Day Twenty: Incense

Incense is a trigger. Usually my fainting spells are spurred by the smell of hospital rooms or the sight of needles or blood but incense has become a trigger too. For a number of years I could not enter a Catholic church when incense was being used without getting light-headed. I’d spent a great deal of my grade school years greeting the marble floor of the church with my skull, my limp and sweaty body sprawled there until someone was able to drag me out and hold a bottle of something under my nose. I carried smelling salts in my purse through most of High School and sometimes in college, just in case.

The problem at Church was my rampant imagination, I wager. The gruesome images of Christ’s crucifixion playing in my head, the nails into the wrists, sword into his side. I could blame Father Boyle for his detailed description as we listened in Mrs Gardner’s 2nd grade class. Perhaps it was those images, those pictures mixed with the sweet and smoky incense clinging to me in that moment. Whatever the case, I still get light-headed even now once in a while when I smell the incense. I have to take hold of myself, focus, shift, breathe.

The problem is more pronounced in hospitals and doctor’s offices. Needles, blood, insecurity, disinfectant, smelling salts…these are triggers.

It’s on my mind today because I did faint at the Doctor’s office on Monday. I’ve been having blood drawn about every three months to check a thyroid issue. The first 2 times I did pretty well, taking hold of myself, focusing, shifting, breathing. I’d managed to just avoid losing consciousness those times. On Monday, however, the veil began to close over me and though I was breathing and the needle was gone from my arm, I trembled and tumbled from consciousness.

When it happens I am gone from the world. I am floating somewhere like a dream, in a dream, it feels real though, just within reach. When it happens I am immersed somewhere and I never know how long I’m missing only that while I’m unconscious I am fully present to that unconsciousness, I am fully engaged in it. As I begin to come back I fight against it. I hear voices first, the doctor, the teacher, the classmate, the nurse. And those voices break into the dream and I’m confused because I don’t want to leave that dream. I am pulled away from it and it’s strange but there’s some grief in that moment. I am desperately clawing at the dream, trying to hold on to whatever I was thinking or doing or saying.

The voices that broke in on Monday saw my rousing I suppose and they questioned me, “Angela? Are you okay?” and I shook my head weakly not wanting to open my eyes. I still did not know where I was or why I was being pulled from that dreamy place, that warm place, that other world. And I exhaled, long and deep, as though I’d been holding my breath for that time I was gone. I could feel the sweat on my forehead and my hands. I brought my hands to my head, wrapping my arms against my eyes and began to breathe again, slow, steady, knowing now that I was lying on the examination table. They’d lowered it while I was out, the nurse was holding my knees upright, to aid the flow of blood back to my head, back to reality. My head was reeling, aching. I felt embarrassed. “I thought I’d gotten over this” I said quietly and they reassured me, “It’s okay, it happens” but that doesn’t really help much.

Driving home that day it took a long time to shake that feeling of the dream. I spent an hour or maybe two, lying in bed and thinking about that dream and about what I was so reluctant to leave and about why I felt so out of sorts still in the wake it all. I admit that sometimes I think that when I’m deep in my syncope, the veil pulled around me and my breathing shallow, if I am somehow brushing up against the Divine, my brain firing in all the strange dream like places making me vulnerable and open to hearing and seeing. I wonder if in those moments of unconsciousness there is some deeper thing I am clinging to, some word I do not want to forget, some memory I cannot wrap my hands around before the voices break in, before the world returns.

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