John’s claustrophobia and fear of scuba diving (RW44)

John suffers from claustrophobia and the associated ailment of panic. It is not extreme claustrophobia where he couldn't be in a house, but in September of 2016 he had a problem on an airplane. At the time he bought his ticket there was no-one in the middle seat, but people who buy their tickets at the eleventh hour get stuck into these middle seats and there was a big lady next to John. As soon as she sat down, he thought: ”Get me out of here!” He had a window, which isn't his preferred place anyway and now he was going to be trapped for three hours.

John mostly suffers from claustrophobia in regards to anything that might restrict his breathing. One of the nice things about scuba and snorkeling is that nothing restricts your motion. You are free as a bird, you are flying under water, but the prospect of his breathing being interrupted even for a second has kept John far away from scuba. It also keeps him out of caves although he would love to be a spelunker, but he can't even talk about the people who go scuba diving in caves down in the Yucatan. It sounds interesting in the abstract like a one-way manned mission to Mars would sound interesting, but John wouldn’t want to be on a one-way manned mission to Mars either.

In Mexico there are crazy caves and deep sinkholes called Cenotes. You can swim in those beautiful lakes, but they go down forever! People get in their scuba gear and scuba underground in long caves to come out ten miles away in a different cenote. One time John was swimming in a cenote, having his grand old time, and all of a sudden there were bubbles around him and two scuba divers popped up who had come from under the world.

Of course this is very interesting! John loves to look at maps of cenotes and how they connect with one another. These brave intrepid souls are exploring all these unexplored passages under the Earth, but even if John trained scuba for a year until he could do trigonometry under water without getting scared, as soon as he could no longer see the light of day he would want to do nothing else but immediately go back to the light.

John cannot imagine a scenario where he would be comfortable with the double-fuckery of breathing through an oxygen tank while being in a cave under the Earth. He loves snorkeling and he has snorkeled a lot, but every time he does it he has to spend 20-30 minutes dampening down his panic until he arrives at a place where he can snorkel comfortably. Even then the panic is always there, tickling the back of his ear.

A lot of things kept John from being a competitive swimmer, but one of them were the goggles. He could have been an effective swimmer because he is long, his upper body is strong, and he doesn’t float and is not naturally buoyant, but when you swim with goggles you are looking at the bottom of the pool and you will put your head up to take a breath, an operation that triggered a panic response in him.

John can swim with his eyes closed and take a breath to the side, but having goggles on makes his wheels start to lose their grip. If John wants to breath through a tube in his mouth he has to psychologically put himself in a place of calm and he has to keep putting coal into the furnace of calm because if that fire would burn low, the tidal wave of panic would surge in him!

John doesn’t have panic in any other aspect of his life. He doesn’t panic in crowds, he doesn’t panic from danger, he doesn’t have a flight response, but he is a very calm person in an emergency or if there is a big fire or a big fist fight. If he hears police sirens, he goes toward them. He would even be fine in a closet full of clothes and he has spent some time in closets with the door shut and locked, under a bed, and in the trunk of a car.

Being handcuffed i the back of a police car and being in jail (RW44)

The number of times John has been handcuffed in the back of a police car was probably between half a dozen and a dozen. When he was drinking, the effect of the alcohol was disinhibiting enough that being handcuffed in the back of a police car was: ”Whatever!”, but it was still not his preferred thing.

If that is your fear and if you are going to make any kind of fuss about it, you have a 0% chance of improving your situation and a 100% chance of them making it worse by either tightening the handcuffs or by sitting on you. If John were in the back of a police car with handcuffs on and somebody needed to restrain him by sitting on him, that is where he would draw the line!

John has been to jail (see FF6, FF38, RL341) and he doesn't object to being in a cell because he can pace, although being in a cell for 10 years would drive him crazy. All these prison TV shows are voyeurism of a thing that no-one ever hopes to do and no-one ever hopes to have done to them, but they are popular enough to have normalized the picture of somebody in an isolation cell behind a steel door with a Plexiglas window.

