A few months ago, I wrote a piece about dealing with PTSD and a past assault. In it, I said, “I don’t expect to never have another panic attack.” It’s good that I had realistic expectations, because guess what? I had another panic attack. Well, sort of. I cut it off at the pass. But that’s right where it was headed. First one in months, but it knocked me flat. Four days later, and I’m still shaken up by it.
What brought it on, you ask? A frightening encounter in a dark parking lot? An unfamiliar male getting into my personal space? None of the above. It was a simple visit to a female dermatologist.
I was getting four suspicious moles biopsied. While I was there, she suggested we do a full-body scan to see if there were any other pesky atypical moles. No problem. I liked her—she was very nice. I felt comfortable. I gowned up and laid down on the table. We chatted as she went over my body. I was even fine when she pulled down the top of the gown and examined my naked chest. Fine, fine, fine…all fine.
And then she touched a place that brings back memories of the assault. A benign place—not a private place. Not a place always covered by clothing, even. A benign place that just happens to be where I was touched during that awful time—and now cannot ever be touched again.
In that moment, I lost control over my body. As happens every time I have a panic attack, my rational brain shut down and muscle memory took over. I sat bolt upright, shoved her hand away, and yelled “No!” And then I burst into tears and apologized profusely and stammered out an explanation.
She was amazing and compassionate. And I was humiliated and kept having to dry my face because the tears wouldn’t stop coming. Because I thought I was okay. I knew I’d had to stop therapy halfway through treatment (when my therapist moved), but I thought I was doing pretty okay.
Apparently I’m not. Apparently I was wrong on that. The sneaky specter of past abuse crept up on me when I least expected it and humiliated me all over again in that office, in front of a doctor who really hadn’t done anything wrong.
In that same blog post from a few months ago, where I wrote “I don’t expect to never have another panic attack,” I followed up that sentence with “But I expect to win….” And in a way, as hard as that day was, I did get a small win. At the end of the appointment, the doctor apologized again (for about the fourth time), and she said, “I’m sorry that happened to you.” I never know what to say when people say that to me, so I just said, “Thank you. I am too. But I’m not alone.” And she replied, “I know you aren’t. And that’s why, as a doctor, I need to remember this. I spend all day looking at people’s bodies, and I need to remember that a lot of people may have something in their past that requires us to establish some extra boundaries.”
So that’s my silver lining. I may have been humiliated. I may still be starting to cry at random times this week as it all floods back to me. But I know that I also helped change how that doctor will work with other patients. The next vulnerable woman who comes into her office may not be put in the same position.
I’m calling it a win. Because I get to win. It’s a long, slow climb, but in the end, I will beat this. I will win.