Sometimes, I Faint (or) Is Integration Trauma A Thing?

But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
– King James Bible

Sometimes, I faint.

And trust me, I don’t want to – it’s embarrassing and can be painful. There are no seizures happening, I’ve had it checked. I’m fine. It’s just that If I don’t practice extreme self care, daily, I will faint dead away. I’ve been like this nearly all my life.

First time, I was helped into the house by the neighbor kid who’d been helping me to learn to ride my bike. I’d had it since Christmas before, but now I was free to ride the neighborhood instead of  apartment hallways. I’d tried all day. The other kids would pass us occasionally calling “No Cars!” as they checked corners. I was hot. Next thing I knew, I was being passed to my grandmother through the patio door, greeted by “You fell out again?”

There are childhood stories in my family that tell how my father would chase chickens when he was a kid. Bored and curious, he wanted to make the chickens his friends and they were not having it. He’d run after one until he either caught it, or the target of the day fell out. One of the chickens learned to just flop over when she saw him coming. They used to tell this one and crack each other up.

Me, I never laughed.

Then one day, I’d had it with them all, and the jokes. We’d just moved in to our new house and my six-year-old self was exhausted.

“It’s not funny.” I announced. Then, I went upstairs to pack. I was going to move away from these people, go back to my old neighborhood, and it didn’t matter if the house was sold, I could stay with Grandpa.

While I was digging around the back of my closet looking for an escape backpack, I wondered if those chickens from the stories about my dad thought they’d make it. Running for maybe your life from a giant who would either pet you uncomfortably or feed you to his family was definitely my nightmare, and I endured it daily in our new neighborhood, my new school, new bike… wasn’t it the same for the chicken?

I headed for a bus stop, the nearest being miles away.

“Where you going, babe?” My mother asked when I came down the stairs.

“I’m moving.  I’m going back to the city!” I announced, and walked off through the front door.

I heard her voice behind me say, “Okay.”

I walked on fuming, thinking that chasing chickens and laughing made us no better than those kid giants who followed me on the playground, who asked me to spell difficult words to prove I deserved a turn at hopscotch. There were giants who’d confer to see if I knew “the difference between a nigger and a black person”. And, my giants had even bigger siblings who’d say things like Jungle Bunny, and some of them had parents who would not allow me inside their homes.

Giants were out there, they were everywhere, and they were hungry.

I only slowed the long march to the bus stop when I heard my three year old brother behind me. He was dragging a cooler and a blanket and said he didn’t want to run away from home. He liked his new room. I told him to go home but he argued that mom had sent him, she said we have to stick together. So we sat on the cooler in the road, and drank the kool-aid our mother had put inside. There were no cars.

***

I have fainted miserably often since then. When life is at peak, it’s as if my body cannot take another ounce of pressure, and calls a full stop.

So, imagine you’re (a person with a fairly good head on your shoulders) in a public space, living your busy life, and you stop walking. The previous few minutes have been harrowing – the police have harassed you for the last 30 minutes, and you run into a discount store to complete you list of errands for the day. Then, the world begins to waver. Your eyes glaze. You look around for a seat because you’re dizzy. You start regulating your breathing because you’re pretty sure you may vomit if you don’t get a grip. Thank goodness you see a guy from work, let’s call him Bill, coming down your aisle. As he approaches you try to raise a hand to hail him, like a cab. Your hand trembles so hard you put it in your pocket, and try to urge him to run, telepathically.

Me, I’m going to come check in if I find you this way. Him? He walked on by. Okay, we weren’t close friends, but some of us (me) come check on even people we hate because it’s just weird to watch someone suffer, and leave them alone. You’ve heard the phrase, “I wouldn’t spit on him/her if he were on fire”? – I was on fire that day, and I know what if feels like when someone won’t even stop to spit.

I reminded myself while I saw Bill pass me in multicolored waves of peripheral vision that I am safe and free until another man, a black man around my father’s age, rounded the aisle where I stood. He told me I looked like I was about to fall out, and helped me to sit down just before I hit the floor. He looked like any one of my dad’s friends slumming through a discount store – like one of the elders who’d decided it was time for my family to escape the redlined area of our city. Those guys who took me from everything I loved and set me out to face the giants. I was overwhelmed with gratitude and resentment.

Our conversation went like this:

Him: Come on and sit down, you look like you’re about to faint.

Me: I know, I was waiting for my friend to come.

Him: Where’s she coming from, home?

I struggled not to cry and I realized that he was helpless too. I also realized that they’d trained me to face giants because it is my only choice. I wasn’t sure how to speak to the whereabouts of my “friend”, who was nowhere in sight. I wonder if he thought I was hallucinating – there was no one in that aisle but us, and he changed the subject.

Him: My mother used to get the vapors all the time. My sisters, too.

Me: Yeah?

Him: Yup. They’re real sensitive.

Me: *quietly* I think it’s racism. Maybe I’m allergic.

He patted my back while he laughed, but I don’t think I was kidding. I know I wasn’t laughing.

***

DSC_0218

I reminded myself that my wellbeing wasn’t Bill’s responsibility, on the way home. It’s not is job to see that I am sheltered from hate in public. Clearly, I’m not even on his team. It’s just that, when I was feeling most oppressed, I felt expected to consider how Bill may have been uncomfortable. Freeze and hide my trembling hands, ‘less I look weak.

When I’ve tried to speak to Bill since then, he will not engage. It’s okay. His silence makes it clear he can’t appreciate what my feelings might’ve been feeling like. Plus, I have no business tending to his needs ahead of mine. He can talk: And I’ve never been good at subtext. If my experience with him was some kind of silent treatment for another unknown offense, it’s his job to tell me what that is.

I have stood since then, without an episode of growing faint. Could be because I started taking care of my physical self differently on that day. Could be I just needed to make up my mind how I was going to react to violence. Both the aggression of the police officer who’d held me up and the indifference of my colleague felt really violent at that moment. And imagine, in the current political climate, if I hadn’t started to tend to myself!

I would certainly spend twenty hours a day out cold.

Mostly, I came to understand people who live outside this particular pressure will not understand the steady hum of danger that underscores my life, and I found resolve in being connected with this world – good bad, or indifferent.  I will not faint.

 

Thanks, Amen.

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About thanks amen

Michelle is an artist from Milwaukee, Wisconsin whose professional experience spans working as an educator, nonprofit executive, and consultant. She has a fear of clowns and pecans, and works every day to listen at least twice as much as she talks.
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