What no one wants to know

One afternoon ast year, I was walking up the street to catch the bus I was taking to get to my grad school classes at night.

As I was walking, a little girl came out of one of the buildings and started walking just a few feet in front of me. She was around six years-old, and was walking alone. I started to panic. I felt sick to my stomach. I was hoping she’d go inside somewhere, but she just kept walking in front of me.

I was scared for her. This girl is in danger. She’s going to get hurt. I wasn’t scared that she was going to get kidnapped or anything like that. I was scared that she was going to be hurt by me.

I am scared to be near children. It’s a crippling fear of mine. I don’t want to hold anyone’s baby. I don’t want to babysit anyone’s toddler. I avoid children at all costs. When I see them, I run away. It’s part of the reason I have not, and never will, have children of my own.

It’s not so much a fear of children (although some are quite scary). It’s the fear that I will hurt them. The fear that I am a predator, an abuser just like my mother was and is. They say the cycle of abuse continues, the abused become the abusers. I think that’s true, because I think that is me.

It’s a topic you won’t find in any support groups. It’s something hush-hush, something to be ashamed of. And I agree. I never told a soul what I had done until I hesitantly brought it up to my therapist last year, after suffering from painful flashbacks of incidents from my childhood, incidents in which I hurt other children.

I didn’t know any better. I was a child, too, a child who believed that all little girls were supposed to be “helped” in the bathroom, a child who thought it was normal to touch parts that shouldn’t be touched. I didn’t know it was wrong. I didn’t know I was hurting other children. I was just doing what I was taught was okay.

I realized the reality of the situation when I started getting flashbacks in my early 20s. At that point, I knew what I had done. I knew I hurt children, in the same ways I was hurt. I was no better than any other abuser.

I hid it from the world for so long, even after I told my therapist. It was the one topic I never discussed with anyone else, the one topic I could never write about on this blog until today. I was still ashamed. I still am ashamed. And I carry that shame and guilt with me every day of my life.

They say the best way to counteract shame is to tell people the wrongs you have done. I realize that this may hurt me further. I realize some will respond with disgust, and even hatred. But I am taking the chance that at least one person will understand. I can’t be the only one out here. I don’t want to be the only one.

Why talk about this now?

I did something last week, something I’ve been afraid to do. I acted against my fear. In DBT, they call it opposite to emotion action. If your fear is unjustified, you don’t run away or avoid, you approach. And that’s what I did.

I was in the mall trying to get to the bus stop. All of a sudden, a group of Daisy girl scouts ambushed me. Usually, I would dash and run away, but I couldn’t do that because I am still using crutches. I froze for a minute, physically and mentally. Then I remembered, approach don’t avoid. You are not your mother. You are not a predator. I came back to reality, and stood there and listened as they sold me two boxes of cookies. The anxiety was still there, stewing inside of me; the panic was, too. But after a few minutes, it was all over. I got my cookies. I talked to children. And I didn’t hurt them.

I faced one of my biggest fears head on, doing something I had avoided for so long. The fear was still there; I would be lying if I said it wasn’t. But here was evidence that I could be near a child without hurting her.

I shared my experience in program the next day (without sharing the details of what caused the fear in the first place). I’m not sure anyone quite understood the gravity of my fear, because they don’t know my story much at all. But they didn’t judge me.

And neither did my therapist at program. We talked about it more in individual session the following day. It was uncomfortable for me at first, because I was afraid she would ask me the question I had been avoiding every time someones asked have you ever hurt someone? 

My therapist asked if my fear of children was justified or unjustified, and I told her I wasn’t sure. I really wasn’t. In a way it is justified, I thought. I have hurt children in the past. But not in the present. Not as a conscious adult. Not as a perpetrator. So then it’s unjustified. She asked my reasons for the fear being justified. I felt the shame rising up again. I told her I hurt a child, but I didn’t know, I didn’t know, I was just a child. I was afraid of her reaction. This was a woman who knew me all of two months, and yet she knew so much about it already — and now this.

She asked if I ever had urges to hurt a child. I never have. I can’t even imagine myself knowingly hurting a child. It’s not like that at all. But there is a fear of an urge. A fear that if I am left with children, an urge will come and I will hurt them. Like it’s something that has been ingrained in me. Like it’s something I inherited from my mother.

It’s fear that is both justified and unjustified. There are no easy answers. There is no easy explanation. The only thing I know is that I’ve hurt someone, but I am not my mother.

When you approach your fears, over time, they gradually lose their strength and you are able to overcome them. But this is not one of those fears. My therapist said it might get better over time, but I also may always be afraid of being near children; that fear may never go away. That’s understandable, and that’s okay. But it hurt me when she said that. Even though I know she’s right, I realized it’s just another part of life I have lost because of my past.

