Fear of Tight Spaces

While the technician strapped me down and slowly eased me into the tube I kept my eyes tightly shut.  Then the motion stopped and I cautiously opened them. A new surge of panic enveloped me.

I have claustrophobia.  Now, if you ask ten people if they like small spaces, nine of them would answer in the negative; nobody really LIKES being in closed spaces.  But the majority of people are certainly able to tolerate them to some extent. True claustrophobics, on the other hand are debilitated by them.

I have no idea how this condition developed.  Am I predisposed because my mother has claustrophobia?  Possibly.  Was it caused be overcrowding in the womb?   Doubtful – I only weighed 5 pounds at birth.  Was I buried alive, locked in a closet, trapped in a well?  Nope.  I have a pretty sketchy memory, but I definitely don’t remember any particularly horrific childhood incidents that could have triggered this fear of tight spaces. 

I do remember a couple of unpleasant things my big sister did to me though… When I was little she used to  bring me down into our unfinished basement at night and sing me a song about blue clowns killing little girls. (Incidentally, my favorite pair of pajamas donned images of blue clowns.)  Then she would run upstairs and turn out the lights leaving me with the murderous circus performers in a basement full of spiders. I can still hear her laughing.

The other thing she reveled in was pinning my arms down on the family room carpet and hovering over me with a gob of spit dangling precariously above my face. Usually she was able to suck it up just in the nick of time, but sometimes that stringer hit me square.  It was a horrible feeling of powerlessness… being eight years older my sister was much stronger than I.  There was nothing I could do but take it.

Now, don’t go thinking I have this terrible evil sister and suggest I go to therapy.  I don’t think these behaviors are outside the realm of normal childhood taunting.  But who knows, maybe they did contribute to my claustrophobia… who knows?

I’ve learned how to manage over the years by sheer will, but I’ve had an issue with enclosed spaces for as long as I can remember – particularly as an adult.

When our kids were little, my husband and I took them on vacation to the Wisconsin Dells.  Enthusiastic, we had a taste of all the typcial tourest fare:  a duckboat tour, waterparks and theme parks.  

Then we went to an amusement park.  I want to know what sickie came up with the warped activities in an amusement park.  First of all, we wanted the kids to experience a gondola ride. Big mistake for a girl who has issues with closed spaces.  As we hung suspended in an airtight box over the ground I nearly lost my marbles.  The anxiety was palpable – even to my kids.

After the ride was over and my feet were firmly planted on the ground we went to an attraction called a fun house.  Right … nothing fun about it.  The goal at the fun house is to meander your way through the structure until you come to the end of the line – and mercifully the outside world.  The goal of the attraction however, is to mess you up along the way. So like a maze, it is loaded with deadends.  Throw in crooked walls and floors, image altering mirrors, and nightmarish music and you’ll get the picture. It all started out innocently enough, but then halfway through the journey the lights suddenly went out.  I felt like Audry Hepburn in her horrifying movie, “Wait Until Dark.” I practically kissed the ground when I had that first sweet breath of fresh air.Since that vacation I have had numerous claustrophobic incidents on airplanes, in elevators… even when I gave birth to my kids.  Because I had c-sections, the doctors had to numb my body in order to surgically remove the babies.  That meant I was essentially paralyzed from the neck down … not a good thing for a person with claustrophobia.Two weeks ago when my doctor told me I needed an MRI to diagnose my lower back pain I was less than thrilled.  For those of you who’ve never experienced one, MRI is an abbreviation for “magnetic resonance tomography,” a non-invasive method of looking inside the body that utilizes magnets.  The technology is astounding, but the process is pretty uncomfortable.  Unfortunately, in order to get reliable scans, you can’t move a muscle and are usually strapped down to ensure that doesn’t happen.  You are then deposited into a tube that cocoons you with only a couple inches of wiggle room on all sides.I opted for an open-sided MRI, a less common – and therefore more costly version of the machine. After donning a pair of scrubs, the technician placed me on the table, put a harness over my mid-section and then moved me into the scanning unit feet first.  Fortunately, open-sided MRI machines allow you to move your arms and head, but you are still trapped. 

After the initial movement stopped, I looked straight up to find the unit less than 1″ inch from the end of my nose. I freaked out.  Realizing I couldn’t move my lower torso for the next 60 minutes, I freaked out even more. The technician came over, spoke to me soothingly and helped me do some breathing exercises.  Then she told me to close my eyes again and relax… Right!That all changed when the music came on.  I had brought along a worship CD called “Strong Tower” by the Christian rock band Kutless. The first few bars of “We Fall Down” came on:We fall down
We lay our crowns
At the feet of Jesus
The greatness of
Mercy and love
At the feet of Jesus
We cry holy, holy, holy
We cry holy, holy, holy
We cry holy, holy, holy
Is the lamb

As I listened I was transported to a new place, right into the presence of God.  I’m sure the technician was amused as I sang my heart out in worship laying right there on that slab.  She talked about doing yoga breathing and finding my Zen place, I belted out about Jesus.  I not only survived the procedue, I thrived.  For the next hour I worshiped and prayed, something I never seem to get enough of.Claustrophobia is about a lack of control and so is faith.  It’s hard to let go and relinquish control of ourselves. But that’s what it takes to be a fully committed Christ follower – surrender. Just like an MRI scan that can see inside our bodies, Christ can see everything inside our spirits.  I’ve found that when I give it all up to the Great Physician, I, too, can see clearly. 

– Amy Hagberg, author of the How Do You Know He’s Real inspirational book series


Posted in Random Thoughts.