Panic Attacks

Repercussions of my ugly reality

I smoked my first cigarette when I was 15.

I had this friend, her parents smoked and she would sneak a few away and hide what became a habit for her, and as it would turn out, for me as well.

When I was fifteen, I went to this high school football game to see the guy I was starting to date, it was a small town in the deep recesses of Georgia and high school football was where everyone gathered on a Friday night.

The popular kids, who were my friends from church, invited me up to their section in the stands. My smoker friend was excited for this, getting an invitation was the first step, so I went.

In the stands on that football field, the guy I was dating, and the girls I was friends with from church seemed thrilled to have me with them, I had this warmth in my heart that I was being accepted, when only moments before I had been scared that the guy I was seeing wouldn’t want to see me since I had confessed to him that I had been raped, but everything seemed so good in those first few moments.

Knowing what I know today, I should have known that they weren’t thrilled, the smile that Lizzy had on her face wasn’t excitement, it was treacherous and manipulative, but I was young and naive. I wasn’t prepared for her to come at me with a full blast of accusatory statements, there was no time for me to get a word out of my mouth. I was embarrassed, humiliated, horrified that everyone knew now and then they all turned their heads away from me. I reached my hand out to touch the arm of the guy I was seeing and he jerked it away, not even looking at me. I burst into tears and he moved past everyone to get away from me.

In shock, I walked down the stairs to leave. I found my smoker friend, she asked me what was wrong but I had already pulled back deep into myself to keep the wounds I felt inside from bleeding any further.

I was broken, she took me to her house, we sat on her bed and she lit a cigarette. I didn’t say anything, I just took it from her, I coughed, choked, but the pain that it caused made me feel better. It took my mind off of the destructive abuse of rape, the searing pain in my lungs momentarily made me forget the humiliation of being shunned by my peers, the high of it – that sharp pain it causes in my brain – filled the void that had been left behind when I felt like I had been stripped and beaten from the inside out.

Today

More than fifteen years have come and gone as a painful blur. I dissociated to save my thoughts from the pain that my body went through, even though the emotions live inside like a black mold eating my body from the inside out. I blocked and blacked out in order to try and survive just one more day.

The healthier the people I surround myself with and the healthier my life gets because of therapy, the more it hurts and the more I hurt myself.

When I would dissociate, I could have an argument and I wouldn’t be present for it, I would go to an inner place in my head while my mouth spewed words that I would later be sorry for. When I am present and I have an argument, the adrenaline spikes and the trigger that it is, causes my face and body to ache in the locations where I have been hit. These areas on my face, my neck, my back, my stomach, my arms, they ache with the hurt of the past.

The monsters of my past haunt me every day and without realizing it, I’ve been helping them.

I felt like I was the worst kind of garbage after years of rape and abuse. I became so broken that deep down I believed I deserved to be treated this way, even though outwardly I was smiling and telling people that I was strong enough to stand.

The repercussion of the physical and psychological monstrosities is that I treat myself like garbage.

I hide from people I love in order to sneak cigarettes because the pain I feel when I smoke fills an ache of pain from my past and I think I deserve that. I drink too much at night in order to make sure that I won’t lie awake in bed terrorized by memories of my past, the headache the next morning … I think I deserve that.

I have stomach issues, lactose intolerance, GERD, and an ulcer, but I don’t stop eating food that is bad for me, because the pain it causes affirms that emotional feeling that I deserve to feel bad.

As it is every day, my vision isn’t clear because I have headaches that build into migraines. My stomach is burning with pain from eating. My neck tension is so severe that when I turn my head I hear cracking noises and pain reverberates, shuddering through my brain.

I panic that every day will be my last because of the amount of stress and pain I feel. I used to think that I was going to die from this pain, suddenly and swiftly.

I think about stopping all of these vices. These vices which have not helped me, but have only monumentally added to the pain I feel. My inner struggle is worry, that without these vices and bad habits – I am afraid I will feel everything. Is the pain from these vices really worse than the ugly reality of what happened?

Is the pain worse than finding out I’m a terrible at keeping a clean house and it isn’t just laziness?

Is the pain and fear worse than tossing and turning for hours, trying to shut out the monsters that haunt me in the dark of night, when the world is silent, but my mind is screaming?

Is it worth the pain and fear of dying sooner in life due to my vices and habits, because they help me dissociate from the agonizing terror of dying at the hands of someone else?

