Thoughts on the ‘suffocation sickness’ or ‘strangulation sickness’

Many years ago I began to speak of what I called either the ‘suffocation sickness’ or ‘strangulation sickness’.  These are terms I used to describe a certain problem I was having.

Basically, these ‘sicknesses’ describe a feeling that the modern world and humanity are either ‘suffocating’ me or ‘strangulating’ me.  They are so powerful that I have had to adjust my life to avoid these ‘sicknesses’.  There are many manifestations of these ‘sicknesses’.


Oftentimes, these ‘sicknesses’ have a quality of a claustrophobia, and I often compare it to that, thinking that there is a similarity.   I feel as if the modern world and humanity is all around me, closing in on me.  This makes me very anxious and despairing-like, and it can almost bring me to tears.  It can make me feel hopeless, trapped, and has caused depression in me.   I feel, at times, like a prisoner, unable to free myself.

Once, I went camping with my parents in the 90’s.  We went to a public camping site, which I hate to do as it doesn’t seem like camping to me.  The people next to us had a TV and had it on very loud.  I sat there and, after awhile, couldn’t take it anymore.  I got up and left, running away, saying “I can’t take this any more, I can’t take this anymore”.  I also began to say “there’s nowhere to go, there’s nowhere to go, I’m trapped, I’m trapped”.  By this I meant that I couldn’t escape the modern world.  Wherever I went it was there.  That reflects its claustrophobic quality.  It brought me to tears and my hands were shaking.  I became something of a nervous wreck for the rest of the day.  That really woke me up to this problem.

Over the years I’ve begun to feel that I am not the only one suffering from these ‘sicknesses’.  I see examples of it all over.  Many people, I feel, don’t recognize it as a problem.   In fact, it seems that there has become sort of an ‘acceptance’ of these problems, as if they are no big deal.

The sense of ‘closing in’, it seems to me, creates a continual need to ‘escape’ or ‘get away’, just to breath.  It’s interesting that this basic idea has become so prevalent in this society.  Is it any wonder?  It’s become such an important thing that it’s critical, and a matter of health, for people have vacation time and can ‘get away’.  For centuries this was never needed all over the world.  Many people stayed within a mile or so from their homes and never had a problem.  But now, more than ever, people have to ‘get away’.  This sounds like the ‘sicknesses’ to me.

I also feel that the obsessive concern over ‘freedom’ in the modern world is a result of these ‘sicknesses’.  I was always perplexed by this obsession over ‘freedom’ because, in many instances, it didn’t seem to be that big of an issue.  Oftentimes, complaining about ‘freedom’ was nothing but complaining over trivial things.  Not only that, no matter how much freedom you give people they seem to complain about it anyways.  That, it seems, is because political and social freedom are not what people are needing.  I have often felt that what many people wanted to be free from was actually the suffocating quality of modern society.  Democracy, voting, rights, and such aren’t going to give that and never did.  This is part of the reason why all this stuff does not work that effectively.  Its also interesting to note that many people who complain about ‘freedom’ often have a certain personality type.  I jokingly called them ‘freedomites’.  Their personaltiy type reflects how they perceive themselves in the world more than anything that was actually being done to them or the actual situation they are in.  My observation is that most of these people feel ‘suffocated’ by modern life.  Complaining about ‘freedom’, rights, and all that is their expression of this dilemma.

I always thought that these ‘sicknesses’ are interesting as it shows, I think, a new type of claustrophobia – a claustrophobia created by humanity and the modern world.  Its shows that it is, in fact, ‘closing in’ on some of us and causing us problems.  It shows that humanity and the modern world has a quality similar to an ‘enclosed space’, a big ‘room’, so to speak.  And, like a room, it can ‘close in’ on some of us.  This fact reveals that modern humanity and the modern world is not a part of the normal human condition.  That is to say, it reflects an unnatural condition.  It is something that has been placed about us, like a wall or fence, and not something naturally there.


The ‘sicknesses’ can appear as a threat.  That is to say, humanity and the modern world can actually appear, deep down, to threaten a person.  This ‘threat’ seems so deep that very few people may even feel it as a ‘threat’ but that’s basically what it is.  Because it’s a threat it often creates a ‘defensive reaction’ on the part of the person.

One version of this is the need to be removed from greater society.  What I mean by this is a tendency to not want to be counted as part of the population.  This has a tendency to create things like subcultures and subgroups in modern society.  Many times, their whole point is nothing but to say “I’m not a part of you!” and that’s it.  It can even go so far as to create a lot of hateful responses.  It can create people that are ‘pissed off’ at everything.  It can create counter-cultures who are bent on spitting on the mainstream society.  It can create a lot of blind rebellion, people who rebel for rebellings sake.  Sometimes, it can make people violent.

An interesting reaction to the ‘threat’ began to appear in me in the 90’s.  I found that a thought kept coming into my head.  Basically, a desire to destroy things, such as buildings.  But one thought was prevalent:   I kept thinking about going somewhere, like downtown, and to start shooting people.    At first it was just something that ‘passed through my head’, oftentimes while driving home from work.  I never took it seriously and would never of actually considered doing it.  I saw it as a representation of some sort of frustration.  In reality, many of us have thoughts like this from time to time, often without our realizing it.  When I was thinking of all this was before the time when a lot of people would go around shooting up school yards and that.  Later, when I heard people were actually doing this I began to question it.  It also began to worry me.  I began to look closer as to its source and manifestations and an interesting thing came out.

