Big Smile No Teeth

Published: Sunday April 7, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Wednesday August 14, 2013 MYT 5:25:14 PM

Still cabin fever?

What’s that? Feeling claustrophobic? Stir-crazy? Why do they still call it cabin fever? Doesn’t condo dysentry sound more contemporary?

LAST week, I had the privilege to visit Malaysia on a trip for Li (TV channel), and was struck by the amount of space there was between destinations, on the street, and in my hotel room.

I’m sure this is a very relative thing, as many Malaysians probably wouldn’t think of KL as particularly roomy, but for myself, coming from the closet housing capital of the world known as Hong Kong, it was like stepping onto a football pitch.

In Malaysia, with all that glorious space, I suddenly felt free and happy, and wondered if living in a small space had caused me some manner of psychological distress. Then I realised there is a term for anxiety or depression from being in a confined space: cabin fever.

Yep, the seemingly innocuous fever from being in a cabin, which isn’t actually a fever in that it raises your temperature until you take a bunch of painkillers, but it did make Jack Nicholson crazy enough in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining that he uses an axe to open doors and hallucinated about a bunch of creepy kids, when he had his own real-life creepy kid writing backwards on walls.

I digress.

But this is ludicrous, cabin fever applies to... well... cabins, the sort in the woods surrounded by evergreens, where you have to fetch water from a river and hunt squirrels for food and snazzy clothing.

A quick Internet search (thank you, Wikipedia) revealed that the phrase “cabin fever” was coined in 1918 and applies simply to being in a confined space with nothing to do and the feelings of restlessness and irritability that result and may manifest itself in excessive sleeping, distrust of companions, and the urge to leave the dwelling even in darkness, rain, or blizzard.

So yeah, if you’re living with your spouse, and your spouse keeps going outside to stand in the rain alone, it may not be indicative of an intense hatred of you. He or she may just be suffering from cabin fever – which can lead to an intense hatred of you.

Maybe that isn’t so consoling.

What’s interesting is that clearly the term cabin fever applies to small spaces usually associated with rural dwellings, i.e. cabins.

A cabin in the woods or a cottage is traditionally smaller than a home (i.e. my family cottage in Canada was a converted horse shed – that’s horse singular, not horses) and therefore the encroachment of space leading individuals to go crazy.

But with modern living spaces becoming so small, is cabin fever going to have to be called something else?

As cities modernise, the loss of space in the central areas is given. Land becomes more expensive, and in demand, and the spaces people can afford decrease.

In Singapore, during the 1960s and 70s, three- to four-bedroom flats accommodated families but during the 1980s, these types of flats stopped being built entirely. Many new developments are coming in under 600 sq ft. (56sqm).

The same has happened in Canada, my home country, where homes are known for their enormous size (my parent’s house has a hallway bigger than my entire apartment in Hong Kong) is now rolling out homes as small as 400 sq ft (37sqm), that’s about 2/3 the size of the average subway car.

Yeah, imagine getting on a crowded subway for your morning commute and feeling pleased with how spacious it is. That’s just sad.

When asked to explain the move to tighter, more efficient spaces, Ben Taddei of Park Lane Homes in Vancouver was quoted as saying, “People want a richer experience”, that they don’t need extravagant hallways, landings, nooks, crannies, etc etc etc.

I would argue that people can’t pay for extravagant hallways, landings, nooks, and crannies. There’s a difference.

The idea that housing spaces are getting smaller by consumer choice is misleading. It is a choice that is leading to the popularity of smaller homes, but it is a choice dictated by necessity. In most of the world’s major cities, most of us cannot afford to live in a large space.

So, as we live in increasingly smaller spaces, my space is 550 sq ft (51sqm) – so that is about the size of a subway car, hurray! – it’s inevitable that the discomfort and general anxiety known as cabin fever will raise its ugly head, but surely we need a new term for it.

And that’s where I come in, always eager but so far in life, unsuccessful at coining new terms.

Clearly, cabin fever is an antiquated term for the new phenomenon caused by confinement to tiny flats and apartments, so how about Condo Dysentery?

Yep, Condo Dysentery. Try it out.

“Man, I’ve been so bored lately, I’m suffering from Condo Dysentery.”


I know that the condition doesn’t have any of the symptoms of normal dysentery, but cabin fever has little to nothing to do with actual fevers either.

So next time you’re anxious about living in a small space and you feel like standing in the rain by yourself/or hallucinating about a bunch of creepy kids, look at your roommate, shake your head and say, “Dude, I’m suffering from some serious Condo Dysentery.”

Consider that term coined.

Jason Godfrey can be seen hosting The LINK on Life Inspired (Astro B.yond Ch 728). You can email him at

Tags / Keywords: Opinion, cabin fever

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