My phobias: lifts, facial hair and Mingbaths

If one is going to get stuck in a lift, a brand-new mental-health facility is probably the best place for it.

Okay, so the world has moved on since a couple of health ministers got stuck in a lift while viewing a spanking new mental-health facility in Dublin recently. I, however, haven't. Images of being stuck in a lift are one of the many tools I use to terrorise myself. The others are pretty routine: uncontrollable facial hair and finding myself in a bath with Ming Flanagan and his pony tail, to name but two (although I'm sure the prospect wouldn't delight him either).

Car-park lifts are the worst, especially alone at night when I find myself loitering by the elevator shaft weighing up my options: breathless eternity in a windowless metal cube or that shadowy, chicken-run stairway. Invariably I use the stairs.

It’s not difficult to describe the sensations of claustrophobia, they’re as familiar as rain: pins and needles in the temples, shortness of breath, thoughts pooling over the blocked drain of reason, metal-heavy fear in the pit of the stomach, and sounds becoming underwaterish, slow, indistinct.

They weren’t terribly long in the lift, the ministerati, packed tight in that airless sarcophagus.


They certainly weren’t in there so long that they had to prise the doors apart and urinate down the lift shaft, a common enough occurrence according to my extensive internet trawl of stuck-in-the-lift stories.

And they weren’t like one unfortunate woman I read about, who was deaf and stuck in a lift for hours with her tiny baby and no water and unable to hear if the emergency button was eliciting a response or not.

And then there was the bloke who was in a lift for a whole weekend while his colleagues were off doing the gardening and squabbling with their tennis partners. He was still alive on Monday morning, but not a pretty sight apparently. And the ministers weren’t in there with a strange man who was glaring at their thighs and dribbling, while they desperately punched the emergency bell over and over and over again . . .

Okay, I can’t prove any of these stories, but even if they are merely febrile online musings, they’re still potent enough to convince me to steer clear of mechanical boxes.

However, if one is going to get stuck in a lift, a brand-new mental-health facility is probably the best place for it. Apparently it’s lovely, the new hospital, with long views across the city and over the Dublin Mountains.

You know the kind of thing, clean lines and clean minds, sanitised sanity and the promise of new vistas. Maybe now is not the worst time to fall apart (especially if one uses the stairs), as the chances of ending up in a crumbling, ghost-heavy institution seem to have diminished somewhat.

Time was we incarcerated anyone who looked crooked at us. I knew someone, many moons ago, who burst into tears in a city-centre chemist’s shop after breaking up with her boyfriend.

She asked the pharmacist if he had anything to make her feel better, and found herself, tout de suite, in the back of an ambulance on her way to Portrane mental hospital.

It was only when she saw women shuffling around yellowing corridors in washed-out dressing gowns that she realised where she was, and persuaded someone to let her make a telephone call.

Was this societal revenge, maybe, for having the temerity to nakedly display emotion, to let your mascara run down your face, the rivulets evidence of spent passion and juvenile longing, when any self-respecting young girl should have been wrapped up tight in her polyester cardigan making rock buns to hurl at panting boyos.

Anyway, back to the claustrophobia. I’m working on overcoming it by telling myself that there is no inherent problem with small spaces; the problems lie in my small-minded reaction to them. It’s a bit like a theatre management telling a disgruntled actor that there is no such thing as a small part, just a small actor, which is somehow supposed to make one feel better after a career spent as third spear carrier on the left.

Back in the days when we tucked our scapulars into our winter vests and reeled around the crossroads I doubt that my predicament would have merited much attention.

Presumably if one was inclined towards hysterical claustrophobia or simply felt inclined to run screaming into the wind in your well-washed combinations, you found yourself a soft warm cow to milk with a comforting shank to weep into or, like the women who populated my childhood, you back-combed your hair, painted on a smile and popped a few Valium.

Today the prospects for dealing with my neurosis are looking pretty rosy actually. I could meditate or try a bit of yoga, I could be hypnotised or regressed, or I could just give myself a boot in the backside and get into the damn lift.