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Getting freaked out (a.k.a. losing my bearings)

One evening last week, I lost it. I freaked out and dry wretched into a hotel room bin. A few moments earlier, the clock radio next to the bed said 18.10 as I switched on my laptop to check my e-mails after being with a group in London all day. I had 50 minutes before I was hosting a regular group call, so I scanned the room service menu as I opened Outlook for those e-mails…

One email caught my attention above the others: “Legal complaint filed against your company” I opened that one and dropped the food menu. It had a link for me to see what the nature of the complaint was, and I was so mortified and scared, I couldn’t face clicking on it. It was too late in the day anyway – no one would be available anywhere to answer what it was all about.

That’s when I reached for the bin under the desk to throw up. Nothing came up. It didn’t help the knots in my insides. The blood recoiled from my skin. I couldn’t see straight and my head, neck and arms throbbed. I don’t know the last time I’d been that scared. I had to move and got up from the chair, although I did doubt whether standing up might be beyond me at this point. I grabbed the room key card and went into the corridor and down to reception.

I saw the sign that said ‘Bar’ and headed in. I ordered a single whisky and drank it in 3 ‘sips’, then headed out through the revolving door. The walk outside might shake this feeling, I thought. Some hope! As I put one foot in front of the other, I reached a part of the road that went under a railway bridge.

“I’ll end up living here,” I thought. Immediately, that thought was replaced by “No – I won’t be that lucky” as visions of brutal violations in a prison cell filled my mind with terror. I dodged the drips from the bridge above, while all this was going on in my head. I made it out the other side of the bridge, one step and a time, and found myself at the entrance to a small food shop. I scanned left and right, up and down for any food item that didn’t make me want to throw up. One thing was ‘ok’ for me and I bought it, making my way back to the hotel; head still throbbing, insides still in agony. At one point on the walk back the thought “This is interesting, I wonder how it'll play out?” popped into my head from nowhere. That brought slight relief and perspective until the prison cell brutality thought came back.

As my feet shuffled along in spite of myself, I made it back to the hotel and into my room with 10 minutes before the group call was scheduled to start. Just enough time to wolf down the sandwich I’d bought and make a cup of green tea.

At the top of the hour, my Zoom room was open and a group of familiar faces filled my screen. I was grateful for the 90 minutes of distraction. And that hour-and-a-half was lovely. A group of coaches looking together at what impacts our clients the most. At 8.30 pm, I said goodbye and reminded them of the date and time for our next gathering. I sighed and remembered all the things in my head earlier in the evening. I set the alarm on my phone for 06.30 and brushed my teeth ready to see how much sleep I could manage, given my fear and turmoil.

I sat on the bed. My head cleared enough for me to muster the courage to look at the e-mail again.

I saw that the font size varied. A few key words were spelt incorrectly. When I hovered over the link, the web address looked weird. It was a phishing scam.

I lost my bearings and scared myself half to death over a fake e-mail. The adrenaline or cortisol or whatever the hormone was that was made a few hours earlier was still coursing through my body, even after I’d seen I’d been freaked out by a lie. I was still on edge physically, yet my mind had calmed down and wasn’t stuck in the horror movies I was making up earlier.

I slept. Well.

When I woke, I was a little confused by my reaction the previous evening. Then, at some point in that first hour of the day, as I got ready to get myself together to speak that morning at the conference, I saw once again a few home truths about being a human being.

I get freaked out. I am not in control. I will feel what I think. I don’t think clearly when I’m in my reaction. I don’t see clearly when I’m in my reaction. I’m in my reaction until I’m out of it. I sometimes get suspicious and curious when I’m in my reaction. I can imagine all kinds of horrible things when I’m in my reaction. I do my best in the moment when I’m in that reaction.

Every single time I’m in my reaction and I’ve freaked out, I come out of it. I am not immune to being in reaction, in spite of what I know about how human beings work. Thought looks real, even when it isn’t. I made it back to seeing what is, regardless of how far away I went in my mind. I am normal.

I was ok, even when I felt I wasn’t.


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