Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them.
The difference between how I felt before attempting to pull the door handle and after was night and day. It was a pretty smooth train ride up until that point. I was elated just being on the New York City subway system, let alone taking the two trains it took to go from the Barclays Center to 125th St. It was a huge step in my exposure therapy. Then I found out that my escape route was locked.
It's not really an escape route. I just tell myself that in an attempt to avoid a panic attack. It's how I cope. I convince myself that I'm not really trapped in a steel and glass tube moving at 35 mph through a dark underground tunnel in one of the world's largest cities. If the train comes to a complete stop somewhere along it's route due to train traffic, I tell myself that I can open the sliding doors, walk into the open walkway between the subway cars, and jump onto the tracks below. These doors are typically left open so that passengers can move between subway cars in emergency situations.
But not the B train. This particular line, unbeknownst to me beforehand, has locked doors. I was only one stop away from my destination and in an empty subway car, So I figured I'd test it out. I was relaxed at the time and there wasn't anyone around to witness. The train was running quickly and smoothly. Why not just open the door just to see what it feels like to do so, you know, in case I really have to some day while stuck in the throughs of a full blown panic attack.
I went from being perfectly calm to highly anxious in preparation for panic as the train glided smoothly toward the next stop. If the train were to pause or stop completely for some reason, I would be stuck with no escape route. I rooted, audibly rooted, for the train to make it to the next stop quickly and for the doors to open. My full focus was now on escape and avoiding panic.
The conditions didn't change. I'd just spent the previous 35 minutes on that train. The only difference is that I didn't know that my *perceived* escape route was locked.
Panic is like that. It's our way of preparing to save ourselves in the event of a real emergency. But a real emergency requires a belief that you are in danger combined with the justification that this belief is actually true. I wasn't really in danger after I found out that the doors were locked. Intellectually I knew that. But emotionally, I might as well have been buried alive.
I haven't been back on the B train since. But I have to go back soon. Avoiding it is a worse fate.
Lesson: panic stems from perceived danger, a vast majority of which is not actual danger. A bear chasing you because you're too close to her cub - that's real danger. A crowded underground subway train that's delayed for a few minutes before you get to your destination is just that - a delay.