Tag Archives: medical trauma

Talking About Mental Illness – Society Needs to do Better

Content Warning: Suicide and suicide thoughts.

Whenever a celebrity or well-known person commits suicide, suicide hotline information is plastered all over social media. 

Feeling depressed? Reach out! Call this number!

Know someone showing these signs? Reach out!

I am not disparaging the need for these types of hotlines.  Many people can find help through them. In 2015, John Draper (PhD, Director, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Member, SPRC Steering Committee) reported that in the ten years since the Lifeline began, their centers have answered more than five million calls from people in suicidal or emotional crisis.  

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255 or Chat

En Español – Nacional de Prevención del Suicidio – 1-888-628-9454

For Deaf & Hard of Hearing  1-800-799-4889

The problem is, how many people didn’t or won’t call? How many children and adults don’t call and continued to suffer in silence, because the people they did reach out to dismissed them or they didn’t feel safe enough to reach out at all? How many kept silent, because they didn’t know what to say, didn’t want to burden their families, or because they were raised not to say anything at all?

According to the CDC, in 2016, nearly 45,000 Americans age 10 or older died by suicide. Yes, as young as 10 years old. Suicide is considered the 10th leading cause of death and is one of just three leading causes that are on the rise.  Researchers also found that more than half of people who died by suicide did not have a known diagnosed mental health condition at the time of death.

According to The State of Mental Health in America, 1 in 5 Adults have a mental health condition. That’s over 40 million Americans; more than the populations of New York and Florida combined. Youth mental health is worsening. Rates of youth with severe depression increased from 5.9% in 2012 to 8.2% in 2015. Even with severe depression, 76% of youth are left with no or insufficient treatment.

From the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA:

“Anxiety and depression are treatable, but 80 percent of kids with a diagnosable anxiety disorder and 60 percent of kids with diagnosable depression are not getting treatment, according to the 2015 Child Mind Institute Children’s Mental Health Report.”

“Anxiety disorders affect one in eight children. Research shows that untreated children with anxiety disorders are at higher risk to perform poorly in school, miss out on important social experiences, and engage in substance abuse.”

In Spokane County, Washington State, the youth suicide rate more than doubled from 2013 to 2016. It went from 4.3 per 100,000 people 24 and younger to 10.7, Washington State Department of Health data show.  It was reported that nearly 20 percent of Spokane County’s eighth, 10th or 12th graders have seriously considered suicide, according to the Spokane Regional Health District. In 2016, the last year data was publicly available, 15 percent reported that they made a plan to do so. Chris Moore, a student services coordinator with Spokane Public Schools, says suicide attempts are spiking as well, even among kids in elementary school. “We’ve seen a drastic increase with the number of attempts,” Moore says. “It’s a public health crisis. It really is.

For more information – As youth suicide rates surge in Spokane, school officials search for answers

My family has a long history with mental illness on both sides. Then there is my ex-husband’s family.  Various forms of anxiety and depression, PTSD, Bipolar, alcoholism (which is considered a mental illness according to the AMA and the APA – it’s all there based on information spanning five generations.  

For more information – Anxiety and Depression Association of America – Facts & Statistics

My sister-in-law, who I will never have the opportunity to meet, violently committed suicide with a gun when she was 21 years old, three weeks after her son was born.  He will never know his mother.  He is now older than she was when she ended her life. His father raised him on his own. 

My brother-in-law has struggled with depression all his life and has been slowly killing himself with alcohol and drugs. He is in his fifties and he doesn’t expect to outlive his parents. He can’t hold on to a regular job and lives most of the time with his parents and some of the time with his girlfriend. 

My ex-husband has also struggled with depression all his life, but has refused treatment.  His untreated mental illness and his untreated personality disorder ripped our family apart, twice.  He ran from life instead of facing his problems.  He couldn’t deal with his demons, so he pushed his family away and went into isolation with his seven guns and his paranoid ideas.

My ex-husband came from a family who doesn’t talk.  My ex was raised to believe that it was a sign of weakness to talk about your emotions and to ask for help.  Instead, he buried his demons, walled himself up, and went emotionally flat lined to the outside world. The reality is that he can’t handle his emotions, he fears them.  He is emotionally stunted, a 45 year old man emotionally stuck somewhere between a 12 year old boy and a 17 year old teenager.  Our children are actually more emotionally mature than he is.  My sister-in-law killed herself when my ex was only 17 years old and that is where he stopped growing emotionally as a person.     

My son, who is now 15 years old, was diagnosed with depression and anxiety when he was six years old.  He was diagnosed with Autism a year later.  Autism is a developmental disorder, not a mental illness.  My son was on suicide watch twice when he was 11 years old due to his father’s behavior.  My ex had fallen into a major depressive episode, the worst I had seen him be in. He refused to get help.  He neglected and then abandoned his children resulting in my son developing PTSD.  My son was never suicidal, but he had given up hope in life. He saw no point in life any more.  My son still struggles with depression.  He is on medication and goes to weekly counseling sessions. 

