Thursday, June 27, 2013

Sepia Saturday 183: Claustrophobia!!

There once was a fearful spelunker
gulping gin in his bunker, he'd hunker 
When he finally felt brave
He got lost in a cave  
                                                        I guess he should have got drunker.


A cave for the prompt this week. Oh no! My heart sinks when we're traveling and I hear a cave  is coming up. In my youth, my heart would beat rapidly with excitement! And then decades ago in Roitan, Honduras I had a traumatic experience - a scuba diving accident which left me with immobilizing claustrophobia. It started immediately after the accident and was so severe, I could barely sit in my car, stand in a line or sit in an office. For three weeks I walked around in a state of near panic. I had to get treated or I guess die - do you eventually die of anxiety? Fortunately I was directed to a great psychiatrist who straightened me out in three sessions! Is that a world record? Once she walked me through my trauma, explained the post traumatic stress and the obvious link to the claustrophobia, something clicked back into place in my brain and I was able to cope with almost everything - except caves.

Caves. At the word, my throat clamped shut, hands sweat, mouth dried, heart pounded. Caves!! The dark, dankness...the walls closing in. Trapped! Bad, bad things happen in caves and dark small places. Echoey sounds, dripping things, slippery floors, sliminess, cave-ins. Bats, bogey men, spider webs, slithery things, terror, dragons, zombies, vampires. Sweat ran down my back and I'd shudder at the very thought of having to enter one. 

Traveling around as I have in my life it's been inevitable that a cave (or tunnel or underground something) is on every travel agenda. Most people love them, but I've had to content myself with sitting outside watching everyone's coats and bags, usually buying a guide book or post cards or a photo book of the place to get an idea of how the place looked, while waiting for my companions to emerge. Explaining about the claustrophobia was almost the worst part. Unless you've experienced it or some kind of panic attack, you'll never understand it because it's totally irrational. People think you're weak or nuts or both.

Not surprisingly, I have no photos of caves around....the following are borrowed

Of all the caves I sat out, Lascaux in the Dordogne, France is the one I most regret...those beautiful paintings 17000 years old. They've now had to close the caves to protect the paintings and you can only visit a cave replica.
Lascaux    autocww2.colorado.edu

The Postojna caves in Slovenia were another miss along with the Monastery Cave in Kiev and of course, the catacombs in Paris and Rome, the Waitomo Glowworm caves in New Zealand. The Kuchi tunnels in Saigon were a welcome miss.  The Elephant cave in Bali I could manage because it's so tiny and you're in and out in a minute. The entrance is appropriately through the mouth of a demon.
Elephant Cave  sacred-sites.org


Now for the happy ending. I'm not going to attempt to explain the whole thing. The short version is that we were in Vietnam a decade ago, cruising on a junk in Halong Bay, one of the most beautiful places in the world.

nature.new7wonders.com

I got stuck in a situation where either I went through a cave or simply got left behind - the rescue would have been mortifying. Forced into the cave, with no choice but to go forward, I did it. The rational finally trumped the irrational; the fear of crushing embarrassment trumped the terror. And guess what? The world didn't end; I didn't drop dead of a heart attack and once I saw the light at the end of the tunnel, literally, I was completely thrilled with myself.

Caves no longer terrorize me.  I have an ever-fading memory of the cave anxiety that's etched on my brain, but it's a minor distraction. I sit no more at the entrance to caves with a little knot of fellow claustrophobics (I was never alone) but boldly march forward and enjoy the slithery sights.

Hold your own damn coats!

Steel yourself, stifle that phobia and head on over to Sepia Saturday for more fascinating stories. 


35 comments:

  1. You never cease to amaze me!!!!! Partly by the endless places you've visited and the experiences-
    good and bad.
    What's the name of that psychiatrist?
    Barbara

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    1. She was sheer delight. I think part of the cure was my desire to please her. Whatever works, huh?

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  2. I share your fear of caves Helen. I only go in because I don't want to miss out on something, but I can't say I leap at the chance. That scary Elephant Cave would only reinforce my fear. BTW your Mr Linky Link isn't working.

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    1. Thank you for fixing my Mr. Linky. The Elephant Cave was all entryway and very little cave. The best kind in my book.

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  3. Now that's a story! I love that there's a happy ending although owning a phobia isn't the end of the world. And by all means, fix that Mr. Linky link - I'd hate for anyone to miss this!

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    1. Yes, some people incorporate phobias nicely into their personalities and are viewed as eccentric and even more interesting because of them. Thanks for the heads up on the link.

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  4. Caves I can manage but narrow spaces wher you have to crawl to get through are a different thing entirely. Well done to shake off the fear,

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    1. I was taught to keep a rubber band on my wrist. When I felt the onset of claustrophobia I snapped the rubber band on my wrist, hard, so that it hurt and distracted my brain from sinking into the fear. I know it sounds too simple, but it works for me.

