There was once a little girl who had claustrophobia. She lived every day of her life normally until she got shoved into a small room for 24 hours. So imagine, you are shoved into a room, the walls tight around you. You begin to hyperventilate, looking frantically around you for an escape. The windows, locked. The door, locked. You press your shaking hands against the stone cold wall and push as hard as you can. Nothing. Your body is shaking, your heart is still pounding. Until you see light from the corner of your eye, the door opening, these walls opening you up to freedom.
Relief and gratefulness overcome you like a tidal wave. This little girl knows how that feels, this little girl had no escape. This little girl grew up trying to face this fear, but she kept running away. She wanted to face it for her little brother, who was her only way of safety, her only way of freedom from the closing walls that mentally and physically surround her always.
Let’s go back in time, to 2012. What were you doing then? Breezing through school, making friendships, being young and carefree? For this little girl, her mind was overloaded with numerous worries, insecurities and fears that still haunt her today. Claustrophobia was one of them. She grew up in an abusive poor family with two severely autistic brothers who were extreme escape artists. One day, she came home and had slammed a door by accident. Instantly, she knew that her step father would punish her. He was abusive, both physically and verbally. He had heard that slam, yelled at her, dragged her into her closet sized bedroom and slammed the door shut.
There was no door handle on her side of the room, the miniature window was glued shut. She had no way out and didn’t know how or when someone was going to let her out. This uncertainty scared her, the uncertain feeling attacked her like knives stabbing into her stomach. All she cared about was finding an escape. She was screaming and pounding at the door. No response. She was punching the walls with all her might, she was hyperventilating, she couldn’t breathe properly. She was scared. No response. The only response was the walls screaming in her face as they closed in around her. Her body now squished against the wooden frame, the room became smaller and smaller, swallowing her.
She tried to push away the walls, block out the screams, still punching at the door. She was shouting, begging; to be let out. “Where are you. Mum? Lucas? Leon?” She was shouting more than ever that her throat burned. Suddenly she heard a knock from the door she was leaning against. “Na’a?” Her little brothers voice, Leon’s voice, away from the claustrophobic place she was stuck in. He was reminding her that he was still there; but he couldn’t let her in, he was too short to reach the door handle. By now, she was shaking, but when she heard his voice, she slowly stopped shaking. This effect he had on her was unreal. The feeling of relief when she pressed her shaking hands onto the door, she had felt his presence.
The walls became to look human again, she began to breathe again. That was her first experience with claustrophobia. The connection of him being there, had somehow made it easier to get through it all and felt like her only way of safety. However, as she got older, more claustrophobic, more scared, she didn’t try and face the fear. She ran as far away from it as possible. A few years later, this little girl’s life changed forever and her little brother was gone forever.
This little girl had to take on the challenge. Not only to feel proud of herself, but to make her little brother proud of her. Somehow that memory was planted into her brain, and she wanted to remember it as the day he had saved her from the panic she faced, not the day where she was fearful and scared. This little girl couldn’t go into lifts, small bathrooms, cubicles and even some small bedrooms. This made her family and friends think of her as weak and she’d often get teased for her fear. You’d think they’d be supportive. Maybe it was because she couldn’t do things most people can cope with, or maybe she was just an easier target. So when she told them about her idea of taking on the challenge, some had laughed, but she mainly got support and encouragement. This little girl was going through so much in her life, however she still kept the seemingly unachievable goal in mind.
Time went by, and slowly her support from others decreased. Years went by, and she was still hiding away from the fear monster that kept creeping up behind her, causing her to shrink away. She was too scared of the triggers that would haunt her like ghosts. Ever imagined a fear haunting you like that? Ever imagined a memory haunting you like that? Ever imagined an abusive parent in your mind haunting you like that? However one day, in 2017, she was at the mall with a few friends. They walked into the building and faced the intimidating steel doors which made her shoulders raised and her eyes widen. One of her friends said, “We can take the stairs if you want”
This little girl took all of her courage to say, “It’s okay, I’ll take the lift”. She was shaking as they walked through the automatic doors. To her it looked more like the entrance to hell. She could barely walk in herself and her friends literally had to push her inside. In her mind she kept repeating to herself, “Deep breaths, close your eyes, it will be alright.” She began to freak out, tears were streaming down her face. Crying in a lift? This embarrassed her. She focused on keeping her mind set on her brother and his presence as she was in the lift. She was with friends who were supportive and comforted her. This was different as normally they’re used to her not going into small spaces at all, so their support encouraged her to go further, no matter how hard it was to face this fear. The doors opened, and she shakily stepped out. She did it! She had gone into a small space and didn’t scream or try and tear down the walls.
Her tolerance improved after she had realised that each small space wasn’t like the one she had been in years ago. Now, she can go into bathrooms and lock them, she can go into small bedrooms and feel mainly fine and she can go into lifts too. Sometimes, the memories come crawling back and sometimes she freaks out. She doesn’t think she will ever be able to shake that away. But now? She’s more confident, She’s more free. She didn’t need her brother in the flesh to get through this fear, She needed her confidence and a positive mindset, along with the memory of her little brother too.
There once was a little girl who had claustrophobia. Do you remember her? That small girl who was shaking, screaming and trying to escape that small room she got locked in one day? That girl who one day, years later, decided to go into a lift and face her fear? That little girl was me and I’m forever grateful for going through it all as it made me realise that stepping out of my comfort zone has strengthened me as a person. It can strengthen you too. So I encourage you, some day to go and do something you have always been afraid of doing. Whether it’s talking to someone in person, or turning off the light and facing the dark or reaching out in a hard time. Because I promise you, even if you do freak out, it's the feeling of stepping out of your comfort zone that's incredible. Because this little girl knows how you feel, this little girl knows whats its like to have no escape. But she escaped, so she knows you can too. I know you can too. I was once a little girl who had claustrophobia and now I’m finally free.