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Panic.

Discussion in 'Bushcraft Chatter' started by Wayland, Apr 1, 2008.

  1. Wayland

    Wayland Hárbarðr

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    Something extraordinary and unexpected happened this weekend that gave me much to think about.

    But first a little history.

    Some twenty odd years ago I was into caving. Not in a major way, just curiosity I guess.

    Anyway, to cut a long story short, we were using the old coal board lamps with a battery pack on a belt and in a very tight long crawl my pack got jammed between me and the wall which stopped me dead in the tunnel.

    I tried wriggling backwards but couldn’t and forwards just wasn’t happening. I was last in line so there was no one behind me to help and the guy in front was a long way from anywhere he could turn round to get back to me.

    My arms were both reaching forward and there was very little room to get my arm round to move the battery pack. As I tried to get my arm into a position to help, my elbow got lodged into a cleft as well. For a moment I thought I was really stuck and a creeping sense of panic started to rise.

    Eventually I managed to calm myself enough to deal with the situation by rotating slightly and pulling my belly in a lot, but it was a bad moment and I didn’t do much more caving after that incident.

    Back to this weekend.

    I was away on a course and one of the objectives was to build debris shelters.

    The design we settled on after a couple of false starts was a couple of shelters just large enough for three people each.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    There were plenty of cut poles provided and not a bad supply of debris to be found so the construction was straight forward although a bit rushed.

    We moved onto other things and returned to the shelters later to sleep.

    I elected to enter the shelter first at the left with Debs in the middle and Andy on the right. To fit us all in I had to wedge myself tightly into the edge which pinned my left arm down and I zipped up my bag with the right.

    Debs then moved in snugly on my right and Andy slipped in on the far side and we were all under cover. I couldn’t move without disturbing the shelter or Debs. It was restrictive but not really uncomfortable which was evidenced by the speed I fell to sleep.

    A couple of hours later I woke up in the grip of panic. I don’t know if it was some kind of flashback or something new but my heart was racing and I was really scared.

    For a moment my eyes opened and I still couldn’t see a thing. The hood of my sleeping bag was over my eyes but my rational mind soon regained control as I realized where I was and what was actually happening.

    I started to calm down and think clearly but the next thing that happened took me completely by surprise. I tried to open my sleeping bag but I couldn’t feel my fingers, they were quite numb and so now were my lips. As I tried to work this out my legs suddenly went cold followed by my arms.

    To my amazement, I was going into shock even though I thought the sense of crisis had passed!

    My first thought was if I didn’t do something now, I might pass out and no one would know.

    I pushed hard against the sides of the bag and the zip burst open. I sat up as best I could, apologised to Debs for disturbing her and said something like "I’m going to check on the fire."

    The fire was dying out, but soon revived with a bit of tlc and I spent the rest of the night sat by it figuring out what had happened.

    What struck me most was how unexpected it all was. I was completely unprepared for an attack of claustrophobia in the outdoors, indeed I had no idea I was even prone to it.

    I started thinking about how I normally sleep outdoors and although I sometimes use a tent I much prefer a tarp or even just a blanket under the stars. I always have and I suspect I always will.

    Although I felt a complete fool at the time it happened, it has put a completely new perspective upon my trips into the wilds and the methods I tend to use.
     
    Lou likes this.
  2. John Fenna

    John Fenna Lifetime Member & Maker

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    Wow!
    A bit un-nerving.
    I too dislike crowded bedrooms.....but not that much!
     
    Lou likes this.
  3. Matt Weir

    Matt Weir Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)

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    I know that you're a head screwed on chap so it goes to show that the subconscious can play hell with the sanest of minds. I also know that during sleep the subconscious comes into play stronger than ever and those half asleep/half awake dream moments can freak the bijeezus out of anyone. Thanks for the honesty post Wayland, I hope others can take heart if something similar happens to them and I hope it airs the demon for you.

    That aside how was the rest of the course (or have I missed the thread :eek: ?)
     
  4. Shambling Shaman

    Shambling Shaman Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)

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    Nothing foolish there, The subconscious mind is very powerful.

    lucid dreaming is a good example.
     
  5. jojo

    jojo Need to contact Admin...

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    No need to feel foolish at all. I suspect your mind remembered your feeling of panic at being trapped underground. Personally, I hate having anything over my face, makes me very quickly feel like I am suffocating. And I also intensely dislike crowds. The mind can play some scary tricks on you at times.
     
  6. Mike Ameling

    Mike Ameling Need to contact Admin...

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    Close quarters in unfamiliar territory can often dredge up or aggrivate old ... scars. And many of the scars are buried in the mind.

    I can't sleep with my eyes/nose covered, nor on my stomache. More "scars" from the past.

    The few panic attacks that have woken me up in the past have been for more ... um ... confrontational issues ... of many years ago on various tours. Some things never quite leave you alone.

    Mikey - yee ol' grumpy blacksmith out in the Hinterlands
     
  7. locum76

    locum76 Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)

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    thats scary stuff.

    perhaps a shelter open at both ends next time?
     
  8. Fin

    Fin Settler

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    Just reading your caving experience made me break out in a cold sweat! - That sort of claustrophobia is the reason why I have never had an inkling to try that particular pastime.

    I can easily see how you would have had an unconscious flashback (even to the extent of physical shock) when "hemmed in" like that.

    I can see you becoming an expert on making gigantic natural shelters!
     
  9. Eric_Methven

    Eric_Methven Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)

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    Aye, that's one of the main reasons caving has never appealed to me. There's something to be said for a hammock and tarp and not just for a comfortable posture.

