I concentrated on my book, but little doubts kept creeping into my concentration until I started to panic.

Every atom of my body was screaming, I HAVE TO GET OUT OF HERE NOW!!! I forced myself to wait until the seat-belt sign had been turned off, I excused myself by the other two passengers, and I BOLTED into the aisle. SAVED! I walked up and down the aisle for a while and did not have the courage to return to my seat. They served breakfast and though I was hungry, I still couldn't take my seat. I was miserable.

My back started to hurt and so I sat down on the floor in the only available space I could find, which was near the lavatories. But the smell was terrible and people started giving me odd and annoyed looks for which I could hardly blame them. There were dozens of people perfectly fine in their seats. I was the only nut-case sitting down on the dirty floor where people were having to step over me. I began to be ashamed to behave so ignominiously.
When the aisles were cleared from breakfast, I walked up and down for a while longer and then I tried to sit in the pull-down stewardess seat but I was admonished it was against regulations.

My back was starting to hurt again from standing for 3 hours, and I started to think about my situation. I guessed I could stand up for another three hours. But what kind of a fake was I that I was writing a book about how to control your own brain, and I couldn't even control my own claustrophobia?

I began to study my situation, earnestly, in terms of what was the fear about. Not why was I afraid but what, exactly, was I afraid of? I thought that I could control myself long enough to belt myself in for a landing, but I wanted to do better than that if I could. I didn't want to be a phony who wrote books advising people to do what I cannot do myself. Was I going to put my money where my mouth was or what?
I didn't try to search for anything rational. I was pretty sure that my terror was totally irrational. My former success with claustrophobia, I now realized, was limited. I could handle short flights in a three-seat flying situation where I had an aisle seat.

In a crowded auto I learned that I could control my panic if I could sit on the very edge of the seat, where my arms and legs were not confined, and lean into the space between the two front seats. Luckily I am not a large person, so I could usually maneuver a workable position.

But this was the middle seat of five, in a totally full airplane. There was no extra space to utilize, and I was terrified. Over the years I had just naturally avoided situations which would be this uncomfortable. But not this time. I had received my comeuppance. I was thinking about all these things while I was also trying to study my current situation. What exactly was I afraid would happen if I sat back down in the middle of those crowded seats?

I was afraid that I would flail my arms around and scream! Okay, I reasoned to myself, but all of that is just behavior, isn't it? And I'm sure I can control my behavior so that I do not do that. Yes, I decided, I could depend upon my earnest commitment to not flail my arms around or scream.

So what did that leave? The terror. Yes, I could do nothing to prevent the terror. I would feel like I was dying. I would feel like I couldn't breathe. Well, I further reasoned, that is all just feeling, isn't it? I just have to stand the physical pain of that terror. I have to control my behavior and just feel the terror, just sit there quietly, even if I pass out, or die if that is my fate. I decided I could also commit to that.

I sat back down, buckled myself in and prepared to feel the most absolute terror of my life. I opened myself up to whatever pain would come. I was absolutely determined to bear the most unimaginably painful feelings, whatever they were. Then, the most amazing thing happened. No terror came. Not even the smallest tinge of it. I completed the rest of the flight in complete comfort. Now and then I invited the pain and terror if it wanted to come. But it never did.

I think the whole key was to separate the gestalt of panic into its plain, more user-friendly concomitants of behavior and feeling. Looking at the separate parts of my panic gave me a clue as to how to proceed. I saw the panic in terms of tasks to accomplish, rather than fear to succumb to. I could see that, although it might be difficult and painful, it was possible for me to control my behavior and keep myself from screaming or flailing my arms around.

And it was also possible to bear any pain that my feelings were going to inflict upon me. After all, they were MY feelings, weren't they? What could my own feelings do to me, really? In two weeks, I would have to return from Hawaii. I determined to seek out the terror again and see what more work I had to do, or what new tortures my terror would teach me.

On my return trip, I found I had been given an aisle seat and I was tempted to let it go at that. But because I felt obligated to finish this story for my book, however it turned out, I told the clerk I was working on my claustrophobia so would she please give me the worst crowded-up inside seat she could.

Again I settled down quite prepared to feel the terror NO MATTER WHAT! In the beginning I got just a few tendrils of panic and again I opened myself up to whatever horror of terror would be visited upon me. The tendrils of panic just faded out to nothing. I felt perfectly comfortable the whole trip. And I have never suffered from claustrophobia since.

With the earnest desire and courage to do so, we can literally transform our lives. Of course to earnestly determine to change our life, we have to have the courage to risk our own life. At the last it always comes to that. For real core change, for real freedom from our fears, addictions and anxiety we need the courage to stick to our principles even at the risk of our life.

No comments: