March 28, 2023

PTSD & Maitri: What Happened when I was Triggered by an MRI.

My first MRI was 20 years ago, and this was my fourth one in as many months. This one was different.

After getting changed into a gown, I placed all my belongings in a plastic bag to be locked up and returned to me after I’ve left the room with this god-awful machine.

As I was guided into the room, I requested Metallica’s album S&M to be played over my headphones. Symphonic rock helps me mask the loud, piercing sound inside the tube.

I’ve chosen music to be played during other MRIs and was shocked to learn that it is not a feature available for this particularly old machine. Maybe I should have taken that as a sign to stop and reschedule for another location?

Instead, I forged on, telling myself to get it done and over with.

I was given ear plugs as I sat on the table that raises me up and slides me into the dreaded, small, white circular machine. My neck and lower spine were being imaged during this visit. I was not expecting a cage being snapped in place around my neck. It fit like the face guard at the front when wearing a football helmet, but you don’t have control to take it off.

My PTSD (Post Tramatic Stress Disorder) reared itself by way of flashbacks from a domestically violent relationship.

Things around my neck can trigger me. So many triggers combined—something around my neck, hearing the loud sharp noises, confined in a white tube, while trying to stay as still as possible. Tears started uncontrollably flowing down the sides of my face, onto my ears, and the inserted plugs.

A technician buzzed in over a speaker, I’m guessing located somewhere on the inside of the tube. His static and difficult to understand voice said that an image had to be repeated due to (my) slight movement. My breathing and visualization techniques were wearing thin, but I pressed on.

There are many breathing techniques. My go-to is to inhale to a count of four, pause for a second to let the air settle, then exhale to a count of four. And repeat to feel the air travel in and out. If you don’t have a go-to technique, I highly recommend finding one that works for you. There’s just something about breathing that’s always helpful.

Finally, after about an hour, the table started moving me back out of the machine.

My hands started shaking, wanting the cage around my neck off immediately. I rose with the cage as it was lifted off me, sitting up while wiping tears from my face. Tissues and water were handed to me per my request. The woman who brought me from the waiting room waited for me to finish drying my face, blowing my nose, and drinking some water. She offered words of encouragement while rubbing my shoulder because I still had to have my lower back scanned.

I learned my lesson and will not schedule more than one scan at a time unless I get knocked out to sleep through it for a few hours.

There’s a panic bulb you’re supposed to have before going into the tube to stop the MRI if you’re having a problem. It hadn’t been given to me. I made sure the bulb was comfortably in my hand before the table slid me into this tube of hell for round two.

I still couldn’t stop crying. I didn’t have control over my tears. Whenever I felt like it was too much, I told myself to be strong—to get it done and over. I did not want to repeat this because I squeezed the panic bulb.

I focused as much as possible on my breathing and “happy place”.

I visualized myself lying on a towel at the beach, feeling the warmth from the sun and the sand on my feet. I chose to interpret the loud noise of the MRI as the sound of waves crashing in front of me.

Almost another hour later the table transported me back out of the machine, again.

“Whew, I survived the machine, and I finished the scans” was said in my head with relief. There were still tears falling as I walked out of the building and arrived at my ride in the parking garage.

I caught myself falling to my knees in a panic as I opened the red door of the slightly raised pick-up truck. It felt like a wave hit me that brought me halfway to the ground and took my breath away for a moment. I started to hyperventilate. I reminded myself that I was safe, inhaled to a four count, then pulled myself up into the truck while exhaling to four again. I could not stop crying though, regardless of what I tried. So, I gave in, accepted, and allowed myself to cry—for however long, and however much.

I’ve learned, if I try to fight and keep it blocked in, it finds a way out. It festers. Usually manifesting in a worse or undesirable manner.

Ten years ago, I threw myself into healing my damages. From yoga to cleansing my chakras (I believe in it, so it’s true for me), the frequency of triggers has decreased significantly. I am better at recognizing my triggers and better at handling these episodes. However, PTSD is one of those sneaky things that pops up unexpectedly. Even after years. I accept PTSD as one of my many parts. It’s part of what makes me, me.

I’ve also learned that it is perfectly fine for me to feel what I am feeling, without approval.

I don’t know when or what will trigger my next PTSD moment. But I know that being friends with Maitri will help again.

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