Some things, some people, are just too broken to be fixed, no matter how hard you try. Some things, some people, are not worth trying to save.
I think it’s the feeling trapped that’s worst for me. Feeling like I can’t get out and I can’t say no.
My NP was not insensitive or ruthless. I think my post yesterday made her sound that way, and she wasn’t. It just felt that way to me, and my feelings do not always reflect reality. In reality, she was kind and understanding. I know she recognized that the discussion about an exam triggered me. I mean, we went from joking about Star Trek and debating the merits of particular knitting patterns (seamless sweater patterns FTW) at the beginning of the appointment to me staring at the floor and giving one or two word answers. She knows I have a history of sexual abuse, although she doesn’t know the severity. (She may have guessed from the severity of my reactions that it was pretty bad, but we haven’t discussed any details.)
She tried to make me more comfortable with it. She said she wouldn’t do an internal exam because she knew I couldn’t do that (yet). She said I could bring someone with me, and they could stay with me but not see anything. (I didn’t tell her I’m so pathetic I don’t have anyone to bring.) She said some people take Valium or Ativan right before the appointment. She even said that if I couldn’t do an exam, we could just talk about how things were going with the Nexplanon. She said it was my choice.
But for me, it never feels like what happens to my body is my choice. I lose the ability to say no to people in positions of power and authority. It feels like they’re going to do whatever they want to me anyway, so it’s better to agree to it. Then they don’t get mad, so they don’t hurt you as bad. So I say yes and okay when what I mean is I’m so scared you’re going to hurt me, and I really need you to be kind and gentle with me, and I need you to make me feel safe. Since I can’t say what I really need to say, it never feels safe. It never feels like my choice. No choice, no voice.
I felt trapped in that exam room yesterday. I guess I could’ve said, “I’m sorry, I just can’t deal with this right now. I need to go.” Or I could’ve said, “I’m feeling really overwhelmed, and I’m starting to dissociate.” Or I could’ve said, “I’m trying to work with you, but I need you to slow down even more with me.” Someone could’ve said those things, but I don’t think I could’ve. It was taking everything I had not to go into a total dissociative shutdown. My vision kept going blank, and I kept blinking over and over to bring it back. My ears were ringing. I couldn’t be articulate; one or two words or a nod was all I could get out. And then she wanted me to look at her when I said I’d come back in three months, and I don’t think she understood why I couldn’t make eye contact.
People who don’t live with the extreme shame can never quite understand it. It doesn’t make sense to them. They don’t understand the intensity and persistence of the shame of someone else abusing me, even once I’ve accepted and come to believe that it wasn’t my fault. Then there’s the shame of having a body, which is impossible to explain since everyone has one, and I don’t find other people’s bodies shameful. The shame of not having anyone close or trusted enough to bring with me for an appointment. I couldn’t explain my shame that instead of being my normally intelligent, articulate, adult self, I couldn’t help shutting down and turning into a terrified, barely-verbal child. None of that makes sense to normal people.
I was trapped. In my reality, I couldn’t leave or say no. I couldn’t even communicate the depth of my distress, so I was completely alone with it. And now I’m alone with the aftermath. The acute trigger has subsided, but I’m still feeling raw and vulnerable. Body memories, phantom touches, intrusive thoughts and memories, severe anxiety about an appointment that’s not for three months. A feeling that I was violated, even though I know I wasn’t. And the incredible shame crushing my chest.
Had an appointment this morning with my OB-GYN nurse-practitioner. It was just to get my Nexplanon implant put in finally. (First I was on vacation, then they didn’t get their shipment of implants on time, and then I got my period the week of the election, and I didn’t have time to do it that week. So it’s been several months that I’ve been trying to get this done.
The procedure itself went fine. It’s just a shot of lidocaine, and then they stick a little plastic tube under the skin in your arm. I guess some people get squeamish about it, though, because she made a big deal out of, “The lidocaine will sting, but only for a minute.” I stick needles in myself twice a month, and the Humira stings a hell of a lot more than the lidocaine. I had to bite my tongue so I didn’t laugh when she was making a big deal about the lidocaine shot not being a big deal. I also had to try not to laugh when she made sure I understood I could have unpredictable bleeding with Nexplanon. I have unpredictable crapping my pants, which sometimes also involves bleeding. So some random bleeding? Really not a big deal. And there’s a 20% chance this could stop my periods altogether, which would be amazing.
