This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
I had never identified as someone who struggled with claustrophobia until I passed out at a concert two years ago. While I’d gotten carsick and felt overwhelmingly trapped at parties in the past, I’d never thought of these experiences as an extreme fear of confined places.
But when the lights were dimmed and the band started playing, I suddenly became very aware of how many people were squished into the venue. I fixated on the crowd behind me; my hands started to sweat and my vision began to blur. The next thing I knew, I had been pulled aside by a paramedic asking if I’d taken any drugs. I hadn’t, but they hardly believed me when I told them I’d fainted due to a fear of the concert hall caving in on me.
Claustrophobia, the “irrational fear of being shut in, or fear of enclosed spaces, such as elevators and tunnels,” is believed to affect roughly five to seven percent of the world's population, with an even smaller amount actually seeking treatment. This is perhaps due to a global misunderstanding of the phobia.
Although often considered its own condition, claustrophobia is actually a form of anxiety disorder that is provoked by a fear of being enclosed or having no escape. Symptoms include hyperventilation, dizziness, nausea, a choking sensation, or even fainting. Some of the triggers for people with claustrophobia are elevators, tunnels, medical facilities such as MRI scanners, crowded areas, and public bathrooms.
As someone who struggles with anxiety, I was curious as to whether or not other anxious people had faced similar symptoms of claustrophobia. So, like most people my age, I took to the internet. I came across a subreddit channel called “Irrational fear my ass,” for which the description reads: " A place to post pics videos and stories of anything that triggers that "I got to get out of here!" response."
Here are some of the highlights, view them at your own peril.
My first thought is, Why would anyone want to know what this looks like? My second thought is, This reminds me of one of those spelunking movies I refuse to watch (you know, The Descent, Sanctum, even Journey to the Center of the Earth).
Jeez, this is a screenshot from that nauseating Windows 95 maze screensaver. If that doesn’t ring a bell, check out this 92-minute loop I found on YouTube that almost made me throw up after 30 seconds.
You may be familiar with those oddly satisfying slime videos that were all the rage on Instagram a little while ago. Pretty sure I’ll never be able to enjoy them again.
This would probably be a lot more effective were it not set to an EDM soundtrack. Either way, I definitely can’t make it through to the end of this video. That smiley face is so cursed.
One redditor writes: “I can see someone taking one of those over Niagara Falls.” Probably safer than a barrel? I think I’d also rather drown, though.
The more I look at this, the more uncanny the title seems. I hate it when the person recording asks: "You getting a little bit moist there?" I’m so stressed.
At a first glance, none of this seems to be particularly helpful for people who struggle with claustrophobia. I actually noticed a few honest posts in the subreddit forum that sought advice, such as this one. Most of them remain unanswered, which is probably due to the fact that there seems to be limited public knowledge of the disorder.
Once I got over my initial reaction to the clips, I’ll admit that I was inexplicably drawn to them. It was actually pretty satisfying to be able to to detach myself from a set of situations that I wouldn’t dare put myself in.
One form of treatment for claustrophobia is exposure therapy, in which patients are gradually exposed to the source of their phobia. The goal is to desensitize the negative response to triggers over time. If successful, patients will experience less anxiety when faced with these situations in real life.
In my own case, I realized that these posts provided me with a certain level of comfort because of how ridiculous they were. As a result, the anxiety they brought on felt manageable. I didn’t feel immediately threatened by these videos, so I felt like I could effectively handle my fear and anxiety. Oddly enough, this online space dedicated entirely to inducing nausea and panic allowed me to regain control of my claustrophobia.
So, perhaps there’s something to be said about Reddit’s r/claustrophobia for people like me. But in order to debunk the common misconceptions about claustrophobia that prevent people from seeking help, I think a clearer distinction needs to be made between an “irrational fear of enclosed spaces” and the likes of “slithering through Satan’s birth canal.”
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