While children bring most people joy, they will bring me fear. And I may never be able to change that. Just like I can’t change what I have done, who I have hurt, or those who have hurt me.

I am sorry. Every minute of every hour of every day, I am sorry.

I’m Angry at a God I don’t believe in

People like to say that God won’t give you more than you can handle.

But that’s just not true. People are given more than they can handle every day, burden after burden. Sometimes, there doesn’t seem to be an end.

I need to know when it ends, because I’m not really sure how much more I can take.

I’m 31 years old. I should be thinking about my career, about getting a place of my own, about starting a family. I should be excited about life, planning ahead for the great future I will have.

Except I’m not thinking about any of that. Instead I’m thinking about how long I can make it before getting sick again and ending up in the hospital. I’m thinking about CAT scans and surgeries and oxygen tanks. I’m not excited for life; I live in fear of death.

What did I do wrong? How did I end up here? I don’t understand.

I stand here, day in and day out, hanging on by a thread.

And she doesn’t have to struggle at all. She spends her days free of guilt and shame. She fears no one. She worries about nothing. She gets to live in peace. She gets to live without sickness.

And that angers me, too. Why hasn’t God punished her? Why hasn’t anyone punished her? She commits sin after sin, crime after crime, and still she can sit at home and eat her cake. It’s not just. It’s not fair.

She has spent 61 years of her life in freedom, while taking away that freedom from her own children. And we are the ones who pay for her sins. Not her. Us.

This wasn’t supposed to be this way. I spent 29 years of life trapped. When I ran away, I was supposed to be able to experience life for the first time. The struggle was supposed to be over. I was supposed to be free.

Instead I’m faced with reality. The reality that my mother will never be punished, that I will never have justice. The reality that I will always be sick. The reality that I will have spent the majority of my life trapped in that hell.

I know I’ve made mistakes. But I did not deserve this. I’ve had to handle enough in my life, more than any person should ever have to handle. I just want it to stop, but I can’t. Because I am powerless. I’ve always been powerless.

I spend every night crying. I’ve been holding in the anger for so long, and now it’s starting to creep out. I want to scream. I want to hit. I want to destroy something. But all I can do is cry. And I am tired of crying.

I am angry at God. I am angry at my mother. I am angry at the world.

But I can’t be angry at my mother. I didn’t make her stop.

I can’t be angry at the world. They are not responsible for my pain.

I can’t be angry at God. I don’t even think I believe in Him.

So I keep the anger inside, tucked away, hidden from view.

And that anger is killing me, too.

Saved

I passed out last Saturday.

I was in the shower about to condition my hair when I noticed my vision getting blurry. I couldn’t even make out the bottles. I felt weird, and very off-balance. It was similar to how I felt two years before, when I ended up passing out in the hospital. I had just enough reaction time to open the shower curtain and lean on the toilet so I didn’t fall down.

It scared me. I hadn’t passed out like that in two years. And I was alone with the door locked. What would have happened if I fell and got injured? No one could have helped me. It could have been a lot worse than it was.

Since then, I’ve been taking breaks every morning when I shower. I’ll stand for a few minutes, then step out and sit for a few minutes before getting back in. I thought I could just deal with it. But I still didn’t feel right. I was still feeling light-headed, even at random times throughout the day.

We are supposed to report any side effects or events like that to the nurse at the program. But I hesitated for a few days, because I was afraid it would mean I had to stop taking the medication I was taking for the PTSD (it is primarily a blood pressure medication). I finally decided on Wednesday to tell the nurse what had happened. I hadn’t been feeling well that morning and I was scared again.

I told her exactly what I remembered. She asked a few questions and had me sit down to take my blood pressure. Then I saw the confusion and concern on her face. Something’s not right here. My blood pressure was reading exceptionally high — the exact opposite of what she was expecting, since my symptoms all pointed towards low blood pressure. She took it again and ended up with the same result.

At this point, I think we were both a little concerned. Something made her check my other arm. This is so bizarre. I asked her what was wrong. My blood pressure was reading very low. Two different arms with two drastically different blood pressures. She had never seen it before. She wrote down the results, asked me a few more questions about different symptoms and went to consult with the psychiatrist.

When I checked back in with the nurse, she told me the doctor said to stop taking the Cardura right away and see a cardiologist ASAP. This wasn’t normal at all.

I was scared and a bit of an emotional mess. I couldn’t focus on much of anything at that point. I just wanted to pretend like this never happened. Let’s just go on like we never found this out. But I knew I couldn’t do that, and the nurse didn’t want me to do that, either. So I called the cardiologist, explained the situation, and got an appointment for the next day.

