Work(in)ability

After an incredible amount of time and frustration, I was finally able to get a copy of my birth certificate, which then gave me the ability to get a valid ID so I could get a job. While my writing work pays, it’s definitely nowhere near enough to live on.

I was scared but excited to start work again. I haven’t really been in the workforce since I got my cardiac implant surgery a year and a half ago. I’ve missed that sense of purpose. I’ve missed that feeling of normalcy, of being a capable, competent adult.

I had almost forgotten — or purposefully chosen not to remember — what work was like for me in the few months before it had ended. Things had gone downhill. It wasn’t from the knee injury that left me on crutches. It was all of the mysterious issues that started wreaking havoc shortly after I was hospitalized with the flu. When I started passing out for no reason. When I started using a wheelchair because I was getting too tired at work. When I fell off the front porch because I passed out while closing the door on my way to work one morning, scraping the entire side of my face.

This was going to be different. This job was going to be easy. No one would have to worry about me. No one would have to know I’m sick. I didn’t tell them anything during my interview. Why would I? No one is going to knowingly hire someone with my medical issues. I look normal on the outside. Capable. Healthy.

I breezed through orientation like it was nothing. I started taking care of guests like I had been working there for months. It got slow for a bit, so a few of us were talking. Somehow random math problems came up, and I solved them in my head. It then came up why I was working there if I was so smart. I didn’t go into too much detail, just that I got sick awhile back and had to take a break. I saw it as an opening to say, very light-heartedly, that if I ever pass out, not to call 911, that I’ll be fine and up in a few minutes. It’s become an annoyance when I pass out in public and they call 911, only for the hospital to try to keep me for observation when I know they are not going to find out anything I don’t already know.

To my relief, her reaction was calm. She said it was good that they know so they can be prepared in case anything happens. I didn’t feel any shame in that moment. I felt okay.

It wasn’t until yesterday, my first full shift of work, when I realized that my abilities are not what they used to be. Fifteen minutes into my shift and I was already short of breath. I could feel my heart racing, which only made it harder to breathe. I wasn’t even doing anything but walking up and down a few stairs and walking across aisles. That was it. My heart rate tripled like I was running a race and would not slow down. My coworker kept asking if I was okay. I know he must have seen it in my face.

Five hours in, and all I had gotten was two minutes to sit on the toilet and pee. I was burned out. I could barely lift mats to clean. I felt weak. I felt sick. I felt useless.

I cried as soon as I left, and again as soon as I got home. I’ve been crying off and on today. I used to be able to do everything. I unloaded trucks. I moved furniture. I lifted grills. I did anything my male coworkers could do. I could work from opening until closing. I had energy. I had strength. My heart was functioning. I was okay.

And now I struggle with everything.

But no one notices. And if they do I immediately push them away. I refuse to use a walker or a wheelchair. Because I don’t want people to see.

I’m tired. I’m tired of walking out of my house and hurrying to find the nearest bench because I’m so dizzy I’m afraid I’m going to pass out. I’m tired of laying on the floors of public restrooms just to avoid a big scene. I’m tired of needing clothes in multiple sizes because I don’t know how long it’s going to be before my digestive system starts working again. I’m tired of not being able to do my school work because my mind is so foggy I can’t think. I’m tired of mopping my bedroom floor every other day because I’m rapidly losing the ability to control my bladder.

I’m tired of the medications, the hospital stays, the doctors’ visits, the specialists.

I’m tired of the loneliness. Everyone else I knew is out living their lives with their families, advancing their careers, having babies. I’m struggling just to get out of bed.

1,000 Days of Freedom, Part 5: Hopes

I decided to end with something a little different from what I had done before. I had acknowledged my past and my present, so I thought it was important that I also acknowledge what I hope for in my future.

I chose sand dollars to represent my future hopes. Sand dollars are hard to come by, but when you find one, they are said to bring you good luck. Some traditions also say sand dollars symbolize peace.