My daughter was diagnosed with Bipolar when she was only eight years old.  She has been on medication ever since. She was diagnosed with Autism two years later at the age of 10.  She is now 17 years old.  She was hospitalized when she was 15 years old due to going into psychosis.  She had been essentially stuck in a depressive state for some time and then had a breakthrough manic state.  The combination sent her into psychosis.  The voices told her she had to hurt herself with a knife and then the voices told her to use fire.  She never did and insisted that she could keep fighting the voices, but we managed to convince her to go to the hospital where she stayed for a week in the youth psychiatric ward.  Three months later a space opened up at a long-term treatment facility for youth.  She went into long-term care as an outpatient for three months.  Her medications were straightened out and a new treatment plan was developed for her to be used by her counselor, occupational therapist, and her speech therapist.

Then there is me.  I was diagnosed with Autism after my children were at the age of 36. 

Depression and mainly anxiety have been a part of my life for as long as I remember, but no one talked about it.  I didn’t have the words I needed to use growing up to describe why I felt the way I did.  I was told to lighten up, to stop taking things so seriously.  I was yelled at if I cried.  I was conditioned to not show emotions or to ask for help.  I was also conditioned that my needs didn’t matter.  I was on my own and told to take care of my younger sister who was only two years younger than me.  Alone, that was how I felt for so damn long.  No one listened when I tried to reach out, so I stopped reaching out.  I withdrew into myself, which only isolated me more, because my family either didn’t know what to do with me or took it personally that I had withdrawn, so I was ignored.  I was an undiagnosed autistic child with undiagnosed mental health issues. 

I grew up in a toxic home, but I didn’t realize it.  All I knew was something was off, but I never could figure it out.  I was told I was loved, but I felt so alone and I was scared.  I felt silenced.  What I wanted never seemed to matter.  I was conditioned to comply.  I had no idea how to say “no” or how to advocate for myself.  I was to comply with the wishes of others and rules were rules.

I didn’t know anything about emotional abuse until I was required to take a class for my professional certification as a teacher.  Even then, my mind just couldn’t accept that I had come from an abusive home life.  No, it couldn’t be.  There were other reasons for the behavior, always an excuse, excuses I had heard as a child growing up, excuses I was taught to just accept without question.     

By the time I took this class, I was already married and a parent.  I also hadn’t realized that I had married into an emotionally abusive marriage.  I married what I knew.

For more information – Invisible Scars – A Tale of Emotional Abuse

About 15 years ago, I went through a horrible medical trauma that was made worse by my family’s behavior.  More information can be found here – The Volcano is Awake. There was a time that I wanted to die so the pain would end, but I was never suicidal. I reached out for help so many times, but I was told get over it, bury it, move on.  I would reach out and get a cold shoulder or a back turned to me.  I had to get myself through that dark time of my life on my own and I would never wish that torture on anyone.  What got me through was that I couldn’t leave my children without a mother.  They were only a baby and a toddler at the time and something inside me kept saying that there was no one else to take care of them.  It was my responsibility as a mother that pulled me out and in the process “mama bear” emerged.  I had reached my breaking point, but never fully broke.   I became stronger, but in the process of working my way out of the darkness, I learned I had developed Complex – PTSD.  

Reach outWhen my marriage ended, I once again reached out for help, but was met with the same cold shoulders and told to move on, get over it, stuff it away. As with my medical trauma, I was not allowed to grieve in the way and for the length that I needed to.  I had become an inconvenience, a burden, again.  Once again I found myself alone with two children, teenagers now, and I had to get through the emotional pain of having my family ripped apart, but this time I was going to do things on my terms.  By this time I had learned about self-advocacy and self-determination.  I drew the line and held those boundaries. 

I reached out to others outside my family.  It took time, but I eventually developed a support network that is primarily online.  I am in a better place now, but my children and I are still grieving.  We are getting there, though.  We are much better than where we were a few years ago, but the depression is still there.  It has never fully gone away and I don’t know if it ever will. 

I have tried to create an environment where my children can feel safe talking about how they feel. I want them to feel that there is someone who will listen to them, who feels their voice is important, and who will never give them a cold shoulder and tell them to get over it and move on.  I remind them often that they each have a whole care team rooting for them.  I want them to know they are not alone.   

There is still too much stigma around mental illness. In 9 Ways to Fight Mental Health Stigma, Laura Greenstein states, “Stigma causes people to feel ashamed for something that is out of their control. Worst of all, stigma prevents people from seeking the help they need. For a group of people who already carry such a heavy burden, stigma is an unacceptable addition to their pain. And while stigma has reduced in recent years, the pace of progress has not been quick enough.” 

As a society, we need to do better.  We can’t just post about a suicide or crisis hotlines only during a time when a celebrity commits suicide.  We can’t just think posting these hotline numbers are enough. 

What is mental health stigma?