Even though part of me wanted to flee that appointment, I went. I also knew I needed to go because the people at program were concerned about me, and insisted that this was important.

They were right. It was important, and my issues weren’t normal. I need further tests, but the cardiologist thinks it is an arterial stenosis, or blockage in one of the arteries on my left side. I need to have a CAT scan and ultrasound to confirm exactly where the blockage is before we can do anything further. The cardiologist also wants me to see a neurologist to rule out seizures, because he says my pass out events are not typical of heart-related fainting.

And now I have to sit and wait. Wait for insurance to approve the tests. Wait for a diagnosis. Wait for more answers.

I don’t want to wait. I don’t even want to deal with this right now. I just…I don’t even know what is happening to me. I am falling apart in more ways than one. And I don’t understand why all of this is happening. What did I do wrong?

My emotions are in all the wrong places. I have been crying off and on and I’m not even sure why. I eat, I cry. I sit down, I cry. I go pee, I cry. I’m a mess.

I was angry at myself for causing this. Maybe if I had just gone to the doctor all these years like a normal person. Maybe if I didn’t smoke. Maybe if I just took better care of myself, I wouldn’t be in this moment right now, dealing with a serious medical issue.

I was angry at the nurse for finding something off and sending me to the cardiologist. If she didn’t check my other arm, this would have never happened. Like it was her fault for all of this. I know it wasn’t her fault at all. And I felt incredibly ashamed for feeling anger towards her in the first place.

The nurse checked my blood pressure today. Part of me hoped that other day was just one big mistake, that the machine was just acting up. But it wasn’t, and once again, there was a drastic difference between each side. I wanted to cry. The nurse was trying to be encouraging, just as she has been these past two months as I’ve continued to struggle with my declining health.

I told her about my feelings towards her, and the misdirected anger. I felt the need to apologize for my feelings that she would have never even known about if I hadn’t told her. She didn’t take it personally. She said a few things, and then she ended with and I may have saved your life.

And she’s right. But I still struggle with whether or not my life is even worth saving anymore.

 

31 Going on 70

I celebrated my birthday last week. My 31st.

In many ways, it was nice for me.

My friend at work brought in an ice cream cake for me the day before my birthday, and we all ate ice cream at 10 o’clock in the morning (because the morning is our afternoon). It really brightened my day, even though it was such a short amount of time, it meant a lot to be around people I care for, and that care for me.

When I went to my PHP program on Monday, one of the women gave me a bag of fancy dark chocolate caramels. Most of the people in program know me for two things: my love of dinosaur chicken nuggets and my affinity for chocolate. Since I stopped smoking a few weeks ago, I replaced my cigarettes with Hershey’s chocolates, willingly provided by the director of the program. It was so nice (and a little embarrassing) to be recognized for my chocolate addiction, and I was so surprised that someone would think to do that for me. My face must have lit up, because people commented that they had never seen me that happy before.

It’s the small things that really get me. It’s weird, because in some ways, I don’t want to be recognized, acknowledged, or even noticed on my birthday. But in other ways, I just wish I could enjoy a day that so many other people get to enjoy. I realize a lot of my issues are tied up in trauma. There’s also the fact that my friend died on my birthday 11 years ago, and it feels wrong to celebrate anything happy on the anniversary of his death.

But I made it through. I took it all in. I didn’t break down. I kept myself busy between program and work, and that was probably for the better. Silence and being unoccupied are usually what lead me down the black hole.

Then life happened. The birthday fun was over and I found myself sitting in the ER two days later in excruciating pain. My knee gave out and I fell. Hard. I just wanted to make sure nothing was broken, as I am the girl who broke her foot walking across the street. I thought I was making a wise decision going to the hospital that night. The doctor came to see me, asked me about my history, and sent me for x-rays. Nothing unexpected.

And then the doctor came in with an odd look on her face. I couldn’t tell if she was perplexed or concerned (or maybe both). She asked if I was sure I hadn’t been in pain before this. I told her no, but that answer wasn’t exactly the truth. How can I explain that I learned to block out pain? How can I explain that I learned to deal with pain in order to survive? How can I explain that I learned to believe that pain was my normal? I couldn’t. So I told her no, because the truth seemed too impossible to explain.

I’ve never seen this degree of damage in someone your age. You have severe arthritic damage to your knee. I’m referring you to a orthopedic specialist for more testing and treatment.

