Phobias. They are irrational aren’t they? To this day I don’t know the causes and how it feels to have one. I guess they are only irrational from the outside and perfectly rational to the victim. Victim – yes that’s the word I have chosen, because that is how I viewed the person who revealed her phobia to me. I wish it was so of her own volition.
If you didn’t know already, I currently work in the escape game industry or whatever you want to call it. What does this mean? Well, I interact with people of all ages, backgrounds, interests etc. who have decided to spend an hour (sometimes more) escaping rooms by completing puzzles using team-work and intuition. Most people know what they are in for, whether it’s a dark cell or an asylum, you’ll be locked up until you escape. It’s normally a great experience, trust me, I check up on all my guests to see if they had a great time, but for every normal event there’s got to be an abnormal one to skew the trend. For me that occurred two nights ago.
I gave my introductory speech setting the eerie tone. It’s something I’ve worked on, honed and am even now still perfecting. At this point it’s probably too good because at the end of it I either receive nervous laughter or a mixture of puzzlement and terror. They never know whether to take it as a joke or be genuinely terrified so they end up with a good helping of both. On this particular occasion I did my routine, making sure to have equal measure of eye-contact with everyone as I usually do. I should have seen the signs then… but for some reason I didn’t. One of the ladies there made prolonged eye-contact with me. There was dread in those eyes which I mistook for humour… I know, I need to hang out with people more. We proceeded towards the cell.
I split them up then I locked them up. As soon as the door shut I knew I’d made a mistake.
“No! I can’t do this! I need to leave!” she wailed.
Haha. I’m used to the jokes at this stage. So I look up to maintain my menacing façade only to be met by a tear-eyed look of genuine terror.
“I can’t do this! He knows about this…Why?”
“He” referring to her boyfriend in the other cell. I stood there stunned. This had never happened before, not to my knowledge.
“Let me talk to her.”
There was the only voice of reason in the group of seven adults, myself included. Sense penetrated the shock and my brain finally kicked into gear. I let the man out to talk to his lady while I shut off all the magnets and effectively reset the game to let her out. It all took about 2 min. It must have felt like an eternity for the girl.
She was beyond embarrassed. They’d done this as a sort of surprise outing and had no knowledge of her claustrophobia, apparently only her boyfriend knew about it. It was a powerful thing too, as soon as the magnet activated, shutting them in, she wasn’t having it. Fear grasped her senses and squeezed every ounce of will out of her, like an anaconda fully wrapped round its prey the fear squeezed and squeezed until she couldn’t take it anymore.
So she sat out the game. I did the best I could to comfort her. She sat outside on one of our couches listening to music. Sometime later I brought her a cup of water and asked if she was ok while apologising for the fiasco. She said she was fine and reassured me letting me know I didn’t need to apologise. But I could see the damage this had caused. I’d glimpsed the looks of incredulity her unknowing “friends” had shot her. So I offered her a window by letting her know they’d progressed into a much larger room than she was currently sat in and I could let her join them now if she wished. She declined. The shame she’d acquired that night paled in comparison to the fear that harboured within: the phobia of confined space.