I chose six sand dollars, and wrote one hope I have one each one.

To become psychologically, physically, and financially stable.

It’s been a struggle to achieve stability in any aspect. Psychologically, I’m not the best. I spend way too much of my life in therapeutic settings. I can’t take most medications, and the ones I can take don’t seem to work. They’re always telling me it’s going to take a lot of time to get better; it’s going to take a lot of time to undo 29 years of programming. Those who know my story tell me I’m doing great considering what I’ve experienced. I could have died. I guess they are right.

Physically, I know I’m never going to be 100%. My health issues are not curable. Some will get progressively worse over time. I just want to be able to feel better, to gain whatever control I can have, if that’s even possible, over my illnesses. I want to be able to stand up and walk without people being afraid I’m going to drop.

I want to be able to live with more than $1 in my bank account. I want to be able to go out without having to sell something to pay for the bus. I don’t want to be a burden on others, even if they tell me I’m not. Whether it’s financial assistance or some kind of work, I just want to be more secure and stable.

To get justice for myself and others.

I still feel responsible for leaving people behind, for leaving my mother behind so she could hurt others. I know it’s not my fault, that her actions are not my responsibility. But I long for justice. I want my mother to be punished for what she has done, for all the crimes she has committed. I want that for me, and for the other people she has hurt. I know it’s difficult to go through a trial. I know a lot of therapists don’t recommend re-traumatizing yourself for the sake of justice. But I hope one day, I can be strong enough to go through it. And if I can’t, that I can find some other way to get even just a semblance of justice.

To know my purpose in life.

I never had a chance in my first 29 years to learn who I was, to gain any sense of what my purpose was in life. Even after I ran away, I spent so much time focusing on therapy and work that I really didn’t spend enough time trying to find myself. I thought my purpose was to be a therapist and help others like me, but after the incident with my grad school that led to my removal, I lost that sense of purpose.

Perhaps it’s not about how far I can get in my education. Perhaps I don’t even need a degree to do what I was meant to do. Maybe I am meant to be a writer. Maybe I am meant to speak out about abusers like my mother.

My therapist always asks me if I’ve built a skyscraper yet. He said in one of our first sessions that I am the type of person who has the intelligence and the drive to do amazing things; he said one day, I’m going to have my own skyscraper. I have no desire to do that, but I understand what he’s saying to me. I can do things. I just have to figure out where to start.

To help others like me.

I’ve already started to do this, I think. I put myself out there when I started writing professionally, and I’ve had so many people reach out and tell me how much my writing and my honesty has helped them. I know I haven’t done much with PAFPAC lately. It’s been difficult to manage everything I am doing by myself, tired and sick. I want to do more one day, but I need to work on myself first.

To know what it’s like to live without wanting to die.

I’ve been wanting to die since I was six years old. Not a day goes by that I don’t think, even for a moment, that dying would be so much easier than living. I’m chronically suicidal to the point that it’s become normal to me. The thoughts come up at any time; some triggered by events or trauma anniversaries, but some don’t even have a reason to be there.

It’s exhausting. It’s like I’ve been fighting a battle that will never end. I just want to live without those thoughts. I don’t want to have to worry about waiting for the urges to get stronger, because I know from experience they will get stronger. I want to live a day without the weight of that on my mind. Just one day.

To accept that I’ll never know or understand why.

I think this is the most difficult hope for me, and yet the most necessary. I’ve spent years trying to figure out why my mother did what she did. I’ve read every book on sociopaths and narcissists. I’ve studied psychology and neuroscience. I’ve shared with others who have had similar experiences and I still can’t come up with a reason why. I need something to blame; for some reason, blaming her hasn’t been enough. It’s keeping me stuck.

I’ll never be able to understand why I have this life. I’ll never understand why I had to endure things that no child, no person should ever have to endure. I’ll never be able to rationalize the pain and hurt I feel every day of my life. Sometimes, there aren’t reasons. Sometimes, we will never know why. I will never know why. And that’s okay.

