Trauma, Meditation, and a Cool Scar

[Trig­ger Warn­ing: I’ll be dis­cussing a phys­i­cal in­jury, re­cov­ery, and panic at­tacks in de­tail. The first three pic­tures linked are gory. Again, they are linked, not di­rectly shown]

Trauma

One year ago to­day, I was in an ac­ci­dent with an in­dus­trial drone. It was spin­ning too fast while arm­ing (like how he­li­copters spin up be­fore they took off), but noth­ing we tried would fix it. Even­tu­ally, I changed the PWM value back to the de­fault value, and it spun up even faster. Fast enough to take off right into me.

It tore up my arm. It tore up my face. After scream­ing, it didn’t hurt that bad, so I thought I over­re­acted. I told ev­ery­one “I think I’m okay”. They didn’t be­lieve me, and I was rushed to the hos­pi­tal. The pain was hor­rible, but the nau­sea was worse. I had made ev­ery­one ap­ple pie that day, but I didn’t get to keep my piece.

The doc­tor thought I needed fa­cial re­con­struc­tion surgery, so they put me in an am­bu­lance and shipped me to an­other hos­pi­tal. They stitched me up, said no fa­cial surgery was needed, but that my lens and iris were de­stroyed in my left eye. A cou­ple days later, my eye­ball bruised. A week of check­ups and eye drops 4 times a day, they then put me un­der for surgery.

I woke up in so much pain, so con­fused. They told me to keep my head down. I asked Why am I in so much pain? re­peat­edly. They put me in a wheelchair to take me out­side, and told me to keep my head down. But all I could do was feel ter­rified be­cause I was in pain and no one was do­ing any­thing about it. I’m told to keep my head down as they put me in my dad’s car, so I kept my head down and hurt.

For a week, I had to keep my head down. When I ate, my head was down. When I talked to some­one, my head was down. When I slept, my head was down. I couldn’t play pi­ano like I used to be­cause of my arm. I couldn’t read like I used to be­cause of my eye. I couldn’t even think like I used to be­cause my work­ing mem­ory was shot. I felt so pow­er­less and iso­lated.

How am I sup­posed to pro­gram or learn new things when I could barely keep 3 things on my mind, when I could barely read off a screen for 2 min­utes be­fore hav­ing to take a break? How am I sup­posed to con­nect with some­one when I could barely look them in the eye, when I couldn’t even give them my full at­ten­tion?

On top of that, I was on eye drops to sooth my eye from all the other eye drops I was tak­ing. I was on lax­a­tives to re­lieve con­sti­pa­tion from all the pain medicine I was tak­ing. Even though, I was on a tablet and two drops for eye pres­sure, I still got glau­coma headaches. So an­other surgery, and more check­ups. And of course, there were the panic at­tacks.

Any un­ex­pected loud noise would fill me with dis­tress, it felt like I was be­ing at­tacked, like it was hap­pen­ing again. A cou­ple of months later, I was play­ing pi­ano more like I was used to. A pic­ture frame on top of the pi­ano fell, freaked me out, and I cried be­cause I thought I was over this. It was frus­trat­ing how scared I was, how eas­ily I could feel over­whelmed.

I’ve never been an­grier in my life.


As a kid, I used to think “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, that if I went through hor­rible events, I would come out cooler, more ma­ture. That I would be like Sa­suke from Naruto whose whole fam­ily died, but he came out so cool, and edgy, and he got the girl! But re­ally, hor­rible events mess you up, and I wouldn’t wish that on any­one. There’s not a guaran­tee that things will be bet­ter, not even that things will be as good as they were be­fore.

But… things did get bet­ter.

Meditation

I read Hazard’s post and took up med­i­tat­ing with the mind illu­mi­nated. I took Elo up on talk­ing about med­i­tat­ing, told him about my panic at­tacks, and we fixed them! By “fixed” I mean they still hap­pened, but dras­ti­cally af­fected me less and less. And then they started hap­pen­ing less and less. Now, I re­ally don’t mind them more than an itch.

