Sorry… cheesy title. But I can’t resist making a lame joke. It makes me feel as though whatever random thoughts or feelings I am having are more acceptable if I can make a joke about it. Today my random thoughts and feelings are of a claustrophobic nature, or maybe more agoraphobic. I’m not exactly sure how to define it, other than a sort of ‘people claustrophobia’. My problem is not with tight spaces, not when I’m alone anyway. Nor is it with wide open spaces. It is really with being crowded by people, even just one or two of them can be too many if the space isn’t very generous. It makes me want to put my shields up to full power and warp factor nine myself out of there.
I think I get this reaction to being crowded as a learned response from my childhood. Whether you know much about Psychology or not, I’m sure most people have heard of Classical Conditioning (as in Pavlov and his dog experiment). It is basically the idea that a stimulus (perhaps an unpleasant one) paired with an action or situation (crowds in this scenario), when presented repeatedly will leave you having a strong association between the two things, leading to an action (panic!). So, we have a learned response to the stimulus. I am what I like to call an ‘elective orphan’, meaning that I have chosen to live without my parents for my own good. They were not good people, and should definetely have never had children. I think that from spending a childhood around people that were bad for me, I have probably learned through Classical Conditioning to associate being around people with fear. And this produces an anxiety response in me. I do sometimes get this anxiety when I’m out and about in public places, but it is more common for me to experience it at home. Again, I think this is conditioning. Being trapped at home with abusive parents was of course far more dangerous than being with them out in public, where responsible grown-ups could see us.
I have been doing the ‘share-house thing’ for a long time now, through necessity rather than choice. This is a really big challenge for me in daily life, because of this people-related panic I sometimes feel. It happens more when I am stressed out, and is usually more of a morning thing. In some of the busier house shares I have been in, I would frequently choose to go hungry rather than try to cook in a kitchen where somebody else might stand a bit too close to me. There have been occasions where I would rather stay confined to my bedroom and eat my own toenail clippings, rather than put myself in a situation where I might panic because someone brushed me on their way from the kettle to the fridge. It is not that being brushed passed would ever do me any bodily harm. I’m not going to catch the black death because somebody touched me. I will just panic because it feels ‘wrong’. Not wrong in a way that I can explain very well in words, but in a ‘gut feeling’, language-less kind of way. It is an invasion of my personal space, my zone of safety. Having even just one person ‘on top’ of me (I think that is a funny, and very telling expression) feels like being swarmed by a load of wasps, or climbed over by lots of little people. It is a feeling of lost control I guess, and that might explain why it is conducive to panic; and in a nice, comical way that reminds me of the Doozers in Fraggle Rock. They were really cute, I wouldn’t mind finding them hanging out in my kitchen!
I think a lot of people must be familiar with the feeling I am talking about, because we have these expressions such as ‘on top of me’, or ‘all over me’, which are total exaggerations, but are very commonly used in our language. These expressions are very good descriptions of how it feels.