One minute you’re sweating your face off at the gym, and the next thing you know, it’s twenty minutes later, and the fingernail-shaped crescent moons dug into your arm are the only thing grounding you in the present, but this time, even that isn’t enough.
One moment you’re on the treadmill all too aware that you’re the only girl in a room with five guys (and those numbers are enough to make your stomach turn). All you want to do is leave. But you can do this. You can do this. You can do this.
You’re so close to finishing your workout when you catch the glimpse of one of the guys in the window. He bears a vague resemblance to one of the guys who raped you, not enough that would normally bother you, but enough to push your already anxious self over the edge.
Suddenly, you can’t breathe. Your heart catches in your throat. The room starts to spin. As you step off the treadmill, the room starts to go black. You bend over, trying to catch your breath, trying to keep the memories away long enough to get the heck out of there. As you go down the staircase, which is basically a metal tube, you hear voices behind you. They’re talking and laughing, not about you, but about weights or basketball or something, but in your panic-stricken mind, it doesn’t matter. Immediately, you’re transported back to that school bathroom, and suddenly, the ceiling starts closing in on you; you feel like you can’t breathe. You can’t get out of there fast enough, running down the last few stairs, pushing the door at the bottom with as much strength as you can muster, and walking as fast as you can down the hall, finally collapsing on a bench.
You try to catch your breath; your heart is pounding out of your chest, and all you want to do is keep those memories at bay. But no matter how hard you try, you can’t keep them away. You don’t know how long it’s been–seconds, minutes, years. It feels like seconds. Someone may have walked by asking you if you’re ok because apparently, you look spaced-out. But you don’t hear them: you’re so far into the own memories of your past that the only thing you can hear is: Bitch. Slut. Worthless. All you can feel is their hands on your skin, which you realize later is your own finger nails digging into your arm so hard that they leave marks that are still there 24 hours later. And you can’t breathe, partly because your lungs are on fire and partly because you feel like their are hands around your neck.
You drink water bottle after water bottle to get the taste of shame out of your mouth, and eventually, the memories start to fade. But the pounding in your chest is refusing to quit, and your lungs are refusing to stop sprinting a mile a minute. Your leg is sore from the bouncing it’s been doing for the last twenty minutes. And all you can think is: I’ve got to go home. I’ve got to go home. I’ve got to go home. Which really translates to, I’ve got to get out of here. I’ve got to get out of here. I’ve got to get out of here.
You start to head down the hallway to the locker room, trying to keep your hand from shaking by rubbing it up and down your leg, but, you get a quarter of the way down, just to the door of the weight room, and you feel sick like you’re going to throw up.
You turn around, and head back up to the hallway, alternating between leaning against the cool wall that feels so good against your sweaty, panicky skin, and pacing up and down the hall. Every time you try to take a step down that hall towards the locker room, you feel nauseous. So so nauseous.
It’s been half an hour now, and you’re wondering what the heck you’re going to do. You need to go home. You need to. You need to. But you can’t face the locker room that’s so similar to the bathroom you avoided for the last month of middle school.
You don’t know what to do. You’re so close to just going to the weight room and sitting down, not to be creepy, but because you need to be around somebody, anybody. You’re gathering up the courage when all of a sudden, you see a girl you know–someone you knows your story. Someone who, without hesitation, when you asked them to go to the locker room because you’re having a flashback and panic attack, went with you and talked with you for another hour as you tried to calm down.
And that’s how long it takes: another hour. It takes another hour to calm yourself down long enough to drive home, another hour for your heart to stop racing the demons, another hour for you not to feel like you’re going to pass out. Another for you to stop thinking about everything you’ve spent the last nine years trying to forget.
And then you get home and take the hottest shower your skin can stand. And then it takes who knows how many hours to fall asleep because every time you close your eyes, you’re transported back, and all you have this time is a prayer that this time, you’ll fall asleep. And you do.
When you wake up the next morning, you don’t know where you are. You don’t really even remember what happened, until you look at your arm and realize that the fingernail-shaped marks are still there.
The day after the worst panic attack you’ve had in months and the worst one you’ve ever had in public, you go to a wedding. Trying to hide the fact that your hand is shaking from the anxiety you still feel. Trying to hide the fact that you still feel nauseous. You dance the Cha-Cha slide and the Cupid Shuffle, and you walk to your car by yourself at night. Halfway there, when the panic begins to set in again, you look up at the sky, and you see the stars, and you remember that God is there no matter what.
A day-and-a-half after the worst panic attack, you go to Church, still feeling the residual effects: you’re exhausted and anxious and your heart is still pounding. But then God has this way of reminding you that He’s got this. You can climb this mountain.
And now it’s a few minutes past the 48-hour mark, and you’re just starting to return to normal. Your heart isn’t pounding as hard. You’re not as tired. You feel less and less nauseous as the minutes tick on. You no longer feel like the world is caving in around you.
And you’re trying so hard to convince yourself that you’re not crazy–other people feel this way sometimes, too.
Here’s to the ones who try so hard, who are so scared of being vulnerable but do it anyway.
Here’s to being vulnerable because sometimes, being vulnerable, allows others to know your story. And with others knowing your story, they can pick you up and walk alongside you when the going gets tough.
Or, in my case, walk with me to the locker room and spend time with me on a Friday night, instead of with their boyfriend, when it felt like my world was falling apart.
Here’s to the ones who care for the ones who try so hard.