Mental health stigma can be divided into two distinct types:

  • social stigma is characterized by prejudicial attitudes and discriminating behavior directed towards individuals with mental health problems as a result of the psychiatric label they have been given.
  • perceived stigma or self-stigma is the internalizing by the mental health sufferer of their perceptions of discrimination and perceived stigma can significantly affect feelings of shame and lead to poorer treatment outcomes.

How can we eliminate stigma?

People tend to hold negative beliefs about mental health problems regardless of their age, regardless of what knowledge they have of mental health problems, and regardless of whether they know someone who has a mental health problem.

 “The fact that such negative attitudes appear to be so entrenched suggests that campaigns to change these beliefs will have to be multifaceted, will have to do more than just impart knowledge about mental health problems, and will need to challenge existing negative stereotypes especially as they are portrayed in the general media.” – Graham C.L. Davey, Ph.D

According to National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), stigma harms the 1 in 5 Americans affected by mental health conditions. It shames them into silence and prevents them from seeking help. People need to feel safe talking about mental illness, so here I am talking about mental illness in a public forum.  I do not feel shame.  I do not feel embarrassed. I am not a burden. I refuse to be silenced.  I want people to know that they are not alone. End the stigma!!

Educate Yourself and Others – Learn More

“Everyone knows a little about mental health issues but knowing the facts can help you educate others and reject stigmatizing stereotypes. They are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character or poor upbringing. Understanding mental health isn’t only about being able to identify symptoms and having a name for conditions, but dispelling false ideas about mental health conditions as well.” – NAMI

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Dealing With Emotional Abuse in Families

(Trigger Warning: Personal Experiences Discussed)

Families.  What makes a family?  What does it mean to be a family?  What does it mean to be emotionally supportive? At what point do you say that you have had enough? At which point do you have to walk away for your own protection?

These are loaded questions and not something that can be easily answered.  These are questions that I have been grappling with lately.  Well, to be honest, I have been grappling with these questions for some time now.

What brought me to this place, a place where I am finding I am at a loss as to how to even address these questions?  It first started when I realized I had been in emotionally abusive situation for some time and it had been coming from several directions.  One direction had been from my husband who was crumbling from a lifetime of untreated mental illness.  The situation he was in is not an excuse for his behavior, but it is a fact that his refusal to acknowledge that he was mentally ill contributed greatly to his inevitable decline and eventual self-destructive behavior.  He had to lose everything and stay there for a while before he realized what was really important to him, me and our two children.  The ordeal that led up to a three year nightmare eventually had a happy ending.  He finally got help and eventually came home.  He moved back in five months ago.

We are a family again. During that three year-long nightmare, I questioned if he really was part of the family anymore.  He didn’t want to be, or it appeared that he didn’t want to be, but he was still genetically connected to our children and we had 15 years of marriage together.  You also don’t have to be genetically linked to be family.  Was he still considered family?  In the end, the answer to that question was a resounding “Yes!”  Surprisingly, our bond survived all that destruction that had taken place over those three years.  The love was still there.

In many other cases, the situation is so bad that there is no more love, only abuse and pain.  I don’t know why I held on to hope that my ex-husband would eventually have an epiphany and would find his way home.  You could say we got lucky, but there was more to it than that.  We are determined to make this work.  We are taking the necessary steps with family counseling and working on our communication skills.  We are still going through the healing process, still figuring our roles as a family of four. It is going to take time, but we are on a positive path to recovery.

My daughter asked recently what love was.  I told her love is when you don’t give up on someone. For us, this statement is true.   I never gave up on the man that I married even when he had given up on himself.  Please understand, not giving up on someone is not the same as walking away. I had to walk away and give the man I loved the time and space he needed to figure things out.  You can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped.  Sometimes you have to walk away.  In our case, it worked out.  Unfortunately, much of the time it does not.  You have to move on; otherwise an emotionally abusive situation could potentially destroy you.

I wrote more about emotional abuse —> Invisible Scars – A Tale of Emotional Abuse

I am facing the question of walking away again.  I had to put up a healthy boundary in regards to three family members in my life.  This occurred almost a year ago.  I had to do this for my own mental wellbeing, for my own protection.  I have Complex-PTSD and last June I had the worst trigger I have ever had apart from a medical trauma that led to my diagnosis of PTSD in the first place twelve years ago. I know they didn’t mean to cause me such harm, but it was through their lack of understanding that led me to being is so much pain.  I couldn’t stop the flashbacks.  I was back in that hell again.  I could hardly function for days.  It was a horrid experience.  You can find more about that experience here —> The Volcano is Awake

For more information on my experience with Complex-PTSD —> The Hell that is Spring

When I tried to explain to these families members what had happened and why I had to have the healthy boundary, I was met with “I thought you were over this.” and “I am so angry at you right now!” and “Don’t you care how your sister feels? You hurt her feelings.”  Ya, it wasn’t pleasant. I was so full of guilt and pain, but it didn’t seem to matter to this person. They just dumped more guilt and pain on to me.  These comments were made by one person out of the three.  One of the others hasn’t communicated with me for a year now and the third is keeping a respectful distance.

