I have had back problems on and off for years, but recently – following an accident in July – my back has been really painful, and my legs constantly tingling. The smallest thing can trigger a wave of pain, which in turn triggers fibromyalgia pain. All in all, physically I’ve been much better. The hardest bit for me is always knowing that the problems with my back stem back to the abuse. Similarly, the stress from abuse and general aftermath is almost certainly what triggered the onset of fibromyalgia. Even with the abusers away from me, I still feel the effects and pain from what they have done.
My doctor referred me to a physiotherapist. It’s likely I’ll need surgery at some point, but hopefully if I learn how to manage it properly, not for a few years. I saw the physiotherapist this morning.
I was very nervous. I wore baggy jeans, knowing from past experience that when you see anyone medical about a bad back, they nearly always want to poke your legs. I hoped if my jeans were baggy enough the physio would be happy with me just rolling them up. Even so, the idea of lying on a bed with a stranger touching my legs and back was making me incredibly edgy and wound up. A part of me was even in denial, not accepting right up until the moment I walked into the room that I was going to see a physiotherapist.
I sat down, feeling even edgier because the physiotherapist was a man. I told myself to keep in the present, and tried to answer his questions as calmly and coherently as I could. I felt myself starting to relax after a few minutes; this was going to be okay. Maybe all he wanted at this stage was paperwork completing? I took my shoes and socks off, and waited.
Still writing, he then said, ‘okay well please take off your jeans and t-shirt.’ I froze. Totally froze. I felt my heart rate go through the roof, and for half a second contemplated running, but I didn’t. I just went into full blown ‘freeze’ mode. I stared at him, feeling myself panicking, trying to prevent a panic attack, and also feeling on the verge of tears. Don’t cry. Don’t you dare cry. I told myself, over and over.
He then said ‘if that’s okay.’
Really, I knew it was rhetorical. Also, I didn’t feel like I could say ‘no’, what if he then asked why? What if he got irritated? What if I said ‘no’ and actually ‘if that’s okay’ wasn’t a question? I told myself you have the right to say no but I didn’t believe in it, or feel strong enough to assert it. And at least he’d half-implied I had a choice, right? So at least he cared…? So I should just get on with it.
Silently, I took off my jeans and t-shirt. I wanted him to close the blinds. I knew nobody would see in but still. But I didn’t ask. My head was screaming at me to ask but I’d frozen up to the point of being unable to speak. He was still writing whilst I silently undressed next to him. I could see I was trembling and wondered if he’d notice. Could I pass it off as being too cold?
He stood up too, facing me. I know he’s used to this, does it all the time, but I still felt like he would be judging me. Judging my body. My feelings of self-loathing started to stir, and I felt even more vulnerable. My head grew more and more paranoid. His facial expression was calm and professional but I still somehow saw a sneer. I looked at his eyes and for half a second I saw the look. When I blinked, it was gone. It had never been there. To stop myself from hallucinating more, I looked down, away from his face. A voice in my head created cruel assumptions about what he was thinking: he’s sickened by your stomach you know. And your chest. Hideous. And your legs are too pale. And your stomach’s too fat. You’re just fat and disgusting. He’s probably turning his stomach. He’ll laugh about you later in the pub with his mates – the fat white scarred girl with a fucked back. The disgusting start to his Tuesday morning. If he rapes you, it’s because you deserve it, you’re so disgusting.
At that final thought, I forced myself to snap out of it. Otherwise I’d have flashbacked at his feet.
He asked me to turn around and face the wall. Trembling, I did. He asked me to bend in certain ways so he could see how flexible I was/wasn’t and what the muscles in my back were doing. Again, I did. He told me not to push myself to the point where it hurt. I hesitated. If I was in pain, I was at least grounded in the present moment.
I felt so vulnerable.
Then he asked me to lie on the bed. I was sweating nervously now, and still trembling. I nodded, and obediently lay down on the bed. Now I felt even worse. Now I was lying down with him standing over me, by my legs. He wanted to see if I could still feel everything in my legs, despite the tingling, so he quickly ran a piece of paper down various parts of my legs, and asked me to say how much out of 100% I could feel. I forced myself to speak, staring up ahead at the ceiling. He then wanted to see how flexible my hips are, and commented ‘your hips are very flexible! Are you generally a flexible person?’
For all the wrong reasons, yes my hips are very flexible.
I just nodded.
Then he asked me to lie on my front. It was getting harder to control how panicked I was feeling, and I also felt very underwater, which is a massive warning sign for me – it usually means a flashback is imminent. I rolled onto my front, aware I’d gone dizzy and realised I’d been holding my breath. I buried my head into my arm and tensed. He commented on how tense I was. I nearly laughed, hysterically. You have no f*cking idea…
Now I was on my front, I couldn’t see him. I couldn’t see where he was going to poke or prod next, all I knew was that he was going to press on various points in my back and legs, and it was probably going to hurt. My head translated that as: a male stranger is standing above you, you can’t see him and you’re just in your underwear, and he’s going to hurt you.
The above statement is true, but misses out the fact he wasn’t going to deliberately hurt me, to cause pain for a kick. It also misses out the fact he was trying to help me, but first needed to know where the damage and pain was.
But this didn’t matter. My head had translated it and I was terrified. And frozen. I didn’t make a sound even when he pressed in extremely painful places, but thankfully he could see where was painful based on what the rest of my body did – jerking or tensing. He pressed hard, into different spots in my back, and then asked me to sit on the edge of the bed.
He talked me through some exercises which will apparently help to manage/control it. My back was now throbbing, and my legs tingling painfully, but I was grateful – the pain was keeping me from going into a flashback or a panic attack. I was using the pain to ground me.
Then he needed to know which nerves were being affected. ‘Do you ever get total numbness in your saddle area?’ I stared at him again, and then shook my head. Rationally I knew why he was asking this. The panicked voice in my head, however, was screaming he’s asking so he knows if he can hurt you. He needs to know if you can just dissociate the pain and he’ll get away with it.
When he eventually said I could get dressed, I felt confused. I had so convinced myself he was going to rape me on the bed, that I felt almost disorientated by the fact this hadn’t happened. The man had remained friendly and professional throughout. My head again translated this unhelpfully: he’s trying to lull you into a false sense of security. Keep an eye.
PTSD is such a f*cker sometimes.
He told me to book an ‘extended’ appointment with him, and then let me go.
Before I could start panicking about the idea of an ‘extended’ appointment, I ran straight to the toilets and threw up. Violently. Until I was empty. I needed to get my own disgust at myself out of my system. I needed to feel calm again. So I kept throwing up until I did. Then I cried.
That was this morning. I feel better now but still edgy and wound up. Exhausted. I feel utterly drained. The effort to fight off both panic attack and flashback whilst with him was phenomenal. My head has remained in hyper tense mode, and probably will for a few more hours.
I have tried to look at all the positives from what was otherwise a highly stressful event:
- The man did NOT hurt me not did he show any sign of wishing to do so. I was able to feel vulnerable around a male stranger, and not be taken advantage of. Instead he helped me.
- I am more recovered than I think I am, or give myself credit for. I know this because even a year ago, or 18 months ago, I would not have been able to prevent a flashback and/or panic attack. I would have had at least one flashback following the appointment, and I haven’t. I remained in control, despite everything.
- I didn’t dissociate; I can remember the advice he gave me, which is the important thing.
- I was and am okay. Phew.
Because of the outburst of self-loathing, I was nervous of spiralling back into no man’s land re eating. So I have forced myself to eat lunch, and so far it has stayed down. I can do this.