I will be okay.

Don’t go looking for the reasons
Don’t go asking Jesus why
We’re not meant to know the answers
They belong to the by and by

–Chris Stapleton, Broken Halos

1,000 Days of Freedom, Part 2: The Lies

I am hopeless. I will never be safe. It’s my fault I’m sick. I abandoned my family. No one will love me. No one will believe me. I was just confused. She had to rape me to save me. I am just like her. I will never get better. I am ruined. My father died because I left. I am an abuser. I deserve a gravestone.

These are the lies I believed as truth — some believed for years, others believed for decades.

I found the heaviest, blackest stones, and wrote a former belief on each one. I carried them with me to the beach this morning. I walked right up to where the ocean meets the sand. I picked one stone at a time, read it to myself, and then tossed it as far as I could into the sea. They are all there now, somewhere buried in the sand beneath the waters. They are no longer weighing on me.

I am hopeless.

I spent most of my life this way. My childhood. My adolescence. My 20s. I didn’t expect to live very long. I didn’t expect to ever get out alive. But I am still here, alive, and free. There are still times that I lose hope, but I am not hopeless. Even as I struggle in nearly every way, I keep trying to rise above. I have not given up.

I will never be safe.

It’s a hard belief to shake when you have spent most of your life without a safe place. Home was a battleground, a prison, a hell — it was never a safe place to be. Yet she taught us that it was the outside world that was dangerous.

Every aspect of my life was controlled by her. Even when I was outside of the house, I still was under her control. She was everywhere. She knew everything. There was no escaping her, until I finally did. And even then, I struggled with the fear of her coming to get me, the fear of her finding me.

I still have that fear, and it’s a valid one. There’s no doubt in my mind that she knows where I am. But I can’t live my life always in fear. I can be vigilant, and I can be proactive. The fear of her won’t go away, even in her death. But I can still embrace the small moments when I am surrounded with supports, in a secure place. It’s in those moments that I am safe.

It’s my fault I’m sick.

I put a lot of the blame for my medical issues on myself. The truth is, it’s not really my fault. Dysautonomia just happens. Ehlers Danlos is hereditary. My lung problems existed long before I started smoking, from living in a home that was environmentally unsafe. It’s not my fault. And neither is my PTSD or my DID. None of this is my fault.

I abandoned my family.

I did not abandon my family. They abandoned me a very long time ago. There was no love, no nurturing, no support provided by my mother. My father was absent emotionally. My brother was lost in his trauma early on. I never had the connection to them. Aside from DNA, they were never my family.

I ran away from my abuser; I did not abandon my family.

No one will love me.

She would tell me that so many times, especially when I was a teenager. She treated me like I was the ugliest person, constantly pointing out any flaw she could find, and making stuff up when she couldn’t. For a while, I believed she was right. I couldn’t connect with anyone, but that’s because I never learned how, and never had the right people to connect with. Now I do. Now I have people who genuinely care about me.

No one will believe me.

I spent my whole childhood believing that lie. I spent my teenage years believing it, too. And then in adulthood, when I finally came out and tried to tell people what happened, they didn’t believe me. I thought it was just like she said, that no one would understand, that no one would believe me. It turns out she was wrong. People were just blinded by their own stereotypes. They didn’t want to believe. Trust me, I didn’t want to, either. But people know the truth now. People understand because they’ve lived the same pain, too.

I was just confused.

Years ago, a social worker told me that my mother wasn’t abusing me, that she loved me and was just showing that in the best way she knew how, that I was just confusing it for abuse. It made me second-guess myself. So many moments I had to step back and ask myself if I just misunderstood what was going on. How could a mother hurt her own child? It’s inconceivable. But it’s reality. There’s no confusion about that.

She had to rape me to save me.