It hurts to even discuss this.  How can person get mad at another for having an excruciating panic attack that lasted for days?  How can a person who claims that they have unconditional love for another end up throwing guilt on to them during their most vulnerable moments? I was told that I was wrong to feel the way I did. A person has no right to tell another how they are supposed to feel.  I don’t understand it.  I don’t understand the behavior and this has been happening to me for as long as I can remember.

This week I was told I had a fevered brain by this same person.  When I asked for clarification, I did not receive any.  I have been told I am full of anger, hatred, and disdain.  I have been told that my words are full of vitriol and that there is a disconnect between what I write and how I perceive it.  I don’t understand where this is coming from.  I am not full of anger or hatred or disdain.  What I do feel is sadness, frustration, and fear.

My blogs reflect my journey through loss, grief, healing, and self-discovery. It is natural to experience anger as you go through a grief cycle and everyone is different when it comes to grief. Working through grief is really a big ball of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff. Any reflection of anger would have been expressed in my blogs at the time I was experiencing it.  As you continue to read through my blogs, you see a definite change.  I have changed.  This is why I do not understand where these accusations of anger, hatred, and disdain are coming from are coming from.

For more about my journey through grief, click on the following links:

—> Autism, Empathy, and Grief – A Personal Story (Dec 16, 2013)

—> Grieving (Mar 30, 2015)

—> Sadness – Moving Through Grief and Finding Understanding (Aug 22, 2015)

My relationship with this person is not healthy, but this person seems to think that I am at fault for the situation that we are currently in. I suppose in some respect I am at fault.  I chose to put up a healthy boundary, but then was accused of pushing the family away. Growing up, I was never taught about healthy boundaries or how to say “no”.  I was taught to comply. I had to comply or face the wrath of yelling, crushing disappointment of a parent, or a major guilt trip. I had no defense against guilt being place upon me.  I was basically taught to be a co-dependent, which is not healthy at all.  I only learned how to overcome my co-dependency these last few years since my diagnosis. I didn’t even know about co-dependency until my marriage failed, and that co-dependency, that extreme feeling of wanting to help people that I have always carried contributed to my marriage failing.  I learned how to say “no” as an adult in my 30s. This is why I have been teaching my children the power of “no”. I want them to understand that they can say “no”, too.

This same person said I was “a fairly happy child despite of the problems autism put upon you”.  I wasn’t diagnosed with autism until I was 36 years old and I have a real problem with the wording of this comment.  Did I struggle growing up? Yes.  Did this person try to get me help? No.  Was there any discussion about my struggles?  Only that I needed to “come out of my shell” or questioned why I wasn’t more like my sister.  I was labeled shy and quiet and left to be.

To be clear, autism didn’t put problems upon me. Autism is not some separate entity that squishes people and holds them down.  My autism is not separate from me.  I am Autistic. The problems I faced growing up were a direct result of me not having the type of supports that I needed to be successful. I had to struggle on my own, because my autism was not recognized.  I was a girl, after all, born in the mid-70s and growing up in the 80s and early 90s.  There wasn’t a whole lot known about autism then, definitely not Asperger Syndrome, which is what I was originally diagnosed with in late 2011.

Okay, I am starting to rant now, back to the topic of families.

What does it mean to grow up in an emotionally abusive home and not realize it?  It took me a long time to accept what my home life was like even though as a child I felt something was off.  I didn’t understand what was happening to me, because it was all I knew.  How do you know that there is something wrong if a certain environment is all you know? I always had food to eat, clothes to wear, and a roof over my head.  I was always told that I was loved, but something wasn’t right and I never understood what it was until after I became a parent. Why didn’t I feel comfortable at home?  Why was I always so tense?  Why did I spend so much time alone in my room?

Facing the truth of one’s emotional child abuse takes a special kind of courage. But to be an emotionally healthy adult, the truth must be known, so that healing can begin, and the pattern doesn’t repeat.

An emotionally abused child who does not, as an adult, face the truth of their childhood is in great danger of repeating the cycle of emotional abuse with his or her own children.

“As long as [the experience of cruelty] remains hidden behind their idealized picture of a happy childhood, they will have no awareness of it and will therefore be unable to avoid passing it on. It is absolutely urgent that people become aware of the degree to which this disrespect of children is persistently transmitted from one generation to the next, perpetuating destructive behavior.” (Alice Miller, “The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for Self”)

Unfortunately, because emotional abuse is often tolerated or because the abusive parents are very secretive in their abuse (hiding their true selves when in public), emotionally abused children will assume that how they were treated at home was natural. They have no frame of reference. And so, the child will develop a skewed sense of what a healthy relationship is.

Emotionally abused children become adults with little or no self-esteem; a deep, pervasive sadness; problems bonding with others; and a tendency towards self-destruction.

