My experience with claustrophobia – Part 2

Continued from My experience with claustrophobia – Part 1

The next couple of days were a blur. Almost literally so, as I seemed to be looking constantly through a haze.

Thankfully, the weather was clear, so I would get up early and ride my motorbike into the city. This was not all happy sailing though as if I had to slow down or stop in a tunnel, I would feel a wave of panic start to come on.

The elevator at work was difficult but not impossible. As I was arriving so early to work, the lift was generally empty so I could manage. If there was a few people waiting though, I would let them go and hope that I would get them next lift without issue.

Unfortunately, I had to share the matter with my manager. Unfortunately, because she had previously demonstrated her lack of consideration for my mental health issues (a story for another time). I had little choice though as there was a company meeting scheduled for the following day to be held in a conference room. The thought of attending the meeting filled me with dread as I knew the close confines (close in terms of my condition at the time) would set me into panic mode. She agreed, which was a relief. I did not divulge to her at the time that even sitting in her office was causing my head to spin.

Despite the quick fix remedies I had set in place, I still had no workable solution going forward. Traditional therapy to me was not the answer as I needed some sort of solution to allow me to function on a day to day basis immediately. My experience with therapy has always involved numerous costly sessions to achieve any sort of meaningful outcome.

I started to Google anything to do with claustrophobia and treatment. I came across something that I was somewhat cynical about but I felt that I had to try, hypnotherapy. I started calling local hypnotherapists. After a few calls, I secured an appointment the next day with a therapist close to work. The hypnotherapists important credentials for me that day was that she was close to work and she had an appointment available.

The next day I arrived as scheduled for the appointment. Of course there was a lift to negotiate and the waiting room seemed exceedingly small. I was invited into the office, which again was small and I started to panic and sweat once the door was closed behind me. The hypnotherapist was thoughtful, understanding and distracted me to a degree with questions about what had occurred, what was I feeling, etc.

She then asked me to lay back in the chair and close my eyes. It was an interesting experience. She talked calmly and softly for a while and then asked me to put myself mentally into a seat on a train. I note that I was able to respond verbally should I need to. I immediately started to feel uncomfortable and wanted to open my eyes. The therapist obviously sensed my distress as she asked if I wanted to stop. I said I wanted to keep going. She continued by placing scenarios into my head such as the train doors closing, a person sitting next to me and the train stopping between stations. Each situation was very unpleasant but I continued on. While under, she suggested that should I have difficulty in the real world, I press my fingers against my forearm and this will alleviate the claustrophobic sensation.

To be honest, I did not think I was under. I was so aware of what she was saying. However, when she started to count down to one, her voice became very loud and much clearer. I genuinely felt like I was jolted awake, even though I was fully conscious of our conversation with my eyes closed.

I scheduled a follow-up session for the next week and hoped that, by some miracle, the world would be all good again when I left that day. Well, you can always wish.

I noticed no improvement. I managed to get home, with a fog clouding my thoughts. To distract me, I immediately turned on the TV. I started to watch a movie, which was fine until the main character boarded an airplane. I started to feel light-headed and uncomfortable and I had to change the channel. Let’s just say, I was not feeling at the top of the world about what was happening to me.

The weekend came. Though I had a respite from having to put myself into enclosed spaces, my mind was still racing about what challenges would happen the following week, particularly as inclement weather was forecast. This meant that riding the motorbike to work as an option was doubtful.

Sunday came and I challenged myself to ride the train. Sunday is traditionally a quiet day on rail, so I thought it would be the best day to expose myself to rail travel again. I arrived at the station to very few customers. I breathed a sigh of relief but knew the real challenge was ahead of me. The majority of people had clustered in the middle of the platform, so I made my way to the very end of the platform.

The train started to enter the platform. My heart rate started to build and I was sweating. It was a warm day but no way was it hot enough to sweat. I watched intently as the carriage came past. It wasn’t empty but as close to it as I could realistically hope.

The doors opened. I hesitated, thinking I could wait for the next train. I jumped on though, hoping the doors would close quickly before I changed my mind. I sat down quickly and heard the doors close behind me. I was stuck inside the metal tube.

I knew the next station was 2 minutes away (an eternity!) and if I could just hold on, I could get off there. The train started to move and so did a wave of panic that swept across my body. I started to feel queasy and hoped that I wouldn’t pass out or throw up in the next 2 minutes. I pressed my forearm with my fingers as the hypnotherapist suggested. It helped slightly, so I pressed more firmly in hopes it would help more.