Imagine a whole cell block of people in tiny rooms with no air for 23 hours a day! A cell in Alcatraz-style with bars where you can lean against the bars, breathe the air, bang your tin cup on the bars and yell obscenities at your guards is so much more livable and endurable than hermetically sealed high-security high-risk inmate-style rooms.

John can't believe that we have a system where contractors build those things. From a prison guard standpoint you don't want problem prisoners to be throwing poop at you all day, but the inhumanity of being sealed to that degree would drive you insane and you have no recourse!

Many people are living in situations like that and it causes John’s hackles to raise up. It is not just that you get put into a maximum security prison, but there are lots and lots of ways that you could end up in a shipping container or otherwise being restrained against your will and John doesn’t like any of them and wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

John's greatest vulnerability being deprived of free movement (RW44)

John’s greatest vulnerability is being caged, deprived of free movement, or have his breathing be made conditional on anything. A lot of people would certainly agree with him and share these concerns, but John is a mind-over-matter-type person who always tries to face down his inhibitions.

John doesn’t like to be inhibited and to be excluded from any experience by his own incapacity. He has explored a lot of the world, but there are a whole big chunks missing. He has for example never been to Thailand, although it seems like he should have been there, but the two things that prevented him are the 18 hour flight and the giant bugs waiting for him. Maybe there will one day be a high-speed train to Thailand or an SST that will get him there in six hours? Even though the cabin of an SST is much smaller and more confining, the flight is shorter.

A couple of years ago John flew from Dubai to New York on a 14 hour flight. He calculated it as being one full sleep (the most you can hope for on a plane is six hours) and three full movies (which is another six hours) plus an hour each on the front and back doing crossword puzzles. Maybe you get another hour where you just think about the fact that you are on a plane for several more hours, but there is nothing to be done on either side of this.

These problems did not suddenly appear when John reached middle age, but he had them already when he was 20. He would sleep out in the muddy dirt, but not if there were bugs in the muddy dirt, which seems a bit impoverished because there are all kinds of people sleeping in bug dirt. Those people may be afraid of other things like traffic in the city. John has been waiting and maybe even training a little bit to have fewer of that kind of specific fears.

Whenever John thought about being a Navy SEAL, which he obviously has done a lot, some parts of SEAL training would have prohibited him from the get-go. A lot of it is the underwater stuff or they put you in a room and fill it with poison gas for a minute to see how you like them apples. John couldn't be an astronaut either because it combines all of his fears, except for bugs, into one job! They would put him in a little teeny can from which there is no escape, they would control his oxygen mixture, and once you are strapped in and up there, there is no exit door. It is like being in the worst ad seg part of the worst prison in history with three to five other people.

Yet there are these superhero-people whom it doesn't bother, people who do astronauting and scuba diving in cenotes. Dan wouldn’t like to be in space, but diving in a cenote sounds pretty fun to him. There are things John does on a daily basis that Dan wouldn't want to do. There are bars John has been to that Dan wouldn’t go to. It all balances out in the end. John is not ashamed of his fear of bugs and confined spaces, but somehow this show got to the combined fences that keep him corralled.

Dan suggests that if John didn't have those fears there wouldn't be enough limits for him and he would be too powerful and too perfect of a being! Dan had a friend who used to be Commander in the Navy, the number one guy beneath the Captain. Dan asked him how fast his ship would go and he couldn’t tell him, but there was a certain number that was officially stated and he said that if they would pull out all the stops it could go even faster. Those stops are the things that keep John from being too perfect!

John doesn’t think that his fear of caves and the Apollo program are the only things that keep him from being Master of the Earth. There are some other things in his way like arrogance and laziness, but it is intriguing that we all have built-in limiters.

Merlin was explaining to John that Thor and Loki were limited on Earth or made normal which kept Thor from being all the way supernatural. Dan never really got very into Thor and he doesn’t really know, but in the early days, Thor was a guy who walked around with a cane and when he would tap the cane on the ground this disguised normal human would turn into Thor, the God of Thunder, and the cane would become his hammer.

