The Truth About Claustrophobia

Claustrophobia is simply described as the fear of enclosed spaces, but in reality it stretches far greater than that. It is living inside your mind, looking at yourself as if you were watching a movie, like screaming in a dream but not being able to make a sound, gasping for air when you know it’s impossible to breathe. Claustrophobia is the recurring thought of being too big for the space assigned to you by society.

We throw the word around thinking we know the feeling, but I believe feeling especially boiled on a humid day when you have been waiting in a long queue does not qualify. We don’t consider the minority of people who truly suffer to such an extent that we can simply not comprehend it. Try this on for size:

We’ve all played a good game of hide-and-go-seek, but imagine hiding in a closet with full belief that it is to be crowned the best hiding spot. After a while you start wondering why no one has found you; admit it, we all get a little frightened that they might have forgotten about us. But then when you want to go find them and try to open the door, you find that it is locked because nobody knew you were there. To top it off, the top rail of the closet, housing the winter coats, snaps and comes tumbling down. You have no space to remove them. Your vision is obscured. Your heart starts racing. Your lungs shrink to less than half of its capacity. Your mind won’t go quiet. You feel The Darkness inside you tugging to pull you down with it.

Yet everyday people walk with smiles on their faces and wear the masks they have created over years of observing society’s definition of normal. They lock Mr. Anxiety in the closet inside them and hide the key, hoping he will not come bursting out or seeping through the closet doors. They always carry the weight and burden with them of the possibility of Mr. Anxiety’s escape. They build walls without realizing that those very walls keep people from getting in instead of keeping Mr. Anxiety from getting out. When he does, it is not a pretty sight. He attacks your heart, mind, knees, sweat glands, speech, and basically any normal function. The body goes into auto pilot, and for some this is not a very productive setting. Sometimes even reverting to the Happy Place is risky because there is the slight possibility of The Darkness invading that space too.

The point is that we too often don’t regard these feelings when we claim to feel claustrophobic. We unknowingly strip these people of the one thing they are very certain of: their fear and feeling. Stepping lightly around this subject is not what I’m asking. I am simply asking that we think twice before claiming such a strong emotion as our own and that we take into account the endless possibilities of emotions it could also be. Don’t lock yourself in the closet, pull down the rail, and claim that you feel any sort of darkness. What you feel in a moment like that is grey, and you are still able to describe it. What they feel is indescribable and equivalent to black, which is the last resort to trying to explain it.

Allow people who suffer from this life-altering Darkness to claim their feelings, and if you ever find yourself in a situation where it is possible — help them. Explain to them where the closet key is and how to find it. Once they’re out, help them remove the coats clouding their view and start being the light to guide them.

Zéandri Rautenbach is a high school graduate with her adulthood staring her in the face. Even though her name is hard to pronounce even in her own country, South Africa, she wears it with pride. When she isn’t releasing her emotions in a book, she’s showering them out on paper. Nothing brings her more joy than supporting people through her stories, and she hopes that this will one day amount to becoming a novelist. Other than literature: antiques, classical music, and hysterical puns (even though she can’t make them) are her fuel. She can be reached on Facebook or Instagram: @zeandrirautenbach

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