“I am Phoenix, child of Light.”
That’s what I used to repeat over and over to myself when I was young and suicidal. I said it when I needed, desperately, to remember that I was stronger than my circumstances.
Tonight, those words came to my mind as I was trying to process what was going on with me. Tonight, I was triggered by the unwanted touch of another. Someone tried to hug me and then put their hands on my shoulders, from behind, and squeezed gently. I spoke to this person a bit later. They apologized and said they would try to remember that not everyone likes to be touched. We parted amicably and then I headed off to the Chicago Mayoral Forum, to get my civic engagement on.
But I was unsettled. I could still feel this person’s hands on me. I felt gross and unclean. I kept telling myself that it was fine. A misunderstanding. It won’t happen again. Why couldn’t I shake this unsettled feeling?
I made my way to the auditorium, but I felt very on edge. I thought it was because I unsure of my directions. I was in an unfamiliar place, I didn’t know where I was going. I was also cutting it close. When I arrived at the space, I saw all the people and I became more unsettled. During the event, I was mostly okay as I focused on what the candidates were saying. When it ended, I had only one thought: escape.
I bolted. Some people I knew were in the audience. I couldn’t stop. I didn’t look around. I couldn’t breathe. Once out of the auditorium, I got turned around in the labyrinthian hallways. I felt so vulnerable and upset.
When I made it outside, I didn’t feel too much better. As I sped-walked to the bus stop, I tried to make sense of what I was feeling. I felt guilty, ashamed and my mind my reeling. It took me a while, but I realized that I was having an anxiety-induced panic attack.
I tried to convince myself it was just because of the huge crowd. I hate crowds. I get claustrophobic. It was hot. I felt sick. I hadn’t eaten much today. I was dehydrated. I tried to remember the last time I had a panic attack. I couldn’t remember, but I knew it was before I stopped seeing my therapist a few years ago. Then I went down a different spiral.
Ever since I exited therapy, I had been doing so well. Once upon a time, the mere thought of going to a big event like the mayoral forum, would have made me sick. I spent years hiding from the world. I had to force myself to be social even with close friends. Going out drained me and triggered my anxiety. However, in the last year, I found myself feeling stronger, braver, excited about the prospect of going out and disappointed when plans were canceled.
But tonight I wanted to hide. I panicked. I felt weak and scared. I felt all my progress slipping away. I didn’t feel like myself. I was anxious all the way home and didn’t feel any more relaxed even within the safety of my four walls.
I keep thinking about why this happened. I don’t want this. This isn’t me anymore. I’m strong. I’m brave. I’m full of joy. I’m happy.
And that horrible, insecure little voice telling me that it’s all a lie. That I’m still broken. I’m not okay. How will I find love if I can’t be touched?!
I don’t want to hide myself away anymore. I love the joyful, open, loving me. I love going out with my friends and being nourished by their presence. I don’t want to go backwards. And I’m not sure how.
I sit here, drinking wine, blogging, trying to process and I have no answers. All I know is that I can’t go back. I won’t. I had a huge reality check tonight. That even when things are going well, I can’t escape my past. Even when I’m feeling good, my demons are lurking right beneath the surface. And the knowledge that I may never be fully healed.