Living with CPTSD and dissociation often adds a layer of hassle to many of life’s challenges. Recently I had a health scare resulting in breast and cervical biopsies (which turned out normal – yay!) and I am happy to report that I maneuvered the extra precautions called for smoothly. This was an exercise in self advocacy that I would have failed not so long ago and I am thrilled to see tangible growth in my self care.
As expected, I was nervous about what doctors would find with my biopsies but I reached out for support and asked for what I needed to lessen the chances of dissociation or panic attacks. In the past when faced with unpleasant medical procedures (shoulder surgery) I went alone, did not have support and did not express my concerns to my doctors and I dissociated right before being wheeled into surgery and escaped and sort of ran away. Without any memory of leaving, I ended up in another room, playing a mobile game on my phone. The nurses and staff had to come look for me. So I was concerned I would dissociate during the colposcopy and biopsy.
I was more concerned about dissociation with the colposcopy and cervical biopsy because I have had trauma to that area of my body. Aside form being a a sex abuse survivor, I also had an illegal abortion at the age of 14 that was quite traumatic. I feared the sensations and ambiance would be so similar that I would dissociate mid procedure.That, or have a panic attack. The chances of having a flashback while I was on the table being told to “relax” was great.
If you find yourself majorly fearing a medical procedure for any reason, I recommend following the steps I took. First off, I simply checked in with myself with some internal communication and self reflection to understand clearly what my fears were about. Some can do this in their head, others may want to journal. Then I found people I trusted to share my fears with. I used my support group. Getting their validation was key for me as sometimes I just need to feel heard and accepted to calm down my fight or flight impulses.
Then I called my doctors office to discuss my fears with the doctor. I did not reach the doctor but expressed my concerns to her nurse and was assured she would relay my concerns to the doctor to see if there was any way she could give me something to make it a less anxious procedure. I even enlisted the advocacy of my psychiatrist who spoke with the doctor about what medications he recommended would be suitable to calm me down. The doctor was more than willing to comply.
I reached out to my sister for her to accompany me and that was huge as she lives several hours away. (She had offered in the past). I did not tell her I was afraid I would dissociate, I just informed her that I would be mildly sedated and needed a ride and companion.; plus we could get in a visit. It is important for me to be able to manage my mental health in ways that are seen as “normal” for everyone. It helps me not feel so different.
And I am happy to report that both procedures went smoothly. Uncomfortable, scary, yes; but manageable. No fugues, no panic attacks, no flashbacks. All because I was a friend to myself and took care around something that was scary for me without beating myself up or minimizing. Self advocacy is a new skill I am honing and coupled with internal communication /self awareness, it makes my life much easier. Its a skill everyone benefits from but often trauma survivors do not learn without concerted effort.