But then she basically had me cornered. She wants me to come back in three months for an exam. “Just an external exam,” she said. (She knows I have sexual abuse issues.) She specifically mentioned a breast exam, an abdominal exam, and looking at my vulva. (“Without touching,” she said.) I get the point, I do. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer before she turned 50, so I’m at higher risk. I can handle her poking at my belly–god knows my gastroenterologist does that enough already. Maybe I can handle a breast exam, but that’s iffy. But anything involving my pants not being on means MAJOR panic. The only reason I can deal with colonoscopies is that my gastroenterologist knocks me out completely, so I don’t have to be aware of it at all. But I know myself well enough to know that if I’m already there in the office, and she tells/asks me to do something, I’ll let her. I’ll even say it’s okay if she asks, even if it’s really not okay.
Even the conversation was incredibly triggering. I went from talking about Star Trek and knitting patterns to staring at the floor, barely able to speak. Mostly all I could do was nod or shake my head, and what I did say was just one or two word answers. “I guess,” “Okay,” “I don’t know,” “Maybe.” She wanted me to look at her and say I’d come back in three months, and I couldn’t. I couldn’t look at her, but I did say I’d come back. “We can just talk about how the Nexplanon’s working if that’s all you can do,” she said. But they don’t schedule appointments that far out. That was weird to me–I mean, Christ, I’m lucky if I can get an appointment with my gastroenterologist within three months. So that means I have to call and schedule an appointment in March, and I don’t know if I can make myself do that. But now I feel like I have to because I said I would. If they’d just been able to schedule me for an appointment while I was there, it would’ve made it a whole lot easier.
Since then, I can’t really get or stay grounded. It started in her office–my vision started to go weird like it does when I dissociate, where the colors get dimmer, and things blur and start to disappear. I managed to get home–C took me, and apparently I faked it well enough that she couldn’t tell anything was wrong–but since then, I’ve been really messed up and out of it. I keep shaking, and I can’t get warm no matter how high I turn the heat up or how many blankets I hide under. I listened to a guided relaxation recording that helped a little, but I’m still really not okay.
I don’t want to have a body anymore.
Why are you afraid?
A man in a top hat passed under the bedroom window.
I couldn’t have been
more than four at the time.
It was a dream: I saw him
from high up, where I should’ve been
safe from him.
Do you remember your childhood?
When the dream ended
terror remained. I lay in my bed–
my crib maybe.
I dreamed I was kidnapped. That means
I knew what love was,
how it places the soul in jeopardy.
I knew. I substituted my body.
But you were hostage?
I was afraid of love, of being taken away.
Everyone afraid of love is afraid of death.
I pretended indifference
even in the presence of love, in the presence of hunger.
And the more deeply I felt
the less able I was to respond.
Do you remember your childhood?
I understood that the magnitude of these gifts
was balanced by the scope of my rejection.
Do you remember your childhood?
I lay in the forest.
Still, more still than any living creature.
Watching the sun rise.
And I remember once my mother turning away from me
in great anger. Or perhaps it was grief.
Because for all she had given me,
for all her love, I had failed to show gratitude.
And I made no sign of understanding.
For which I was never forgiven.
–Louise Gluck, from Vita Nova
If I’m being honest, this, even more than the depression and the financial hopelessness, is why I have to die. Because the magnitude of the gifts, the help people try to offer me, is balanced by the scope of my rejection. Nothing gets through to me, no matter how good people’s intentions are or how hard they try.
I kill everything anyone tries to grow for me. All that’s left are dead leaves and dry soil.
For which I never deserve to be forgiven.
My case manager keeps calling me. I’ve been avoiding her for the last few weeks because I just can’t fake it anymore, and I’m afraid if she sees how bad things are, I’ll get hospitalized. That whole agency is really enthusiastic about hospitalizing people, and I feel like I can’t trust any of them.