Having panic-attacks on airplanes (RL280)

In the beginning of 2018 John started to feel a lot more vulnerable. He never before felt like he had anxiety, he certainly never panicked, but one morning in March 2018 he woke up with something that could only be described as a panic attack. John is claustrophobic and as he got older, that claustrophobia got more and more related to breathing. It is not about ”Don’t put me in a box!”, but John does not want his breathing constrained. Just the thought of it gives him panic! Having a panic attack had only happened to him 3 times before in his life.

John's first panic attack

The first one was 10-15 years ago on a crazy long fucking Lufthansa airplane flight from Frankfurt to Seattle. He was seated in the third row from the back of a plane, an old massive fart barn with 5 aisles that still had ashtrays in the seats. As soon as he got back there, he was like ”Get me the fuck off this airplane!”, something he never experienced before. The plane was pulling away from the gate and John said ”Oh, no no no no no, I can’t be on here!” and he honestly didn’t know what to do. Did he have one of those premonitions that always happen before airplane crashes, where 5 super-sensitive people on the flight are like ”I can’t be on this plane”?

John's breath started to go, but he managed to walk himself down by saying ”Are you going to be that guy?” How would he be getting this plane taken back to the airport? He dipped into his strategic reserve of shame that was labeled ”break glass in case of emergency”, calmed down, got his head right and was fine. John was wondering if a reaction like that had always been was right under the surface, because he had never experienced anything like that before.

John's second panic attack

His second panic experience was one of the classic young-person foibles where he was super-baked with his super-baked other friends. He started to hyperventilate and he said ”I swear to you, I think this pot was laced!” John is pretty well known for mocking that any pot would be laced, but at this point in time he was still young and pretty well susceptible to the idea that there were drug dealers out there who were giving away free drugs by lacing pot.

John couldn’t account for what was happening to him because this was not his normal response to pot and he was freaking because he thought he had a heart attack. He couldn’t get his breath and he couldn’t get his equilibrium back. His friends were all like ”Dude, ohhh, noooo” and he was like ”Fuck! I need help! Immediately! Call a fucking ambulance!”, but one guy at this event of four dudes, a tangential friend who was a little bit older, asked ”Is that a 64oz (2 liters) bottle of Mountain Dew in your hand?” John was clutching a giant 7-Eleven super-gulp of Mountain Dew that was probably the second one of the day.

He was sitting and nursing it and as he was panicking, he was probably gulping it down. ”Do you know how much caffeine is in a fucking 64oz of Mountain Dew?” He put a sensible hat on John for a second. "You are not freaking out, but you are fucking ramped up on Dew, dude!" That was enough and it shocked John out of the feedback loop that he was in: ”Thanks dude, that was really wisdom!” - ”Yeah, that was not my first rodeo”

John's third panic attack

The third situation happened in the beginning of 2018 when John was on a flight from Los Angeles to Seattle. He had been sick and had a plugged ear, which he thought he could manage with some pro-level yawning. As the plane got pressurized he couldn't clear his ear and started to feel a panic rise up in his gullet that felt related to his claustrophobia. It was not that he couldn’t breathe, but passages in his head were not clear and he felt like he was being smothered.

John was sitting in the front of the plane because as he grew older he wouldn't sit by the toilets anymore, and he just wanted out of this plane while they were at 30.000 feet (9000 m). He went up to throw water in his face in the bathroom because what the fuck was he going to do now? Then of course, bathrooms in a plane are not less claustrophobic. John talked to himself to not freak out, because freaking out is not on-brand for him. He had been flying all the time and he didn't want this to become a precedent, scratching a little line on his window-sill with his fingernail on panicking on airplanes. It was not where he wanted to start making a mark!

