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I don’t recall ever having had any signs of claustrophobia until my son was a toddler and wanted me to follow him through one of those large mazes of brightly-colored plastic tunnels at a large indoor play place we visited with friends. It really was an amazing place, like McDonald’s Play Places, but cleaner and about 20 times larger. When did those tunnels suddenly look uninviting to me? Seems like I still enjoyed them as a teenager, when having a little sister gave me the excuse to still crawl through them. And when my psychiatrist would ask me about crowds, I don’t recall thinking they were that bad, either. That was something my much older parents were bothered by, not me. Also, the five years I spent driving in L.A. traffic, I thought I did pretty well. It wasn’t like I enjoyed it, but who did?
So, my puzzlement at my issues with crowded rooms that seems to have come about in just the past few years about equals how I felt about my onset of the fear of pretty plastic climbing tubes. Maybe the brain chemical that deals with crowded rooms just ran out. Hopefully it’s only on vacation. I figure the claustrophobia came on with pregnancy hormones, or just with age.
Do tight tunnels and crowds have anything to do with each other? All that I can think of is that the crowds at Disneyland move. They go somewhere. You keep heading where you’re supposed to, and you’ll probably get there, even if it’s behind a long line. Tonight’s crowd was at a pleasant place: my Bishop’s house. “Sister Bishop” had planned a great evening of music for ward members, where anyone who wanted to could perform. Every number was uplifting or humorous or both. I wish I had a recording of it.
The beginning didn’t start out so well for me, though. We got there and the room was already almost full. People kept coming, though, so they kept squishing together and adding chairs and more and more people. We were sitting at the front, because a friend and I were going to perform a duet, and they put more chairs between us and the piano.
Someone else who was going to sing had left her seat, and someone explained that she had claustrophobia and had moved to the kitchen. A big ray of hope came down on me: There’s room in the kitchen? (I thought it was already full of people, too.) I can move? I won’t have to suddenly pretend I need to use the bathroom, where I can stay until I need to sing? I’d been sitting there, miserable, feeling like every added chair and every added person was weighing down on me. No one else seemed bothered by it. And why was I suddenly so worried about what people thought: meaning, what they’d think if I went to another (more empty) room? I didn’t want to worry my duet partner that I was bailing out on her: that seems like a pretty rational and genuine concern.
So, I had to thank the fellow singer/claustrophobia sufferer/braver person than I who just moved to the other room. I followed soon after.
Something I’ve gotten a lot is this: “You have anxiety issues? I never would have guessed. You get up in front of the congregation every week and lead the music. I couldn’t do that.” “You sing in front of people all the time, how do you do that?”
My current theory: music has always been my way of relaxing. Also, when I sing, it’s something I’ve prepared and practiced. Even if it’s at the spur of the moment, I’ve done it my whole life. I did have a hard time at first tonight. When I went into the kitchen I realized that my anxiety was up, and I was shaking, and I’m glad I didn’t have to sing right away. I put my head down and breathed, and the first few singers’ numbers really helped me to calm down. Also, when we sang, I had a nervous “tremolo” in my voice that I don’t usually have. One of those things that I noticed, but others probably didn’t.