Endless fear

When the doorbell rings, normal people stop what they’re doing, see who’s there, and answer the door.

When the doorbell rings, I stop what I’m doing. My heart races, so much that I can hear it beating in my ears. I can’t breathe. I don’t want to breathe, because I’m afraid if I do, they will know I am here. Five different scenarios run through my head, and none of them are good (or even rational). I always end up hiding in the closet or the bathroom, waiting for the worst to happen.

One incident is enough to drain me for the rest of the day. By the time I’ve calmed down (minutes, sometimes hours later), I have no energy left to do anything but sleep.

But yesterday, the doorbell rang (and was followed by several knocks on the door) not once, not twice, but six times.

I was a wreck. The first two times it happened, I was downstairs and locked myself in the bathroom. I was able to calm myself down after ten or so minutes. Then when it happened a third time, the panic was overwhelming. It was too much. I didn’t feel safe. I locked every lock and closed every window, then went upstairs to my room and locked my door.

Then it happened a fourth time. My mind went into overdrive. My mother found me. She knows I’m here. It’s the only thing that made sense. Who else would be ringing the bell and knocking so consistently? Not the mailman. Not a solicitor. It was someone who wanted me to open that door. It’s her.

By the time the bell rang a sixth time, I had barricaded my door with so much crap that no one would be able to push their way in. But I still didn’t feel safe. I knew where I was. I knew I was in my bedroom. I knew the doors were locked and I was blocked in. But I still felt in danger. I was scared of my mother. My mother, who doesn’t even know where I live.

I was still on edge even after the ringing and knocking stopped. Every single noise made me jump. Every car passing outside. Every creak of the floor. Every step the cat took downstairs. Every sound was magnified and I couldn’t make it stop.

My body was tired, but I couldn’t sleep. I spent hours fighting battles inside, trying to stay in the safe reality while my mind was tied to the dangerous past. After several hours, I gave up. I took just enough medicine to knock me out, because I knew that was the only way I was going to make it through.

Now as I’m sitting here, a day later, I’m wondering when it will stop. When will I not have to hide? When will I feel safe? When will I not be afraid of my mother? When will I not live in constant fear?

Is any of that even possible?

People don’t understand the fear I carry with me every day. You’re free now. Yea, I’m physically free. Mentally, I am still in prison. I am still a scared child. I am still in danger. Your mother won’t hurt you anymore, you got away. Exactly. I got away. I was never supposed to be able to leave her. I committed the ultimate sin, and now I am perpetually waiting for my punishment.

I’m tired. I’m tired of hiding every time there’s a knock at the door, because I’m afraid she will come in and get me. I’m tired of wearing four shirts and three pairs of underwear every day because I’m afraid she will come and hurt me. I’m tired of sleeping with a knife under my pillow every night because I’m afraid she will come and kill me.

I’m tired of living my life in fear, because it’s not the life I want to live.

Knocking on doors

I’m always wrong.

KJ, that’s not true.

Yes it, I’m always wrong. I can’t do anything right.

Who told you that, KJ?

My mother. She says that all the time.

She was wrong. And she’s not here now.

You don’t understand.

What?

I know that I am away from her, but I think she’s still here.

Like she’s inside your head?

No. Like she is here, near me. Right outside. I know she’s not here, but I feel like she is. I know I’m not there, but I feel like I am. She’s still going to hurt me.

By then I was crying. I felt like I was speaking things that didn’t make any sense. It doesn’t make sense for what I know to be so vastly different from what I feel. If I know my mother isn’t here, why can’t I just go on and not be afraid anymore? Why am I still living as if she is right outside my door?

I was crying because I was tired. It’s exhausting being on high alert all of the time. It’s even more exhausting when you know the danger isn’t real anymore, but as much as you try to fight it, you can’t switch off your fear.

People don’t understand what it’s like. I say I’m scared of my mother, they say well she’s not here.

If only it were that simple. It doesn’t matter that, logically, I know my mother doesn’t know where I live. It doesn’t matter that, realistically, her physical presence is lacking. My mind has not caught up to my physical reality. My mind still thinks my mother is here. My mind still believes I am in constant danger because I spent 29 years of my life in constant danger.

I tried to downplay it to my therapist. I told her I was okay. I didn’t want to tell her just how strong my panic was. I didn’t want to tell her I was afraid of opening the door and seeing my mother there. I thought to myself, I just need to get home, and I’ll be okay.

Then I left my therapist’s office, and went downstairs to leave the building only to find that I had been locked inside (it was a holiday — someone in another office must have stopped in and locked the main door on their way out, not noticing their were other cars in the lot). My therapist had already started session with another client and I didn’t want to interrupt. I had nothing else planned for the day. I thought to myself this is okay, I can just wait on the bench outside of her office until she’s done.

I was okay for ten or 15 minutes. Then the panic started to set in. I am trapped in this office building. I can’t get out. I tried to steady my breathing, I tried to stay calm. But the fear and  panic continued to increase. I started to cry. I curled in a ball on the end of the bench and that’s when it all went south. I went from I am trapped in this office building to I am trapped inside my room. Mother locked me inside and I can’t get out.

By the time my therapist finished with her other client, I was a crying, dissociated mess. I could barely breathe. My therapist sat down on the bench with me and tried to help me breathe. She knew where my mind was. Do you know where you are KJ? Look around. I am here with you. You are safe.

I sat for a while, trying to convince myself that I was not at home. I apologized to my therapist (like I always do).

“Why didn’t you ask me for help, KJ?”

“I didn’t want to bother you. I didn’t want to get in trouble.”

“You won’t bother me. And you’re not in trouble. You can just knock on my door and let me know.”

