Winter snow in Minnesota has its pluses and minuses. I’ve already referenced the wonder of wafting flakes, the cushy clumps of white upon the evergreens, all the novelty of exotic climatology to a California girl. If I could just figure out the proper strapping technique for snowshoes, one that held them firmly in place rather than suddenly flapping randomly askew, I might even enjoy a wintry trail across the prairie. And there’s something comforting about saying the word, “brrrr” as you peek outside while rubbing your hands together as you smell the bouquet of baking ginger cookies.
On the minus side, I’ve noted the specific difficulty of maneuvering a too-steep icy drive. And the worry that we are out of our element and comfort zone on the road in general. Do I turn into a slide? Or, yikes, do I take both hands off the wheel (as one friend suggested) and let the car “right itself?” Is my “emergency kit” (sleeping bags, granola bars, kitty litter, shovel, flashlight, “pee” jug, red bandana, string) complete?
Also on the minus side – the minus-degrees walk down the drive the past few mornings to get the paper. If I stay to the driveway, I risk slipping on patches of ice. If I round the house in order to refill the bird feeders in the yard on my route, I sink through snow up to my knees and chance losing track of the path. Regardless, I hold my breath for the most part, interspersed by shallow in and outs, just in case the ice crystals in my nose are sucked back into my brain. And I squint through half shuttered lids in case my contacts freeze upon my eyes balls. Honestly, that very thing happened to a friend of my son’s, years ago on a wintry day in New York City.
There is all of the above and more to this new winter experience, but the one thing I had definitely not bargained for, it turns out, is the most difficult of all. I am claustrophobic.
This winter we discovered, you see, that less heat is lost and more importantly, less heating oil is utilized, if we keep the blinds drawn.
But it turns out that it is very important to my psyche and over-all mental health to be able to “see out.” Consequently I am veering these days from mild underlying disquietude to outright panic. I admitted in the past to my slight case of OCD, but I hadn’t reckoned with the truth of being stricken with yet a second anxiety disorder.
The term Claustrophobia comes from the Latin “claustrum,” meaning “a shut-in place’ and the Greek “phobos” or “fear.” The condition isn’t related to the fear of the restricted place itself, but what might happen because of that enclosure, for instance – suffocation or danger. Possibly stemming from our distant ancestors who, especially in times of wintry cold, took shelter in a cave which subsequently collapsed upon them. Or had been previously claimed by bears. For the record, I am deathly afraid of bears.
In the “literature” there is even discussion of the size of the amygdala in the brain, whose nuclei send out impulses associated with fear and fight-or-flight response. According to a study, the amygdala on the right side of the brain is smaller in people who suffer from panic attacks.
It could be, then, a genetic disorder, and/or the result of a childhood experience. My cousin Debbie, while building a snow fort with her brothers, had it collapse and bury her and she now has to be sedated before an MRI. My mother, for whatever reason, would never, ever get in an elevator alone. She would walk up ten flights of stairs rather than taking any chances and she only dared, with heart pounding fear, to ride with another person at the greatest risk of emotional collapse.
I have examined my past the last few days and decided to lay the blame on B.J. Hill rather than my personal amygdala. His grandparents owned the neighborhood retail fur store and we kids played Tarzan in the back sewing/workroom, Shangri-La and other fantasies on the upper stairwell and in the downstairs cold storage. The vault was used to hold customer’s fancy furs throughout the summer and was entered through a massive metal door with a coded lock and a swiveling wheel for a handle, like in a bank. There was one small light bulb, controlled by a switch at the top of narrow stairs. Down in the depths it was cold and in the dim light all manner of hanging animal pelts were faintly visible.
One day, in a burst of playful fun and creativity, B.J. decided to bolt for the top of stairs, turning out the meager light bulb as he ran out, closing the heavy door behind. Blackness. Cold. Silence. Fear.
It ran through my mind that he was just joking. Or was he? That the grownups knew where I was. Or did they? Time stopped.
Most likely it was only moments.
I saw B.J. a few years ago at my mother’s 90th birthday party, and we laughed about all the mischief we got into, all the fun neighborhood hi-jinks. I’m not mad at you, B.J. But I happen to know that you live in Palm Springs these days and you just might owe me a winter sojourn!
In the meantime, it’s 46 days until Spring and “Blinds Up!”
Diane…now you know why so many Minnesotans have a need to go away to a warm place for a short or long vacation in the winter! And it is probably worth the extra heating oil cost to keep those blinds up.