Friday, February 24, 2006

My first brush with claustrophobic anxiety

Never in my life have I felt claustrophobic. I am usually very tolerant of crowded spaces, whether I'm in an elevator, ballpark, BART, or airplane lavatories. I may be intolerant of my surroundings but the minimal or nonexistent personal space never really affect me psychologically.

After a week's on-time BART rides this week, it was about time that we experienced a significant delay. This morning's train was delayed by 10 minutes, causing a huge backlog of passengers. It was already crowded from my station, and as we made stops towards SF, passengers kept on squeezing themselves onto the train even though there really is no room left for any of us to stand, move, or breath. I can't blame these impatient passengers for doing what they can to squeen onto the train- we all have to get to work, and we all were already late! But there really is a tipping point when the train just becomes way too crowded.

I was standing next to the exit door....plastered to the side of a seat. I didn't have anything to hold on to, but I was able to lean against the seat to stay standing. But people kept on coming in. While my position didn't change, the number of people immediately next to be grew from 1 to 5 to 8, in the same small corner. I was smelling all sorts of bodily odors and breaths, people's purses and computer bags were hitting my knees, hips, and arms as the train moved. Coughing and yawning were magnified. I just became so anxious to get out of the train for some fresh air that every little scent, sound, and touch, became overwhelming.

My heart started beating really fast, and I started feeling butterflies in my stomach. It was bizarre!!! I've never felt this way before. It was so crowded around me that I couldn't see the door, the lights, the handle bars, or any free space around me. I tried to look down to calm down, but it kind of made me feel worse because there were too many pairs of shoes for that small cubic feet of space. It only made me more anxious.

I ended up just staring at my shirt and followed the up and down movement of my own breathing. Finally...we got to SF! It was a struggle to even get out of the train. I was relieved to finally see the sun and soak in some fresh air.

This ride was by far the most crowded BART ride I've endured.

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