I was told:

  1. Break down pre­vi­ous panic at­tacks into a se­quence of events/​sen­sa­tions such as phys­i­cal sen­sa­tions (jaws clench­ing, shoulders tensed, heart rac­ing, breath­ing change), and men­tal sen­sa­tions (spe­cific thoughts, move­ments of at­ten­tion, loss of aware­ness).

  2. Be aware of the sen­sa­tions you ex­pe­rience dur­ing the ac­tual panic at­tack. From Elo, “The piece of knowl­edge to main­tain is that you are not these re­ac­tions, you have them but they do not have you. You get to watch them hap­pen.”

For me, I could see “jerk­ing back, ele­vated heart rate, cor­ti­sol/​adrenal­ine feel­ing, teary eyed be­cause of how I re­acted, eyes fo­cus, shoulder ten­sion, toes clench­ing”, but later, in the mo­ment of ac­tu­ally hav­ing a panic at­tack, it was [noise]->[in­vol­un­tary yelp]->[chest tight­ness with stress]->[eyes widen]->[think­ing that I’m fine].

I would like to clar­ify that “chest tight­ness with stress” is a men­tal ob­ject in word form, but I felt it as a phys­i­cal sen­sa­tion like a bad warmth spread­ing through my body start­ing from my chest. But even that de­scrip­tion fails to con­vey the re­al­ity of the sen­sa­tion! What’s im­por­tant is that I de­scribed it to my­self in hard-to-con­vey phys­i­cal sen­sa­tions. The same is true for the other links in the chain.

Do­ing this, I re­al­ized “Pain is in­evitable; suffer­ing is op­tional” with the next few panic at­tacks. They hap­pened. They sucked...but then they were over. Through med­i­tat­ing I was build­ing this skill even more, this skill of non-re­act­ing, of ac­cept­ing the re­al­ity of sen­sa­tions ex­actly as they were, of not fight­ing it, of not get­ting trapped in a se­ries of thoughts, of not hold­ing on to im­pulses. I used to think “Man, I’m so hun­gry”. Now it’s, “Oh the sen­sa­tion of hunger is there. Oh, now it’s gone. What time is it? 11:00? I’ll work an­other hour and then eat”. All that mis­er­able anger that would keep me up at nights, I’ve now let it all go.

I wish I would’ve had a con­sis­tent med­i­ta­tion prac­tice be­fore the ac­ci­dent. I pre­dict that I would’ve suffered much less. If you are go­ing through a difficult life trauma now, I highly recom­mend get­ting pro­fes­sional help, and you’re wel­come to PM me about it as well.

A Cool Scar

I can read and think like I used to (which were two of the most de­bil­i­tat­ing effects). My left eye rarely hurts any­more, though I still can’t see out of it. I’m not nau­seous nor do I have glau­coma headaches, though I am still on one eye drop in­definitely. I have most of the strength and flex­i­bil­ity back in my left arm, though it will act up if I hit it just right. I am tech­ni­cally bi-chro­matic now be­cause my iris was de­stroyed! Though, that also means my left eye is a gi­ant pupil, and I need shades to go out­side when it’s sunny.

Just like in Valen­tine’s Griev­ing Well, I was able to see what was im­por­tant in my life. I quit my job and started lev­er­ag­ing academia this Spring, I found a girl who kisses my scars, and I’ve grown a lot closer to my fam­ily.

Although I’m not as edgy as Sa­suke (prob­a­bly for the best) the scar does make me a lit­tle bit cooler, and, well, I did get the girl.



1. I had an air bub­ble in my eye and had to keep my head down so that the bub­ble would do some­thing to my retina (keep pres­sure to it?). Pro tip: put pillows be­tween the bed and your chest when you sleep so you don’t suffo­cate.

2. I can see a lit­tle ac­tu­ally. White is perfect vi­sion, black is blind.

Do you no­tice the blind spot (black cir­cle) in my right eye (on the left)? No­tice how that’s most of my left eye?

3. My brother and I have such a good re­la­tion­ship that he made me this:

which is ripped from webcomicname

*Spe­cial thanks to Elo for re­view­ing the draft of this post