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]
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.
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:
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).
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