I mean, they haven’t exactly done anything that would inspire trust. This case manager’s not quite as bad as the last one, but she’s still pretty much useless. The sum total of what she’s done for me in the months I’ve been seeing her is that she brought me one housing application and took me grocery shopping once. Pretty fucking impressive case management, huh? I still have no therapist. I’m still constantly broke, behind on all my bills, with no hope of ever catching up. I’m still effectively housebound. But hey, she took me grocery shopping once, so clearly they’re rendering highly effective mental health services.
I want to pick up the phone the next time she calls and scream, “Stop fucking calling me! You’re not going to help me, so just leave me the fuck alone!” I want to lash out. I want to make her hurt because I hurt worse, and instead of helping like she’s supposed to, she just leaves me to suffer alone. I mean, she’s never once asked about my symptoms or how I’m coping. Nothing beyond the rote, “Hey, how’s it going?” when I first see her.
Eventually I’m going to have to answer the phone or she’ll send the cops after me. That would trigger the hell out of me, and I’d probably end up in the hospital. Of course, if I try to terminate, she could use that as “proof” that I’m refusing necessary treatment (hah, what fucking treatment?) and get the cops to drag me off to the hospital. It feels like I’m screwed no matter what I do. I just can’t keep seeing her and acting like everything’s okay, knowing that if I said things weren’t okay, the only additional services I’d get would be hospitalization. I can’t see her because I just want to scream at her.
I don’t know why I’m so angry at her. I don’t like the person it turns me into: it makes me want to hurt her, to make her cry. I don’t like the part of me that makes me want to take out my pain on other people. There’s no reason for me to be this angry at her. I mean, I don’t even want to hurt my father like this anymore, and the things he did to me were far worse. I want to destroy this nice but useless woman, and I don’t even understand why I hate her this much.
In college, I lived in the nerd dorm (a dorm just for students and professors in my integrated honors program). We were big on games: chess, Risk, and Dungeons & Dragons were often played in the lobby as well as many video games (mostly MMORPG’s) in the TV lounge and computer lab. But there was one game that was the ultimate game. It was simply called The Game, and the only rule of The Game was that when you think about The Game, you have lost. It was no uncommon to hear someone mutter, “Dammit, I just lost The Game!” That was inevitably followed by groans of, “Goddammit, you made me lose too!”
The point of this, besides making all of you also lose The Game, is to express how I feel about positive thinking and gratitude in our culture.
There are times when I genuinely feel positive and grateful. Those are nice experiences, and I relish them. I also know that gratitude and positive thinking work for a great many people, and that’s awesome. I’m glad people have found things that work for them and make them happier with their lives.
But my problem is how often people demand that everyone be positive and grateful. There’s this moral imperative at work, and in a lot of cases it’s used as a way to silence people who aren’t feeling good, who lack things they need, who are pointing out real problems that need to be addressed. Too often, positive thinking and gratitude are like The Game: if you think of anything negative, you lose, and you will be publicly shamed.
It’s my experience that it’s utterly unhelpful to tell people how they should feel about anything. Not only is it unhelpful, but it’s often destructive and creates a cycle that makes people feel even worse. Picture this scenario: I mention to someone that I’m depressed and anxious because I don’t know if I’ll be able to pay my rent, and their response is, “Well, you should just be grateful that you have a roof over your head at all.” I feel invalidated–he doesn’t think my problems are important because other people’s problems are worse. I feel anxious–oh god, I can’t say anything about this, and I need to be grateful, why am I not grateful yet, oh god oh god, come on, be grateful right now or he’s going to hate me, come on, what the fuck is wrong with you, it’s not that hard, just be grateful, for fuck’s sake! I feel guilty–I shouldn’t have bothered anyone with my problems when other people are worse off. I’m a terrible person, and I should probably just kill myself so no one else has to deal with me. Now I feel worse, and I’m feeling like I can’t trust anyone to talk to them about what’s worrying me because I might be invalidated again. Now I’m depressed, anxious, suicidal, and totally isolated.
I’m sure that the people who’ve told me to think positive or be grateful for what I have were trying to help, and I totally get that no one is perfect and always knows the right thing to say to someone in distress. I know it’s hard to see someone in distress and feel helpless. We want to fix things, and if there’s nothing material we can do to help, it’s easy to fall into the trap of telling people to just feel differently. But distress is like The Game: the more you try not to think about it, the more you lose.
