Ok, so I’ve been telling anyone and everyone who will listen for 5 minutes about how happy I am to have not fainted for an entire year, a feat that my body has not accomplished since I was 12 (I am now 26). It’s exciting for me, and I think this shows, therefore shaping the responses I get: “That’s so great!” “Congratulations!” “I know how hard you’ve worked for this!”
Thank you, thank you!
However, and this is a big HOWEVER, I’m starting to feel like maybe, just maybe, understanding is getting a bit lost in the sea of excitement. I don’t always feel like people realize that Fainting, especially Chronic Fainting, is a really serious medical problem that comes with some really serious consequences and some seriously heavy emotional baggage.
For instance, I was talking to a friend about how for the past 13 years, I’ve had my own personal chaperone any time I leave the house, in the form of either my mom or my sister. This is a safety thing. As in, after that one time when you passed out in the bathroom at mini golf and no one knew and continued to go about playing without you while you were out for who-knows-how-long, maybe it would be better if you go with your sister so SOMEONE would notice you’d gone missing and perhaps, I don’t know, look for your unconscious body somewhere.
I was trying to explain this to said friend, and how yeah, it’s kind of weird to be 26 and take your 27-year-old sister everywhere (or you know, your mommy), when friend said this:
“But you don’t faint any more so why do you still do that?”
I haven’t fainted for a year, sure, but I didn’t know that when it was happening. The universe didn’t send me a postcard that said, “Congratulations, your system will remain conscious for the next 365 consecutive days!” I still spent most every day of 2014 into 2015 thinking, “Am I going to faint now? Is it going to happen here? Is it going to happen there? Is it safe for me to do X when I don’t know if I might faint?”
Hence, the escort.
The other thing is that I don’t know that people in general really understand fainting. Heck, I don’t know that I understand fainting, and it actually happens to me. Funny enough, I’ve personally never seen someone else faint.
Recently I had the honor and privilege of hearing Dr. Blair P. Grubb speak at the Dysautonomia International Convention. Dr. Grubb literally wrote the first (and only?) textbook on fainting, entitled “The Fainting Phenomenon.” He gave a speech at the convention about Syncope (medical term for fainting) and what happens to your body when you lose consciousness.
It was during this talk that I was hit with a little nugget of information, which now that I know it seems super obvious, but that I had not previously realized:
When one faints, one’s heart stops.
If it doesn’t happen to stop altogether, it reaches such a low point (bradycardia) that Dr. Grubb said, “It might as well be asystole.” (Asystole=Flatline=Heart Stops)
Now to be super duper clear, this is not for an extended period of time, it’s less than a minute, and you do not need to be defibrillated or brought back to life or anything like that.
Please don’t freak out.
Truth time: I kind of freaked out.
I mean really, how could I not know this? I asked my mom if she knew this, and she was all, “Of course. What did you think happened?”
After I got done sighing heavily and rolling my eyes (Jeez, Mom!), I thanked her for not enlightening me sooner, because OHMYGOSH if I had know that I was Princess-Bride-Mostly-Dead multiple times a month for 12 years, I feel like I would have needed way more therapy than I already had. (Which was kind of a lot…)
I feel like maybe the general public doesn’t realize this little (ok HUGE) fact either. Fainting isn’t exactly super common, and so the media is probably the first or only place that people can see it occur. Movies and TV are so unrealistic when it comes to portraying unconsciousness. See, for example, “Snow White.”
When I faint, I am not Snow White or some other dainty fainting lady whose eyelids flutter softly as she gently falls onto a grassy knoll or is caught in the strong arms of the gentleman standing next to her.
Nope. When I faint, it is messy. My body decides to release any and all retained water, so I end up looking like I just took a shower and could ring out my clothes from the sweat. Not to be too graphic, but luckily I’ve never peed myself, but that happens to other people. (I am so, so sorry, Other People.) I turn a horrible shade of pale, which has been described to me as “corpse colored.” My mom has repeatedly told me I look like I’m dead (which makes so much sense to me now, see above epiphany). I’ve occasionally had convulsive episodes, in which one flails about like a fish out of water. I can be unconscious or at least vaguely unresponsive for minutes.
I am not swooning and in need of a fluffy couch and a cocktail.
Fainting is serious shit (pardonez-my-francais).
So yes, I’ve made my mom and/or my sister my human service dog for the last decade (really wishing I looked into an actual service dog when this started; it’s not the best option for me anymore).
And yes, it’s going to take me a while to break out of what has become a habit deeply rooted in a very real and repeatedly reinforced fear.
But seriously, aren’t you super glad that I didn’t put that all on you when we were 15 or even 25? Because I feel like that’s what I would have been doing if I showed up to our outing solo- it’s not like I can call for help/keep myself safe/otherwise be responsible for my person when I am again, mostly dead. Aren’t you glad I didn’t just assume that you would do all that on my behalf without knowing that’s where an evening out might have (ok, probably would have) ended up?
I know that other fainters out there are going to have really differing opinions on this. I know that there are some people who are going to tell me that you can’t live your life in fear, you have to get out there anyway, or somehow try to insinuate that it’s not as big a deal as I think it is, blah blah blah.
I get it. I hear you.
But your situation is not my situation, and vice versa. This started for me when I was 13, was switching schools for high school, was leaving all my friends, was having an exceptional amount of family issues going on, etc. I wasn’t properly diagnosed for 7 years.
Sue me for developing trust issues.
However, and again this is a big HOWEVER. I am 26 now. I have been faint-free for an entire year, and then some. It is, in fact, time to start figuring out how to rewire some previously held beliefs in my brain. I can do that now, but I did need to get to this point first. So bear with me, ok?
I joke that I’m in transition, trying to figure out how to be a person, but that is exactly what it feels like. Patience, friends, I’ll get there. I’m trying really (really, really, really) hard.
In the meantime, thank you for the congratulations. Thank you for the support. Maybe now you have a better sense of why all of this means so, so much to me 🙂
What to do if someone faints:
~Get them into a safe position lying down if they are not already.
~Elevate their legs. This doesn’t have to be drastic, just at least 12 inches/1 foot off the ground.
~Check for breathing and pulse.
~If consciousness is not restored after 1 minute, call emergency personnel.
~Once consciousness is restored, do not rush the person to get up. Keep them lying down for a few minutes to recover.
~NEVER EVER put anything in a person’s mouth while they are unconscious. I am not going to swallow my tongue even if I am convulsing. Don’t try to get me to drink water or eat ice chips- I am unconscious, I can’t swallow right now. If you think the person might vomit, roll them gently onto their side.
~DO NOT slap my face. This happens in movies. It only works in movies. As I regain consciousness, I can feel you slapping my face, but I can’t tell you to stop. The only thing this accomplishes is to make me want to slap you just as soon as my arms work again. Same goes for pouring water on my face. It’s just not a good move, friends.
~Be friendly about it. It doesn’t have to be the end of the world. But it will probably be the end of our outing, so take me home, ok?