I remember being trapped in a lift once. At first it didn’t occur to me to panic – being the reasonably stable individual I am. I just slid down the elevator wall and squatted at the bottom, thinking of other things to while the time away. What really planted that little seed of fright was when the intercom crackled on and some disjointed voice announced that there was going to be a slight delay – yeah right! A delay as in repairs being made to cabling blah blah blah. That’s when something started chewing at the base of my brain. I could feel that icy trickle of panic beginning to seep into and numb the rational part of my brain. I imagined the lift plummeting down thirteen storeys with me in it. A compact human body, being mine of course – discovered under the dusty rubble. Or maybe in three years time, after not wanting to repair the lift they find a grinning skeleton – or perhaps just my crushed bones…
Well I started chewing my fingernails. I say that, but it’s not the actual nail bit but the little pieces you can shred off the side. Making my thumb bleed didn’t help at all and I was eternally grateful to the Universe that I wasn’t a hemophiliac. So then I started pacing out the elevator for size. It was four by four, or by six or four by eight or something. After a while the size didn’t matter – and I never thought I would say that with absolute honesty, but it didn’t. After a while my squares turned into circles and I was still gnawing at my fingers, nails inclusive now.
The appalling thought of needing to pee enveloped me and I was shamed into believing that I would just have to release my bodily functions in this confined space should it come to that.
At least two hours had passed and I was beginning to feel strange – almost like I was in a shimmery bubble. Fortunately they let me out, tearful and shaky, about twenty minutes later. Two and a half hours is a long time to be stuck in a lift – I truly thought I was going to go insane.
I’ve never been one to be claustrophobic or anything, but that lift episode really scared the begeezuz out of me. I always took the stairs after that, I just couldn’t get in a lift. Well I went for a drink with a friend of mine who had always been really terrified of heights. He said his worse fear was that he would be pushed out of a window or fall out of a building from too high up to survive. He said he had nightmares about it and it was absolutely ruining his life; work-wise and socially – let alone emotionally and the psychological toll a lack of sleep was taking on him. He said he dreamt of his arms frantically flailing to reach a hold that he could see but always he clutched at nothing. He screamed for help helplessly, as no one would ever hear him. His lover would wake him up as he had been screaming in his sleep and often hit them with his flailing limbs. Now I’d never experienced anything like that. Never had I suffered from “bad dreams” or nightmares of being trapped in a confined space at all, or trapped. When I was a kid we would hide in boxes and cupboards during games or to give someone a fright. I never felt trapped or scared then, just anticipatory. I was the frighter not the frightee and it was exciting. I could wait for ages in the crawlspace, tiny aperture or cupboard waiting for my prey to step by. Or huddle tightly and quietly in some of the darkest and smallest places, waiting to be found.
Many so-called professionals say that you should live out your fear and it will solve your problem – but I wasn’t afraid. I met my friend again and we went out for lunch. I asked him about his own phobia about heights and falling. “Well, y’know…” he said between bites, ” I know myself that this stuff is just in my head. I’ve spent a fortune on shrinks and been to a few – they all say the same thing – it’s in your mind, babe.” He stopped eating and looked at me while his tongue sought the escapee’s around his mouth and tidy teeth. “Doesn’t mean I’m cured though….” he mumbled and carried on eating.
But it did make sense. It was all in my head, my stupid brain, my over-active imagination and analytical mind. No matter how many times I told myself this though, I still could not get into a lift. Moving or otherwise I couldn’t do it. I knew I had to be brave and thought of ways to make it less traumatic. In fact it might be easier if I see a bunch of people in a lift I could squeeze in – at least I wouldn’t be all alone. There would be someone to talk to.
So today’s the day! I have decided to find a people-packed lift. I will walk through those lift doors and they will close. I will be carried up to my destination and everything will be just fine. Absolutely fine. Well…I did it! I went in the lift, sure I hyperventilated a little and blamed the air-conditioning. It’s not like I was scared or anything like that. I journeyed to the first floor but walked back down via the stairwell. The lift was busy, too packed. All you do is stand around waiting to get in and then get spewed out on one floor or another – it was a waste of time when you could just walk.