There could never be anything wrong with someone who would justify raping them. There was nothing ever wrong with me. It was just a lie. She wasn’t helping me. She was hurting me. She didn’t save me from anything. I needed saving from her.

I am just like her.

I know enough about sociopathy to know that there is somewhat of a genetic link. That sat in the back of my mind for a while. I thought that maybe my emotions weren’t mine — after all, I was never allowed to have them for all those years. I had to learn about them from watching videos. Maybe I just learned to copy them. Maybe I have no empathy.

But I have real emotions. Sometimes they suck, but I have them. And I have empathy. Maybe a little too much at times. I’m not a sociopath. I’m nothing like her.

I will never get better.

After 17 years of off-and-on therapy, I start to wonder if I will ever get better. Then I am quickly reminded that for most of those years, I was still living with my mother, still being abused. No amount of intervention or therapy would have helped until I was out of that situation. So, I can’t really count those years as much of anything in terms of trying to get better, because at that time, I was just struggling to survive.

It’s difficult, especially in the last 15 months (10 of which were spent in intensive outpatient therapy), to see myself getting better. Other people are able to get over their traumas and move on. Yet I’m here, fresh out of IOP, still having emotional breakdowns and flashbacks and thoughts about dying.

My therapist reminds me I’ve been through “a lot of fucking trauma”. It’s going to take time. A lot of time. It doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

I am ruined.

I used to think I gave off a vibe where people just knew — maybe they could tell by looking at me, or the way I walked, or something that let them know that I am ruined. I felt like others could sense my shame more than I could. I thought they could tell that I was dirty and worthless because of what she did to me.

But there’s no vibe, no invisible stamp on my forehead that tells others I’m somehow ruined. I’ve got damage, but I’m not ruined. I can be repaired.

My father died because I left.

My father did not die because of me, as much as my mother would like to throw that blame on me. He wasn’t heartbroken when I left; he couldn’t wait to sell all the stuff I left behind. He didn’t care I left.

My father had multiple heart attacks, strokes, and blood infections. He had a plethora of medical problems for over a decade. That’s what killed him.

I am an abuser.

I’ve written a few times over this past year about how I have been working on overcoming my fear of children, which stems back to incidents in childhood that had me believe that I was an abuser. I am not an abuser. I am not a predator. I am no longer afraid of being near children. I don’t freeze or panic when I am near them, because I know that I would never hurt them.

I deserve a gravestone.

My mother thinks I deserve a gravestone. She always said I would never get away from her. She always threatened that if I told anyone, I would get hurt. I’ve gone against her rules in the biggest ways. She’s used to being in control, and she’s not anymore.

I don’t deserve to die because I ran away. I don’t deserve a gravestone because I told the truth. I took control of my life. I did what I had to.

These are the lies I let float away.

Don’t take this the wrong way

I’ve been managing my impulse to isolate quite well, considering my circumstances. I try to get out of the house every day, even if it’s just to walk the dog. Some days, I just can’t do much. I’ll take a walk down the block, and I’ll just know from the dizziness in my head and the pain in my chest that I can’t do anything but rest. There are times when I push myself too much, and I always end up regretting it. But I still get out there the next day.

I could have stayed home on Easter. I could have stayed in bed all day or smoked through a pack of cigarettes in the backyard, which is what I usually do when I’m alone on days like that. But I decided to go. After all, my case worker says I should work on being more social.

It started out okay. There were a lot more people there than I thought there was going to be, most unknown to me. I stayed calm, and migrated toward people I was familiar with. I had my knee brace on over my pants (because it’s impossible to wear a full-length knee brace under anything that’s not oversized sweatpants). A friend of the family asked what happened. I told her I had torn my ACL, and wore out all of the cartilage on my knee. I stayed positive about it, though, telling her how I was still getting out and walking around as much as I could. She shared some (very) distantly related story about how her knee hurt her 40 years ago.

