Encased In Ice Cold Fear, Trapped In Panic Mode – Upon Seeing A Ghost

I am feeling a little worried that this blog is becoming somewhat scattered, that there isn’t much of a red thread running through it anymore, and that it might be difficult to follow what’s actually going on with me, but sometimes, well, I sit down, fully intending to write an update on what I wrote about in the previous post, and it just feels like the moment has passed, and there are other – more pressing – things I feel a need to write about. Tonight is one of those times. There are two main things I feel I want to write about, so I think I will write two separate entries, to give you guys a chance to rest your eyes, hearts and souls a little in between sittings..

This Monday I went to my session with Z. as I usually do; a little lost in thought, trying to get into The Zone. The room I see Z. in is situated in a building which houses an entirely different kind of project, which is nothing to do with the counselling I am doing. In order to get to Z.’s room I have to walk through first a tiny reception area and then what seems to be some sort of dining hall. There are usually a fair few people in there when I arrive for my session and I generally just walk straight through it, not really paying attention to who is there. This time ended up being very different.

Sitting at one of the tables, right next to the door I needed to go through, was a person who was an absolute dead ringer for M., one of the people I was abused by. NOT the way he looked back then, but the way he would look now: older, heavier, but with those same eyes, the same way of looking at me..

I’m not really sure how to explain what happened, but it was as if my body reacted instantly to this person, before my brain had even had time to work out the reason for the reaction. I have prosopagnosia, a condition that is a little bit like being dyslexic, but with faces instead of letters; my brain simply doesn’t store the memory of peoples’ faces, and it is very, very rare for me to recognise people. Even people I know well, like my sisters, I’m unable to picture, when I’m not with them. But, somehow, with this person, my body reacted instantaneously, before I had even clocked what [who] my eyes were seeing.

All heat seemed to drain from my body at once, I felt ice cold, my heart was beating so hard it was painful, my legs went spaghettiose. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and that I actually didn’t want to breathe. But somehow I managed to keep walking.

I made it to the stairs leading to the waiting room, and bumped into Z. who was coming down them. I could hear her greet me, and I know I said something back, ‘though I have no idea at all what I said. All I remember was that I thought my knees were going to buckle under me, and focusing ALL my energy on this tea cup Z. happened to be holding, because that was the only thing that seemed to not be spinning, that seemed real, safe. [Could write a whole essay on why it was the tea cup, rather than Z. herself, that seemed real and safe, but it seems of secondary importance right now.]

I got to the top of the stairs and into the waiting room and collapsed on one of the chairs, shaking from head to toe. My hands were trembling completely out of control. It is something that happens to me in moments of extreme anxiety or fear, and I tend to hide my hands so that no one will see it.

By the time I got into Z.’s consulting room I was in what I could only describe as a state of shock, unable to speak. I’m not sure how long for, it might not have been very long in real time, but it felt like an eternity. I felt like all my words were stuck in my throat, blocked by this horrible, unmeltable, icy lump of fear.

Z. at first assumed that it was an air freshener that had triggered this reaction in me, as in a previous session I had reacted to it, as it somehow reminded me of another, similar, smell that almost inevitably sets off a chain of flashbacks, so she went to open the window a little wider. I managed to let her know that that wasn’t it. I’m not sure if I actually told her, or if she asked and I just shook my head.

Eventually I was able to explain to Z. what had happened, who I thought I had seen. Who I felt sure I had seen.

It was such a strange sensation, all these extremely intense feelings, very similar to when I am having flashbacks, only I wasn’t in a flashback. I was reacting to something real. To someone real.

I tried to calm myself down, tried to tell myself that no matter how much this person looked like M., the odds that it was really him was very, very small, infinitesimal, really. But, somehow that just didn’t matter. I experienced a complete split between intellect and emotion, an absolute refusal to believe that it was just someone who looked like him: every cell in my body was telling me that it was him, and no amount of rationalisation or probability calculation could change that.

It was as if every single incident of abuse that he had ever subjected me to in the year or so he was living with us were washing over me all at once, like an enormous tidal wave, sweeping all rational thought from my mind, leaving me completely and utterly encased in ice cold fear, trapped in panic mode. I managed to tell Z. this; that I felt terrified, like the abuse could start over at any second, because in my mind M. was sitting downstairs, and he was always able to find a way to play his cruel games. It didn’t matter that there were lots of people in the building, or that Z. was in the room with me. He could do whatever he wanted, absolutely whenever he wanted to back then, and to me this was still true now. Z. tried to reassure me that no one could hurt me, that I was safe, and I could hear 8-year-old Little S ask “Am I?” in a tone drenched in doubt, so certain in the knowledge that there is nowhere in the entire world I am safe from him, as long as he is still alive.

I genuinely cannot remember feeling so scared or so panicked ever in my life, not since the abuse was actually happening. And that feeling hasn’t subsided. I feel like I am stuck in this horrendous place where my usual, reasoned, realistic way of dealing with things is completely helpless to shield me from my own feelings. I am trying my best to tell myself that it can’t have been him. And at the same time, in my head, it was. There was something about the way my body just reacted to seeing this person, that just makes it impossible for me to accept that it wasn’t.

I told Z. that I was scared of when I would have to leave that room and go downstairs again, even though on the way out I don’t have to go through the dining hall. Z. very gently offered to come with me, so I wouldn’t have to go on my own, in fact she offered more than once, but I had already switched into my ‘Let No One In, Trust No One’-mode, telling her “I’ll be OK. I’m always OK”. To which Z. answered that I certainly had come through a hell of a lot, but she also reminded me that there was no need for me to ‘Be OK’ in session or with her.

