Claustrophobia and the Grand Canyon

Claustrophobia. The fear of tight spaces. It is a very common fear and well known. Up until recently, I thought that it was a fear that a person was born with. I had never had this fear. I could crawl in the tightest spaces, unafraid of anything. However, a couple months ago, I learned what claustrophobia was… the hard way.

I was laying in an MRI machine again. With the rapid progression of my visual loss and the way my body has been attacking itself, it was no surprise that yet another MRI was ordered. I’ve had several and tried to approach this one on the light side as though it was another well-deserved nap since my body was continuously running on empty lately. I laid down on the cold, hard table and the technician placed the face mask over my head. In my mind, I remember thinking not to comment about feeling like a hockey player and just relax. So I did. I fell asleep quite quickly since lately my energy levels had been nonexistent. All of a sudden something happened. I think I went to swallow some saliva and ended up choking instead. Worst possible thing to happen in the middle of an MRI. With a face mask tightly secured, I couldn’t sit up. Frantically, I hit the panic button. Again and again and again. My eyes popped open and all I could see was this shield blocking my face; immobilizing me. Keeping me from fresh air… from breathing. I reached for the mask, trying to rip it away. The technician came into the room and retracted the table as slowly as I thought was humanly possible.

When I finally was able to sit up and gasp for breath, the technician looked at me in amazement. She asked me what happened and all I could tell her was that I started choking. When she asked me if I wanted to come back to redo the MRI, I told her that I was able to finish and that it was just a random occurrence and that I was ok to complete the procedure. Turns out: I wasn’t. That simple occurrence made me develop this random thing that is called claustrophobia. I was terrified of that mask being secured over my face again. I laid down and the moment it went over my head, I freaked out and jumped up again. My heart raced. My anxiety was through the roof. What happened to that nice nap I had expected? Now, it had been replaced by fear.

I knew that if I was going to make it through this procedure the way things were progressing. I had to calm myself. I didn’t want her to know what was going on so I asked for a drink. I knew that seeing that mask cover my face would elicit the panic I felt. So I took a drink and closed my eyes. I laid down and took deep breaths. The sound of the mask clicking into place raised my heart rate but I knew if I opened my eyes, the panic would take control. I too a deep breath and pictured a place I had never been. A place open and wide. A place bigger than life: the Grand Canyon.

The remainder of the MRI, I took myself to a place I had only seen in pictures. The Grand Canyon. It was a place that was deep and vast, open and wide, free of anything confining. I felt myself standing on the edge of a cliff with my kids as the wind flowed through my hair. Nothing held me back. Inside, there was still fear that everything would cave in and that I would choke to death, but I made my mind believe that there was a place that this could never happen.

That is how I made it through that day. Even after the radiologist ordered contrast and I had to endure another thirty minutes of deep breaths and my imagination taking me to a far away place. The Grand Canyon saved me from claustrophobia.

Today, I finally made it to the Grand Canyon. While my imagination did a pretty good job letting me know the freedom it brings, my mind did not do it justice when it comes to the depth and magnitude it holds. While sitting on the edge of a cliff, my husband said it perfectly “you can feel it’s silence”. In fact, it is so large and powerful; you feel as though nothing can escape its’ greatness. It is deafening. Frightening. Calming. Tranquil. For the first time since that MRI, I felt as though everything was okay. I was just a dot on this Earth that existed in such a small amount of time. My panic and fear was not even an blip in history. The greatness of the canyon was almost too much to take in; a counterbalance of what the mask felt like in the machine.

Now as I sit writing for the first time of that new fear, I feel a sense of relief and gratitude. Maybe I was meant to know what it was like to feel constrained and fearful so then I understood the relief of being free and grateful. Maybe I would not feel the greatness that the canyon holds if I had never felt the restraints of being out of control.

I would love to sit here and describe the Grand Canyon to you. I would love to tell you about the way the layers of rock and earth delicately fall upon one another. How the stone is older than the dinosaurs and how water and wind eroded the land to form the beautiful landscape. However, the Grand Canyon can’t be described. It can only be felt. Lived. Seen. It is a monument that pictures can only capture the surface of the power that it holds.

While I sat in that MRI, imagining myself at the Grand Canyon, I saw a beautiful canyon with an open horizon before me. Freedom and solitude that I needed to get through a procedure. Today, I saw time. Evolution. Peace and serenity. Today, I saw Mother Nature in all her beauty. Today I witnessed the power of the Grand Canyon.