John went out of the bathroom to ask the flight attendant if he had something for a plugged ear and he told John to sit down and he would be with him in a second. John sat down, breathed hard and was trying to stave off because he didn’t know what else to do in a panic attack. Nobody knows! That is part of the problem! Was he supposed to run around, scream, and throw yogurt on people ("Sorry, inside joke!")? That would get him on BuzzFeed as the guy who made the plane turn around.

The flight attendant came over and gave John a plastic cup and a hot towel, asking him to put this cup on his ear. Because it came from the flight attendant, it looked official and nobody was giving him the side-eye when he did as he was told. It was not John's comfort-cup that he had pulled out of his bag! He was holding it up to his ear and God damn if it didn’t work! Everything was fine, the ear had cleared and the panic had gone out.

What happened was that John had etched a little line on the window-sill of his heart-brain that was like ”Oh, this is a thing that could happen! You could have a panic attack on an airplane! You never used to could have one, but now it has happened!” What are the conditions where this will happen again? Plugged ear seems like a small thing! Did he have 14 cups of coffee? Probably! It would be a rare day that he didn’t, what’s your point?

John's recent panic attack

In March of 2018 John had a panic attack when he was in bed and he wasn’t actually trying to stop it. He was in this in-and-out-of-dream state where he just came out of a dream, he had been panicking in the dream, woke up, maintained the panic in that half-sleep state, and voluntarily went back down into the panic-dream about waist-deep in it. He was going to stay waist-deep in the waves of this dream and was not trying to go out. He was trying to be in it for some reason. It was a panic-dream about being on an airplane and panicking, not about anything that had happened on an airplane, but what do you do if you have a panic attack on a flight to Australia where you are out over the fucking ocean for 12 hours? What are you going to do? Ask for your comfort cup? All of this was incredibly unusual to John and those were not feelings he was used to!

Panic on airplanes, Jesse Sykes

John used to fly with his friend Jesse Sykes, a Seattle musicians who put out some beautiful records. She hated flying so much that she would start to cry as soon as she sat down on a plane. The engines would spool up and she would be gripping the armrests and as the plane would be running down the runway, her band-mate sitting on one side would be petting her shoulder and John would be holding her hand. Through that whole flight she would never be okay with it, which is a tough situation to be in for her occupation. Her band (Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter) was big in France and she had many gigs where she would fly over, play a show in France and fly home, not even being on a month-long tour. It was the worst kind of crazy!

Having released the panic-gremlin

John didn’t know what to do, now that this panic-gremlin started walking around and basically bought a new house in John’s head. John was reading his book about how to sleep better (Why We Sleep, see Sleep) and Mr. Sleep-book Guy (Dr. Matthew Walker) talked about how your whole body is paralyzed during REM-sleep so that you won’t freak out and start fighting daemons in your bed. Then you begin to hallucinate. John was laying there whistling and asking "Why are you doing this to me?" He did understand it, but he didn’t want to be paralyzed.

Merlin’s friend Max (Temkin) has a morbid fear of anesthesia and when he goes to the dentist he wont allow them to dope him up. Not wanting to be paralyzed and not wanting to be out of control is a fairly common feeling. You certainly don’t want to be awake in a situation where you don’t have any physical way of saying that you are awake. It is the Metallica One scenario: ”Darkness! Imprisoning me!” Because John had done hallucinogenic drugs for a long period, he also thought of a scenario of ”What if I have a bad trip and never come out of a bad trip?”

John didn't know what to do with his panic gremlin. He didn’t want to fly with a Comfort-Pheasant and you are not even allowed to take them on planes anymore. He also didn’t want to get on a flight to Australia and already be pre-dinged with the gremlin buckling in and getting a Virgin Bloody Mary. John had no experience with this and he didn’t have any panic management stratagems. Maybe he was the king of the drama queens? He didn't even think he was a good parent!

Merlin's advice

Merlin suggested that the drama-gremlin is the most front-of-mind-thing and has the most threat and importance. Waking up and feeling panicky is another thing where you wonder if this will be your new reality and if this would now be happening all the time. It doesn’t seem controllable! Nobody likes feeling anxious! Most normal non-anxious people experience anxiety, but a) it doesn’t bother them that much that long and b) it does go away.

