Quelling Anxiety, Letting Go of Perfection

 

Imagine your neighbor upstairs left the water running over a holiday weekend and flooded your apartment. The damage is major, and you need to move out and into a smaller apartment with your two dogs, two kids and husband, for four and a half months. Imagine the babysitter you hired to help with your kids the week of the move canceled on you and you cannot find a replacement. Imagine your moving date is fast approaching and you are still negotiating the lease for your rental, coordinating with movers, fighting with your contractor and waiting to hear if insurance will reimburse you in full for your repairs. You are not packed at all for your move, let alone for your upcoming trip for Thanksgiving. Yes, you are going away right before this major move. Imagine the stress, anxiety and panic you feel, especially if you are the type that is super organized. I am talking about an uberorganized person, the type who color-codes everything and loves to make lists. How are you going to pack everything?

If you can imagine all of this, you have taken one step into my world, because I am describing my life right now. My anxiety was so intense that I couldn’t handle it. All of the sudden I realized that there was no way I was going to get all of my packing done, and a feeling of calm overcame me. A perfectionist faced with certain imperfection has no choice but to let go and laugh at the absurdity of the situation. I know that the movers will come, and I will move. I don’t expect the process to be smooth or easy, but I know it will get done. There are many different ways to move, and throwing stuff into poorly labeled boxes is one way that I will be getting to know well.

Sometimes you need to let go of perfection.

Adapting to Phobias: A Claustrophobic Gets Stuck in an Elevator

girl-in-the-elevator

Stuck in an Elevator

Do you need to conquer your phobias or is it enough to adapt to them? I believe that it is enough to adapt, provided you develop the tools you need to function reasonably well in society.

I am a claustrophobic, which means I have irrational fear of confined spaces. For me, the worst confined space is a crowded elevator. My first claustrophobic episode occurred when I was a young girl. My mother, two sisters and I entered a crowded elevator on the way up to the top of the Statue of Liberty. I started to panic, feeling like the walls were closing in on me. I was riddled with anxiety.

As an adult, I take elevators, but I avoid crowded ones whenever possible—the exception being if I am running late and decide I’d rather endure panic than be late. If I have the choice, I take an escalator rather than an elevator. It may be surprising to hear that I live in a building with a small elevator that resembles a mahogany coffin. Before I moved into my apartment, I needed to practice going up the elevator one floor at a time, one day at a time, until I could ride to the top of the building. I love where I live, so it was worth it for me to get comfortable with the elevator.

Getting stuck in an elevator is one of my biggest fears. A few years ago, this fear became a reality. I was in my building riding up to my apartment with my two dogs, when the elevator stopped. I felt like I was about to have my first panic attack. For me, this episode was about life and death. I felt like if I let myself have a full-blown panic attack, I would die. I didn’t want to die, so I went into survival mode. I lay down on the floor of the elevator, took deep breaths and closed my eyes, transporting myself somewhere else. I had no experience with meditation, but I got myself into a meditative state.

My cell phone was working, but my battery was low. My security blanket when I ride elevators is my water bottle—I carry it with me in case I get stuck, but this time I had forgotten my water bottle. I was stuck in the elevator waiting for the mechanic to come, without my water bottle, and the mechanic was stuck in traffic. I did not know that I could have called 911 to have the fire department rescue me, as this was my first time stuck in an elevator. After I was stuck for an hour and fifteen minutes and the mechanic was still forty-five minutes away, the superintendent of the building called 911. It took five minutes from the time of the call to the time I was rescued. Needless to say, I love the fire department.

I felt so good about myself after my release, like I was a survivor. I felt like I had survived an avalanche. I was so proud that I had conquered my claustrophobia. I even thought that I was cured, but the episode turned out to be a display of strength, not a cure. Today, as I have always done, I take escalators instead of elevators. I avoid crowded elevators whenever possible, and when I find myself in a crowded elevator, I panic and pray that we do not get stuck. Usually, I can breathe through my anxiety, but sometimes it doesn’t subside until I get out of the elevator.

I have adapted to my phobia, not conquered it. Adapting works just fine for me. Although I avoid situations that I consider high risk, such as extremely crowded elevators, I live reasonably normally, which includes taking elevators, because I know that I have the tools that I need to survive should I find myself stuck again. I can take deep breaths and close my eyes. I can sip water, should I remember to bring my water bottle with me. Most importantly, I know that I can call the fire department. May there always be cell phone service, and may I never forget my cell phone when I am in an elevator.