Almost everyone knows about the two instinctual F’s that come into play when you are frightened or your life is in danger. Fight and Flight. But not everyone knows about the third F. Freeze. For whatever reason, some people in those types of situations experience an overwhelming wave of helplessness and their brain decides it will be safer if they don’t move.
Why do I bring it up? Well, because that’s what happened to me when I was assaulted a few weeks before my eighteenth birthday. I just froze.
As you can probably imagine, this experience has really restricted what I am comfortable doing. One of those things it being touched. Especially by guys. But, after a couple years of figuring out how to avoid panic attacks, I think I’m ready to test this fear. I bought a Groupon for a massage at Palmer Massage Therapy and scheduled an appointment with a guy named Gerardo.
I stayed curled up in my bed until the last possible second thinking maybe I could skip and they could just keep the money. But I had told too many people about it and their disgustingly, encouraging confidence in me kept needling at my peace of mind until I threw back the covers and got dressed.
The office space was simple and relaxing. We decided to focus only on my back and shoulders because they were giving me some trouble and I thought it would be a safe place to start. I was handed a form to fill out about health issues or allergies and at the bottom of this form was a check list of the muscles I was comfortable having massaged. One of those muscles was the pectoral. And while I do know what it is, for the life of me, I couldn’t remember while I was staring at that sheet.
“Uhh, I’m sorry, could you..could you tell me where this one is?” I asked Gerardo pointing to the list. He made a contemplative face, like he was trying to figure out the best way to tell me.
“It is the muscle under your collarbone,” he said.
“Under my collarbone..” I looked down and, well, definitely didn’t see a muscle there. I smiled awkwardly and said thanks before checking no, until the whole box was black.
I was left alone in the room to undress and get beneath the sheet. I was just contemplating leaving when he knocked at the door and came in. He asked me a few questions about myself as he prepared to start. I could hear him rubbing his hands together and almost bolted. Speech was not something I was doing well. I stuttered a lot and talked too softly, until eventually he just let me retreat into the war zone that was going on in my head.
Should I leave? Should I stay? Was I about to embarrass myself with a panic attack?
“Take a deep breath in…..now let it out. Now again…..let it out. Breathe…..let it out..,” Gerardo gently pressed his hands down on my shoulders with the last exhale. I cringed a little but reminded myself of three things.
- I asked him to do this.
- I wasn’t in any danger.
- I may be nervous but breathing is required damn it!
I was eventually distracted from my thoughts when Gerardo started rubbing up against a bone. I couldn’t for the life of me image why he was doing it but it hurt so bad I almost cried. He kept rubbing and rubbing and rubbing against it but then suddenly the bone disappeared….
Gerardo said it felt like I held all of my stress in my back and shoulders, which doesn’t surprise me since I mistook a knot of muscles for bones! When the massage came to a close I was insanely proud of myself. I was uncomfortable and stressed about the whole experience but I didn’t have a panic attack or freeze! My body was sore for a day after, but it was a good sore.