I can’t speak for what helps other people, but when I’m in distress, what’s much more useful to me than prescriptive gratitude is having someone just be present with me and validate my experience. Most of the time, what helps most is, “Yeah, that really does suck. I’m sorry you’re hurting. You don’t deserve that. I’m here, and I care about you. Is there anything I can do to help?” What helps most is people remembering that I exist, even when I’m quiet–calling, stopping by, just generally letting me know that they remember me and care about me. I don’t expect anyone to fix me, and I don’t want to put the burden of making me feel better on anyone. I just want to feel like I’m not alone and invisible and insignificant. I want to feel like my feelings are real and invalid and important and allowed, even when they’re not easy ones to experience or witness. Those things, rather than being told that I should feel grateful, are what make me feel grateful.
If writing gratitude lists or reading self-help books about positive thinking helps you, great. I’m truly glad you’ve found something that makes you happier–everyone deserves that. But please don’t assume that that approach will work for me, and please don’t keep beating me over the head with it. I mean, I often need suppositories and enemas to maintain my health, but you don’t see me shoving things up other people’s butts when they have GI problems just because that’s what works for me. (Sorry, you know I had to throw a poop joke in there somewhere.)
I’m not as intensely suicidal anymore, but I really just don’t see the point of being alive.
Since the election, I have nothing to do with my time. Literally all I do is sit in bed all day and waste time on my computer. There is no point to my existence.
Nothing holds my attention. I try to knit, to watch Netflix, to read, to write. Nothing interests me. I force myself to do it, but that doesn’t work for very long, and there are so many hours to fill.
And I hurt. I don’t know what it is with the roving joint pains–one joint will hurt badly for weeks or sometimes months, and then for no reason that pain will stop. Soon it starts back up in a different joint. Right now it’s my left wrist again. I have a brace from when I sprained my wrist doing kung fu, and it helps some…but it makes it hard to type or knit. And my belly hurts. I think I might be heading into another UC flare, which is awesome, especially since I might have to come off the 6-MP soon. I’ve spent the last two weeks telling myself it was just PMS-related mini-flare symptoms, but since my period hasn’t happened, I don’t think I can blame PMS. Oh, and it’s IBD Awareness Week, so clearly my body has impeccable timing and a fucked-up sense of humor.
I barely have an appetite, either. I mean, I get hungry, but I don’t eat for hours because I just don’t care enough to get food. C made me a gluten-free vegan cheesecake a week ago. Ordinarily I’d have eaten the whole thing in about two days (no judging), but I’ve still got some left over. I’ve got a big container of Thanksgiving leftovers, too. They’re good, but I haven’t touched them. Oh, and there’s also lentil soup C made. It’s not even that I’m too tired/weak to prepare anything–literally all I’d have to do was take them out of the refrigerator and microwave them. But I just don’t care enough.
I’d fooled myself into thinking the weakness was getting at least a little better, but it turns out I only thought it was better because I didn’t do anything beyond sitting in bed and getting up to use the bathroom. Yesterday I cleaned my microwave. It took all of five minutes, and that’s a generous estimate. But then I couldn’t stand up, collapsed on the kitchen floor, and had to crawl back to my bed. How am I supposed to have ANY quality of life when I can’t even stand for five minutes? I’m terrified that whatever’s going on is getting worse. I still haven’t had any luck reaching my gastroenterologist for a referral to a neurologist. I might ask C to see if my ex-nurse, S, can make some calls. Often medical professionals get a much better response than patients–sad but true.
I’m just so tired of existing like this. There’s no light. I don’t feel an immediate need to kill myself, but I can’t just keep living like this, either. I want to feel like there’s some meaning, but I can’t see anything in this fog.
Things are marginally better, I think.
I actually had a nice Thanksgiving. The outpatient program I used to be part of does a Thanksgiving thing every year, and I went to that with my landlady and her partner. (My landlady works there.) I almost didn’t go because I was afraid I’d start crying in the middle of it, but I went and didn’t cry. Didn’t even want to. Good food, and some of the leftovers are now in my fridge. (Thank god, because my food stamps money is out, and the new money won’t come through until December 8.)
