*** A quick note about the following, first and foremost TRIGGER WARNING FOR MED TRAUMA AND PANIC ATTACKS. Please be gentle with yourselves and don’t read this if it’s going to cause you distress.
Now for some background: this came about after a friend posted a writing prompt on social media with the challenge of writing a scene using all senses but sight; immediately this idea came to mind and I started writing. For the sake of full transparency, what I describe in this piece is not my standard panic attack experience, but one with the most sensory variety. My panic attacks stem most often from med trauma that occurred around five years ago. Most of my triggers related to that period are solely visual so I had to reach back in my brain for something that would allow me to utilize the other senses. One thing I’ve come to realize about trauma is something happening recently creates a reverse domino effect and suddenly everything you supposedly got over comes to the surface. This is apparently good for writing, bad in pretty much every other aspect. I think this is where I assure you I’m in therapy and thank you for reading.
I squeeze my eyes shut tight against the images painting the inside of my eyelids, until there is only blackness. And then I close them tighter, shutting out the blackness until there is nothing. This nothing is heavy, weighing against me with all of the memory I’ve yet to be strong enough to explore, and pain I’ve never let myself or even been able to feel at all. Both managed to leave scars I’ll carry forever.
In this void of nothing I’m held and hold myself. Cold abuzz with the barely controlled frenetic energy of the operating room, of every operating room I’ve ever been in, wraps around me. At the same time I’m aware of my own bed beneath me, the mountain of pillows supporting me and the blankets cocooning me, their warmth tethering me to the now. Still the smell of antiseptic and a silicone mask fill my nostrils. My pulse thunders in my ears almost in rhythm with the beep of medical equipment. The safe stillness of my home waits just out of reach.
In the same instance I expect to feel my body losing consciousness, my heart pounds harder, faster providing me with another separation from then and now. It’s enough. I bring my wrist to my nose, pressing the inside of my arm against my face, another point of contact as a sharp, earthy musk enters my nostrils. I inhale deeply as the the scent of patchouli on my pulse point cuts through the false stimuli, holding my heart rate hostage before gently returning it to its normal state. I turn my head to the side, still not daring to open my eyes, and my cheek is met with the coolness of my pillow as my nose and forehead collide with one of the army of plushies ready to do battle with me against these flashbacks.
My arm falls across my chest, palm flat against my heart. My other hand reaches out across my weighted blanket and finding purchase clings tightly. A blip of panic spikes but fades quickly as my fingers close around a small, familiar shape. Surfaces bearing raised numbers are joined by salient edges that leave my palm and fingers stinging lightly as my grip tightens. The coldness and weight of my d20 anchor me further to reality.
I begin to take intentional deep breaths, filling my lungs to aching capacity again and again. My lips part and my mouth opens as if for the first time in days. My tongue is heavy and tastes of sickness. I’m struck by how similar this feels to being extubated.
Taking inventory of the rest of my body reveals even more similarity to being in recovery. My limbs feel heavy, yet weak and flimsy. The rest of me feels empty, completely drained but somehow weighed down. This is all very much akin to how I’ve felt post op. Maybe that’s to be expected. After all, as I have to remind myself too often, this is healing too.