One of the most important things that I mentioned is that people had become a blur.  I saw faces but no one was there.  Being around people was being around a bunch of faceless blurred people that seemed, in a way, like ghosts.  But, deep down, I needed people, a person there in front of me, but yet there was none.  I yearned for humanness and ‘human contact’.  Everywhere I looked I saw nothing but a blur.  This created a great dilemma in me.  Needing humanness, I saw none in the blur of people.  As a result, I saw the blur as sort of a threat, a threat to me and who I am.   In other words, the lack of humanness I saw in modern mass humanity was threatening me.  This made me see the blur as something I had to defend myself against.  This dilemma manifested itself in me a thought of going and shooting people, to destroy the ‘threat’.  In effect, I would not be shooting people but the ‘blurr’ that haunted me.  In other words, I would of been shooting the unhumannness in modern humanity.  For me, though, it was just a thought, nothing I ever even remotely considered doing.  But, for others, it became a reality.  As I heard of people doing that more and more I began to feel their ‘pain’ and feel an understanding toward them.

People going around shooting up schoolyards is the most dramatic version of dealing with the ‘threat’, but there are many lesser versions of it.  There are other ways to ‘kill’ the threat.  For example, having a continual and blind hatred toward society, the government, or even life itself.  In this way a person ‘kills’ in their mind, so to speak.


Some of the qualities that seem to create these ‘sicknesses’ include:

  • Always being around machines, organizations, systems, and other modern manifestations.
  • Always having to cater to the modern world and having to do things the way it requires.
  • The endless demonstration of humanities presence all around me.  I feel trapped if all I see are examples of humanity:  buildings, cars, planes, roads, traffic lights, etc.
  • The absence of human society, culture, tradition, customs, religion, beliefs, etc.
  • The absence of nature.  Seeing nothing but man-made stuff makes me feel alienated, lost, and detached I’ve found.
  • A sense of unhumanness in people.  With the absence of human to human contact, that seems prevalent today, people seem unhuman.  It creates a sense of a lack of humanness in people and in social relations.
  • Seeing too many people.  When you see so many people, they become a blur, a haze of humanity.  Most of these people you will never know.  It gives a sense, I think, that people are not ‘real’ or are like automatons.  Being around this, there is a sense of loneliness.  I have always said “never have I felt so alone than in mass society”.  It’s ironic how being around so many people creates such loneliness in people but it does.
  • The noise of humanity and the modern world.  This, for me, is one of the biggest things that creates a claustrophic sense, as there is no escaping noise.  Having to hear traffic, airplanes, radios, TV’s, etc. can drive me up the wall and make me feel trapped.  I have said, many times, that a big part of my life is running away from the noise of humanity and the modern world.


For me, I have found some things I NEED to help me battle the ‘sicknesses’.  These are:

  • A need to get way from humanity and the modern world.  That is to say, to be away from it and not have to see, hear, or deal with it.
  • A need to have a private place to go.  This is best in nature.  It is usually in solitude, but not necessarily.
  • A need to develop a strong sense of self and to be a person-in-the-world.

These needs are what a person can do as they are within a persons power.

It would not be a lie to say that a big part of my life now is trying to achieve these needs.  How many times have I said ‘the big dream’:  to be able to live where I can go out of my door and not have to hear traffic, airplanes, radios, and such and be within walking distance of the woods.  That, for me, is a dream, the ‘big dream’.

I have had humanity and the modern world bearing down on me all my life.  As a result, I have been in constant battle with its ‘suffocation’ and ‘strangulation’.   It seems that all I have been doing so far is like taking aspirin for it.  It seems the only way to rid oneself of these ‘sicknesses’ is to get away from the conditions that cause it.  The problem is that this is impossible.  If a person is brought up in the modern world it is not easy to leave it.  A person can never really “leave” the conditions they were brought up with.  They stay with you all your life.  Being brought up in a condition takes place in our ‘growing years’.  As a result, many aspects of that condition becomes a part of us, like our hand.  Not only that, many aspects of these conditions are good and beneficial for us, as well as the fact that we are accustomed to it.  If we try to completely leave the modern world as a result of the ‘sicknesses’ we, in a way, alienate ourselves from who we are, from our roots.  As a result, it creates a dilemma which I often call the ‘suffocation sickness dilemma’ or ‘strangulation sickness dilemma’.  Basically, this dilemma reflects the fact that those of us brought up in the modern world, and are ‘suffocated’ by it, need to leave it but we cannot leave it completely or else we alienate ourselves.  In other words, we need to find a happy medium of being within and without the modern world, and to be apart from it enough that it does not strangle us, but within it that we are not alienated by its absence. 


Copyright by Mike Michelsen

This entry was posted in Modern life and society, Psychology and psychoanalysis, Stuff involving me and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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