How I overcame my Cleithrophobia!

It’s been a week since I was forced to face my last remaining fear; Cleithrophobia; the fear of being trapped.

I don’t know what made me follow that lady into our elevator with the kid last Friday; we usually take the stairs. Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention…but maybe it was something more…

There are two elevators in our building;  Car 1 is small.  Car 2 is for moving furniture and such.

We got into car 1.

The elevator doors closed and we began to rise. We didn’t make it all the way to the 2nd floor when there was a noise and a drop that made my stomach feel like it wanted to jump out of my throat.



The woman started pressing buttons. She doesn’t speak English. The elevator blinks and beeps but nothing happens. The kid is excited but won’t stop shouting things like “Ropes broken! We’re going to fall down and die!” The woman looked increasingly panicked despite not understanding a word he’s saying.

A minute has passed.

We hit the phone button… it didn’t work. The call kept getting disconnected.

We hit the alarm.

3 minutes passed.

The woman started to hyperventilate.  She gestured for me to pry the doors open.

All I can think about is getting OUT of that tiny metal box.

I forced the doors open to see that we  midway between floors.

I let the inside doors shut again and my lungs feel like they’re in a vice.

No air! I shut my eyes and felt the elevator shrink around me.  I wanted to start swinging fists;  I needed less noise and more room!

But that’s not what moms do.

At least, not the ‘good’ ones.

And so, with my eyes closed, I tuned out the yelling and the alarm and I told myself that the first step, the only one that mattered right then, was to breathe.

Deeply and slowly…

What would be the BEST way I could handle this situation?

(Upon seeing that my eyes are closed and that I am somewhat panic stricken myself, the kid starts to freak out…)

“Just give mommy 2 minutes, baby! I just need to breathe…” I heard myself shouting over them, my voice cracking with fear, tears in my eyes.

And then everything went silent for a moment.

I am not afraid to die. Not at all. I’ve been close to death and have lost so many people that I embrace death as the only inevitability in life. I’m not religious but would (only in the past 2 years) consider myself spiritual, so I have no fear of what comes ‘after’.

I don’t like being hurt but we’re unlikely to die as we’re only about 10 feet up!

There’s plenty of air.

The elevator is the same size it always was.

I’m ok.

I can help them.

I will help them.

And just like that, I wasn’t afraid anymore.  The feeling of tightness in my chest disappeared. The overwhelming urge to rip my way out of that box by any means necessary totally evaporated.

I felt calm. I felt happy.

I was me again.  Just me, trapped in a box with two hysterical humans, one who can’t speak English and one with very limited speech.

I opened my eyes, took a deep breath and smiled.

I reassured the kid that everything was fine.  I stroked his hair and said soothing things while looking into he eyes of the woman.  His fear turned into excitement again.  I tried to communicate with the woman but the language barrier and the fear factor made that incredibly difficult.

She managed to mime that she was scared  that we would use all of the air. I smiled and shook my head no to try and reassure her. I took deep breaths and showed her that the door opened. “There is airflow!”

She looked calmer.

6 minutes have passed. I suddenly remember I have my cellphone! I don’t always carry it.  Isn’t that lucky?

I called Dream Man and asked him to call the building manager.

7 Minutes…

8 minutes…

The elevator phone rang several times but we couldn’t make out what was on the other end.

I get a call on my phone from the building supervisor.

“Are you ok!? We can see you n the camera! We’ve called the repairman! H should be here momentarily… maybe 15 minutes? Tony [other manager] is trying to see what he can do in the meantime! Don’t worry! Don’t panic, ok?!”

She sounded scared.

“No problem. I’ve got this.” I hung up the phone.

15 minutes passed.

The lady sat on the floor. The kid demanded she get up but neither one understood anything the other was saying so it was all good.

I hear shouting up the elevator shaft.

I remember that I have a phone and offer it to the lady.  She is so thankful, I try to apologize for not offering it earlier but it’s a lost cause.

She shouts hysterically into the phone for 3-4 minutes before hanging up, smiling sweetly and saying “thank you”.

20 minutes have passed.

The woman is picking at her toenails and occasionally moaning.

I hear shouting outside the door.

“Can you open them?”

“YES!” I shout.

One of the tenants who happens to be an elevator repairman was there with one of the building supervisors. Their feet were at my chest. They bent down.  I sensed fear.

The kid tried to run for the gap, hoping to be lifted out but I grabbed him just in time.

“No!” They both shouted.

“We can’t help you out. I’m so sorry. I tried to do what I could but I’m not authorized to touch this elevator. I’m so sorry…”

“Just stay calm.  We’d take you out of there now if we could but it’s far too dangerous with it being between floors.”

No kidding. I just read a Cracked article about elevator accidents like 2 weeks ago.  Metal coffins.

“Ok… so how long will we have to wait here?” I asked.

“Maybe 20 minutes? They’re usually pretty fast and it’s already been awhile…”

Two and a half hours.  That’s how long it took.

It didn’t go by quickly but I’ll save you most of the details.  Sufficient to say that the kid and the woman suffered waves of calm and waves of sheer panic.

I smiled and cuddled, hugged and reassured.

Do you know what happens when you spend 2 and a half hours in an elevator with a full bladder, a large coffee and a kid with a full bladder?  YOU DRINK YOUR DAMN COFFEE AND USE THE CUP LIKE A TOILET FOR YOUR KID AND YOU NEARLY BURST YOUR BLADDER.

When they finally pulled us up and out of that thing, I had to hand the nearly full coffee cup to the repairman who stupidly assumed it was still coffee. “Wow, must have been hard not to drink your coffee but good thinking!”

I was already running for a toilet.

I peed for 137 years.

True story.

Except I missed one very important bit.   The young man who came to retrieve the older lady said, “She says to thank you! She doesn’t know what she would have done without you with her!” The lady was kissing her fingers and blowing them towards me with tears in her eyes.

I nodded, blew a kiss back and ran for the loo.

It’s been a week.  I can’t tell you how incredible it feels to know that I am a person with no fears.

I used to say thing like, I’ve conquered all my fears, except my fear of being trapped. Sometimes I worry that if I got stuck in an elevator, I’d just start swinging fists!  I’d totally freak out!”

NOW I can say, “I am fearless!”

I don’t think I believe in fate.  I’d prefer to believe that I create lessons in situations rather than the lessons being provided by the universe or god or whatever you call it/him/her/us.

But this situation feels a little different.

Not only did I learn a life lesson, not only were we there for someone who needed us, the BEST bit to come from all of this was watching my beautiful, autistic son deal with all of this. The excitement turning into fear, turning into panic.  The drama that went through his head and then the decision to make it all into a fantastic experience.

He didn’t come out of that elevator traumatized or scared.  He decided that it was one of the most exciting things to ever happen to him!  He told people about all the best bits.  He took an emotional experience and digested it properly. What was left was pure joy.

It took me YEARS to learn how to do that!

Somehow getting trapped in an elevator ended up being a fantastic experience for both of us.

Who’da thunk it?


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