I had planned to keep
this secret. When I
went through the
experience I am about
to share with you, I
was determined never
to tell a soul. Why?
Because I was
ashamed of myself.
To a minor extent, I still
am. But this column was named ďInto the LightĒ
for a reason: to bring things into the open that
might otherwise be kept secret. And so, allow me
to set embarrassment and shame to the side, and
I am sitting on the floor in the bathroom. The
bathroom door is locked, and there is someone
knocking on the front door of the house. I am
terrified, I canít move. Intellectually, I know I am
safe, and I know the person at my front door is my
case manager, and I know my case manager is a
truly caring and kind woman. But intellectual
awareness has no influence at times like this; it
simply doesnít count.
Other than moments of occasional trembling, I can
barely move; standing up is, for the moment, not
I had thought her home visit was at noon, and
when she didnít arrive I relaxed and figured
something had happened, and sheíd be calling to
reschedule. When I see her car pull into my
driveway shortly after three that afternoon, an
internal switch flips on, and I am immediately in a
state of terror.
More often than not, when I am caught off guard in
life (someone arriving at my home unexpectedly
being an example of this), fear kicks in. This time
was no different. I rapidly locked the doors to the
house and fled into the bathroom, locking the door
behind me. Sitting on the floor with the half cup of
coffee that was in my hand when she pulled into
the driveway, I curse myself for not bringing a book
At least with a book Iíd have some place to go,
some place to hide. There is no way Iím opening
the door. Suddenly, the phone rings, and I know
she must be calling me from her cell phone. The
trembling increases. Why the fear? a reader may
understandably want to know. OK, Iíll explain. But
understand: The explanation is not one that seeks
sympathy or pity. The explanation, as you will see,
is comprised of facts not of my making.
However, I am responsible for managing their role
in my life to the best of my ability. I was shot in the
head at point blank range in 1984, and a bullet is
lodged in the frontal lobe of my brain.
The damage from the bullet hinders the very areas
of the brain that are designed to help me (or
anyone) manage fear, threat, and so on. I also
deal with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder),
which, in a nutshell, is an emotional disorder that
results from a trauma out of the norm.
And so, in the bathroom I am flooding, meaning
there is excessive neurological activity going on,
and the part of my brain designed to calm this
activity does not work because of the damage. The
PTSD merely exacerbates the situation.
Sitting on the floor, in the bathroom, I know all this.
But as I said, knowing something, does not, in and
of itself, serve to free you from it. Knowing does,
however, serve to remind me that I am not my
enemy. In this moment, I am not my opponent. My
opponent is the rather merciless tandem of brain
damage and PTSD.
An hour has passed and other than opening the
bathroom door a sliver on two occasions, I canít
leave the room. By this point, Iíve come to fully
recognize the emotional condition Iím in. I am
feeling exactly what I was feeling when the kid
held the gun against the side of my head moments
before he fired.
I am frozen.
I wonder if my case manager will call the police,
and will they break into the apartment and then
breakdown the bathroom door and find me here, a
quivering mass of fear and, needless to say,
embarrassment and shame.
I decide Iíll wait until she leaves and then make up
a lie so no one will ever know about this. For some
reason I donít understand (then or now), I believe
people will be angry with me if I tell them about
And so, I decide, I will lie. Sure, my car is out front.
But Iíll just say I was down the road helping a
friend, or maybe Iíll say a friend dropped by and
weíd gone out together. No way on earth will I tell
a living soul what really happened.
Then I remembered something. I remembered
reading that when someone is going through an
anxiety or panic attack, the brain withdraws blood
from the frontal lobe (exactly the place in the brain
youíd want to have blood at a time like this) and
gathers it in the brains center. If you engage in a
cognitive task such as playing solitaire or
conversation, or counting out loud, you force the
brain to move at least some of the blood back into
the frontal lobe. While this might not fully free you
out of the hell youíre in, it may well prevent it from
getting worse and maybe, make things a little
And so, sitting on the bathroom floor, I begin
counting out loud. After a while, I realize this must
be helping me at least somewhat because I notice
I am feeling foolish for counting out loud, and it is
not lost on me that Iíll take foolish over terrorstricken
More than two hours pass before I am able to
leave the bathroom. My case manager is no longer
outside. I sit down in my reading chair. As the
terror finally lifts, a deep sadness take its place,
and, for a time, I cry. I donít mind. There is comfort
in it. Slowly but surely, I grow back into feeling
The next day, my case manager called me. My
plan to lie to her lasted a split second. Instead, I
told her the truth and in doing so, was met with
understanding and compassion. She was not at all
angry, just very glad I was OK. I received the
same deeply welcome response from the few
close friends I shared this experience with.
Let me say to those of you whoíve had and have
similar experiences: You are not alone. It is very
likely that those who truly care about you will
respond with kindness and compassion should
you bring your experience, well into the light.
I donít think you need that kindness and
compassion. I know you deserve it.
Peter Kahrmann writes a blog on disability issues.
He resides in Massachusetts.