And then she said those words, the words that never, ever end well.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but…”

She then proceeded to tell me how my weight was likely the cause of my problems, and how I need to watch myself, and when I feel the urge to take those “third helpings” of food I just need to stop.

As soon as I caught the gist of what she was saying, I had so much shit going on in my head that I couldn’t listen to her anymore. I just sat there quietly, holding back the tears. I wanted to scream, but I couldn’t. I was just hoping she’d stop. But she didn’t.

When the food was finally served, I stayed in my seat. All I could think about was how fat I was. My friend was encouraging me to get some food, telling me what they had. “You should eat a salad.” Before I could even respond, my friend told her that I didn’t eat that. She then went on to make another suggestion, and by that point, I had enough. I knew I was going to emotionally explode, so I got up and went outside.

I smoked a few cigarettes, let out some tears, and calmed myself down enough to go back inside. I thought I would be okay, but I wasn’t. The sight and smell of the food made me nauseated. The memories replaying in my head made me sick to my stomach. I wanted to run, but all I could do was walk away. I wandered the neighborhood, smoking my last cigarettes, crying, and blasting my music as loud as it would go so I could drown out the voices in my head.

I eventually found my way back, numbed out from all emotion. But I still couldn’t eat. I felt like anything I put in my mouth would be judged by people, would be judged by her. It felt like I was under control again. Instead of you can’t eat this, you don’t deserve it, it was now you can’t eat this, you don’t need it.

I get it. I’m not a thin girl. I never was. But why do people feel the need to tell me what food I should or shouldn’t need, and what I should be eating? I’m on a high sodium diet, recommended by not one, not two, but three cardiologists. I also have to consume a considerable amount of protein to keep my creatinine levels normal. I eat a lot of vegetables — they are my “safe” food, the food I can always eat no matter what, and they help increase my vitamin levels, which have been dangerously low in the past.

I may be fat, but I struggle with an eating disorder. And no, it’s not binge-eating disorder. I’ve been doing well in recovery for the last several months. I’ve been eating two to three meals a day. I haven’t purged. I haven’t obsessed over counting every calorie and weighing myself every morning. I haven’t had to fight at any meals because I haven’t refused to eat. Although a combination of my knee injury and my heart medication has led to a substantial increase in weight over the last few months, I wasn’t letting it get to me.

But now the devil is back on my shoulder. My ED brain woke up from its peaceful nap and is now wreaking havoc. I’m struggling to eat. I’ve started counting every calorie. I let myself get this way, and now I need to fix it. I need to not be fat — a goal which logically, I know is unachievable, but emotionally, I believe is the cure for what ails me.

Don’t take this the wrong way…it’s amazing how just a few words can really fuck up your recovery.

I still don’t know — what other way was I supposed to take that?

Writing about PTSD

I haven’t had much energy to write as many posts as I want to. I want to be able to get out all the shit that’s been in my head. There’s a lot going on, and a lot that will be going on in the next few weeks, as I reach 1,000 days of freedom in April.

A few weeks ago, I was offered an opportunity to writer for the APTSDA, the American PTSD Association. While I still write about DID for HealthyPlace, writing about PTSD is different, and I figure it is an opportunity to reach a different group of people.

My first piece published yesterday. It can be found on aptsda.org, or directly through this link: The Flashbacks You Can’t See.

It’s not much. I write so much that sometimes I’m not really sure what to write about, and I get tied up in the thought that maybe my experiences aren’t the “right” ones. Yet the more I write, the more I read from others that they have experienced the same.

I will update with more soon. Hopefully.

Rock Bottom, Part 1

I had managed for months to (very narrowly) avoid hospitalization. Despite the increasing suicideality, the treatment team trusted me enough to not put any of my plans into action. And I hadn’t, for those couple of months. I was honest with them, because as much as part of me wanted to die, there was another part of me that wanted even more to live.