I’m looking forward to Christmas with my mom in Florida, so that’s useful. She mentioned that my Christmas stocking that my grandmother knitted when I was born got lost when she moved, and she doesn’t have a stocking for herself or my stepfather either…so I’m knitting Christmas stockings. She’s also having trouble finding most of her Christmas ornaments (may have also gotten lost in the move), so if I have time, I’m going to knit her some ornaments, too. But she’s upset because a lot of the ornaments she’s missing are ones my sisters and I made as kids, and those can’t be replaced.
I’m still massively depressed. I’m spending most of my time in bed, and a lot of it sleeping. My sleep cycle is completely fucked up–I sleep for most of the day, get up between 4:00 and 8:00 PM, stay up until 2:00 or 3:00 AM, sleep some more, get up between noon and 3:00 PM…it’s screwed up. I could probably get back into a semi-normal sleep pattern if I tried, especially if I used my light box, but honestly I just don’t care enough. Every time I sleep, I have bad dreams and nightmares, but I don’t even really care. I wake up in a tangle of sweaty sheets with my heart racing, but it’s still easier to be asleep than awake.
I’m not as intensely, imminently suicidal as I have been the last several weeks, but I still just don’t know how long I can keep going like this. It’s no way to live. I’ll do okay for food in December because my mother will pay for food for the two weeks I’m there, but I’ll come back to the same financial situation. And the depression and anhedonia and utter purposelessness…that’ll all still be with me too. I keep thinking I should ask my psychiatrist for antidepressants or some other drug something to make me okay, but then I remember there is no miracle drug. I’ve already been on nearly every psych med in the book, and they don’t help. But it feels like the only option available to me, since support and therapy are basically inaccessible to me. There’s some part of me that still wants to believe that there’s some solution, even though I know there’s not.
I can keep going for a while, but a life like this is not sustainable. No one was meant to live like this.
It feels like they’re everywhere right now.
My mother wants to talk about Ferguson and how people just need to take personal responsibility because clearly that would solve all the problems. My sister the cop posts an “I support Darren Wilson” badge on Facebook. She wants her department to have more riot gear to crush the race riots she thinks are inevitable.
These are two people who know–know–what cops can and will do to people who can’t defend themselves. They’ve seen it; they’ve lived it. Just like I have.
My father, my mother’s first husband, was a cop. He sexually abused and raped me for sixteen years. He hit me. He nearly drowned me in a bathtub when I was three years old. He regularly suffocated me, though I don’t know whether it was to keep me quiet during the abuse or to make me think he would kill me or both. He put his gun to my head more than once. He made me watch him kill my dog. He forced me to choose whether he’d rape me or my sister. He let his criminal justice students rape us too. And he taught me that no one would ever believe me if I told because he was a cop and I was nothing.
My mother doesn’t know the details, but my sister the cop does–she lived it too. I sheltered her from as much of it as I could, but she still got hurt badly. She was the one who told, originally. I would’ve gone on denying it forever because I needed to have one parent who didn’t hurt me, but once she disclosed, I had to support her. She’s my sister.
We tried to have him investigated–well, my mother did, really. I don’t recall her ever asking me or my sister if that’s what we wanted. It was a complete joke. No jurisdiction wanted it. The abuse occurred across three states and several cities, so no one wanted it. Everyone said it was someone else’s jurisdiction because who wants to investigate the cop-turned-criminal-justice-professor? Finally, the Iowa State Police took the case. They wouldn’t talk to me at all because I’m crazy. They interrogated my sister, who would’ve been 16 or 17 at that point, until she threw up in a trash can. They polygraphed my father, got an inconclusive result (OMG, a cop might know how to fake the notoriously unreliable polygraph? Inconceivable!), and dropped the whole case. Welcome to the Blue Wall of Silence, where victims don’t matter because cops have all the power.
Do they really not see the connection? Do they really not think that giving people nearly unlimited power over people’s lives, freedom, and even bodily integrity with almost no oversight is dangerous? Do they really not understand that the system that let Darren Wilson shoot Michael Brown and abuse protesters and journalists is the same system that let our father get away with raping us for 16 years? How can they not see that?
I feel so, so alone in all of this.
And then there’s Bill Cosby. Another upstanding citizen who gets away with sexually assaulting women for years because he’s such a nice guy and has influence and power. It’s all the same: the victims don’t matter because the rapists are such nice guys, you know, aside from all the rape.