For the last couple of months, I have had a panic attack every single time I have a shower. It’s exhausting and frankly, dangerous – and therefore, frightening. As if panic attacks weren’t scary enough, suddenly I’m in water and kneeling at the bottom of the shower, gasping for any air, hot tears drowning me, a bubble of terror building in my windpipe and just growing. The water from the shower is spraying in my face, I can’t breathe, I’m having a panic attack, I still can’t breathe. So often I think I’m going to die. I’m going to die. This is symptomatic of panic attacks, I realise, but it really doesn’t help when there’s actually a real risk of drowning.
It seems odd to me that showers are suddenly so terrifying. There are many memories of showers being traumatic, but these had long-since surfaced and I’d been okay. But somehow, this new layer of recovery where emotions are uncovered has meant that things I’d cognitively accepted, are now smacking me in the face – with the wall of sheer terror and sorrow hitting me without warning.
I have considered getting a bath instead, but whenever that possibility passes through my mind, a cold shock of fear stabs through me. I have always been wary of baths anyway, after far too much trauma in baths at home, so I have decided a bath won’t be any easier or indeed safer than a shower. At least in a shower there isn’t a bathful of water around me if I pass out…
I have genuinely considered getting a panic alarm/button/thing, in case I feel like I’m going to pass out when in the shower. I don’t bang for help because I would find it especially triggering for my housemate – who’s male – to come into the bathroom whilst I’m in the shower and vulnerable. But if I fell unconscious whilst in the shower then it’s a different story. I fight to keep consciousness but often end up dizzy and feeling very faint by the end of it all.
When I have a panic attack, my chest clenches with extreme tightness, and I am just filled with terror. Sometimes I am silently sobbing, other times I’m just hyperventilating, and sometimes I just stop breathing full stop. Everything just stops, I freeze into statue, filled with terror and unable to do anything. And my heart races so much it hurts. Sometimes I throw up.
All of the above, whilst in a shower, is not fun. Especially when the very real fear of passing out in a shower and drowning kicks in. Then everything just intensifies and I can’t think clearly or calmly enough to rationalise the situation.
Sometimes the wave of terror is caused by visual flashbacks, or hallucinations based on memories. This is hell. I don’t realise they’re flashbacks or hallucinations, because I’m still conscious – they’re just visual as opposed to living back within the memory. I’m terrified beyond words. It’s the terror, like knives in veins, suddenly all stabbing out at once. Being stabbed from the inside out, all over my body, at once. I can’t breathe. I can’t think. My legs can’t carry me. I’m cold inside.
One flashback I have is if I ever have my back to the room/door. I hear the door open, feel the air change quickly at the sudden coolness coming in. I feel my heart rate quicken as I see the glass shower door moving. I hear heavy breathing. I can smell my grandfather. I hear him step heavily into the shower behind me. Already the tears have come for me, already I’m frozen cold with my eyes streaming hot and terrified tears. It never occurs to me to just turn around and tell him to fuck off. Suddenly I’m back in victim mode. I just stand there, tense, as I feel his heavy breathing on my neck. Feel his rough fingers running down my back, squeezing my backside, moving his fingers beneath me, within me, inside me. My two hands are pressed over my mouth, to try and gag the building scream. Then I feel his hands around my front, pulling my chest, gripping so tight it brings fresh tears for me. Then grabbing my hips, and pulling me sharply back to him, and suddenly he’s all in me. At that sharp, intense burning pain, it all ends. The hallucination vanishes and I find myself kneeling at the bottom of the shower, curled up, sobbing silently, trying to remember how to breathe – how? in or out? both? how? er? how?!
And I just never want to move again. And all the memories of when that did happen, when he did sneak in the bathroom when I was showering and he raped me, all these memories are suddenly fresh in my head and I don’t know whether I do want to breathe anymore, in fact.
Sometimes I’m in the shower, and calm, and I look down and nearly vomit. Suddenly I’m covered in crimson blood. It’s glooping out of me, like it only ever does when I’ve been raped with a corkscrew or knife. I feel the insane fire pain inside me, and gasp desperately through the pain, again my hands over my mouth to try and gag the building scream. My thighs are blue and purple with bruises. My waist smeared with dry blood. My wrists swollen from fighting against chains. I hurt. I throb and ache and hurt and I’m terrified again. And then bam – panic attack.
The worst ones are when the man comes in, and points a gun at my head, and tells me ‘I’ll kill you if you don’t come with me now.’
The panic attack at that point is so intense and huge that I think I dissociate. I wake up on the bathroom floor, shaking and crying silently, soaking wet with a towel clumsily around me, with no recollection of how I got out of the shower and onto the floor.
I often want to pull my skin off in the shower. I feel so disgusting and dirty, like my blood is infected with them, they’ve been inside me. Even dogs have raped me. Am I even human? They thought not – they gave me a number. I was a number, not a human. I sometimes stand in a shower and have to consciously stop myself, will myself, not to turn the heat up to scalding, and pull all my skin off, and be left raw and red and broken. I look at my shaving razor and there’s such a strong wish to just slash myself all over with it, to get all the badness out of me, myself raw and empty from their poison.
And clean. At last so clean.
I hate how vulnerable I feel in a shower. All of me is exposed at once and I can’t hear so well because of the rushing water.
Other times, sometimes, I feel more in control. I can decide the temperature and where the water hits me. I can soothe my aching muscles and crawling skin. I can make myself feel human. I can be in touch with my whole body. I let the water run over my face and feel alive because all my senses are heightened. And I’m allowed to shower in peace.
I just wish my unconscious kept a hold of that.
I had a shower this evening, and effectively I was raped in the shower. The flashbacks/hallucinations based on memories are so intense, and so frighteningly real, that effectively…it happens…
And I sat at the bottom, sobbing silently and wondering if I would remember how to breathe again…
Recovery is so hard sometimes 😥 I hate PTSD. Does anyone else suffer with panic attacks – I realise this can affect a lot of people irrespective of child abuse and PTSD. If anyone else has them, and in particular struggles in showers, I would be grateful for some advice if that’s at all possible… x