Panic in a lift

My name is Robert and my phobia began in the early 1970’s when, during a power cut, I was trapped in a lift. I was only there for a short while, about 15 minutes, but it was pitch black, and I was on my own, I don’t know what happened, I just panicked because I couldn’t get out.

My marriage had broken up during the preceding year and life was very stressful as I learnt how to live alone once more. The pressures of divorce and not seeing my children often all built up. It was pointed out to me later on that the episode in the lift was the final straw that triggered the start of my claustrophobia.

After that day, I couldn’t face going into a lift again, I was petrified that the same thing would happen again. Working in an office block didn’t help as I now had to use the stairs every day. As time went by, things got more complicated. It wasn’t just lifts that I was scared of. I found I couldn’t go on public transport or in fact anywhere that I felt I couldn’t escape from, things went from bad to worse.

One day, whilst in a library, I noticed a poster for a charity that helped people with phobias. I rang No Panic and asked for help. The charity gave me advice and support. I had counseling with them and after 12 months things had improved tremendously.

Exposure therapy was what worked for me. The first step was to find a lift where I didn’t feel too conspicuous. I went to the next town and found one in a multi-story car park, I chose evenings as this was a quiet time. For the first 4 weeks, day in day out, I stood outside the lift watching other people using it. I took a newspaper to read so as to give the impression that I was waiting for someone. The goals that I set with my counselor were gradual ones and the next stage was to stand in the lift, holding the door open, I stood there and counted to ten. Each day I tested myself more and more. I kept calm by using a breathing technique that I had been taught. Singing also helped me. Step by step and again and again I worked at the lift, eventually just going up one floor, which was a huge achievement. This I did regularly until I started to feel a lot easier. I can now go in lifts but still using the breathing technique, no one notices at all. It was a hard journey but so glad I did it.


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