I focussed on something outside in the distance and wished the seconds away.

After 30 minutes…or so it felt but really only 2…I arrived at the next station. I stood up quickly and hovered at the door. Maybe I could hang on for one more stop. And so it went, stop after stop. Each one was a mini goal and achievement. I still felt horrendous but the cloud of uncertainty had lifted slightly. I travelled all the way to my normal work stop. Only 21 minutes had passed but it had felt considerably more and I was drained.

Of course, I had to get home but buoyed by my success, I climbed onto a return train and started to tick off the stops again until I reached my destination.

This process continued for the next 2 hours. I would board a train, go to the city and return home. My discomfort eased slightly but I was still on edge constantly and had to concentrate hard on something else so I wouldn’t start to drift off into panic again.

I arrived home. Feeling significantly better than when I had left that morning but still concerned. I had travelled successfully with an almost empty train.

But what about peak hour tomorrow?

To be continued….My experience with claustrophobia – Part 3

 

 

My experience with claustrophobia – Part 1

My recent post content has drifted from the original topic of early retirement. I found that drafting my blog The best day of my life – Being diagnosed with depression and anxiety was very cathartic. For personal reasons, I have been reluctant to share my past  mental health issues, so it was somewhat of a relief to share some of my struggles.

I’m therefore keen to share some of my mental health experiences. I get to unload some weight from my chest and if there is someone that can relate, all the better. I consider that the mental health issues may provide some context to the normal content I blog and my life goals.

Today I want to share my experience with claustrophobia. Out of all of compromises and adjustments I have made through my life due to my mental health issues, my experience with claustrophobia was the one that really made me question my ability to function in society.

I like to keep my posts concise so they don’t get overly wordy but in this instance I think the detail is important to paint the full picture of how my mind was functioning at the time. I will split over a few posts so I can really focus on each aspect of my experience with claustrophobia.

Some history. Since my early teens, I have been uncomfortable in smaller spaces. The proviso is that the small space must be occupied by other people. This has applied to locations such as bus, train and air travel, office meetings and seminars or restuarants. I think the issue stems from my constant concern of attracting unwanted attention to myself.

Despite being uncomfortable, I have always managed to cope in the above situations. I would position myself to the back of the room in a meeting so I could make a quick getaway if needed. I would ask for exit aisles on planes so I could at stretch out slightly (I am 190cm, so air travel can be cramped). If no exit aisles, I would ask for a seat close to a toilet. The contradiction of course is that an airplane toilet is super cramped and I only use if desperate, however, it somehow gives me comfort to have it close by. On trains, I would normally board one of the end carriages as they are usually less busy and there may be a chance of a free seat.

Regardless of the situation, I would have a strategy in mind for an easy exit or a less crowded space. I found this need to be irritating but not debilitating as such.

Anyway, things continued like this. It was inconvenient but totally manageable. One day in my mid-40’s when I was waiting at the airport with my partner at the time. I’m normally a little quiet prior to a flight but I realised this day that I was a more agitated than normal. The plane had been delayed by 2 hours, so I had extra time to wait and think (never a good thing for someone with mental health problems). I was mulling over the cramped confines and what would I do if I got sick on the plane and everyone saw me. At no time did I contemplate the potential of a plane crash as clearly, death is far less terrible than being sick on a plane. Yes, I do sometimes wonder how ludicrous my thought process is sometimes..

Time came to board the plane. In one way I was glad that the waiting was over but on the other hand, I was dreading the thought of getting on the plane. As I had feared, the plane was full to capacity. The inside of the plane seemed exceedingly small and cramped. I had started to sweat profusely at this point even though I was only wearing a t-shirt and it was not hot weather. My heart was beating like a drum and I was breathing fast and shallow. I was eyeing the open cabin door and wondering if I should make a break for it before it closed. Of course, that would attract attention to me, so I stayed in my seat.

I told my partner I was going to close my eyes and rest. In honesty, I was closing my eyes to avoid the confines around me. I heard the cabin door closed and now I was stuck. My heart rate stepped up a few more beats and I started taking some deep breaths as I was starting to feel light-headed from breathing so shallow.

