A Fight With Fear
‘Warning: people with claustrophobia should not enter this tunnel’ hung overhead ominously in large red letters, a threat I did not feel compelled to face. The wooden stairs creaked under me as I halted in my path, questioning my ability to endure the suffering that entering would entail. My counselor regarded my hesitancy impatiently and gave me three seconds to decide whether or not I would choose to enter Jerusalem’s ancient water tunnels with the group, which had already proceeded to snake down the stairs into the abyss. I’d stayed towards the back of the line in hopes of having room behind me but as I looked back, hundreds of other kids crowded in. My snap judgment told me not to go as my heart thumped in agreement. Entering the tunnel, I concluded, would imminently cause a break down of sorts. I could not go. Yet, as I stood there with my mind nearly made up, my group-mates’ squeals of excitement and laughter wafted up from the depths, taunting my desire to no longer be held back by my ever-persistent phobia.
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Unwilling to be road-blocked once again, I stepped inside.
Plunged into darkness, I promptly began to regret my bold decision. Icy water rushed over my feet as my throat tightened, constricting my breathing. There were countless people behind and in front of me and I could not escape. The tunnel walls surrounding me dripped with slimy condensation and grew gradually closer together as the path advanced, forcing me in some areas to walk sideways or crouch. At times, the procession would stop for up to five minutes, leaving me helplessly hyperventilating and nauseous while there was no movement up ahead. Closing my eyes during these moments, I attempted to drive myself forward by inhaling large breaths of the dank air and holding it in as I fought to forget about the claustrophobia through focusing on other things. The NSYNC songs being joyfully belted by the other kids in the tunnel echoed through my head and refueled my anger for not being able to join in on the fun. After twenty nearly unendurable minutes of struggling between determination and fear, five words from my counselor rekindled my motivation- I’m proud of you Vanessa. Recognizing that I had thus far made it twenty minutes longer than I originally thought possible, I became proud of myself too. Along with this growing pride came newfound fervor and perseverance to finish my arduous task at hand.
Once ten more minutes of agony had passed, I quite literally saw the light at the end of the tunnel. Shoving my way through, I clamored up the stairs to the glaring sun that awaited me. Although it was close to 100 degrees, goose bumps climbed up my back as I stood in the open air, still hyperventilating and shaking. When I was able to pace my breathing better, I sighed; with it came the most intense feeling of relief and fulfillment I’d ever experienced. Although my phobia pressed against me in hopes of discouraging myself, I knew the fight had been determined the second I stepped foot into the tunnel. I’d won.