I developed a personal strategy from this experience. I learned that getting someone to care about me, even for a moment, even if he or she is just pretending, calms me down. When I feel myself getting panicky on a plane or in an elevator, I say to the person next to me, “I get a little claustrophobic. Would you mind talking to me until we take off/you get to your floor?”
I’ve said this to dozens of people. To a person, to a person, every one has turned, looked at me, and said, “I don’t mind at all.” This question seems to evoke a moment of softening in everyone I’ve posted it to. Each has made an effort to connect with me, and each time this happens, I calm down. It’s like magic. We both open up a little. I’ve heard all sorts of stories: a singer-songwriter from Nashville told me she was claustrophobic too and gave me one of her CDs: a preacher kindly read to me from his Bible; a custom home-lighting designer told me about the weird requests he’s had from famous clients over the years; a business in a twenty-five-hundred-dollar suit told me his wife had the opposite malady—agoraphobia—and that if I wanted, I could hold his arm during takeoff and landing. People respond in the most beautiful ways. Being cared about, even for a moment, is the greatest security there is.