For me, I never have had a tendency towards self-destruction, but more towards survival and always feeling that I had to move forward in life. I have to keep going no matter what.  I have had quite a bit of trouble with self-esteem and pervasive sadness, though. I also form very strong bonds.

An emotionally abused child usually continues being emotionally abused by the parents long into adulthood. The patterns have already been established since the child’s earliest years. The dynamics of the family have been set into place. Nothing is to drastically change it—unless the child grown up awakens.

Some adults experience a jolt, a sudden flash of memory, that is triggered by an event, a song, a movie scene, anything, really. Others remain asleep until the abusive parents become abusive grandparents—continuing the cycle of emotional abuse to the adult survivor’s children. Others will just reach the point where they cannot take it anymore; enough is enough.

And the abused child-turned-adult awakens, slowly realizing that not everything is as it has seemed. Everything is different now.

Taking the red pill regarding your emotionally abusive childhood leads to a very difficult path—but the important thing is that it is a path. You no longer remain stuck, wondering about the pervasive depression or sorrow.

I started fighting back after my children were born. Something inside insisted that I had to raise my children differently than the way I was raised.  They were going to get the emotional support I never got.  I was going to be their advocate, because I never had one.  I have been a parent now for fifteen years.  I tolerated much of my parents’ behavior over the years.  I tried to ignore it, tried to make excuses, tried to tell myself that it was just how they were and I had to accept it.  The finally straw came last June when I was slammed with the trigger.  There was absolutely no emotional support provided.  I was dying all over again and absolutely no shit was given.  Enough was enough.  I feel the most disabled when I am with my parents.  I am also always on guard.  I can’t relax.  There is something wrong, something very wrong, but whenever I have tried to discuss the matter I get nowhere.

Here I am again, asking those questions about family.  They are my parents.  There is a genetic link.  The love is still there, but this time it is different.  There seems to be no sense of responsibility on the part of my parents. No sense that there is something wrong with the situation.  Maybe I am being naive, but I want to make it right.  I want to feel safe with my family members.  My sister has kept a respectful distance, but she doesn’t feel there is a problem. She makes the same excuses I once did.  She also seems to have trouble seeing me as disabled.  I am her big sister.  I am not supposed to be disabled, or at least that is the impression I get.  She seems to want her idea of how the family is supposed to be to be true.  She did express some understanding of why I couldn’t talk on the phone, because many weeks after my trigger occurred she miscarried at 14 weeks. She found herself not able to talk on the phone either.  I really appreciate it that my sister contacted me to let me know what had happened.  I was able to give her words of comfort which she in turn greatly appreciated.

Families can make amends, it takes time, but healing can happen if both parties are willing to work with each other.  The healing might not look like the way you want it to or go as fast as you want it to.  It most likely will never be like it once was, but the important part to remember is that you don’t give up on each other.  You might have to walk away, but you don’t give up.

As for my situation with my parents, at this point in time I need to keep my healthy boundary up for my own protection.

“Adult children who have never spiritually and emotionally separated from their parents often need time away. They have spent their whole lives embracing and keeping and have been afraid to refrain from embracing and to throw away from of their outgrown ways of relating. They need to spend some time building boundaries against the old ways and creating new ways of relating that for a while may feel alienating to their parents.” (“Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No and Take Control of Your Life”, pg. 38)

Here are some suggestions from For Adult Survivors of Emotional Child Abuse that will help you to begin your path to healing:

  1. Seek professional help from someone who understands emotional child abuse. 
  2. Create some distance between you and your abusive parent.

You will find it difficult to put your new thoughts in perspective if you are still immersed into your parents’ lives. So, you need to create some space. Let them know that you need time to think about things.  In some cases, adult children will find healing, and they will eventually find new ways of communicating with their parents that is healthy.

  1. Don’t give up! Stay awake, stay vigilant.
  2. Take your time.
  3. Educate yourself about emotional child abuse.

You’ll be going through myriad emotions, so you should read to better understand how healing is a process and will not happen overnight. You can find a starter’s recommended readings here.  In the book “Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No and Take Control of Your Life” by Dr. Henry Cloud and John Townsend, the clinical psychologists discuss the severe impact of being raised without boundaries and its affects into adulthood. Also, look at the various sites here for information about emotional child abuse and healing.

  1. Be patient and loving with yourself. 
  2. Surround yourself with good, supportive friends.
  3. Understand you may lose friends and family members—but let them go.
  4. Keep a journal.
  5. Be mindful of your relationships.
  6. Pray or meditate.
  7. Let yourself receive love.
  8. Accept change.
  9. Find a creative outlet.
  10. Don’t give up.

Don’t give up. Don’t quit. Rest, sure. Take a little time to just lose yourself in music or TV or books for a little while… then continue on. DON’T QUIT. Don’t stop on your path to healing. Sometimes, the sorrow will be biting and cold—but don’t quit.

Know you are worthy of love, of respect, of kindness, of happiness, of dignity.

