Washingtonians Confront Claustrophobia By Caving (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

Transcripts

Washingtonians Confront Claustrophobia By Caving

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
Today's show is all about fears, right? And we've already met a women who's listed her fears and is finding ways to face them. Well, up next, we'll meet someone who's found a rather creative way to face just one fear, claustrophobia. To conquer it, she's been spelunking, you know, exploring caves. Environment reporter, Sabri Ben-Achour, brings us more on this particular phobia fighting method and tags along with some cavers to learn how they manage when caught in a tight space.

MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR

00:00:31
An hour and a half outside Washington and 60 feet into the earth, I have been abandoned.

MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR

00:00:37
Where are you?

MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR

00:00:41
Keely Owens is a longtime caver and she's led us through chamber after chamber through hundreds of feet of rock.

MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR

00:00:46
No, that's impossible. A person can't fit in that.

MS. KEELY OWENS

00:00:49
You want to see?

BEN-ACHOUR

00:00:50
Oh, my gosh. So Keely has just disappeared into a rabbit hole.

OWENS

00:00:56
It's kind of like twister. It's a three-dimensional puzzle you got to solve with your body. So that's the fun part of it.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:01:04
Then it's my turn.

OWENS

00:01:07
Here come the feet. It's kind of like watching a birth. Here come the feet. We've got feet, we've got knees. There you go, you're in. You're in the water, not where you want to be.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:01:24
We've entered this room through an eight foot tube in the rock. The room is not more than three feet high. For Owens, these tight crawls are exhilarating, and undiscovered quiet spaces are peaceful and nurturing. But for other people, not so much.

OWENS

00:01:38
Yes, they trigger all sorts of stuff and I've seen people get really disoriented. They feel like they're going to fall over. We could be underground and have everything be fine and everybody's happy, everybody's joking and people would start to, we're going to start heading out now soon? And you can tell by the tone of their voice that it was really like that you needed to be saying yes to that question.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:01:59
So of all people who go into a cave, Amber Leeman, is maybe the most unlikely. On the second floor of a downtown Boston office building, the walls are all glass and light pours in.

MS. AMBER LEEMAN

00:02:12
Thanks for coming out. I'm Amber. Come on, let's head back this way and we'll chat.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:02:15
Leeman is a recovering claustrophobe.

LEEMAN

00:02:17
I could not go in elevators above the second floor. If the elevator was packed with four or five people, I would wait and take the stairs. I would go into complete panic mode. Heart racing, hyperventilation, the whole gamut.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:02:32
Until one day, a friend of hers suggested she do something about it.

LEEMAN

00:02:35
She said, you know, you really should try caving. And she said, you know, it might help with your claustrophobia. And I'm like, you're crazy. I'm not going in a cave.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:02:47
Leeman passed on caving trip after caving trip after caving trip until finally something possessed her to just give it a try.

LEEMAN

00:02:53
I was anticipating completely freaking out and having a panic attack, which I'd had before. A panic attack feels very similar to a heart attack, you think you're dying. When I got in there, my first thought was, what am I going to do if I get stuck? What if I break my leg? What if I break my finger? What if I break a nail? I mean, you know, anything is running through your head at that time.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:03:15
But with reassurance from her friends, something crazy happened.

LEEMAN

00:03:19
We're into the cave and I'm doing surprisingly well, kind of shocked myself and I found that I actually started loving it.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:03:28
Not only can Leeman now deal with crowds, elevators and tight spaces, she helps run a caving club and leads expeditions just about every weekend. But this isn't actually all that strange.

DR. JOSEPH BIENVENU

00:03:39
The main treatment for phobias is something called exposure therapy.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:03:44
Joseph Bienvenu is an associate professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Medical School.

BIENVENU

00:03:48
And it involves getting into a situation that you would typically avoid, letting your anxiety be there until it decreases substantially.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:03:58
He says if people stick with it, start small, anxiety levels will fall.

BIENVENU

00:04:02
For some people, if they spend too much time away from the situation, their fear builds up again.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:04:10
Back in the cave, Keely Owens says the lessons learned 60 feet underground also help her deal with life's problems.

OWENS

00:04:16
When I'm out in my regular life, which is actually a lot harder to manage than caving, then I find myself in situation that just, it feels like, you know, it's too small, it's too hard, it's too difficult of a crawl for me to get through. I think okay, it's okay, calm down, take your time, take a breath.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:04:34
Sounds like, you know, a lot of the important things in life can be found in a cave.

OWENS

00:04:40
Yes, there's one little thesis right there.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:04:46
I'm Sabri Ben-Achour.

SHEIR

00:04:50
For photos of caving and links to local caving clubs, visit our website, metroconnection.org. In a minute, a woman who spent 100 hours staring at a photo of a cockroach.

MS. LIA NEWMAN

00:05:04
Maybe it helps change that perception that we probably run away when we see, I do.

SHEIR

00:05:10
That and more on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
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