She lay motionless, in the foetal position on the floor of the white room.  It wasn’t so much of room, more of a large cupboard.  The sort of stock cupboard that you find in a school classroom or under the stairs. One with enough room to stand up and turn around and enough room to lie out on the floor.  If it were a bedroom, there would just about be room for a double bed and perhaps a chair.  But this was not a bedroom, nor was there a chair, or any furniture at all.  The room was clean to the point of being clinical, white walls, white floor, white ceiling, white shelf.  There was nothing except a young woman and a high shelf heavily stacked with what appeared to be white archive boxes. Several thick card boxes with slots at either end for lifting; each had a cardboard lid and had wording made with a black marker pen, but unreadable.

There was a closed-door – it too was white. There was no window, yet the room was not dark due to a single 100-watt bulb hanging by a white cord from the ceiling.  It lit the room brightly with barely any shadow.  The figure on the floor was that of a petite woman or an adolescent girl.  It was hard to tell. She was skinny to the point of being bony, almost starved.  It was difficult to put an age to her or to know how she came to be in the room. She looked sleepy and fragile, and as she began to lift her head up, it was noticeable that the eyes were swollen and puffy, difficult to know what injury she suffered or at whose hands.  There was a sadness, quietness about her, resigned, broken – the sort of look you see on a dog that has been in re-homing kennels too long or who has suffered repeated beatings and has lost all hope and given up.

She got to her feet, surveying her white, sparse surroundings, in just shorts and a vest top, both of which were white and appeared to be several sizes too big. She was not wearing a bra apparent by the sagging bosom and nipples that caused the cotton material to rise and fall. Her feet were bare, and her hair was brunette and clipped up with a sprung loaded comb-type clip, which had sweet pink blossom flowers and was the only colour in the room. It was probably long hair, judging by the tendrils that had escaped down the sides of her face, hiding her pale skin and softening her tired features.

She moved towards the door and tried the handle. It was locked.  She didn’t seem surprised.  She slumped herself in the corner of the room, knees bent, and she rested her head and arms on her bare knees, not enough energy to keep fighting, resigned to her imprisonment.  And then without any warning, there was an intense crashing noise, so loud in such a small room.  The heavily laden shelf above where she had first lain, had given way and come crashing down, all the boxes with it. The boxes ripped apart, and their contents were scattered and strewn all over the clean white floor. Now it looked like something from a bomb site, all sorts of colourful items, many of them now shattered and broken, were out of their boxes and unrecognisable.

The shelf was hanging, swinging precariously, splintered from its fixing, beyond repair and waiting to drop at any moment.  One box remained – it was a much smaller box and looked like it might be saved if the shelf were to hold out or if the woman were to reach for it, though it was doubtful she even knew it was there.  

The shock had got to me.  I could hear and feel my own heart beating fast and wondered if it might break out of my chest.  I was suddenly unbearably hot and unable to get control of my breathing, I put my fingers to my pulse to see if perhaps I was having a heart attack.  My pulse was racing.  I dragged myself into a sitting position, I was wet, sweaty all over, soaking.  I didn’t have pain like that I expected for a heart attack! I tried coughing, though not loud enough to disturb anyone. I had read somewhere that coughing can re-set the rhythm and something that could save your life if having a heart attack alone. Probably something I read on Facebook, and I felt silly for even trying it. Slowly and little by little, my breath that had sounded the same as a racing greyhound after having run a race was getting quieter, and the oxygen was actually having a chance to replenish as I was no longer panting and my pulse was slowing. Not a heart attack then. Just a bad dream.

I turned on the bedside light, got up and got a drink of water, downed half a pint straight off, so followed it with another and then took another glass back to bed. The coolness of the laminate floor and the brightness of the kitchen spotlights had woken me fully, and although I sat on the bed, propped up by my pillow, I didn’t feel like sleeping. I drank some more water and wiggled myself back down the bed. I must try and sleep. Otherwise, I would not be able to function.  The clock on the microwave showed 03:12, and there were literally hours until the sun came up. I knew I should try and sleep, get back to that dream, to that poor woman. Though as I lay there, I felt chilled by the now cold sweat that had made both my clothes and my bedsheets damp, and I could not get warm. Is this what it feels like to have the night sweats, hot flushes of menopause. I couldn’t be menopausal, could I? I was only 40, that has to be too young. I considered for a moment whether I would rather be having a heart attack or the menopause – either way, I was feeling old at 40.  With that thought and the exhaustion, of what I later found out to be my first panic attack, I must have drifted back off to sleep, though the white room or the woman did not reappear.

From the book i may never write

This is an excerpt from the book I may never write and how I remember my first panic attack.  It was one of the scariest experiences of my life.  If you have ever had a panic attack, you know what I’m talking about.  My advice would be to go and see a doctor and tell them how you are feeling.  The panic attack was the beginning of the slippery slope into depression for me.  Anxiety had been exacerbated by my sub-conscious trying to process all the hurt and worry in my sleep. In essence, it was causing physical symptoms like a racing heart, hot flushes, feeling nauseous and feeling faint.

I struggled to get back into the dream, but when I did catch glimpses of it here and there, the analogy that I made was that it was me in the room.  No one had beaten me, I had done this to myself – I was traumatised by the wave of loss from my husband leaving, the failure of the next relationship, my Nan passing away, and the fact that I thought I should have been able to pull myself together – Instead, I’d punished myself and lost weight beyond what was healthy.

The boxes crashing down was symbolic of all those things we put away in a box in the dark corner of our minds – all the wrongs hurt and shame that we never deal with.  When there’s no room to store any more and they crash open like that – they all need to be dealt with. Some memories are broken beyond repair – usually, the ones we tried to hold on to; and some deliberately discarded by the conscious mind in some feigned attempt at self-preservation.

But the mess all needed to be sorted through, and there was only me in the room, thinking I was doing it all by myself.  The truth is, strangers stepped into that room and helped me, one day at a time to clear up the mess and deal with those past hurts.  The door was never locked, but I felt like I wasn’t able to leave the room until the job was done. Oh, and that little box, the one teetering on the remenants of the shelf, the one that didn’t fall because it was tucked away at the back – that was full of the hopes and dreams I had for myself as a kid!

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