For a couple hours today I felt all the feelings.
Nervous. Worried. Relieved. Flattered. Irritated. Ouch. Patient. Informed. Uninformed. Comforted and comforting. Ouch. Taught. Terrified. Trapped. Heard. Seen. Embarrassed. Pressured. Terrified. Trapped. Heard. Embarrassed. Humiliated. Irritated. Ouch-ouch-ouch. Relieved. Nervous. Shaky. Seen. Heard. Relaxed. Shaky. Weak. Thankful. Exhausted. Completely Empty. Determined. Numb. Exhausted.
A couple of weeks ago, I saw a lovely pulmonologist who actually listened more than anyone I’ve seen so far. I tasked her with finding out for sure if I have pulmonary hypertension. Despite seeing two other specialists and having 2 out of 3 tests say I don’t, I couldn’t get a commitment from them saying I didn’t, nor did they want to treat me like I did. She ordered a lung perfusion test as a last pass.
I scheduled it, and based on her description of it, I thought it was similar to a cat scan. I have had four of those in the past six months, so I didn’t think about it again.
Until this morning. I went to YouTube to watch a video of the test and that’s when I got worried.
I’ve written it the past about being raped when I was 19. And over the years, I had really “dealt with it” quite well. I had always been very open about it, including listening the stories of countless other friends I’ve met over the years who have been through something similar without it ever triggering me.
I had my weird little fears that I knew started after the rape. One, being afraid of complete darkness—there is always a light at my house that stays on 24/7. The other being afraid of taking walks alone. The reason those things are weird is that my rape happened in Daylight, in my own home.
Yes, I’ve tried to self-talk myself out of my weird fears. Being afraid to be home alone would make sense. Being afraid of sex would make sense. But, the marks of trauma are invisible and trauma doesn’t have to leave marks that make sense.
Regardless, I became friends with those two fears. I’ve made boyfriend’s install nightlights in their bedrooms and if I take a walk alone, it’s at the mall with the old ladies. I’ve coped, and 31 years later, thought I had done a pretty good job living life in spite of the pain of my past.
Until this year.
Because Trauma doesn’t have to have timing that makes sense.
Trauma reared its ugly head this year while I was in a room alone, having my 5th accupuncture treatment with 10-20 needles in my legs, feet and hands, I felt the feeling I never wanted to feel again. The feeling of being trapped. I called out to the practitioner and they didn’t hear me and I felt voiceless. Eventually it was time for them to be taken out, and I left as soon as I could get out the door. Once outside I took in deep breaths, still not sure why I felt the way I did and why that was a familiar feeling.
Until I did…I felt trapped just like I did under the weight of Chris’s (the rapist) body. I felt voiceless as he ignored my “NO!” and I realized no one else would hear me or come rescue me.
To be honest, I’ve probably been unconsciously designing a lot of things in my life to make sure that I don’t feel those things ever again, and I must have done a good job of it to keep it at bay for so long. But this year, something changed. Trauma reared its ugly head in the throes of an already difficult time. I was experiencing a lot of unexplained medical symptoms, doctors ordered cat scans, pet scans, ultrasounds and more. Getting thru the ones I thought I could, still reminded me of my trauma, and I refused an MRI because I knew better.
Which brings me to today. The nuclear medicine tech came and got me out of the waiting room. He had kind eyes and a warm smile, which was a relief but I was still wondering if a man could connect to what I was about to tell him.
He showed me the machines and started explaining the procedure. That’s when I told him I had been raped.
Thankfully, he did hear me. He assured me he would not leave me, that he would talk to me the whole time. He then handed me the mask and asked me if I wanted to put it over my mouth and nose first. I had already relayed that during my rape Chris put his hand over my mouth and having anything over my mouth or face was so very hard. He then explained he was going to put one side of the strap on and then asked if it was okay. He moved to the second strap and then asked me adjust it where I wanted it. It was so tight already, but then he had to put two more straps on. I couldn’t breathe even though there was an opening in the mask itself (that would be hooked up to an oxygen tube during the test.) He looked me in the eyes and asked me how I was doing. I said “I don’t know.”
He then closed the hole with his gloved hand to have me blow air and make sure none escaped out the sides. It was incredibly constricting. He explained it would just be eight minutes. I told him there was no way I could. I couldn’t breathe, the mask was painful physically, emotionally; deep within my soul kind of painful. He then asked if I thought I could do six minutes instead. I said no.
He took the mask off and left me laying on the table while he went to get the radiologist to see what they could do. I really just wanted to leave by then…I didn’t see a way. Before he left, I asked him his name again, he said “Chris”…how ironic, right? I didn’t think about that coincidence at the time…kind eyes and warm smile and someone hearing your “No” helped with that. The doctor said they would just do the second part of the test…no mask and I could control how close the imaging machine got to my face. Again, Chris the tech reminded me he would be right by my head the whole time. I agreed to this plan. I felt relieved that I had been heard.
I was embarrassed though…it sucks when you can’t use your mind to overcome something you know doesn’t make sense.
Chris, the tech, tried to start an IV on me for the radioactive material they needed to inject in me. He missed the first time and couldn’t find another easy option, so he got a collegue to help. Alan walked in and said “What do we got? She’s too scared of the mask?” I felt humiliated and defensive and immediately cut him off and said “I’m a trauma victim and I just can’t!” I was more forceful than my usual demeanor, but he dropped it. He complimented me on my Christmas-y fingernail polish and inserted a needle between my two knuckles to secure the IV.
Once I got back onto the imaging table, Chris ,the tech, slowly lowered the machine until I said when it was as close to my face and I could stand it. It only had to be there four minutes. We talked about him being a newlywed with a baby girl on the way next year, how long he had been doing this and more. Four minutes down, then three more four-minute segments with the machine away from my face and I would be done. I was aware I was relaxed by now, but I was shaking the whole time even though I wasn’t cold. I guess it was me coming off all of the flight, fight or freeze adrenaline I had just used.
We completed the test. I still felt like a failure only getting half the test, but knew it was better than nothing. Chris, the tech, walked me back to the waiting room. I wished him well and went out to the lobby.
I sat there for an hour before I thought I could walk back to the parking garage and safely drive the 30 miles home. While I sat there, I was feeling all the things and also numb at the same time. And I felt something I don’t often feel…anger. Anger with myself that I can’t “just get through it” or that it isn’t all behind me, and Anger with Chris, the rapist, that he’s out there somewhere, unaware that what he did 31 years ago can still hurt me today.
But I was also grateful today. I said my “NO!” and this time, Chris the tech heard it, the radiologist heard it, and no one forced me to do something I said no to. Today, I was reminded that although trauma doesn’t play by the rules, I have agency over my body and am worthy of that being respected.
No, trauma doesn’t make sense, but today I learned my “No!” is enough.