I had a bad dream last night. The dream involved me being stuck at the top of a skyscraper from which I couldn’t get off. This nightmare was feeding off my long held fear of heights.
I’m not sure from where this phobia originates. I don’t mind sitting by the window on an aircraft and looking out as the plane takes off, watching the ground disappear beneath me. But it’s a quite different story when it comes to buildings.
I couldn’t work in a high-rise building. Pre- 9/11 I might have been able to. But not now. There’s something about the helplessness of being stuck at the top of a building, unable to get off, that plays to my worst fears. Being trapped. 9/11 was horrific in a million and one ways, but those forced to jump (estimated at over 200) from 110 storeys up is the thing that left me the most traumatized, especially having seen it played out live on TV.
I remember last year watching (and blogging about) the exceptionally good film documentary Man on Wire. It was really gripping. How that Frenchman could desire so strongly to cross over from one tower to the next, walking on just a tightrope, is beyond me. It made me quite sick to watch but I couldn’t help but remain fascinated.
These days I catch the tube every morning. Two in fact (though only one in the evening as I take a different journey home). Whilst the tube is a lot more efficient than most Londoners give it credit for – I still think of it as quite a dirty way to travel. I will absolutely dread a hot summer as it will mean I’ll get to work sticky and I don’t like that feeling at all, especially in full work garb (though no longer having to wear suits means it shouldn’t be quite so bad).
Thing about the tube (like the grime-encrusted Dickensian city itself) is that it is – perhaps in no small part due to its ancient and subterranean nature – a rather dirty affair. Sure, the tubes are cleaned all the time, but such a huge number of people using them each day, I worry about the kinds of people whose hands have held the bars that I must then hold. When did they last wash their hands, what is their level of personal hygiene, etc.
One’s never really thought of oneself as OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) but as a matter of course – I always wash my hands as soon as I get to work (annoyingly, with Fairy Liquid as they don’t provide soap in the kitchens though I have suggested they should). Doubt I’m the only one that does this.
In one of the first London flats I ever lived in – in a rough part of the city – there was a disused Chinese next door. And we had cockroaches in the flat. Was awful. Real low point of my 10 years in this city (for more reasons than that; I’d moved in with a real bastard of a guy who I went off as soon as I’d moved in).
I know germs and bacteria exist everywhere. That’s fine. I don’t mind germs from friends or colleagues quite so much. It’s just, like every big city, there are some really grim and squalid people in this one from all parts of the world and some do use the tube and psychologically I need some sense of purification and dissociation from that.
Perhaps you’re the same, or maybe you have other OCD inclinations.