    Eric
     
    santaman2000 likes this.
  10. fred gordon

    fred gordon Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)

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    Very scary indeed. The mind is a very powerful thing, it really never forgets.:(
     
  11. Chris G

    Chris G Settler

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    Scary indeed! The mind is a very powerful thing - just ask the security services of the world. Could it have been sleep apnia?

    Chris
     
  12. andy_e

    andy_e Native

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    I was really surprised when you told me the story - I slept like a log (or a lumbermill probably) through the night and when I woke I just thought you'd got up and out early as usual.

    I've never had an experience like that and never been caving either - but I have noticed that unusual sleeping situations can play strange tricks on your mind - it's almost as though in the half-waking state your mind searches for a familiar point of reference, unfortunately in your case it may have been a caving incident.

    As for the shock, AFAICT it usually sets in after the adrenaline rush has subsided and the body starts to relax again. I don't think your situation was helped by Patricks stories of collapsing shelters, at least you had the chance to reassure yourself that the shelter would have stood up to almost anything as evidenced by the game of anti-Buckeroo we played trying to get the thing to fall down while dismantling it.

    At least you had the presence of mind to act - many wouldn't have.
     
  13. fishy1

    fishy1 Banned

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    I've been caving a few times, and I could imagine getting stuck being terrifying. The only thing worse that that would be a cave in and the cave slowly flooding, while no one knew you were there.
     
  14. MagiKelly

    MagiKelly Making memories since '67

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    I have had very mild panic attacks of a different nature when out and they can be quite frightening. Unfortunately logic is not always a great help.

    I am also not a great fan of being restricted in a sleeping bag an think this is one of the reasons I like to use the underblanket with a sleeping bag open as a blanket above me. I also bought the Dreamcatcher sleeping bags as they have expanding panels to stop you being restricted. Unfortunately for me they are still a bit restrictive around the arms.
     
  15. firecrest

    firecrest Full Member

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    I had claustophobia like that once (dont laugh!) when, as an experiement, my cousin rolled me into a bed-couch. Im very tiny and we wanted to see if Id fit inside it. I did and I nearly suffocated. I was totally stuck and he wasnt strong enough to pull the bed out from the couch again. Not as bad as caving though, but I know what kind of panic you mean. I think the lips going numb and the fingers is something to do with hyperventilating. I think its too much oxygen in the system or something. If that happens again try the paper bag over the mouth trick.
     
  16. EdS

    EdS Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)

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    the old Oldham lamps eh.

    Getting stuff in a cave is the stuff of nightmares even if you are not claustrophobic.

    The MRT I'm involved with also does cave rescue - I'm no caver (did a bit a uni) but there is a definate chance of having to go underground on extended rescue. Might even have to get my oversuit dirty.
     
  17. MartiniDave

    MartiniDave Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)

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    Wayland,

    You have my strongest sympathy, that's an awful sequence of events!

    I had a very similar panic when sleeping in a debris shelter on a bushcraft course with Woodlore. From what I remember I woke at about 3 in the morning to total darkness and absolute silence, but with the feeling of dank leafy material right on my face. Getting out of my maggot and bivvy bag wasn't easy, especially as I couldn't get my hands to my head torch. I spent the rest of the night back in my regular tent, and didn't use the shelter again. The instructors told me it's really not that uncommon.

    Reading your post brought the memory of it flooding back, along with a bit of a cold sweat! That is as I sit at my office computer!

    Dave
     
  18. Wayland

    Wayland Hárbarðr

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    Honesty is the only way I really know. :dunno:

    The course was interesting, it covered most of the basics of survival with minimal equipment which is always useful to know.

    There were a couple of things I felt could have been covered in more detail but as always with these things time soon runs out.

    The main concern I have about such an approach is that 99.9% of the people venturing outdoors are never going to find themselves in a survival scenario and the impact that a few people living that way has on an area in the short term is huge.

    Without wanting to get into a huge debate about definitions, for me, it is this balance between what is done out of necessity, and engaging in a sustainable, low impact leisure activity, that is an important difference between the philosophies of "survival" and what is now termed "bushcraft" by many people.

    What I have to say though is that if you thought Patrick was a craftsman from the things you have seen posted on this site, you will be blown away by the contents of his den / office. :eek:

    I think it did prey on my mind back then too. Although I don't clearly recall my reasons I just never seemed to be able to find the time to go caving much after that and I didn't really miss it much.

    I must confess, that although it is useful to know how to make natural shelters if the need is there I would probably favour a simple lean to now.

    I think I shall be sticking to tarps and ponchos for the foreseeable future.

    I always use a poncho as my main waterproof so short of losing all my gear that is the fastest and most practical shelter for me.

    I suspect that tale may have added to my subconscious attack of panic and that, while being a surprise, is quite easy to understand I suppose. The thing that really caught me off guard was the physical shock brought on by what was, in effect, just a bad dream.

    I think at that stage inaction was not a safe option.

    Yes, there is a point when you suspect that the only way you are going to be taken out of a hole is in pieces, that's when you start getting really concerned.

    Take care down there Ed.
     
  19. Wayland

    Wayland Hárbarðr

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    That's intriguing, I really thought it was particular to my past circumstances, perhaps that's not the case then.
    :Thinkingo

    It really was the strangest thing that has ever happened to me sleeping out though.

    I'll stick to a tarp with a view..;)
     
  20. nicodiemus

    nicodiemus Nomad

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    If it rains heavily while i'm asleep, regardless of where i am, i will sometimes wake up wide awake having sweated my sheets through, and wild eyed in terror.

    No idea why, i love rain, but evidently some bizzare fear response kicks in on some occasions.
     

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