Know you matter.

Know that your life does make a difference.

**All quotes are from For Adult Survivors of Emotional Child Abuse.

The Volcano is Awake

(Trigger Warning: Emotional Abuse, Medical Trauma, PTSD, Reference to Rape, Reference to Suicide)

Why am I still awake?  It is almost midnight.  Seriously, this is getting old.  I know what needs to come out; I just don’t know how to get it out.  Time to start writing.  No thinking; just let my fingers be my conduit, silently screaming through the keyboard.  The volcano is awake and wants to be heard.

Volcano

I hate myself.

I have hated myself for eleven years.  I have tried to ignore it.  I have tried to rationalize it.  I have tried to convince myself that what I did was necessary, that it was my only option.  Nothing is working.

I have been raging war with myself for eleven years.  This is what PTSD does to you.  It tears you apart, bit by bit.  Some people with PTSD are lucky enough to have memory problems regarding their trauma.  Not me.  I remember everything, where the sun was hitting the carpet, the color and design of the carpet, the arrangement of the chairs, and the way the receptionist looked and what the nurse look like who attended to me.  I remember the hospital room layout.  I was there for four days and I can tell you what each nurse looked like and the questions they asked me.  I was supposed get better.  My family expected it.  I couldn’t disappoint them even though my soul was screaming, telling me to run.  Why didn’t I run?  The desire to not disappoint my family was stronger than my soul screaming to run.  I am now scarred for life.

They wouldn’t help me.  I told her I felt like I was dying.  Why didn’t they help me?  Why was I left alone with a baby and a toddler?  They expected me to get better and when I didn’t they left me.  He hurt me.  He kept hurting me and no one would listen to me.  I was supposed to be a good little wife.  I was told he was under stress and I had to give him what he wanted.  She told me I was selfish for not wanting to go through with it.  I had to think of the family.  I couldn’t put them through another pregnancy again.  I had to think of my children.    My son and my daughter came first.  Guilt and shame.  I had no defense against it and they knew how to use it on me.

I also was entering Autistic Burnout and it would only get worse after my surgery.  When I was three years post-opt, I had lost so much of my ability to function that it took everything I had to remember to breathe, all I knew was that I had two little people that depended on me.  I made sure that I provided for their needs no matter what.  At this time I had no idea that I was autistic.  It would be years later that I would finally find out why I was the way I was.  It would even be longer when I learned about Autistic Burnout and how bad it really can be.

Autistic Burnout is also known as Autistic Regression.  Musings of an Aspie states, “A better analogy than regression is that of the demands of life exceeding a person’s resources.”  You simply do not have the personal resources to cope with what life is dumping on you.  I wrote several blogs about my experience with Autistic Burnout.  You can find them here – My reaction to Musings of an Aspie’s post “Autistic Regression and Fluid Adaptation” and Here I am Again – The Long Road of Living Exhausted.

AUtistic burnout (Image found at invisibleaspie.blogspot.com)   

Why did I give up the fight?  I didn’t want the surgery.  I kept telling them that.  It was my damn body after all, but they kept silencing me.  They wore me down and went after me when I was most vulnerable.  They used my responsibility to my kids against me.

I fought them for nearly a year after my son was born.  I had nearly lost my son at 21 weeks of his pregnancy.  My pelvic floor had collapsed taking my lower spine and pelvic organs with it.  My pelvis twisted like a pretzel.  My doctor told me that she didn’t think I would make it to 29 weeks.  She was sure I would lose the baby.  After five months of bed rest, multiple urinary tract inflections, and not being able to really walk, my son was allowed to be born at 38 weeks.  He was healthy and alive.  I had given up my body to protect his life.  I was told the only reason we hadn’t lost him that day when my pelvic floor collapsed was that his head was already below my cervix.  To be born, my son had to be pulled up and then pushed out.  He came out screaming.  All my labor pain was in my sacrum and tail bone.  My tail bone actually broke in three places during the ordeal.  He was born in less than three hours.  It happened so fast that I didn’t even break a sweat.  The pain was unbelievable even with Lamaze, but I knew it would end.  All I could think of was why was I going through this again?  How do women do this multiple times?  My labor and delivery of my daughter was painful, but not this painful.  She was to term and was born in less than ten hours.  I was on bed rest for her pregnancy for two months due to preeclampsia.

After my son was born, I wasn’t rebounding.  Something was very wrong.  I was in so much pain.  I could barely walk.  My right leg felt like there was a chunk of wood attached to my hip.  My back was like one of those Hawaiian dancing dolls.  No support.  I was terrified I was going to drop my baby every time I changed his diaper.  I had to brace him to me to bend down and brace him to me again as I forced myself back up.  After four months of physical therapy three times a week, my bones weren’t staying in place.  My bladder and rectum were not where they were supposed to be.  My period never returned.  I couldn’t have bowel movements normally and had urinary incontinence.  I couldn’t make love.  Physical pain, mobility issues, and bathroom problems were all I knew.