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    2. I went down into a Mastaba in Egypt. We crawled down tunnels, down a hand made ladder, across a plank over a drop and into the tomb. It was an amazing experience that I will never forget. I felt like Indiana Jones. So much more memorable than going into the Pyramids.

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  5. My daughter is backpacking and in Vietnam at present. Shall I tell her about the CuChi tunnels without mentioning they are "..... infested with ants, poisonous centipedes, scorpions, spiders and vermin..."? The Paris Catacombs have always been a favourite of mine since I was a small boy, I have been endless times since taking girl friends...new wife...daughters over the years. Hope I make it to grandchildren too ! As for cave drawings, I have never been convinced that they would be worth the effort to see. The sceptic in me tells me that most were done in the early 1800s, but I am sure I am wrong !!

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    1. Nigel, you really know how to show a girl a good time. There's nothing like a catacomb on a Saturday night. About the cave drawings, I'd never thought to question their authenticity. Maybe I shouldn't feel badly about missing them.

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  6. Having had a very close call underground in the past, I'm not keen on any subterranean activities either, and heights give me the willies too, but I notice that I'm slowly overcoming the latter with age. I've long wanted to visit the cave paintings at Lascaux, and the Elephant Cave in Bali looks very inviting. Thanks for the tour.

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    1. Sounds like you have an interesting tale to tell about your close call.
      I'm not fond of heights either...happiest on terra firma out in the open.

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  7. I had panic attacks for many years, so I know how that feels. I have never had an opportunity to go in a cave. I think I would be OK with it if it felt like going into a building, but not if there were any tight places.

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    1. One of the problems for us phobics or ex-phobics is the low lighting necessary in caves to protect the environment. I don't think you're missing anything by missing most caves. The idea of them being there is about as enjoyable as the actual thing itself, at least for me.

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  8. I have never been in a cave and after reading this, I think, if given the chance, I will only go to the kind with a tall ceiling and a good entry way. I think that elephant one would be perfect.

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  9. There one was an angling spelunker
    who was plying an old cave for a lunker
    she prepared to cast
    once her phobia passed
    but decided she's have to get far drunker.

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    1. Thank you...I like the phobia bit.

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  10. Please change my last line to:
    "but her aversion to depths finally sunk her."

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    1. Yes the last line on the first go was a syllable short, not to mention "once" was misspelled...

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  11. A great post - and a great example of how to overcome phobias. Caves tend not to be my favourite places although they are not exactly a phobia. Now snakes, on the other hand .....

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  12. An amazing story. Well done you!

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  13. Great post and you reminded me of the caves we have visited. I also dislike being in the dark like that as well as the slime!

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  14. Most enjoyable reading this morning. I find that elephant cave most interesting too!

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  15. Ahhh, Braveheart you are! I'm a Cave & Tunnel Avoider of the Highest Order (I panic as a passenger in the Callahan Tunnel in Boston -- after all, you're driving under the Atlantic Ocean...yikes!) But I would love to have seen the Lascaux caves, too...

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    1. There are more of us avoiders than I thought! You tend not to meet too many outside caves where I hang around...only those of us who married people with a cave proclivity. As for driving under oceans, that's another fear category altogether.

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  16. Thanks for this post...very well written and I'm so glad you're sharing about your many travels. I think people who have traveled a lot have so many great stories to tell!

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  17. I used to be a diver, but found that I had an equilibrium problem after the deep afternoon dives. Used to bum around the Yucatan, where they have the limestone water caves called cenotes. Very dangerous diving, people die every year...

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    1. I'd love to read about your diving experiences on your blog.

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  18. I understand your fear. Very glad that you faced it and overcame it. I nearly drowned in a Scuba Diving accident and haven't been since. I didn't become claustrophobic but think it took me two years before I would put my head in water (besides the shower)without hyperventilating.

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    1. I don't even like to hear from people planning scuba trips! I always end up imploring them not to go (what a wet blanket, eh?). I'm glad you were spared the claustrophobia....do you still swim and enjoy the water?

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  19. The Lava Beds I know, but I most likely will only know places like Lascaux caves and cruising on a junk in Halong Bay vicariously via the travels of friends. Thanks for the tour.

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  20. This makes me think of my mother's claustrophobia. She was once stuck in an elevator for several hours, long before I was born. I never fully grasped her panic breathing when she'd be in a small place until I first experienced a bit of the panic.

    Glad to hear you overcame the fear. I don't think I'll ever get over my fear of heights. I have been known to practically shut down with fear when up to high.

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  21. I am somewhat claustrophobic but go on anyway...
    I'm also stubborn, so, I guess it helps...
    Halong Bay must have been spectacular,
    but you did miss on some opportunities...
    Next time, perhaps?!?
    :)~
    HUGZ

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