But I wasn’t getting better. I was still an emotional clusterfuck from the abortion. My heart issues were adding to my hopelessness, and my heart medications were adding to my impulsiveness. I had no energy. I was coasting through the days on autopilot because that’s all I had it in me to do. I had no money to pay my bills. I had been living off cash advances from credit cards that were now maxed out. I reached out and asked for help — a last-ditch effort — and was turned down. It wasn’t being turned down that hurt me, but the reasons why, the denial. I should have expected it; I got the same response when I asked for help to get away from my mother. But I was desperate.

I had given up. What use was I to the world? Broke, unstable, unable to work, to contribute to the world. I was a burden. Living in my former boss’s house, eating her food, drinking her water. She had no obligation to me, yet there I was, being a burden, taking away from her family.

I was a burden to my therapist. Four months into an 8-week program and I was still in crisis. As much as she tried, she couldn’t help me. She couldn’t get through. And I couldn’t receive.

I sat in my desk that night, scribbling down on paper what I needed to say. I couldn’t quite get it all out. Everything I wrote down didn’t seem like enough. It needed to be enough. Because it was going to be the last thing I ever said.

I went into program the next day like nothing had happened. But I was withdrawn. My therapist knew something wasn’t right. I shut her down and told her everything was okay, but she still felt something was off. I couldn’t tell her she was right.

I couldn’t keep it inside very long. The next day, after some prodding, I disclosed what I had done. I knew I wasn’t going to promise my way out of it. My hopelessness had gone too far. It was too dangerous now. I was too much of a risk. I had to contract for safety that night, but I knew when I went back the next day, that there wasn’t going to be a contract.

An hour and a half into the day, and I saw my therapist come to the door. I knew it was for me. I knew what was coming.

I sat in the office, my therapist sitting at my side, my psychiatrist sitting across at his desk. I looked down and twiddled my thumbs, trying to avoid eye contact, trying not to see the look of concern on both of their faces. As soon as my psychiatrist uttered the word inpatient, I started to cry. I hated the hospital, just as much as I hated my life.

Maybe we need to consider ECT. Great. Electric shocks to your brain. That’s where my life has ended up. We had tried all the medications. We sat through all the therapy. And we ended up at ECT. A last resort.

My mind was all over the place. I had managed to stop crying long enough to look up and see that my psychiatrist had been crying as well. A man normally seemingly void of emotion. I’ve never cried for a patient before. I knew his feelings were real. I knew his concern was genuine. He wasn’t looking to punish me. He was trying to save me.

As my therapist was making calls and arranging for my medical transport, I waited with the nurse. I begged just to smoke one cigarette. I needed to calm down. I had to promise her I wouldn’t run away; and I didn’t. I had finally stopped crying. I felt okay, or at least as okay as I could be in the moment. I talked with the nurse. I told her about my DID diagnosis, and about some of my trauma history. She asked questions, and I answered honestly. I saw her facial expression change; I saw her sadness. My immediate urge was to apologize to her, yet here she was apologizing to me. You didn’t get to have a childhood. An unfortunate truth. A reality that may not have been had someone just helped me.

I sent a text to my friend to ask her if she could bring me clothes. She packed a bag with everything I needed. My favorite hoodie. My favorite pajamas. The softest t-shirts she could find. I cried when I told her what was going on. I was ashamed. I didn’t want her to be mad at me. I didn’t want to lose my home or my family. I didn’t want her to have to worry about me. I didn’t want anyone to worry.

A few hours later, the ambulance came to transport me. I hugged the therapist goodbye. Through tears, I told her I was sorry. She wiped my tears away, and assured me I had nothing to be sorry for. I hugged her again. She handed me a piece of my favorite chocolate for the road. I hugged my therapist. I saw the emotion in her face — I couldn’t tell if it was sadness or concern — but I was sorry for it. One last hug to the nurse and I was on my way, strapped to a transport bed, just like a sick person.