My doctor couldn’t believe that I wasn’t in a ball on the floor weeping.  She told me I was the most stoic person she had ever known.  I hate my stoicism.  I can’t turn it off.  I cry alone, in private.  My doctors don’t believe me when I describe my pain.  My family doesn’t understand.

Why did I succumb to the bullying and pressure to have the surgery?  I wasn’t ready.  I was 28 years old and still nursing my son.  I was 28 years old and my life as I knew it was taken away from me, because I let it happen.

A counselor suspects that I was not fully unconscious during the surgery.  It takes more anesthesia to put me to sleep.  Based on my hallucinations I was having months after the surgery, the counselor suspected I was conscious enough to know something bad was happening to me, but I couldn’t move to stop it.  The surgery was done through my vagina to minimize having to cut through the abdominal wall.  Honestly, the only descriptive word I have after the surgery is that I was raped. That is what my brain was telling me.  I felt such shame from the ordeal.

I spent four days in the hospital.  My uterus was removed.  It wasn’t damaged.  The surgeon felt I would blow out all the repair work if I got pregnant again.  A hysterectomy was part of the procedure.  I had two inches of my rectum removed due to prolapse.  I had a bladder neck sling inserted and my bladder moved back in place.  My large intestine now sits in a jumble on my bladder. It was not stapled back into place, because sections would have had to be removed and my doctor could not determine which the healthy sections were and which the damaged sections were.  I have extensive nerve damage on the right of my body.  I do not have access to the muscles on the outside of my thigh, but I have managed to keep my muscle size in each of my legs equal.  My right leg gets tired faster than my left leg.  My piriformis muscle is also damaged as well as my sciatic nerve. Both get pitched from time to time due to my bones still moving.  At the time, eleven years ago, I was told the only things holding my body together anymore were my muscles and my bones.  My ligaments and tendons were shot.

I had lived a healthy lifestyle all my life.  Currently, I have been a runner for over 20 years. Eleven years ago, I felt my body had betrayed me.  My urologist told me that what happened to me only happens to 60 year olds.  How could it have fallen apart like it did?  It would be years later that I realized it was my body that kept my son alive despite the damage.  It held on for as long as it took.  My body was not my enemy.  It had saved my son’s life.  It was because I had lived a healthy life style that made my body strong enough to hold together when everything was falling apart.

The L4, L5, and S1 segments of my back were also tightened, but the doctors did not tell me that they had operated on my back until after I got home.  The pain from my back was what made me feel like I was dying.  It is an awful thing to find out you can’t tolerate narcotics after you have had a major surgery.  Anything with Codeine, such as Vicodin, causes the muscles in my lungs to spasm and I can’t breathe. Percocet does nothing for the pain, does not make me sleepy, and causes hallucinations.  My doctor’s solution to the pain medicine problem?  I was to take Tylenol.  Tylenol doesn’t work at all.

I was so angry all the time.  I didn’t want to be touched.  I was hallucinating.  Something was wrong.  I knew I needed help.  Six months after my surgery I was diagnosed with PTSD.

He wanted me back to normal, at least pre-pregnancy normal.  I wasn’t well physically or mentally.  He didn’t seem to care.  It would take me three days to clean our 940 square foot apartment, because I hurt so much.  It wasn’t good enough.  Him: “Why weren’t the clothes put away?”  Me: “But they are folded, can’t you put them away?”  Him: Shakes his head in disappointment.  I was expected to maintain my wifely duties.  It didn’t seem to matter how much I hurt.  I was scared of him, but I wouldn’t realize how scared I was until years later.  Emotional abuse is hidden in plain sight.  The target may not even know what is happening to them, especially if the abuser is passive aggressive about it.

Confusion, gaslighting, lies, putdowns, coercion, silencing, and isolating their target, this is what emotional abusers do.  He told me that he was going to leave me if I didn’t have the surgery.  He told me I was broken years after the surgery. I felt I was damaged goods, no use to anyone.  I was trapped and no one was hearing me.  They would tell me how great he was, such a hard worker, that I needed to give him a break because he was so stressed and tired.  What about me?  My “voice” was being disregarded and ignored.  I was expected to take care of the kids, so I did.  I had to be the responsible parent.  They are the reason I didn’t give up.  I was never suicidal, but I did want to die.  I wanted the physical and emotional pain to end, but I was not going to leave my children without a mother.

I clawed my way out of that pit of hell.  I started to rebuild myself.  The person I had been died on that operating table.  I had to start over.  I was in my early 30s.  Being developmentally delayed, I didn’t reach my teenage years until this time.  I started fighting back.  I was not going to be silenced anymore.  A few years later I would be diagnosed with Autism.  He could never accept my diagnosis.  The abuse got worse and he left three years later.  The kids have no contact with him.  It has been a year.

Emotional abuse is a horrid thing, but people don’t see it, because the scars are on the inside.  You can read more about my experience with emotional abuse here – Invisible Scars – A Tale of Emotional Abuse and with grief here – Grieving.