Except it’s not okay. Because I can’t even knock on doors. Bad things happen when you knock on doors. Mommy never wants to be interrupted.

Bad things happen when you knock on doors because my mind still doesn’t realize my mother’s not behind those doors anymore.

Panic with a side of panic, please.

I had a horrible week last week. Really, these last few weeks have been fucking atrocious. But last week was a monster all its own.

I ended up spending St. Patrick’s Day night in the local emergency room with a bunch of people who got a little too carried away drinking. There’s nothing like being surrounded by deluded drunks, angry nurses, and the permeating smell of vomit.That’s exactly the opposite of how I wanted to spend my night.

I wanted to be at home sleeping. I was at home, lying in bed, preparing to go to sleep for the night when shitstorm 2.0 began.

I go to bed early. Hell, sometimes I’m in bed while it’s still light out. I have a horrible sleep cycle even when my sleeping is relatively stable; I sleep an hour or two, then wake, then sleep an hour or two, then wake. I have to wake up at 4:30 AM because I work early. When most people are eating dinner, I’m in bed reading a book and getting ready to sleep.

So anyway, I did not want to have any interactions or conversations. It was already past my bedtime. This really should have been respected. I was available during the day, but no, it had to be when I was tucked in bed. I politely declined a conversation. More than once. Initiate shitstorm. Screaming, yelling, cursing, name-calling, kicking, punching, whatevering my door. Well, I guess I’m not getting any sleep. And now I’m irritated, and upset, and frustrated, and scared. Violated boundaries. Flying off the handle.

It’s hard to have a conversation with someone who is in an emotionally volatile state. I tried, but it wasn’t working very well. The entire time my heart was pounding and my internal world was imploding, until I finally broke and had a full-blown panic attack. I don’t even really remember everything that happened during the attack. I guess there were police there. I remember the paramedic and the ambulance ride. I remember being absolutely fucking exhausted and in fear that they were going to hospitalize me.

But they didn’t. Just an ER observation, thankfully. Got home eventually, laid in bed with my mind racing despite my exhaustion. Finally fell asleep only to wake up an hour later to shower and walk to the bus stop for work. Let’s just pretend like nothing ever happened. I’ve been so good at that all of my life. Nothing’s wrong here. Move along now.

I realized while I was waiting outside of work that I still had my hospital bracelet on. I was so exhausted, I didn’t even care. I just wanted to get through work. Somehow I needed to get through work. I’m surprised I managed to walk the mile without passing out. I was fortunate in that.

Work started out fine. I was visibly exhausted, but I still got my work done like a boss. I even finished my work early and started helping my supervisor out with another task. As my work day got closer to ending, I felt my anxiety getting worse. I was more on edge. I had less than an hour left of work and it just hit me. I started hyperventilating and walked to the back where no one would see me. I sat on a stool and tried to catch my breath, but after a minute, I knew this wasn’t asthma and that it wasn’t going to get better.

I started to panic even more, struggling to catch my breath and crying. My coworker heard me and went to get help, and before I knew it I was surrounded by my very concerned coworkers. I think I scared some of them. They weren’t sure what to do, if they should call 911. I told them no. I quite literally had just gotten out of the hospital hours before, I did not want to go back; that would have surely resulted in an inpatient hospitalization.

Someone brought me a bottle of water. My manager came and tried to calm me down. I was such a mess. I cried all over the desk, had snot all over my face, couldn’t sit still, couldn’t calm down. I don’t even know how long the attack went on for. But I know my manager stayed with me the whole time, rubbing my back and telling me I was safe and that it was going to be okay.

I eventually calmed down enough so that we could walk to the lounge. I still felt like I couldn’t breathe, but I wasn’t hyperventilating. I must have apologized to my manager at least 100 times, and I’m not even exaggerating. She continued to try to calm me down, asked me what happened to trigger it, and told me I didn’t need to apologize. I still kept crying. I felt so bad for taking up her time (it was at least an hour by this time). She stayed with me through the whole thing, until I eventually passed out sitting at the table from exhaustion.

I woke up a couple of hours later, still exhausted, though my mind was kind of blank. I stayed sitting there for a while, not really wanting to leave. I was in a safe place. My manager checked in on me, asked me if there was anything I needed or wanted, but I told her it was okay. She had already done enough. And she had a shitload of her own work to do.

I knew I had a panic attack, but didn’t really remember everything that happened during it. Coworkers had actually filled me in on some things that I didn’t quite remember. I got through it. And I realized that I had a really amazing group of coworkers who went above and beyond in their responsibilities, because anyone else I’ve dealt with would have just called 911 and been done with it.

I ended up staying at work for a while. I sipped on water and tried to keep myself awake. But I knew I couldn’t stay at work forever. I worked up the energy to gather my things. I found my manager on my way out and thanked her. She asked if I was going to be okay – and I gave my standard “I’m okay” response. She gave me her number and said if I ever needed to just hang out somewhere, I could call her. She must not know I don’t ever call people.

I wish I was okay. But as I walked through the parking lot in front of my workplace, I felt myself panicking again. Fast, shallow breathing. Shaking. This was not happening again. Part of me wanted to turn around and go right back to work. I talked to myself, focused on my breathing, tried to remain calm as I walked across the highway to the shopping center. I convinced myself this place was safe. And I stayed there for a few hours, until the last bus of the day came. Then I knew I had to go home.

You would have thought I was practicing labor breathing exercises the whole way home. I sat on the bus consciously breathing out loud, telling myself I was going to be okay. I walked the rest of the way home, unlocked the door, went straight to my room and right to bed. I just couldn’t deal with anything else that day.

I’m still planning my days waiting for another panic attack to hit. I stay places where I feel safe. I try to distract myself whenever I can. I’m living on edge once again.