It controlled my life. And I never knew where it came from. It must have started after college since I remember the one I used most often at school had to be kicked to get going. Nonetheless, I used it all the time. But, suddenly, it was there and if you think it doesn’t wreak havoc you’re totally mistaken. I was terrified of going into elevators. i actually did not use elevators at all.
And now, after at least five decades of this life altering phobia, I’m back with all of the normals who don’t even think about the bravery needed to use an elevator.
I certainly didn’t learn this fear from my family. My husband is afraid of just about nothing. My mother. My kids. All normal uppers and downers. And I remember my father, the famous man called Sam, getting stuck in the elevator of our French Hill apartment building in Jerusalem in 1973. We were having one of our not so rare hafsakat chashmal events and Dad was returning from his job of taking out the garbage. There he stood, pail in hand, in the black box known as a maalit for at least half an hour, immobilized, and cool as a cucumber . When the chashmal finally powered on, he stepped out of the elevator as if nothing had happened, swinging the pail. To me, already quite phobic, this was amazing. How could he be so unscathed by something so alarming? And, no, he did not press the alarm. He knew what the problem was so why bother?
And lest you think elevator phobia is not incapacitating, think again. Oh the stairways I’ve met! Oh the excuses I’ve conjured. But, I will say the exercise was good!
So, let’s take for example a hotel reservation. A seedy single story motel at the side of a highway was never my preference. So if we’re talking about a nice, five star job, you don’t even consider the first four floors or so for your room. Usually there are ballrooms, restaurants, enormously high lobby ceilings. The rooms might start on floors 4 or 5. That can mean a lot of stairs to climb. I searched for hotels that met all of my parameters and could be stairway accessible. I read reviews (especially with the arrival of internet) and searched for details that didn’t warrant mentioning by reviewers. No one seemed to focus on how many steps to the 30th floor? How did one get to the room? I gambled a lot and always requested a low floor room. Anything up to 7 or 8 I would just take a deep breath and hike up. Hotels always have stairs, right?
Well, not so in Berlin apparently. We were reserved, prepaid, at a well reviewed hotel down the block from the newly reopened synagogue in Mittel. We were traveling with our Israeli friends Janet and Ben. They will vouch for the veracity of this story! So we checked in and, as usual, I asked for the stairs. No stairs replied the clerk. Elevator only. How could that be quivered me? What about fire laws? Stone faced the clerk replied no stairs. My travel mates promised to hold my hand. We were all tired. Long flights etc. Come on Ro, the friends and husband begged. I did it. Heart palpitations. Heavy breathing. Terrified. Of course, by the end of our five day stay I had discovered the stairs with that dreadful warning about an alarm that would send the entire Berlin fire department to rescue me. I was scarred and scared. And still phobic.
In other hotels the low floor request was ignored. I climbed as high as the 14th floor. That was my limit Believe me that’s a lot of stairs!
Other places where elevators were often the only choice were hospitals. When a close friend was in Columbia Presbyterian in New York I was relieved to find out they actually had an escalator to the patient rooms. She was on the 12th floor. But that was a one and only. In recent years, with an emphasis on health, many hospitals encouraged their staff to use the stairs so I often encountered very busy stairways. But years ago the stairways were often dingy and unfriendly places; and then there were those nasty signs: no entry from this floor. OMG what do I do now? One hospital found me in the wrong place. I climbed down to where I thought I had to be and found myself surrounded by depressing sights! The place was eerily quiet and seemed to come right out of a horror movie. I was on the rather morbid morgue floor and being not yet ready to donate my body to science I fled faster than I ever thought possible.
You see the life of an elevator phobic is filled with challenges.
Our home in Herzliya is actually an apartment building and we’re on the third floor. Hardly anyone uses the stairs. I used to tell my neighbors I was doing hitamlut, exercise, as I trudged up the stairs, often shlepping something or other. Now I use the elevator, but with some parameters. If the parking lot is fairly empty, for example, and there’s no one to heed the emergency button on the elevator, I think twice about stairs vs elevator and often still rely on the stairs. I do use elevators now but I know I’d panic if I got stuck in one. But I maintain that many so called normal people wouldn’t be too happy suspended in that black box either.
My sister, whose Herzliya building is a few hundred meters from ours, lives on the 8th floor. I’ve hiked up those stairs very often. Lots of stairs. Now I generally take the elevator. Recently their Shabbat elevator had a nervous breakdown and just stood there, tantalizingly telling me I’m here but I won’t go there. Their second elevator didn’t work at all. My brave husband just waited for the Shabbat lift. The newly brave, but not that brave, me, took the stairs. Huffing and puffing all the way. He arrived before I did.
Office buildings are, especially in a place like New York or Tel Aviv, usually high-rise. Stairs stairs stairs. And stares stares stares! Gveret yesh maalit. Madam, we’ve got an elevator.
My life was challenged by this miserable phobia.
And then, a half century after its mysterious arrival, suddenly it was gone. Unless there was something really scary (like the aforementioned event in my sister’s building) I now go into elevators like normal people do. I am one of those blase people I used to marvel at. I now prefer high floors in hotels (the view).
The phobia and old age intersected. It’s harder now to contemplate climbing 14 stories. And why arrive breathless when I can calmly push a button and soar up to my destination?
But, be kind to those you know to be phobic. Phobias do not make sense and they often have no rational basis. I’m no psychiatrist but I do know that there are people out there with irrational fears that they can’t control. I knew someone, a prominent attorney actually, who had a bridge phobia. Not the card game. He would circumvent the George Washington Bridge every day on his way to work in Manhattan from northern New Jersey, adding at least an hour to his commute each way. I’ve seen people terrified by escalators, dogs, ad infinitum. I’m relieved that I’ve overcome this but let’s just say it took a very very very long time! On the other hand, I’m now ready to be invited to brunch in your new penthouse……preferably in Paris!