I…just went there because I fell. I didn’t break anything, so I guess that was good. It’s most likely a sprain, possibly a ligament issue, but the doctor wasn’t even concerned about that. She was concerned about the old damage. I’ve never seen this degree of damage in someone your age. Those words stuck with me, because they’re words I’ve heard before. I didn’t need to hear those words again. I didn’t want to hear those words ever again.

In all the ways I am trying to improve my mental health, my physical health is deteriorating. I was just starting to cope with the emphysema, another thing they don’t see “in someone your age.” It took an entire year to get to a point of really acknowledging it. I ended up in the hospital several times and it all became real. I was told in my last hospitalization that I had bronchiectasis (non-CF type), another form of COPD. As if emphysema wasn’t enough, they want to throw ANOTHER diagnosis at me. Blow after blow. 

I don’t want to go to any more doctors. I don’t want emphysema or bronchiectasis or a fucked up knee. I’ve had enough shit in my life already. It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way. I was supposed to get out and get better, not become free and lose my health. I can’t handle any more diagnoses, any more problems, any more hospitalizations.

I’m not really sure what state I’m in. It isn’t shock, because really these are things I should already know. Is it grief? I don’t think so. I’m not sure I have the right to grieve. These things are my fault. If I didn’t smoke, if I went to the doctor more, if I didn’t block out the pain, maybe I wouldn’t be 31 years old with problems I should be having when I’m 70.

How am I supposed to feel? What am I supposed to do?

I am

I went to a session today on self-compassion.

It was actually my idea. It was supposed to be an orientation group for new people, but no one was going and the other groups were getting full. So the lead therapist asked what group topic people wanted to cover instead, and for some reason, I blurted out self-compassion.

I say “for some reason” because I’ve been avoiding self-compassion groups when they’ve been offered. I hate self-compassion. I understand it on an intellectual level, but in practice it feels like one of the hardest things in the world, something I’d rather not (and don’t) bother with.

I don’t know why I said it. Perhaps it was the pain medication kicking in. Perhaps it’s because I wanted to learn how to be compassionate towards myself as I’m learning once again how to navigate the world on crutches. Or maybe another part of me knew it was needed. Regardless of the reason, I said it, and everyone was in agreement.

It was a good group. We each picked out a random card from some kind of motivational collection and shared it with the group. I happened to pick the card with the quote:

“Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.”

Well, shit. Isn’t that applicable to me in so many ways? I spend my days making people smile and laugh. I devote part of my life to supporting others with DID, as well as those who have survived female-perpetrated abuse. I bring the sunshine to others how ever I can; I think I always have. Yet I live in darkness. I give all I can to everyone else, but I keep the support, the goodness, the sunshine from myself. I never really thought about much before until then. Where is my sunshine? Where is my light? It has to be somewhere.
Then there was a writing activity. I usually enjoy writing, but I had a feeling writing about something connected to self-compassion was going to be too much for me. I hesitated, even huffed and puffed once I heard we were writing something (which was ironic, considering I had suggested weeks before to have more writing activities in groups).
We were directed to write an “I am” poem. I had never written one before. It is meant to follow a specific structure, but the therapist said we didn’t have to follow it exactly. The paper had 18 lines, each beginning with I (something) followed by blank space to fill in. I thought the suggested structure was a bit much, so I strayed away from following the guidelines and went with how I felt, still keeping the first two words, but continuing with my own inclinations.
We sat in silence writing out our own poems. Once everyone was finished, we had the option to share. A few people shared theirs, and I sat there looking over my poem, judging what I had written. My writing was dark. Maybe too dark. Did I do this right? I hesitated sharing, as I had done weeks before. But I took a breath and started to  read.
I read the first line out loud and everyone laughed. I thought to myself laugh now, because it gets bad quickly. I waited for the laughter to settle down and I continued to read. I shook a bit, but I didn’t stop. I made it through to the end, looked up and across the room to see one of the women crying. I wanted to apologize, but I caught myself first. I didn’t need to be sorry for someone else’s emotional reaction. I learned that here.
I covered my face with the paper to hide my own tears. I pushed the emotions back down. I wanted to speak but my words were stuck somewhere in the abyss of my mind. All I could get out was “I’m good, I’m okay.” I was spent. Emotionally, physically, and psychologically. It’s very easy for me to write, but not nearly as easy to speak my words out loud. It’s still new to me, still hard to do. But I did it.
I am moderately intelligent and mildly conscious.
I wonder what it’s like to not live in fear.
I hear my mother’s voice inside my head.
I see darkness wherever I go.
I want to know how to experience joy.
I am afraid of life.
I pretend to be happier than I really am.
I feel anxious all he time.
I touch my pen to write my thoughts on paper.
I worry about what the future will bring.
I cry when no one see.
I am unsure of the world around me.
I understand that I cannot be perfect.
I say that I’m okay when I’m really not.
I dream of a different life of freedom.
I try to be better than what she wanted me to be.
I hope I can change the world some day.
I am trying to be me.

