When something shocking happens — physically, emotionally — My body goes into its own form of lockdown.
The first time it happened, I was roller skating, a sport I attempted only after I moved to North America and learned there was such an activity. The roller skates emulated a car — four wheels like four car tires. I tripped and landed on my chin on the concrete rink. I still have the scar. Because my chin was bleeding, the rink owners hauled me into a room to figure out if I needed stitches and I found myself looking at the scene from the high corner of the room. From that distant vantage point, I saw me sitting in a chair, a guy leaning on the table, and another man trying to get me to sign a form. My body was shaking so much, I couldn’t do it, no matter how hard I struggled. I bear the scar to this day. I remember the sensation of watching myself as a character in a movie.
The next time I was driving to work. A semi with a flatbed truck, very large, carried steel sheets chained into place. This wasn’t unusual in the Detroit Metro area, land of car production. Behind this truck was a car with a woman driver. I was behind that car. We were on the freeway, going 60-65. The chains broke and the sheets flew backwards like cards from a deck. Flying horizontally, they broke through the windshield of the car in front of me and the woman’s head fell to the side and disappeared. Her car careened off the road to the embankment. The trucker and I braked and got out of our vehicles. The truck driver ran back to the car in front of me and froze. I walked forward and froze. The steel sheets had literally guillotined the woman. Suddenly, I was high in the sky looking down at at her head, separate from her body, which had fallen over on top of her head (no seat belts in those days), blood everywhere. Her head was separate from her body physically, I was separate from myself emotionally. I watched that scene for a long time, even after the police came. I didn’t come back to my body for a couple of hours, not even after I drove myself home with the police following me to make sure I got there safely.
The third time was when my husband dropped dead at my feet, something I’ve written about many times in many forms since he died 24 years ago. But it was unreal to me in that moment. I functioned on autopilot because I had to deal with the ambulance, hospital, organ donation, telling our nineteen-year-old son he’d never see his father again, and on and on. Our son came home from college and I don’t know if he went on autopilot, too. That whole week I watched me from outside as I coped and compartmentalized, unemotional (on the surface). Looking back, I came to understand that I was like that for months. I didn’t snap out of it as I had with my previous experiences. I came out of it slowly, as if I could only deal with a little bit at a time, like taking one worm out of a can and dealing with it before I took out another worm to face.
Out of body experiences are likely different for everyone, but, for me, I’m always far away looking at the movie of me. It’s my body’s way of coping. If I can’t deal with whatever is before me, I shut it away, I go outside myself, and when my body’s ready, I deal with it or I deal with a little bit of it until I work my way through whole experience.
I don’t understand it fully, but it works and it helps. There are some experiences that are just too much to bear.
By Paul DeLong
On August 16, 2022
“My body goes into its own form of lockdown.” Vivid analogy, given the times; precise, crisp.
“From that distant vantage point, I saw me sitting in a chair, a guy leaning on the table, and another man trying to get me to sign a form.” Somehow, that man with the form encapsulates both the banality, and the coldness, of public accidents in our current litigious milieu. Mixed with your own personal distress, the contrast is quite effective in your distancing yourself from your situation, to go far as a somatic level is intertwined with situational elements that might keep you in that distance.
Out of space here in this comment… more in next comment.
By Paul DeLong
On August 16, 2022
“Her head was separate from her body … I was separate from myself emotionally. I watched that scene for a long time, even after the police came. I didn’t come back to my body for a couple of hours, not even after I drove myself home with the police following me …”
A very personal response that functions to tell us why we leave our bodies: things that can be described rationally just can’t be processed in real time. Somehow, it would be wrong if we could!
“I functioned on autopilot because I had to deal with the ambulance, hospital, organ donation, telling our nineteen-year-old son he’d never see his father again… that whole week I watched me from outside as I coped and compartmentalized, unemotional…”
An even more personal vivid example of deep shock in an incomprehensible event. Such fortitude/generosity on your part to share about it.
Your conclusion satisfyingly confirms the readers’ take. More importantly, you let us know that you accept your body’s response as healthy.