Lunchtime trauma break

In early 2020, I popped out for lunch following a challenging morning in clinic.

I was in a rush, so decided to pop into a rather uncelubrious convenience shop (“Choice of Horsham”) on the Brighton Road in Horsham for a sandwich.

I marched to the sandwich fridge and selected something easy to wolf down between appointments, and a couple of other lunchy items.

I went to the cash desk, and was surprised to find nobody there….

I waited, waited, waited… did a very British thing of pretending to cough to attract attention, and then got bored and started looking around the shop to see if I could find the shopkeeper.


I called through an open door in the back of the shop – NOBODY.

I put all my items back, and walked to the door… but it was LOCKED!

Here I am on the CCTV camera:

At the point when I took this photo, I actually thought it was quite funny. I thought “only me” – except, actually, NOT “only me” at all – this could have happened to ANYONE who had done the same as me. It could have happened to someone who urgently needed medication, for example – or someone who was having a heart attack – and then what?

With this in mind, I put up a humourous post on Facebook:

Help! I’m locked in a shop in Horsham! What do I do?

But hang on, did I really find it funny? Or was my laughter and jokey-looking post on Facebook actually a sympathetic reaction – aka was I starting to go into fight/flight? After all, I was completely exasperated by the situation rather than amused.

Replies to my post started coming in straight away – mainly concern and offers to help, advice suggesting I call the police, that sort of thing. AND laughter reactions, and a comment saying “This could only happen to you”.

That was it. I felt attacked. Why would this “only happen to” me? What an unkind comment. Even worse, I found a voicemail from the same person absolutely cracking up laughing – and someone else guffawing in the background – and saying “I’m laughing so much – this could only happen to you”.

I decided to call 101 – the UK non-emergency number for the police. Amazingly, I got through to someone straight away. When I explained my predicament, I was surprised that I was put straight through to the emergency Fire Service on 999! I felt very guilty for taking up a 999 line, as I didn’t feel my situation was life-threatening, but I did feel imprisoned against my will, with no way out and no way of contacting the owner of the shop (I looked everywhere for contact details!).

Within 5 minutes, a HUGE fire engine arrived, laden with firefighters!

This is NOT the same fire engine – but it was one similar to this. With thanks to Kai Butcher for this image

The fire crew was not entirely helpful, however. It was not their fault, but apparently it’s illegal for them to smash a door down to release someone who’s been falsely imprisoned. So we had to communicate through the door, which was surprisingly soundproof!

I was asked whether I’d looked for a contact number of the owner – duh, why didn’t I think of that?

And then… the worst thing happened: a curious crowd of onlookers started to gather, and one guy started FILMING ME – locked in a shop on his phone! Not only that but people were LAUGHING at me!

At this stage my jovial mask fell right off. I went and hid behind a shelving unit and blinked back tears, clenched my fists and muttered to myself “FFS”, or similar.

Finally, the shopkeeper breezed in, past the fire service, totally and utterly oblivious. You have never heard language like mine at that moment! My goodness – mouth like a drain. But justifiably so – I was in FIGHT mode. I was FURIOUS that this person had just wasted hundreds calling out a full-sized fire engine and crew, and that I’d blocked a 999 line. I was furious to be the centre of attention when all I wanted was a quick lunch! The fire service started trying to interrogate me to try to get to the bottom of what had happened, which was utterly ridiculous under the circumstances. I said “I have no time for this, bye” and literally RAN back to the clinic – FLIGHT. I got back to my room and burst into tears.

Thankfully, my next appointment was the Bowen Therapist who worked next door, as we were doing a therapy swap. So I explained what had happened, and we ended up going for a walk and a much-needed cup of tea.

Annoyingly, when I got back home, and could not stop raging – because the “abuse” – aka jokes from Facebook acquaintances who didn’t get it – continued all evening. I couldn’t eat, and I couldn’t sleep – for 4 days. FREEZE. Eventually, I was so exhausted that I had to contact my GP to ask for a sleeping tablet. Occasionally, a lack of sleep is far more dangerous than a one-off sleeping aid – and it worked.

I expect you’ll be asking why on earth I didn’t use SSP immediately at this point. The answer is because SSP in early 2020 was a physical device – an mp3 player, and unfortunately both my units were out on loan for another week! Of course, once I had them back, this was the first thing I did.

So let’s examine this experience through a polyvagal lens:

My trauma reaction

Trauma can be defined as a frightening situation that one has no control over, and which is inescapable. This was indeed the case, being falsely imprisoned in a horrible little shop for over an hour. But what made my nervous system ramp up into fight/flight was peoples reactions, including social media, phone calls and texts and to top it all, I was filmed by a stranger and my imprisonment clocked by a crowd of unsupportive spectators. I felt immense shame and embarrassment, so by the time the shopkeeper appeared, I of course let rip at him – and then fled, not even looking behind me. When these reactions by others continued into the evening, I felt totally unsupported and hence slumped into an almighty freeze, only to be rescued by a pharmaceutically-induced sleep followed by an emergency round of the Safe and Sound Protocol the following week.

After a trauma reaction, our physiological state can end up pendulating between fight/flight and rest/digest, or rest/digest and freeze – or between fight/flight and freeze. This was my case until I used SSP, which regulates my reactions, as it helps my nervous system to respond appropriately and flexibly to situations.

Before that particular round of SSP, I was so enraged that I complained to the Fire Service and whoever is in charge of Health and Safety at the local council. Neither wanted to know. I felt totally dismissed, and was made to feel as if I was over-reacting. I even called Citizens Advice, and the call handler also laughed at me – so I complained about her too. Honestly, it was a rabbit hole of complaints about people and situations – all caused by one shopkeeper who has absolutely no idea of how much grief he had caused me through the foolish act of not checking his shop before he left.

I would also like to say to anyone reading this – thank you for listening! It is very important to say that while I’m normally not a pharmaceutical fan, there is a time and place for knockout sleeping tablets, and this was it for me. I needed sleep in order to return to a safe and sound state.

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