She follows me

She follows me.

A monster with eyes all around.

She sees everything.

She is everywhere.

I try to hide, but she finds me.

 

She follows me.

No choice to make. No chance to flee.

I beg her please, just don’t hurt me.

But she doesn’t listen.She breaks me.

 

She follows me.

Attaching to me

Like a leech attaching to skin.

Feeding off my blood

Sucking out the last bit of my soul.

 

She follows me.

Into my body now.

She is a part of me.

Tearing me up from the inside.

Never stopping, never letting go.

 

She follows me.

I cannot stop her.

I cannot stop the pain.

I let it be.

Hoping one day she will let me free.

 

She follows me.

Too weak to fight.

I try to run.

Run for my life.

Now I am free.

 

But she still follows me.

She infiltrates my dreams

and turns them into nightmares.

She lives on every day

Inside of me, my body and my mind.

 

She follows me.

Inside my head

Her voice yelling at me

Telling me everything wrong

Telling me to pay for my sins.

 

She follows me.

She reads my words,

watches my life.

She won’t leave me alone.

She won’t let me be free.

 

She follows me.

Like a storm cloud

raining on my life.

I can’t see the light.

She blocks it from me.

 

She follows me.

I will never be safe.

No matter where I am.

She is there.

Breaking me, killing me.

 

She follows me.

And I cannot escape.

Strength

I am strong.

My strength has gotten me through life, and allowed me to continue beating impossible odds.

My strength allowed me to get through my childhood, broken but still alive.

My strength got me to get out of bed every morning, even when I knew the day would inevitably bring me  pain.

My strength carried me through to the day I finally escaped — the day that I needed all of the strength in the world to bring me to freedom.

Strength helped me walk away, run away, far away.

And my strength helps me still today, as I continue to choose to live rather than to die.

I’m not sure where my strength came from. Is it something inside me? Is it in my heart or in my head? Or does it flow through my body like a life force within me? I don’t know where it came from, or even where it is right now. But I know it’s there, helping me fight, helping me stand up when it is so much easier to just lay down and concede.

I share this strength with others every day. I share my story with the world; the good and the bad, the ups and the downs. Because my strength isn’t always so easy to see. But they can see it, sometimes more than I can see it myself. When I feel weak, I am reminded of the strength it took for me to get away. Incredible strength, that not everyone has, but I have it. I always had it. And now my strength gives others hope that they can be strong, too — that they can survive even when it seems impossible.

I used to hate the phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” because I believed my experiences showed weakness, not strength. I was standing, breathing, bleeding, but I was dead inside. That wasn’t strength. Strong people don’t feel the way I felt for so long. Strong people don’t feel at all.

But I was strong. My experiences may have knocked me down, but they did not kill me. They made me come back to life stronger than ever, with a will to live and the ability to share that will with the world, to change lives for the better.

My strength gives me hope, even when everything seems hopeless.

Strength is not about winning the battle. It’s about fighting, even when the odds are against you.

I wrote this in group today. I’m not even sure where it came from. I stared at the paper for a while before I even started to write, completely at a loss for words.

What specific attribute, quality, or skill distinguishes you from everyone else? How did you come to develop it? What positive things has it brought to your life? How are you able to share it with others?

What distinguishes me? Nothing. My thoughts automatically went to thinking that I was less than human. Unworthy. How could an unworthy person have anything special about them?

After 10 minutes or so, I started to think of things other people told me about me. I recalled many people speaking of my strength. Oddly, in those moments, I never saw myself as strong. I’d nod my head in agreement, yet inside my head, I was discrediting everything they were saying. I struggle with accepting positive things because I became so accustomed to hearing the negative that positive seems like a foreign concept to me.

I wrote down I am strong. Then it was like something clicked in me. I kept on writing without even thinking of what was coming out on paper. And I ended up with this.

Even after it was done, part of me wanted to rip it up. It doesn’t make any sense. No one will understand this. It’s horrible. I hesitated sharing it with the group because I believed the same thoughts I was having in my head were thoughts that they were going to have as well. Part of me was ashamed.

But I tried to stop the judgments. I took a breath and read it out loud. Even as my voice trembled and my legs and hands shook from anxiety, I read it through until the end. There was something different about reading the words out loud. I wanted to cry, but I held it in. This was my truth, spoken out loud. I made myself vulnerable. I didn’t have to. I didn’t have to share.

But I did, and that alone is an example of strength.