Have you ever felt that little drop in your stomach when you’re anxious? Who am I kidding, of course you have. It’s like a reflex, an instinctual sort of thing. Fight or flight and all that, right? It gives you a rush of energy and puts you on edge, and as much as some people adore things like roller coasters and thrill-seeking shenanigans, I've never much liked the little chill and sense of impending doom that lingers within the sensation. That subtle, but nearly tangible, sense of dread often signals immediate, drastic and sometimes unexpected change -- something I can handle in a controlled setting (like an amusement park), but deal with a little less smoothly in the real world.
As you may have guessed, I have suffered from panic attacks for most of my life, and that dropping sensation is my personal warning that one is coming on. Coupled with consistent, hair-trigger social anxiety, even a mildly awkward encounter can cause my mind to envision disaster, soon followed by the anchor in my gut and a feeling of pure fear. You could say it's made me a bit of a hermit. I live with three cats and a dog in a small rental near the edge of town, as it's pretty far out and I don't get a lot of company. That being said, I've managed to avoid most of the uncertainty of unpredictable interactions with the outside world that trigger this phenomenon for a while now.
Yesterday, feeling particularly relaxed, I was surprised to find myself wanting a change in pace, and after reading about how sleeping with lights on can cause insomnia (I've always slept like shit), a bit of change seemed like it could help. Besides, I sort of figured that the shame of essentially having a night light when you're old enough to live alone was reason enough to change. I thought I had no reason to think twice when I switched off all my lights and pitched my room into darkness, with the door firmly shut and locked at the other end.
I closed my eyes. The room immediately seemed too warm and I squirmed a little, struggling to get even remotely comfortable. I recall becoming more and more unsettled each time I opened my eyes to reorient myself only to be greeted with nothing but darkness, cursing silently as my heart sped up and I began to sweat, when I suddenly felt that dreadful chill down my spine. My stomach dropped like an anvil. I went into an overdrive of my old panic mode, and my eyes shot open painfully wide, trying desperately to see something in the nothingness before me. My panic had reached a peak as I tried to flail my arms and found them immobile. I suddenly heard a loud WOOSH-ing noise that, thinking back, sounded a lot like blood rushing to my head. My body felt as if it finally shifted before sleep took me at once.
I awoke not only on the floor of my room, but to an excruciating pain whose location took me a minute or two to find in my frantic haze of half-sleep, half-panic. My hand eventually brushed over what felt like a large patch of raised skin on my thigh. As soon as I touched it, the pain ceased; it was like the fact that I had acknowledged it was all that was needed. As I slowly stood, I gazed down at my leg. What I witnessed made me think maybe I should've stayed sitting down.
There were scars on my leg. Not blood or an open wound, but healed, hardened scars. As I rubbed my eyes and looked more closely, I saw it. Two words in raised flesh. Their message was a command, one that my own mind had seemingly forced me to follow my entire life regardless. Now, though, I wonder if my mind was the only thing behind my compliance. Above my knee, etched into my skin, were just two words.