My first claustrophobic experience happened when I was pregnant with my 5th child while army crawling on my belly through a dark cave in the Ella Valley. I know, I was as shocked as you are.
I remember the guide saying, “Ma’am, I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to go in, are you sure?” And I was like, “I’m pregnant, not ill. Watch me homeboy.” As soon as the damp earth and darkness sealed itself around me, one thing became totally clear, “I need to get out. Now.“
Since then, the brassy din of claustrophobia has crept up on me a handful of times, several of which landed upon me in the throws of sleep and had me bolting out of bed, searching for light to orient myself in space like a hunted animal. That feeling comes in varying strengths and sometimes with years between visits, but no matter it’s potency, when it arrives, there is no mistaking it. The feeling is clear; I feel trapped. Lost. Confined.
I suppose panic is the most accurate word to describe it.
However, the very idea of panic strikes me as bizarre, because it has never been a regular track on my emotional hit parade. I tend to function pretty well under high pressure, high stress situations. I’m cool and calm in emergencies. I’m someone people choose to have around in childbirth, made a living off that skill set for more than a decade, even moved into crisis intervention for a bit. And, I don’t just play cool for the benefit of others, I’ll have you know…I’m one of those odd ducks who actually enjoys the experience of unmedicated childbirth.
So, imagine my surprise as I was driving home tonight, climbing the heights of the Golan through rain and low lying clouds, when rather suddenly, a thick fog completely engulfed my car. It was everywhere, with little to no visibility for about four feet in any direction. (For comparison, a prison cell in San Quentin is 4 x 9 feet). I felt that familiar twinge of fear wrapping its fingers around my heart and tapping on it like nails on a table top; Pinky, Ring-finger, Tall-man, Pointer, repeat.
My heart rate accelerates, and I notice the sensation of something like a sonar gong banging in between my ears, and I’m trying to have a rational conversation with myself…Sarah, this is just something you’re feeling right now…you can get on top of this.
All I see is the interior of my car and white all around me.
Breathe, Sarah. Breathe. In. Out.
I’m in prison. I’m lost.
Breathe, you know where you are. You’re okay. You’re going to get there.
Looped onto that fear, is the knowing that I’m on my way to pick up my youngest kid, who’s at a friend’s birthday party, even further north up the mountain, meaning, more fog.
I keep driving.
You got this. It will pass. Steady your breath. Weather always changes. You’re not in prison, this is just fog…
10 minutes pass as I crawl towards my destination. After an SOS call to my psychologist-wilderness-survivor dad, it becomes clear that I cannot continue. There’s not enough visibility and I’m feeling too scared.
I remind myself: my kid is safe. This is not a failure, just a pause in our regular programming. I prepare to pull over at an upcoming exit…
$hit, missed my turn.., I didn’t even see it.
Okay, I know where the next turn is…I’ll pull over, stabilize my breath, relax my shoulders…sing a calming song like Pop said.
“Oh my name is Dick Darby, I’m a Cobbler…
I served my time at ould camp,
Some call me an old agitator,
But now I’m resolved to repent”
Okay, low beams, hazards are still on, you got this. Slow and steady.
OMG, I did not see that 18 wheel truck pulled off the side of the road until I was practically passing it… You’re okay, just take it slow. Breathe. Notice your shoulders, relax. Nice and slow, you’re okay…
“Well my father was hung for sheep stealing.
Me mother was born for a witch…”
This is your calm song Sarah? Lovely.
I manage to turn around and head back home, clear that I cannot continue deeper into the fog alone. My kid is safe, there is no shame in turning back home. You hearing me Sarah? Everything is cool. It’s not safe on the road now…it’s okay to turn around, you’re okay. Shahar will pick her up. He’s not afraid.
$hit, I can’t see 2 feet in front of my car…I’m driving 20 km an hour…it’s okay Sarah, drive as slow as you need to…take it easy…you’re okay.
“Oh my wife she is humpy, she’s lumpy.
Me wife she’s the devil she’s cracked.
No matter what I may do with her,
Her tongue it goes clickety clack.”
I see the streetlights to our moshav. I’m almost there.
Lights are on. Kids (minus the little one) are home. I’m safe. Shahar heads out in my stead to pick her up. (They return home safely an hour later).
I feel defeated.
I failed. Wait, what? How did I fail exactly? I didn’t finish my task, I got too scared.
Yeah, but you made sure your kid was safe and got home safely. Easy sister.
I could have braved it if I needed to.
Of course you could have love.
I was smart to turn around, right?
Why am I even asking you?
Why am I so scared of feeling closed in? What is that all about it?
How do I make it stop?
Breathe love….In. Out. We’ll get to it all.
“With me ing-twing of an ing-thing of an i-doe
With me ing-twing of an ing-thing of an i-day
With me roo-boo-boo roo-boo-boo randy
And me lab stone keeps beating away.”