Possibly out of mental exhaustion, I fell asleep quickly while the plane was still taxiing. It was a relatively short flight of just over an hour, so when I awoke we had already started our descent. I felt fairly calm, so I kept my eyes closed until we had landed. I had survived the trip but the experience certainly frightened me. I had obviously had a panic attack as I had them before, however, it was more severe than I had ever experienced.

As I didn’t have another plane flight planned anytime soon, my concerns of the experience faded and life went on. My hope was that this was a one-off type panic attack and it wouldn’t occur again.

A couple of weeks later, I was commuting to work as usual on the train. It was peak hour and the train was standing room only. My usual practice was to watch a TV program on my tablet to pass the time. This day though, I was struggling to concentrate. I was feeling uncomfortable in my seat and queasy. The trip is only 20 minutes and I had only started to feel off the last few minutes, so I made it to my stop and thought I may have just eaten my breakfast too quickly. Once I was off the train I felt fine and continued on with my work day.

I noticed that over the next few days, the feeling of discomfort on the train was getting worse. The queasy feeling was there from nearly the start of the trip and the crowd on the train was very obvious. I became overly concerned about finding a seat so I didn’t have to stand for fear I may pass out during the trip. I found myself rushing in the morning so I could catch the earlier train, which usually had fewer passengers.

One morning, I arrived at the station to find the platforms were full of passengers. My heart started to race as a packed station was not normal at that time of the day. An announcement came over the PA that an ‘incident’ had occurred down the line and that trains had been delayed. I started to panic but tried to reassure myself that it was only a small trip and I would be OK. About 10 minutes later, a train arrived. It was packed to capacity. I think maybe half a dozen people in total got on as they were packed in like sardines. My heart continued to race and I could feel the cold sweats starting. The next train was marginally better but I could not force myself to get on and stood aside for others. Again, I let the next train go for the same reason. I realised then that it was unlikely that things would change in the next hour as it was becoming heavy peak time. I had to commit to getting on the next train.

Despite my mind and body telling me not to, I boarded the next train. I was standing in a crowd. I stared at the ground, with my heart pumping out of my chest and a sheen of sweat on my body. I held my breath at every station hoping that no one else got on the train to increase my discomfort. Of course they did.

A wave of relief came over me when I reached the last stop. With it though, a took an overwhelming concern about how I had reacted. I was living in Sydney at the time and peak hour trains were often very crowded. I was already arriving at work an hour before anyone else just to get a less crowded train, so getting to work any earlier was not really practical.

All that day at work, my mind was wandering to the trip home. I was starting to develop a headache and was not feeling overall that well. I started to consider what options I had available to get home. I checked the train timetable online. The longest period between stops was 12 minutes. That’s not long, right? Well, to me it seemed an eternity. There was no way in my mind I could last 12 minutes without going into a full panic attack. I found an alternative connection that would take an additional 30 minutes to get home but had a longest period between stops of 6 minutes. Even 6 minutes seemed an age but hopefully I could manage that. At the time this all seemed totally logical but it is clear now I was really having a massive mental struggle.

The time came to leave work. I snuck out early for the connection train. I arrived at the platform and saw no more than 50 people but again, in the mindset I had, it seemed like 500. I watched the carriages carefully as the train pulled into the station to ensure it jumped onto a carriage with seats available. I got onto the train and jumped into a seat. I heard the carriage doors close behind me like the gates at a jail.

I stared ahead at the (almost empty) carriage. The walls literally seemed to be vibrating and closing it. My heart was already pacing but stepped it up a notch. I was sweating like I had run a mile. I was feeling light-headed and I had to get off the train immediately. The next stop was only 90 seconds away but it felt an hour. I jumped off the train as soon as I could and stood on the platform shaking.

I stood as train after train came past. I watched in the hope that a totally empty train would come past but obviously, this was not going to happen. I couldn’t think. How would I get home? It was 17kms home and I was starting to consider how long it would take me to walk. I walked outside the station and saw a cab. My mind was so polluted with mess that I hadn’t even thought of a cab.

As I was so worked up, even the cab ride was difficult. I was in the confines of the car. I warned the driver that I was feeling unwell and may ask him to pull over at any time and kept the window open for the whole trip.