I did leave on my own. I’m not sure how. All I know is that as soon as I was out of the building and across the street, tears were streaming down my face and I had to stop twice to be sick before I even got to the bus stop.

I feel so frightened now. And I am scared about going to my next session. I want to go to it, but what if he is there again? I don’t know if I can cope with it. In many ways it doesn’t even really matter whether or not it really is him: the fear he instilled in me back then has returned with a vengeance, regardless of which it is.

I wrote Z. an email earlier this evening, asking could she meet me downstairs in the reception area next session, because it might help me feel a little less frightened if I know I won’t have to walk through the dining hall on my own. It is very unusual for me to ask for help. I am so used to always relying on myself to find ways of dealing with everything on my own, no matter how hard. But I was thinking about what Z. said in session, that there was no need for me to ‘Be OK’, and decided that it was better to ask than to push myself through more fear and anxiety than what is actually necessary.


I am sorry that this ended up being such a long post. I suppose there was a lot I needed to get out of my head.


Be kind to your Selves.


7 responses

  1. Känner du inte att du har förändrats (inte alls till det sämre). Idag kan du be om hjälp och du flyr inte från det jobbiga, i detta fall att gå till Z.
    Rädslan blir inte mindre trots att du verkar förstå att det egentligen inte är M.

  2. Oh bless your heart.

    I once thought I saw him at university. I was driving into the car park and ‘he’ was stood by the entrance, just watching cars drive by. I don’t know whether ‘he’ actually looked like him (I also find faces hard) or whether it was just the behaviour that triggered me, but I fled. I drove for about 20minutes with no direction until eventually I was so small that Little couldn’t drive the car anymore and we had to stop, and ring our counsellor.

    I checked, on Facebook, and he was in London that same morning; a physical impossibility that he was at uni. But that fear was horrendous, and took me right back to that terrified place I hadn’t been for years.

    I guess I just wanted to let you know that it does pass. Keep asking for support and you will survive this. Ultimately, you are stronger now, stronger than real-him or maybe-him, and you will grow and become an even stronger person because of this place you’re in now. x

  3. Hej, Ninisen

    Jo, jag känner att jag förändrats och kan se det positiva i att kunna be om hjälp. Min första tanke är fortfarande allt som oftast “Nej, släpp inte in nån, det är säkrare att klara saker på egen hand”, men jag har lärt mig att ifrågasätta den närmast automatiska reaktionen och fundera på om det egentligen inte gör saker svårare än de behöver vara, att fixa allt själv. Så det är ett steg i rätt riktning.

    Hela måndagen efter det här hade hänt tänkte jag att jag önskade att någon som visste hur M. såg ut skulle varit här och kunna kolla om det verkligen var han eller inte. Sen, när jag tänkte mer på det, insåg jag att det var DIG jag tänkte på. Fast, å andra sidan så skulle det nog inte göra någon skillnad, på många sätt var det en omedelbar fysisk och kroppslig reaktion, snarare än något som kom från min tankevärld. Det som är jobbigt och extremt ovanligt för mig är att min normala försvarsmekanism, att rationalisera och intellektualisera, och därigenom stänga av negativa känslor [på gott och ont] helt verkar ha satts ur spel. Och just nu önskar jag verkligen att jag kunde åtminstone få dämpa känsloflödet lite..

    Kram kram bästa Ninisen.


  4. Thank you so SO much for sharing your own experience. It helps to know that I’m not alone, makes me feel less ‘crazy’ for reacting in this seemingly extreme way. I like your expressions “real-him” and “maybe-him”, it makes perfect sense to me. I may borrow them.

    Like I wrote in response to my friend’s comment [albeit in Swedish]: in many ways, knowing whether or not it really WAS him or not, would probably not change much, and what frightens me is that my normal defence mechanism of rationalising or intellectualising negative feelings away [for better or for worse], seems to have been completely put out of play, and have lost the powers they normally possess, and I’m stuck with this intense fear, this feeling that I’m not really safe, anywhere.

    Perhaps this sudden inability to “switch off” through intellectualising is a sign that I have outgrown this particular defence mechanism? It is something I’ve actually been talking to both Z. and A. a lot about lately. But right now I really wish I could at least regulate the emotional avalanche a little.

    Once again, thank you for sharing what happened to you. It does help.

    Do be kind to yourself.


  5. One way to think about this is that this person is providing you with an opportunity to face something (someone) who resembles the abuser; and by so doing, to demonstrate to yourself that he can’t do that to you and that you are no longer defenseless or alone. Good luck with this.

  6. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment. [And apologies for taking a while to answer..].

    I hear what you are saying, and I can see that there is an opportunity for growth in this all but at the same time, it is possible that this person actually IS one of my abusers, and in light if that it feels quite a high price to pay to try and face it. That said, of course I want to overcome this immense fear which all but imprisons me; it’s why I made my mind up to go back for session this week. [See my next post]. But, in all honesty, right now the level of terror is so high it feels unlikely I’ll be able to overcome it in the very few sessions I have left with Z.

    Naturally, I will continue to work on it with A., though.

    Once again, I appreciate you commenting on what I write. It is always helpful to be offered an alternative way of looking at things.

    All the best,


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