With these vices of mine, I have perpetuated and continued the feeling that I deserve to be in pain and that I deserve to feel bad. As the black tar of cigarettes coats my lungs with every inhale and the bottle of wine half finished is poured into another glass, I tell myself that I will get better, that I will do better, ironically, that is the same thing I used to say when I was being abused.

It is stunningly clear to me today, that the monsters of my past have evolved into new monsters in my present, in the form of things that I can become addicted to.

My addiction is clear for me, I am addicted to not wanting to feel, not wanting to remember, not wanting to look at myself in a mirror and seeing who I have become.

I did not want to acknowledge how I felt about myself, my face, or my body. So I embraced vices and habits that made me numb to everything but the pain that they themselves cause.

I have come to a place in the last few weeks where the vices and habits are making life harder, the purpose they served in the past is missing.

I have nothing to give this world but who I am, if I am numb and my eyes are vacant, I am not living. If I am in pain from a hangover and smoking, giving my body and mind less oxygen than it needs to function, I am only hurting myself.

There is a great quote, unknown to me who said it first, but it goes … I will remember and recover, not forgive and forget.

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I miss the person I once was, I sometimes dream of the person I had hoped to become. This life, with all of the good, the bad, and the ugly, is my reality and I think it is time that I confronted it.

I think it is time I fight for me, for who I want to be, and for what I want out of this life.

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He traumatized the mundane.

I walked into therapy today not knowing what was on my mind, but when I sat down and opened my mouth there was a flood of words describing this feeling of hopelessness that I’ve been noticing, and sometimes, regretfully, am overwhelmed by. The feeling isn’t with me most of the time, but when it happens, I am undone by panic attacks and I feel depressed about it.

Through the intensive process today, it became stunningly clear where and when I started feeling hopeless about the mundane. You see, my ex, he liked things done a specific way and when I moved in with him he assigned me tasks around the house that were to be done before I left for work for the day. The reason for every day……… “Don’t you care about our home? Don’t you want to take care of our home to make it nice to come home to every day?” I said yes but I felt every day was excessive but since I was 20 I thought that maybe, possibly I didn’t know right from wrong. There was a list for me on the counter when I would wake up in the morning, my tasks for that day. Vacuuming, Clean the mirrors, Dust the insides of CD cases (which were never used), Dishes, and Floors. I would run around like a mad dog trying to get everything done before going to my job. I always felt like I accomplished what was on the list when I left the house, it was spotless, but when I came home, even that first day, there was a note of how I had failed at my chores.

I took the note to him and was laughing about it because I thought it was a joke .. until I saw the vacuum cleaner sitting out in the middle of his office. He told me to pay attention, that this was to help me .. and showed me how to wind the chord for the vacuum in a certain way so that the end with the plug was at the top – for easy access. Then he showed me how I had barely any lines in the carpeting, explaining that he wanted to see clean, straight lines in the carpet. The dishes I had left to dry in the drain, but that was wrong because of water spots, they have to be dried immediately and put away, did I think he would want to see my dishes when he came home? At least I did ok on the mirrors, that was my thought as I went to bed and resolved that I would be better, do better. It never got better, the notes became more aggressive, I was yelled at over lines in the carpet, and physically assaulted over crumbs on the kitchen counter.

At the beginning of therapy I felt awful, that the little things I do around the house have been making me panic and feel hopeless. I didn’t realize how much he traumatized the mundane for me until today. These little chores, these simple activities …. they have been devastating me because he abused me over them, emotionally and physically. Vacuuming wasn’t to clean the floors, it was to avoid being called a failure. Dishes done perfectly … to avoid physical abuse. At the end of therapy, I felt mad, it’s fucking bullshit that he destroyed me over mundane tasks. MUNDANE tasks.

I was driving home and was sifting through why I have panic attacks sitting in the car at a red light. The stillness of the car, but motion of others, the waiting for the green light to happen, waiting, waiting, I always panic, I feel faint, and I’m terrified that I will die. Still, to this day. So I thought I would put it to the test, what happens if I don’t use the avoidance measures that help me and just embrace the panic at a light – see what happens. I did and I panicked hard. I was dizzy and I could barely keep my eyes open from the pressure that comes on so suddenly, but then it passed and I was fine. 20 seconds later my heartbeat was starting to get back to normal. 60 seconds later my breathing starts to come back to normal.

It’s the waiting for the green light, not knowing when I can expect it. I have the same terrorized feeling that I did when I would be on my way back to that house. Not knowing what to expect but waiting for what would happen.