I got home exhausted and distressed. I was really rattled and struggled to come up with a solution. I couldn’t afford a taxi each way to work. I had a motorbike and could ride to work but I had to leave very early to ensure I secured a space. And if it rained, the motorbike was not a great option. I checked the weather and it looked clear the next couple of days. This gave me some relief that I could at least ride to work but the long-term solution was beyond me.

Despite my mental health issues, I have always considered myself as someone who can work out a problem logically. This time, my head was jumbled with thoughts and I had no idea of what to do. I will add that I was on a waiting list to be a train driver. I was very enthusiastic about pursuing this as a career path, so being unable to step foot on a train was surely a major obstacle. The probable loss of my career path just added to my worries and I found myself in a deep hole of despair.

To be continued….My experience with claustrophobia – Part 2

 

Depression, my unwelcome house guest

I’ve known him always

But he is not my friend

He arrives at my door without notice

Barging through the door to my mind

He stays days, weeks and sometimes months

One day he is here and the next he is gone

He isn’t here now but I know he will be back

Bringing the black dog of misery in tow

I used to look over my shoulder with dread

His return a constant worry to my thoughts

Now I just treasure the moments

When my home is mine alone

 

‘Chuggers’ – The sleazy car salesmen of charities

I will divert from my usual blog content today to go off on a rant about charity muggers, or as they are more commonly known now, ‘chuggers’.

It seems these days, it is almost impossible to walk through a shopping centre or along a populated street without being approached by a chugger. The approach seems to be variations or combinations of irritation such as:

  • Walking up with an extended hand to shake
  • Making a complimentary/amusing comment about me
  • Dancing or gyrating in front of me so they cannot be ignored
  • Juggling or so other diversion
  • Trying to attract my attention, even long after a have passed them

A high percentage of the chuggers seem to be relatively attractive young men or women. Presumably, this assists in enticing people to talk to them. It is noticeable that the majority of the chuggers have an accent. I’m guessing that this is the preferred occupation now for those on working holidays, as opposed to working in a pub or a cafe. I don’t recall ever seeing an elderly chugger. Maybe they just have more respect for how they are perceived.

I will admit that I once did make the effort to listen to a chugger. Admittedly, it was a pity stop as it was a freezing cold day and the girl was standing outside with little protection. And yes, she was attractive and foreign.

She gave her spiel for a charity that I can’t recall but vaguely remember that it was worthwhile. Anyway, she somehow convinced me (…did I mention, attractive and foreign) that I should donate to the charity. I discussed how much I was willing to commit per month to be advised that it wasn’t enough! I was informed that the amount would not be enough to cover the administration costs. I can assure you that the amount was not pennies but real paper money and I was still a cheap skate! Perhaps the charity should consider their administration costs.

I donate to three charities and have done so for close to a decade. I won’t divulge the charities as I consider that choosing your charity and donating is a personal matter. My choices for charities are based on a cause that emotionally moves me. I research the available charities that help the cause and what work they do. I will then make a choice of what charitable organisation I wish to donate to. Prior to this post, I have never told anyone that I donate to a charity. If I felt the need to publicise that I donate, I am probably doing it for the wrong reason.

Perhaps that is why I detest the chugger. They are force-feeding a charity to me without emotion. They are dancing and singing on the street about something like children with cancer. The theatre of the chugger is just to attract attention, without any consideration to the solemn nature of the cause. I don’t expect wailing or tears but some respect. It all feels like someone that wants to earn a commission, not someone with a genuine passion for the charity. It comes across as very sleazy and to be honest, I lose some respect for the particular charity by utilising this approach.

In this age, the point of the chugger makes little point. Prior to the internet, it may have been appropriate to advertise on the street for a charity to promote awareness. As almost everyone carries a computer in their pocket these days and information is just a fingertip away, the need to have someone physically approach you on the street seems pointless.

It is interesting how chuggers and their harassing sales technique has become the standard now for charities. I’m not sure how the approach was developed and why. I have worked in customer service as well as sales for a large part of my career. I have been cognisant of doing my best to avoid ‘commission breath’ and approach customers professionally and with integrity. I may have missed some sales to a more aggressive individual but I always want to go to bed knowing I have helped a person and not just helped myself.

I won’t abuse a chugger but neither will I make the effort to acknowledge them. Perhaps I am being petty, however, to me they are serving no one but themselves with no interest to a charity.

To me, if someone wants to donate some money in the morning, go no further than the old fella sitting quietly in his Salvation Army outfit. These people live the cause.

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