“Have you ever fainted?”
I was in hospital, waiting for surgery. The person asking me the question was a young doctor, a member of the anesthetic team. Without thinking, I said ‘No.’ And then I suddenly remembered—what I’d said wasn’t true. I called her back to tell her I had, in fact, fainted once, long before, when I was a teenager. How could I have forgotten?
I’m sitting at home with my mother, casually reading a magazine. Why am I reading this article about some celebrity who had had a heart attack? He felt pains in his chest…Suddenly, I’m feeling pressure in my chest. I’m sweating…I feel sleepy…What’s happening to me? Am I having a heart attack? I can’t keep my eyes open…
I open my eyes. I feel a bit weak, but I seem to be all right. Whatever happened, it’s over. I must have just closed my eyes for a second. And then my mother says “You fainted.” Oh no…
I’d always been afraid of the idea of fainting. I thought it was a sign of weakness, unmanliness. And now it had happened to me…
I suppose that I had suffered a panic attack. I’d always been prone to anxiety about health issues and I suppose the heart attack story triggered it. It was the sense of the victim’s vulnerability: one moment you feel all right, next you are in deadly danger. I’d lived out a kind of miniature version of the same drama: one minute I felt all right, next I was slipping, frightened, into unconsciousness.
I managed to forget it, perhaps because I was too ashamed of myself to think about it, let alone talk about it. Now I see that my shame stopped me from learning from the experience. Learning that we can’t be invulnerable and that we shouldn’t judge ourselves in terms of a false gendered ideal. Now I’m glad I know what it’s like to faint.
Have you ever had your own fainting experience? What did you learn? Share in the comments below.
Michael M lives in London, England, and works in a university.