You’ve read the statistics – millions of Americans struggle with some sort of phobia/anxiety/OCD problem. The symptoms are discussed on the medical level, the spiritual level, the family level, the relationship level and the professional level. Stress creeps up and takes over, resulting in ailments that seem to have no cause or cure.
While my stress comes in waves and different shapes and sizes, the most tangible manifestation of my fear is reflected in my avoidance of elevators. It’s been about 11 months since I’ve stepped into one. I wish I could say that it’s got something to do with not knowing where I want to be, something corny like I’m confused about what “life floor” I’m trying to get to, but in reality, elevators are my Everest; they seem to rise unending. Since it’s not a mountain I particularly want to climb, I don’t. Instead I walk up ten stories of stairs while staying at a hotel, I carry my twenty-kilo luggage up six flights, I cancel meetings because there are no non-emergency access stairs available. I make my friends leave parties to come down and open the stairwell for me (who thank god always do so with a “no problem” attitude). Some people laugh in discomfort, others try and convince me that they can cure me with a simple reminder: “you know you’re being irrational, right?”
My grandmother lived in one of those apartment complexes where everyone was an independent senior citizen i.e. less wheelchairs, more movie nights and cafeteria chatter. I went there every day after pre-school, during which time my grandmother would feed me copious amounts of mashed potatoes and fried chicken and allowed me to watch gluttonous amounts of Barney, Wishbone, and The Jetsons. In between feeding me like I was Cesar (picture a 3-foot-tall kid with badly cut bangs and a grapes being dropped gently into an open mouth), naps, and commercial breaks, we would go on walks and I would help my grandmother practice her English.
I loved going there. Everyday I danced around, spitting out catch phrases in my own newly minted English, one liners like “that’s so funny I forgot to laugh” made me the toast of Strawberry Creek Lodge. I really knew back then how to cater to my geriatric audience, how to capitalize on my skills, and score copious amount of Werther’s candies.
Day in and day out, I came over, napped and played. Then one afternoon I decided to pay a visit to one of my favorite old ladies in the building. I slipped out while my grandma was in the bathroom and called up the elevator. With no thought to where I was going, I pressed the button and waited for it to light up. After that, I don’t remember much more than the excitement of feeling like an adult, so in charge of where I was going.
Later, when my grandmother found me playing in the hall, her voice reached a hysterical tremor and her eyes bounced around like balls in a pin-ball machine. A string of nonsensical Russian words escaped her mouth. Her T-Rex like terror of anxiety lashed out…
“Ada! Never go into an elevator by yourself, you’re too small, you’re going to get stuck! Never never never!!!”
A switch flipped right then. The transfusion was complete. My overactive imagination flashed forward to the unknown, a little me, standing under a solo swinging florescent light bulb, within a huge elevator, forgotten, and stuck forever. What had minutes ago seemed like an exciting roller coaster, had suddenly become a cage of confinement.
From then on I took the stairs no matter what. Every single day I sprinted up the stairs to beat my grandmother as she took the elevator up to her apartment. I began double checking locks whenever I went into the bathroom, making sure that I would not get stuck in there as well. Obsession intoxicated all realms of my life; it controlled the way I ate, thought, and socialized. I held my breath a lot after that, both figuratively and literally, waiting for the worst to happen, the cartoon piano to squash me like a pancake. Planes, trains, bridges, all became transportation traps.
At one point in my life I finally kicked the habit, I flew all over the world, I locked locks and stood inside for extended period of time, just for the sheer thrill of being able to–I even pressed that elevator button., reaching the 11th floor at times.
Nowadays though, it seems like there are two debates going on in my head–the positive and empowered voice coaxing me, reminding me that I know how to do this, it cheers, YES YOU CAN! The other however is my devilish incarnation, happily reminding me how small the space is, amplifying the creaking noises, and overwhelming my mind with the image of my four-year-old self calling into the abyss for someone to come help.
It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately as I seek to find my footing in the adult world. These limitations are not what I had planned, but hey, I guess neither was that extra shot at the bar…no, but jokes aside, my genuine aim is to become a better person each day, to take my weaknesses and make them strengths. I think that’s what we’re all trying to do– be the best version of ourselves, learn how to function at our highest capacity.
I’m not sure what the path will be like. I’ll need a coach for sure. For now, my gluts continue to tighten as I trek up countless floors, but sometime soon, elevators, you and I, we will have a nice long debate, and I will step out the victor.
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