Not Claustrophobic After All


Today’s section in The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, Sixth Edition by Edmund J. Bourne, PhD dealt with claustrophobia. This was a section that I was looking forward to, since I’ve been dealing with what I thought was claustrophobia, but after reading the section, I have doubts about that.

My so-called claustrophobia started sometime last year, when I had to have an MRI done of my head. They put me on the table and started to put me in the machine, and I got stuck. (I’ve got a generous belly.) I panicked and yelled out to the technician that I didn’t fit. He was quick to pull me back out, so I wasn’t stuck in the machine but for a few seconds, but for months after that I would have dreams of getting stuck in claustrophobic places and wake up in a cold sweat, gasping for breath.

I’ve noted, however, that I’m not claustrophobic in enclosed places like the car or an airplane. The only real instance that I dealt with it was in the MRI.

I mentioned this to my therapist yesterday and she told me something I suppose I already knew, but needed it pointed out: everyone’s claustrophobic in an MRI. That’s why they invented the open MRI, to be able to service patients that couldn’t otherwise use a regular MRI machine. So she doesn’t think that I’m claustrophobic.

Today I read that section in the book and it made a point of noting that it is very common for people to experience claustrophobia in an MRI. So I’m really starting to believe that I don’t actually have claustrophobia.

Now, I do have a phobia of suffocation. I can only hold my breath for a few seconds before I get panicky about not breathing, and that’s folded into my fear of death. That could run alongside claustrophobia, but in my case, I wasn’t worried that I couldn’t breathe in the MRI, and my subsequent dreams of being in an extremely tight enclosed space dealt more with being trapped than not being able to breathe. The whole thing seems complicated, but at the root I think I just intensely dislike head-first regular MRIs. (I got an open MRI on my head last year and my recent MRI on my knee was feet-first, so I didn’t feel trapped or stuck with my head outside the machine.) Fortunately those are easy enough to avoid – just make sure any head-first MRIs are done in an open machine.