Amol Rajan: 'I have a down on lifts. To tell the truth, they make me panic'

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The Independent Online

Nothing diminishes a man's sense of self-worth than being told, when he is in the grip of a panic attack induced by a phobia, that he should "be rational". Rationality does not come into it. Panic feeds off itself, and springs from unjustified fear. Confessing it has never seemed to help, but I may as well do it again: my name is Amol and I am terrified of lifts.

This places me in the broad international coalition referred to as "claustrophobes" (the etymology is instructive: claustrum is Latin for "a shut-in place"), and the knowledge that others suffer similarly is small but welcome compensation. I feel great solidarity, for example, with Nicola Murray, the minister in the latest series of The Thick of It, who also refuses to get into lifts.

In practice, it means a terrifying, all-consuming horror at the prospect of being stuck in an enclosed space. The moment I enter one (which I have to do from time to stomach-churning time) I am at war with the walls, which seem inches from my skin and constantly approaching. They get nearer every moment that passes, so that a kind of paranoid hyper-awareness of my surroundings is literally all I can think about.

Lifts, which become like vertically mobile coffins, are the worst of these places for three reasons. First, because the alternative, such as 14 flights of stairs, is always so inconvenient and impractical; second, because I have to share the space with other people who might demand conversation while all I am thinking of is an escape route in case of breakdown; and third, because lifts do break down, and everyone has a story about their best mate's sister-in-law who was stuck all night in a lift.

Lifts made of glass, where you can see the outside world, are fine. I would vote for any political party that made new lifts glass by compulsion. The terrible thing is that I factor all this into my plans. And, if I know I am heading to a place where lifts are necessary, the whole sense of anticipation is hijacked by an accelerating sense of doom. This has a genuine, lasting, and deleterious effect on my social life. My time in New York was spent enjoying everything apart from the high-rise buildings. I turn down invites to receptions in London's Centre Point. I get particularly drunk in restaurants where I think my fellow-feeders might take the lift down.

Arachnophobes at least have a point: spiders can hurt you. People who suffer from vertigo are facing a real threat: they could fall from a great height and be hurt terribly. But being scared of lifts, whether moving or stationary, is, I know, pathetic. They cannot hurt you. But there is nothing I can do about it. So do not bother telling me to "be rational".