What Happened to the Air?   11 comments

Write a scene or story that includes a character who has a phobia. What do they fear? How does this phobia affect their life?

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Writing on the Fly

Claustrophobia: Everything you need to know about the fear of confined  spaces | The Times of India

I grabbed the wrong blog topic this week, so this submitted late. I don’t have access to my books because I’m doing this off-the-cuff. So I’m non-compliant with the blog hop topic to write a scene. But I will discuss phobias in my writing.

Everybody has insecurities and in today’s environment, maybe they should. There are some truly pernicious trends in how we treat one another that make it a dicey proposition to even step outside our doors. And the internet — boy, howdy, do we treat each other in ways that are unacceptable. So, I don’t know if I would call it a phobia, but some of my characters have social anxiety. They fear being judged and bullied by people around them who have been empowered to judge and bully others in the name of several of those trends — social justice, what passes for politeness today, fear of stating an opinion that isn’t the current orthodoxy, or just living an ordinary life and being judged by others who think that life is less-than. In the case of Declan in Words I Wish I’d Said, he’s spent so much of his life trying to please people who would not be pleased that he’s spent nearly a decade mostly isolated from people in general. Coming out of his shell to love Autumn is a huge risk for him given his past.

Currently, in the What If Wasn’t series, Peter’s mainly just faced teenage angst (a consequence of our easily offended society) and a growing drinking problem, but given how Dumpster Fire ends, he’s bound to have scars going forward, but I can’t talk about those right now because the book hasn’t been published.

In my books, there’s really only one character who has a legitimate phobia and that’s Shane Delaney. It’s not really a phobia, as in an irrational fear. Claustrophobia has its roots in physiology rather than psychology. Shane is one of a minority of people who is sensitive to carbon dioxide and as a little kid, forced to hang out in a storm shelter with his Kansas family, he had a bad reaction. He’s never forgotten that, so whenever he is in a situation where the carbon dioxide level is higher than normal, he comes close to panicking. He can control it, as he did in Objects in View, where he actually lit a match to assure himself the oxygen levels were within normal range, so he could at least tell himself to calm down. Meanwhile, across town, a storm shelter’s air handling system failed and killed a hundred people. Shane’s reaction is a phobia at the levels he experiences it, but there’s a rational basis for the fear. Carbon dioxide suffocation is a real thing.

In Gathering In, I describe the symptoms as Shane follows his father through an old bootlegger’s tunnel and at the far end, he is so overwrought Rob has to tackle him and hold him to the ground. The symptoms are what I experience as someone who is sensitive to carbon dioxide – tight chest, face feels covered in dirt, sweating, numb hands, walls closing in. It makes it hard to think and above all, Shane wants it to be over as quickly as possible. Being the bold guy he is, he normally just runs through that which scares him, but he still feels the effects. You can absolutely know all the scientific reasons for why your body is reacting the way that it is, but your body and your mind interact and in the case of a physiologically-based “phobia”, your body demands to be in charge. Because it is rooted in physiology, Shane’s never going to get over being claustrophobic, but he will continue to do what he has to do even when he hates doing it and, like me, he may eventually learn to live with it.

11 responses to “What Happened to the Air?

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  1. Through a forum I follow, I’ve become aware of how sensitive some people are to certain environmental stimuli. like your Shane is to carbon dioxide, there are people who can sense the smallest amount of ordinary black pepper, or have a reaction to using a plate that held tomatoes and wasn’t washed properly before being used to serve another food. The human body is wonderful and imperfect, and we are learning new things about it all the time.


    • Human physiology is truly amazing. For so long, I thought there was something mentally wrong with me. In a crowded room, everyone else would be saying “well, yeah, it’s a little hot” and I’d be like “Can we throw a chair through a window to get some air in here, please?” I was in my 30s before I ran across an article explaining what was going on. So now I recognize it for what it is and I sometimes can get through it, but then I put Shane in situations where he doesn’t have a choice and it’s part of what makes him a hero — like Indiana Jones and his fear of snakes.


    • And my daughter can smell things nobody else seems to be able to smell. The cap can be on the milk. She opens the fridge and says “Milk’s going bad.” I taste it and it’s got another day of being drinkable. Her dad tastes it and he’s like “It’s drinkable, but yeah, this is the last day.” Somehow, she can smell it through a tightly sealed cap when her nose is nowhere near the jug in a fridge that’s filled with a dozen other aromas. It’s crazy. It makes her a really good cook, but she admits she’s prone to toss things that her overactive olfactory sense says are marginal.


      • With a skill like that, I’m surprised she hasn’t been tracked down by some big food company to do testing for them.


      • I suggested she send out letters of inquiry, but she’s such a free spirit she doesn’t want to be tied down. When I was in college, I had a classmate whose sister was a sommelier for a big California vineyard and I remember him saying most of her job was her sense of smell. Ivyl would be GREAT at that.


  2. Yeah, I can understand Shane’s fear. After going through 6 weeks of radiotherapy clamped inside a tomography machine for half an hour at a time every day, I tend towards claustrophobia too.


    • I can imagine. That would really suck. For me, I mostly experience it when I have to climb into our attic. My husband and son have shoulders that make the access really tight, so it’s usually my job, but there’s no air up there — I’m certain of it. Fortunately I’m not required to go up there often. I experienced the same symptoms when we were all required to wear masks. There was some guy who passed out at the greenhouse and everybody around him was perplexed when the paramedics said he did NOT have a heart attack, that it was just CO2 imbalance. I understood completely.

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