Elevator Phobias

Although I live in Manhattan, a city known for its small spaces, I’m a tried-and-true claustrophobe. I haven’t taken the subway for four years (can you believe?!) and, while I take elevators, I’m very aware of every screech and bump and sometimes hold my friends’ hands. So you can imagine my reaction when I saw this New Yorker story about a man trapped in an elevator for 41 hours! This terrifying video of his endless circling didn’t help either. Alex told me not to watch it, but I did anyway. (It was a bad idea.)

(Illustration by Garance Dore)

  1. If you’re that scared of lifts then you should probably opt to use the stairs! You may find that they also benefit your fitness as well!! ~
    At least with a wheelchair platform lift , they are not enclosed so will not affect your claustrophobia as much!

  2. Yes this problem usually occurs when there is a heavy load of people on the lift and door sensors are hit by someone due to excessive load it also happens.

    Home Lift Systems

  3. Stories of people being stuck in elevators always reminds me of “You’ve Got Mail”, when Parker Posey and Tom Hanks are stuck in their buildings elevator. “If I ever get out of here I’m having my eyes lasered.”

  4. That man was featured on a documentary about elevators. It was a weekend in a building with a guard. Not once did the guard glance at the monitor or notice the elevator was not working. He even peed through the crack to the floors below to try and alert someone. He ended up with a large legal settlement for his suffering.

    Incidentally, the show discussed the safety of elevators and they physically cannot drop down 20 floors as shown on the movies.

  5. Elevators, I’m fine with. I was even stuck in one in the Time & Life building while 7 months pregnant. The repair guys were peaking through the roof of it, freaking out. “Can we get you anything?” they said. “Out,” I said. It was only for 15 minutes or so. Not that bad. (They are just lucky I didn’t have to pee!)

    But make me drive over a bridge? I’m white knuckling and doing deep yoga breathing the entire time.

  6. Hi Joanna! I just wrote about my totally unexpected progress in managing my fear of heights thanks to the formerly-dreaded last leg of my bike commute in Portland, OR. Writing it made me recall this post and your New Year’s Resolution.

    Thought you might find it encouraging.

    Good luck letting go! — Annette

  7. OMG, it feels so good to read that there are people with the same problem, im not alone!!! I lived in NYC for a year and a half and i always took the subway, and it was so stressful every day. My panic attacks got worse with time. I believe that my subway phobia is one of the reasons why i left NY. It was just too stressful (i couldn’t afford taxies). Thank you for this post. I thought I am such a weirdo.

  8. My brother watched a documentary about that guy in the elevator. People did notice that the elevator wasn’t working but since there are many elevators in that building, they just used the other ones and many people assumed that the lift was just taking a long time to arrive that they just gave up.

  9. IF I must take an elevator, (which is extremely rare because stairs are always an option, and I do NOT care how many flights there are), I hold my breath the entire time.

    • Khandee Kane says...

      I do agree with you, I actually hate elevators, I will ride them in the morning when I come to work only because the maintenance workers are around, but when it is time for me to go home, I run down the stairs, because the maintenance workers have left for the day.

  10. Anonymous says...

    Joanna – you are not alone (as many of the commenters have shared as well)! I too lived in NYC for many years and stopped taking the subway – partially due to my claustrophobia and partially due to my panic disorder (I started having panic attacks whenever the subway would get “stuck” between stations – no fun). I also try to avoid elevators whenever I can. I know this is not the point of your post, but I’m glad to hear there are other “weirdos” like me out there :)

  11. I’m not afraid of elevators per se…but I do have recurrent dreams of falling to my death in a free-falling elevator. The elevators in the super tall buildings are nerve wracking to ride in!

  12. kate says...

    moral is: don’t smoke.

    and while i do not have a fear of elevators, i have this obsession with checking the inspection dates on them to make sure they are not expired (99% of them are). wonder if this elevator was current…

  13. My fear isn’t being stuck inside one… It’s feeling it fall 0_0

    • Kimberly says...

      Yessssss! What have you been able to do about that?

  14. This put a big lump in my throat! I think the music didn’t help, and him laying in the fetal position….
    I understand your fear, and bravo for struggling through it!

  15. Aw, that must be miserable every time! I just had a girl come into my office last week who asked if I would go up the elevator with her to her interview because she was terrified to go up alone!

  16. Wow, what’s with all the spam?
    That shit is like… the worst thing I’ve ever seen! Aside from war, poverty and AIDS…

  17. I’m claustrophobic and agoraphobic, I would have died in ten minutes if he were caught in an elevator like that gentleman in department we have in Argentina, is on the 11th floor, and most of the time I go up and down the stairs!
    My cousin is a teacher of Reiki … and told me about it, “phobias”, unfortunately tends to increase, with time:((
    … Thank God I live in a volcanic island where no building left over 3 floors … so only when I’m en route to the “civilization” put at risk to suffer phobias.

