As I was on a ferry today from Jersey City to Ellis Island with my family an event that occurred in a recent presentation popped into my head. I was asked by one high schooler if I have any phobias, and I mentioned that I am both agoraphobic (afraid of wide open spaces) and claustrophobic (afraid of enclosed spaces). One boy asked me in response if I liked to be in enclosed spaces during sensory overload, and I realized that I do. Does that make me not claustrophobic? How can I be claustrophobic AND agoraphobic?
The answer came to me as I looked down at the waves on the ferry. I experienced many feelings while watching the waves–relaxed, calm, and a little nervous that my glasses may fall off my face into the water, but anxiety was not one of them. Why was I not feeling agoraphobic?
I realized that I was not feeling agoraphobic because I felt that the situation was under control: I never lost sight of land around me and stayed focused on the calming power of the waves rather than the obvious fact that I am not a strong swimmer and I probably would not be able to make it to the land in case of an emergency.
But how could I ignore this fact when only last night I had a fit so powerful that I became unable to think except for my synesthetic images over the sheer concept of an impromptu vacation in Florida involving a next-day flight? In that situation, there are many instances of both claustrophobia and agoraphobia that I would face: I would experience claustrophobia in the crowded airport, on the overwhelming security checkpoint line, and on the inescapable plane. Agoraphobia would definitely be present up in the plane, where the only way off is down, whether on the runway or into the ocean or on a deserted island. The view of tiny buildings 30,000 feet below me is not comforting, but anxiety-provoking.
I have no control over this situation. My actions are constantly being decided for me: I cannot move through the crowd–I move with the crowd. If the plane goes down, I am going with it. This made me wonder whether my phobias are described accurately–am I really afraid of open and enclosed spaces, or am I afraid of losing control of what I do? How much in control am I really? Am I delusional or rational? Is there a difference between the two? Does it really matter how I label things, or is this just another example of my necessity for control? Obviously the paradoxity of that previous statement proves that this is one problem I can’t solve. With that, I will sign off before my brain goes numb.
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