A confrontation of sorts

I used to be unafraid. I remember that. I’m trying to keep that thought present so that I can logically move through the things I face today. Although now, since I know evil personally, I understand the difference between having a lack of fear and being brave, strong. As so many speeches start…. “Webster’s dictionary defines the word ..” brave – as ….. ready to face and endure danger or pain; showing courage.

It was less than five years ago that I thought I recognized someone from my past, someone that I knew was volatile and slightly fucking crazy. I didn’t want this person to know I still existed, much less that I was living back in Seattle. Looking back on that day I realize I did not need to be terrified, but I was. We were in a crowded Starbucks in the middle of Pike Place in Seattle, yet, I still snuck up to the barista making my coffee and waved her over urgently. I whispered to her that someone was in the shop that I couldn’t have hear my name, so could she please just hand me my cup when it was done instead of calling my name.

I remember the look on her face when I begged this favor of her. I know that my chest and neck had broken out in hives and that I was sweating and obviously, I looked panicked, but I could see understanding and sympathy in her face. She handed me my drink with a look that spoke of wishing me good luck and I hid behind a group of guys that were leaving on my way out.

Now, that was years ago, but I still avoid certain areas of Seattle and the Eastside based on when and where I know my abuser will be. Yet, when I drive down the interstate near his ext, I panic, I can’t help it. I can be focused on happy thoughts and when I see the turn in the road .. suddenly I can’t breathe and I feel that my death is impending.

All that to say, today, when I went to my regular gas station, I saw a vehicle exactly the same color, model, and year of his. My heart dropped and I expected the panic to hit me, but it didn’t, in that moment I only felt calm. I could see myself clearly, if he were to walk out and confront me, I wouldn’t run, I wouldn’t faint, and I certainly wouldn’t die because he was confronting me.

Do I know what I would say? No. Have I rehearsed it a million times? Yes.

I have run into this man a few times since I left him. An unfortunate circumstance of working in the same city and having to frequent many of the same businesses (incidentally, how we had met in the first place). Running into him after the breakup was a nightmare. I could feel the bruises that were no longer visible in my face and throat when I saw him, I felt the terror in my stomach. Those times that he came up to me, I forced a smile, I hid my shaking, and I stayed civil. He would smile his sick smile and I would count my breaths in and out waiting to escape the office and get to the safety of my car, with my locked doors.

Today was different though. It wasn’t him, no, but I didn’t have a panic attack when I thought it might be. That is huge for me. I feel stronger tonight for not having panicked, I feel that not only will I fight for myself, but I actually can. I wouldn’t classify myself as brave, but I’m a step up from hiding in a corner, so I’ll take it.

In other news, my macbook pro is still under the weather and I’m slightly devastated by this. Off to the apple school of wizards this weekend we will go.

 

I need to get to know you

It’s been a while. I stopped writing because I felt like I was feeding anger instead of moving forward with hope and I needed to get my head straight on that point.

The husband and I moved to a new apartment, it’s newer, spacious, and peaceful. I’ve been running myself ragged the last two weeks for this move and trying to do more than I think my body could undertake. I started having massive panic attacks again this last week and yesterday I couldn’t get my heart to steady after one panic attack in the morning. I spent the whole day trying to breathe but labored with each breath, I could feel my lungs aching from the strain.

Because panic attacks are what they are, I of course think that I must be dying. This sounds like it’s funny, but it isn’t. It’s terrifying. This impending sense of dread and death is a stealthy stalker and when you’re having a panic attack, it can be crippling.

Before we went to bed last night, I told my husband what I was feeling and he did his utmost to comfort me and assuage my fears. As he rubbed my back in this steady motion that he’s learned calms me, I wondered how he knows just what to do.  It was at that moment that I realized how I am literally uncomfortable with myself. I wrote myself a quick email last night detailing all that I am uncomfortable with, like my appearance, my smile, the way I talk, the way I walk… the list was endless.

I went to sleep, trying to relax and breathe, thinking to myself and telling myself “I need to get to know you.” I need to listen to my body and take care of it, not hate it for what happened. I need to look at my face in the mirror and not imagine the bruises that aren’t there anymore. I need to let myself start to feel happy again without guilt. Neither my body or my mind has relaxed in the last seven years and in the last six months I’ve known that this needs to change, I can’t live like this anymore.

I have this recurring dream where I see myself, barely in my 20’s and the shower can’t clean enough off. I’m mute, paralyzed, and scared. There’s a party going on outside the bathroom and I just see the dirt trails going down the drain. Every time I have this dream I feel like fighting. Fighting for life, fighting for myself, fighting for happiness, fighting for this to end. All of it.

I need to get to know myself again.