Recovery is not a straight line.

So. Since February, I’ve been practicing better physical and mental health habits, exercising and using emotional healing techniques that my counselor friend gave me a few years ago. It’s all been working; I’ve lost a lot of extra weight and been noticeably happier most of the time. And yet, today I was shouting profanity in church and shaking in the corner like a rescue dog.

Wait. What?

Well, this morning started off fine. I was in a good mood all through the drive into Dallas and everything, singing with the radio and bouncing around in the driver’s seat. There was a sudden change when I walked in the church door, though. I like to get there half an hour early, so that the people from the early service are mostly gone and the middle service hasn’t arrived yet. But today they were having an exposition of all the different things the church does, drumming up support for their different ministries, and the place was packed. I thought ‘Oh shit’ and forced a way through the crowd to the bathroom.

Then I went up the far aisle to get a seat. I sit in the latecomers’ section because it’s less crowded. I don’t have a big problem with enclosed spaces, but people make me very claustrophobic. I sit on the end close to the front so I know I’ll have one side where no one is next to me and I don’t have to see all the people filling in the seats behind me. But today all those spaces were already taken because there was a group of kids being confirmed, and their families were sitting there. I had to sit farther back, where there were lots of people talking around me. People kept coming to sit in my row, and one guy sat right next to me when there were plenty of open seats further in. I edged my chair away as much as I could without being rude. He tried to be friendly and chat a little bit, but I was too freaked out to respond, or even hear what he was saying. I spent a lot of time breathing deeply but quietly.

This church is known for its music. It’s often quite nice. But today was Pentecost, when we celebrate the Holy Spirit coming down in tongues of flame, and apparently that requires a lot of loud percussion. I was already overstimulated visually, and the subito forte’s of the band were way too much. So I kept my head down and focused on the liturgy and the sermon and blocked out as much as I could. It worked, mostly. I got through Communion okay — in order to get the gluten-free wafers, I have to go down to the back of the church and then up the center aisle, and I made it without incident.

And then there was the recessional. We end the services standing, so there I was, singing the hymn while staring at the music in my hand and pretending nothing was wrong. But. They like to build up to the last verse, so between stanzas three and four there’s a musical interlude, and possibly a key change. This time there were also firecrackers. I wasn’t expecting that. Freaked the fuck out. I yelled “Shit!” and backed up to the wall as fast as I could, running into two or three of the lay ministers lined up in the aisle. I pressed the side of my head into the wall and covered my face with the program, holding onto a corner and shaking like a loosely installed windscreen.

When the people had moved out of the way, I moved into the corner next to an emergency exit and sat with my knees pulled up. A few people asked if I was okay, and I said “No,” in that thin high voice you use when you want people to think you’re more okay than you are. One of the ministers sat next to me and talked to me, and even though I wanted to be left alone I let her engage me in conversation. I had already asked her to stop touching me and turned down some of the other kindnesses people had offered. She did ask if I had some medicine I could take, but since I don’t, we talked on indifferent subjects until it was time for the Spanish service to start.

I was still shaking, but I let her lead me to the door. I side-hugged one of the greeters I’m friends with for longer than was strictly necessary, and hugged the pastor on my way out. I sat in the garden to recover a little more, and then got in the car. I drove to the woods — it’s been too crowded since the weather started getting warm, but today it was cooler and overcast, so I hiked for five miles. It wasn’t as soothing as it often is, but I got better some. Now I’m at my Sunday afternoon coffee shop, looking out the window and ignoring the people who come sit next to me.

Why did this happen in me today? I couldn’t really say. I’m tired of my brain being sick. I’m tired of acting like an ex-soldier with PTSD, though I wish I had the sexy muscles and the survival skills. Last week’s service was almost as traumatic, so maybe this is all carried-over stuff about my mom. I’ve been trying to find the problem there, and what I find is a memory of being in a dark place and thinking frantically, desperately, “Where are you?” The only way this makes sense to me is back when I was a baby. I’m the fifth child, and my brother is only fifteen months older than I am, so when I came my parents were really tired of all this baby stuff. They put me on the fast track to weaning and sleeping alone. Which I responded to by catching pneumonia and nearly dying. In some ways, I still haven’t recovered thirty-five years later. I also developed an allergy to breast milk, so what gives life to others has always been painful to me. All that “bond between mother and baby” stuff makes me feel sick.

I read somewhere recently that when someone starts showing the more dramatic signs of trauma, they’re ready to deal with it. So I guess that’s where I am, though I can’t say I know how. I don’t really trust medical doctors, ever since that guy prescribed me epilepsy medication without even looking at my brain, so I’ll have to figure this out myself. My previous attempts at self-diagnosing mental illness have not been hugely successful, so I accept advice. Please.

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