Life seems to be so much better in the summertime. Everything regains its glamour and beauty. Even people do – well some of them. Summer is a time for barbecues, hot late nights, swimming, playing and loving. We went on wild yachting weekends, champagne breakfasts and innumerable parties. We took off for an amazing holiday in Honolulu – total luxury and decadence. There were white sandy beaches, hot sun, beautiful people and drinks served in hollowed out fruits. We were there for three weeks and came back home ready to knuckle down and work. Refreshed, renewed and invigorated. No time for lifts – what lifts?
Ignorance is bliss. It’s no big deal – I’m just not interested in travelling in elevators or lifts. Some people are not interested in baking or stamp collecting either. I had heard a story about a woman who was terrified of germs and she used to hold her breath when she was in a hospital or medical clinic of some sort. She kept fainting, she was so terrified that her brain overrode the fear so that she could keep breathing and would knock her out! Now, come on – I am no way that bad. I mean that is silly, air is a necessity – I know, I’ve been trapped in an elevator.
The weird thing is, I’ve been having these really weird dreams about elevators. I was mainly travelling through space in them and I feel very very edgy, unsafe. Like some feminised Doctor Who in an elevator not a phone booth…ridiculous. But I would wake up sweating and feeling incredibly anxious, as if I was waiting for something to happen to me. No, more like expecting something to happen to me. It’s no biggie though – I can cope, it’s just a little disruptive to my sleep pattern, is all.
A couple of nights later I’m lying fast asleep and I dream I’m shooting unpredictably through space and it suddenly jolts to a halt. I wait – the doors open and it’s a hospital. I have to hold my breath or the germs will get in and smother me, my lungs, eat through my heart and brain. This is not good – panic has set in and I’m holding my breath, holding. I’m pressing the buttons in the lift – even just to close the door! I feel like I’m pressing the buttons through the wall and nothing is connecting. I’m stuck in this lift – the worst thing that could ever happen to me. I can feel my face cracking as tears and sobs are overriding the desire to not breathe in disease. Thank God I’m breathing though. The breathing is turning into convulsions, I’m going to die in that elevator and it’s dawned on me. I scream so hard the veins pump blood in rushing gulps to my head. My face is all screwed up and ugly. Somehow I’m looking down on myself – I’m watching me die, it’s almost funny.
I wipe my face with the back of my hand. The snot and tears are all down my face and like a gibbering idiot I am begging anyone and anything to let me out. I see myself in the metal walls, my clothes look so dishevelled and I don’t know when it happened but the doors had closed sometime during my hysterical tantrum. I bang on the doors and walls, air seems to be hard to suck in – like it’s syrup. Suddenly things slow down, I watch my tears thud into the company carpet. Slowly it occurs to me that the elevator is my coffin and I am dying in it. I always thought I’d be dead before I got this far! You are supposed to be dead before you got put in a coffin. This is unbelievable. But here I was, scratching at a coffin lid. Splinters of wood from the detail around the metal find their way up under my fingernails. It hurts but I don’t care. I’m bleeding but I don’t care. I’ve gone beyond. My clothes are drenched with sweat and the heat and closeness is overbearing. I feel the walls getting closer and closer and fortunately I blacked out and don’t remember anything else.
Apparently they found me in my bedroom wardrobe. The door was pretty scratched up and covered in my blood and so was I. I was unconscious when they found me, as I mentioned and I guess I’m lucky to tell live to tell the tale – passing out is most probably what saved me.
I woke up screaming about the elevator apparently, and that still happens now and again – maybe even more now. Everyone here at the hospital tries to tell me it’s only an empty room. But I know better than that. They have elevators there if you wait patiently – when you’re a patient there’s not much else to do but waiting. And like they say, it’s all in the mind and mine goes there.