”I’m the sky, not the weather! This is my meat-case that I walk around in, but not every single thought and emotion has to equal me." The anxiety and panic part only becomes a problem if you don’t like the way it feels and if it won’t go away. There is a window of opportunity to say ”Stop! Hang on a minute! How much of this is sky, how much of this is weather?” and you don’t need to get into an Eastern philosophy to feel this way. For simple self-preservation it might help to give yourself a little inventory: Might somebody have dosed my Mountain Dew? Did I have a lot of coffee? Did I sleep well last night?

There is a really good website you can go to that will ask you these questions. John’s sleep-book was saying that the EKG readings for wakefulness and for REM-sleep are largely indistinguishable from each other and it is just the paralysis that distinguishes sleep from wakefulness. Of course John was just immediately Jacob's ladder about it. Then which one is this? Merlin continued to talk for a while about mindfulness, which is heavily associated with Buddhism and meditation and the idea is to be able to observe your own thoughts without judgement.

Not knowing how to identify anxiety (RL293)

For about a month in the beginning of 2018 John was having terrible anxiety. One time he was on an airplane flight where he asked the flight attendant to put a hot towel in a cup for him which was soothing like a comfort rag (see RL280). John was trying to explain to his psychiatrist that it was hard for him to identify anxiety because it was not a thing he had thought about a lot. He recognized that things that you think of as something else can actually be rooted in anxiety, but at the time he went through a period (see RL280) where he was waking up in a panic or feeling panicky before he went to sleep. He was having panicky dreams about having his breath constricted, which is a thing he really doesn’t like. Some people like diving for pearls, but John does not like hanging himself from a belt over a door in a hotel room, being buried alive, or somebody putting a blanket over his head.

Psychiatrists like to give you a prescription for something and he gave John an antihistamine that works on anxiety. John fetishizes antihistamines! It was called Hydroxyzine and is used against itching, motion sickness or to come down off opioids. It has a little sedative effect, but apparently it does not lend itself to being abused. John was supposed to take one if he started to feel anxious and in a little while he would feel better, but the problem with that was that if he felt at all about being anxious, the feeling would subside. Getting up, going down and taking a pill would be the same as not doing anything at all and he might as well go on eBay and buy five new Hawaiian shirts!

John was kind of a drug-hoarder because if you can get enough drugs to hoard them, you can save some for a rainy day, a method he learned from his drug days. He used to put a cigarette over every door when he was rich and he would forget that they were there (see RL151). When he really needed a cigarette later he would remember that there was one over the door. There were cigarettes over the doors in his house long time after he quit smoking because he had forgotten they were there. Now he had this prescription and he had never taken one, but because he suffered from allergies he was stockpiling them, waiting for the opportunity to take a Hydroxyzine. They don’t have any street value.

Connecting his claustrophobia to panic attacks (RW143)

In the fall of 2018 John started to have anxiety attacks (see above). He felt one coming on when he was in Hawaii, but that was now a month ago and he hasn't had one in a long time, while they were coming pretty fast in the fall and winter. His bipolar medication doesn't address that and it was all brand new, but he had been taking the bipolar medicine for three years and he had never had an anxiety attack that he identified as such. It was terrible!

Dan has something called Generalized Anxiety Disorder which is not anxiety attacks, but he had one true anxiety attack once and he still remembers vividly that it was horrible. John has claustrophobia, but he has always managed it. He had a lot of sinus infections in his life and he was allergic as a kid because they had a cat that slept on his chest and he always had a stuffy nose (see RL324).

He never really got claustrophobia from a sinus infection, but lately somewhere in his head he has made a connection between a sinus infection and a lack of ability to breathe. There is nothing to do! John has all the antihistamines in the world and he does everything he can to keep his passageways open.