    Contribua para uma melhor tradução

  18. I’m scared of elevators since I have a memory! I hate them, though I am a claustrophobic, that is not the reason why I do. Once, I was with my mom & sister at macy’s and the electricity went off in the entire store, guess where I was? Yep, inside an elevator, it was the longest 10 seconds of my life while the lights went back on. I was 8 years old and trust me I feared elevators way before this incident but still it left me more scared than ever. I only take them if I have no other option. Conclusion, I WOULD’VE DIED IF I WAS THAT PERSON STUCK IN THE ELEVATOR FOR 41 HOURS.

  19. i wonder how he’s doing now.

  20. I completely understand! I am totally claustrophobic and hate taking the subway! If a train or elevator is crowded I always wait for the next one. I always have to have a bottle of water with me, for some reason it helps me relax knowing that I have water!!! I have been like this since I was little, hide and go seek under the bed or in a cramped closet was never my thing!

  21. oh no, that’s the worst thing i have ever ever seen.

  22. nope, i have a trusty bike, and i also walk and take the bus. sometimes i take cabs, but very rarely (about as much as everyone else).

  23. I am slightly claustrophobic and against my better judgment i watched that video. I have heart palpitations now. OMG, i can’t imagine.

    On a happier note, I love Garance Dore’s illustration! :)

  24. I think about this video every time I take the elevator now. horrifying!

  25. this is scary !! i am so taking the strairs !!!!

  26. I saw this on metafilter and the accompanying article was just as frightening. Especially what eventually became of him. Just sad.

  27. it was the weekend so no one was around. so scary!!

  28. Ju says...

    That is horrific!! I am kind of weirded out about the lack of traffic in the other elevators though?? Yuck yick yuck

  29. WOW!!! that is horrible…my god. but such a great cocktail story!

  30. Crazy, crazy, crazy story.

  31. I watched this awhile back and I hate hate HATE elevators. They scare the beejeezus out of me. That poor, poor man. I would have been crying the entire time.

  32. I can’t imagine! I would go nuts! I thought there was supposed to be a phone in every elevator?

  33. it was the weekend. i know, so scary!!!!

  34. Pity him. How on earth he is trapped there for almost 2 days without anybody finding it out?

  35. Seriously? It isn’t that big of a deal. People sign up to do that kind of stuff to win a Nintendo.

    I work on the 20th floor. Each day I take the elevator 4 times. That’s 80 floors. Say it takes 10 minutes to walk up 80 floors. 260 days of work in a year. That’s 2600 minutes per year. I’ve worked there for two years. That’s 5200 minutes the elevator has saved me. That’s 86 hours.


  36. my mom was stuck in an elevator once, and she’s got mad claustrophobia so she had to keep removing her clothes and putting them back on, taking everything out of her purse and putting them back in, and worrying about “using up” all the “breathable” air. she’s safe, now! still cracked, though. ;)

  37. Alex says...

    Yes, Alex was a dumbbell for mentioning it to you in the first place. Alex is very cross with Alex for that. Alex has many lonely elevator rides to look forward to in his future:(

  38. That was truly haunting and I think I’ll be getting in much better shape seeing as how I have no interest in using my elevator anytime soon.

  39. I saw this too…41 hours!!

    I love your calming post above this one. Great visual.

  40. Oh, as a fellow claustrophobe, I felt the same way. Read the article with heart in my throat, then told myself not to watch the video, until – oops – I did. Horror! (I thought the video was worse than the article, fyi.)

  41. omg…that was horrible. i’d have to double up on my shrink appointments for a couple of months after such an ordeal. poor guy…what a relief seeing the door finally open! video was haunting…reminded me of clockwatchers.

  42. i think it took so long because maybe it was over a weekend? omg it is so scary. i am getting up the nerve to read the corresponding New Yorker story and find some answers!

  43. lucy says...

    p.s. joanna is very, very claustrophobic. our dad thinks it’s because her imagination is so wild.

  44. lucy says...

    i love the parts when he sleeps. i can’t believe 2 nights go by. what the hell was happening with the rescue people?

  45. I have always been so cautious of elevators, they make me quite nervous. Last month though I was in one that went from a basement to the first floor and there was a power outage and it dropped 4 feet and hit the ground! and then my friend and I were trapped inside. I swear elevators are the scariest things ever.

  46. Being trapped in an elevator is a big fear of mine…but I had to watch the video too. The worst part is when he lays on the floor to sleep, sooooo sad:(.

  47. oh my gosh that is too long. Two minutes is too long. Sometimes in my dorm’s 14 story elevator, there are pauses and everyone in the elevator decides to give a little hop to get it going again — longest two seconds ever!
    – Jessie –
    PS. I LOVE that illustration! =)

  48. While I’m sure this was an awful experience for that poor man, with the music that’s played over the sped-up footage, there’s something kind of whimsical about it – like it’s a short film by Michel Gondry.

  49. Anonymous says...

    Cute pic at top!

  50. How could it have taken 41 hours for him to be rescued????!!!!!