Last year John was on an airplane with a stuffy nose (see RL280). He has had stuffy noses his whole life and he knew this was going to be a week or ten day long thing before he could get his head clear again. He was on an airplane and he started to panic because there wasn't anything he could do to get his head clear. Since he had panicked once, any stuffy nose during the last nine months was attended by panic.

It got to the point where all he had to do was think about getting a stuffy nose because he knew he was going to get one eventually and if he was going to get one eventually then maybe he was going to get one today and if he was going to get one today then he wouldn't be able to breathe and his mind started running all kinds of scenarios where he wouldn't be able to breathe.

What if he needed surgery all of a sudden? What if he had to go to the dentist? John hasn’t been to the dentist since this happened because the last time he went to the dentist she put something in his mouth and he sat straight up in the chair and was like: ”Nope, no thanks! I can't do it!” - ”Whoa whoa whoa, this is just normal dentistry!” - ”Yeah, but you can't put that thing in my mouth!”

John told her he will give her plenty of warning if he was going to jump up out of this chair, but she can not in any way restrain his ability to open and close his mouth. He will hold it open for her, but don't put any kind of thing in there! What happens if somebody would need to do that? Once your mind gets into ”What happens…”, he starts to get OCD about it and he starts thinking about all the things that could happen that would deny him breath, which is a lot of things. At 50 years old he started to really be conscious of the fragility of his body and of life.

John started tying his fragility to his panic and all of a sudden things like ”What would happen if somebody ran a red light and crashed into my car?” was a thing he thought about as a driver. He became conscious of it and he looked both ways before he went through an intersection even if he had the green light because he just didn't want somebody coming out of nowhere.

All of a sudden the idea of somebody coming out of nowhere and crashing into John’s car and him being injured in a way that he would either be trapped in the car or in a medical situation, all of these things, one after another, he tied so many fears to that which in the past had not been fears, but they were just awareness. Once these things get tied to being denied breath for him, and he could tie almost anything to it, then this anxiety is very difficult to uncouple from that idea.

This had never been a feature of John’s life before. He did not have anxiety, he was not afraid, he was going into all things unafraid, but now there was this fear and John was afraid that it would creep into areas of his life where he never had fear before. Is the anxiety a product of the fact that every other aspect of his life was up in the air right now? That he had voluntarily like taken away his home? Everything was changing!

Stress caused by his new podcasts (RW143)

Last year John worked really hard on his podcasts and his podcast empire, but a lot of that work didn't pay off. It paid off creatively in the form of podcasts he is very proud of and in the relationships that he built and the shows he has built, but only Roadwork and Roderick on the Line really generated any money. Both these shows are very easy to do: John would just pick up the phone to talk about what is on his mind.

The two new shows he developed, Friendly Fire and Omnibus, required a lot of work in the form of research and preparation. He was also building out a studio where he could have his co-hosts come to his house. Both shows really promised to produce income, they were both on big networks, whereas Roderick on the Line and Roadwork are independent shows, even though Roadwork is on the 5by5 network, but Roderick on the Line is the consummate independent podcast.

John was not prepared for how much stress that would put on him. He had made a commitment to podcasting as a form of work. By professionalizing it and making good shows he felt like he had turned a corner and was going to be a 50 year old with a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of pride that he wasn't just going hand to mouth, that he did have a plan that by next year this time he would this and that, instead of ”I don't know what is going to happen tomorrow or next week, just ride that magic silver surfboard into space!”

Having done all that work, having laid the groundwork to basically be a entrepreneur and at the end of the year to have those shows produce a negligible income was devastating in a way that he imagines your serial entrepreneur gets inured to. They make a $5 million investment in a thing and that business goes under and they dust themselves off and start raising money for the next business venture. For plenty of people their whole career is one flop after another.

John has to credit himself with the fact that at no point along the way did he say ”Well this isn't working, I quit!” because he really likes both the things he made and in a lot of situations he was the one who said ”No, we can't quit! This is great! We are making a great thing, we just have to figure it out and find a path!” John feels like this year 2019 might be different.

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