I cried the whole time I have been writing this.  It is almost 1AM and my fingers are still moving across the keyboard, being my conduit where my own voice has failed me.  The volcano has awoken and it wants to be heard.  I need to tell my story, but I don’t know if my words convey the pain I feel.

My condition has continued to deteriorate.  I have never fully recovered from my son’s pregnancy. Three years ago it was determined that my large intestine was shutting down.  I faced the real possibility of having to have my entire colon removed.  Luckily a new medication had come out that has enabled me to continue to go to the bathroom.  The tendons holding the right side of my diaphragm has deteriorated and two years ago I was told that my muscles were the only thing holding my body together any more.  My bones are essentially floating around in my body.  Pain lives with me.  I don’t know what it feels like not to have pain.

I am haunted.  Haunted

He hurt me.  They hurt me.  They are still hurting me and they don’t even know it.  They wouldn’t let me grieve after my surgery.  She told me it was just an organ, what was the big deal?  I was more than an organ.  I was more than a baby maker.  I already had two beautiful kids, what was a matter with me?  Get over it.  Did you ever think that this was something that was supposed to happen?  These are all things she told me.

Pregnancy scares the shit out of me now.  It is a huge trigger for me, as well as everything about it, but people don’t seem to understand.  I am supposed to show happiness when someone announces a pregnancy, but I can’t. I begin to panic instead.  I can’t shop for baby things, I can’t attend baby showers, and it is a big struggle for me to talk about baby things.  I am told I am being ridiculous, rude, and cold, but that is not true at all.

The problem is, even though pregnancy terrifies me, it also was something I can’t really explain.  It was something wonderful.  How can something so wonderful terrify me so much?  Another thought that I can’t shake is that I felt I wasn’t alone when I was pregnant.  I don’t understand this thought, but it has stayed with me all this time. The only reason I can think for this thought is it is a result of the abuse I sustained.

I endured 15 years of an emotionally abusive marriage and didn’t realize what was happening to me.  I knew something was wrong, but the abuse was committed in a way that left me feeling lost and confused, and I couldn’t get people to believe me when I tried to talk about it. He wore masks.  He had his public persona and his family persona.  He could be very charming one moment and the next it seemed like there was a stranger standing in my living room.  He might as well have been punching me daily, because that is how it felt, but I could never pin point exactly what was wrong.  He used this against me.  He said everything was fine and said it was in my head.  He would give me the silent treatment and refuse to want to try to resolve any dispute. He would brag about how we never fought, but all couples fight.  It wasn’t healthy.  Our marriage was toxic.  The pressure would build and I would have a normal reaction to an abnormal situation.  It was always my fault, at least to him.  Everything wrong in his life was my fault.  Nothing I did was ever right in his eyes and he kept changing the rules.

Then the cheating started, this was after I was diagnosed with Autism.  My Autism became an easy scape goat for him.  He used it to explain away his erratic behavior.  It was because I was such and such and it was because I needed such and such.  After my diagnosis I began to learn to create healthy boundaries.  I was advocating for myself and the kids.  I had started to overcome my codependency, he did not like that.  He told me I was being belligerent.  I could never understand what he meant by that, and when I would ask, he said I would get loud.  I don’t remember that.  If I did get loud, it was out of exasperation, not out of anger.  He never was able to read me correctly, always misinterpreting my emotional states.  You were not permitted to express emotional states in front of him, unless it was calm, happy feelings, because all other emotional states made him uncomfortable.  My son’s counselor once described my ex-husband as emotionally flat lined.

I had married a man that was emotional unavailable, but it wasn’t like that in the beginning.  He told me he pretended to be someone else to get me to marry him.  When the mask came off, he acted like he was the center of the world and I had to honor anything he wished.  I tend to be overly trusting and he took advantage of that fact.  He liked that I was loyal to him, maintained the house, took care of the kids, and I always waited for him to come home.  I had to let him do what he wanted when he wanted to.  I was not supposed to put any request on him, no matter how benign, because it would be an assault on his freedom.  At the time I did not understand any of this, because he was passive aggressive about it.  This came out after he was required to have a full psychological evaluation by the kids’ counselor.

I felt utterly stupid for staying with him for as long as I did, but I had a trauma bond with him.  Trauma bonds are very difficult to break.  The reason he gave me for why he didn’t want to be married anymore was because he didn’t want the responsibility of a family anymore.  He didn’t want to have to make choices.  It was after this that I discovered the other women.  I understand now that he never really loved me, though, I think he thought what he felt was love.  I don’t think he ever really knew who I was.  He was too busy projecting himself on to me and punishing me for things I never did.  He is a very sick person, I feel bad for him, and I wish I could say he was completely out of my life.  Unfortunately, you don’t always get what you want.  He is still triggering me through emails and letters.  I am still scared of him.  There are definitely PTSD symptoms when dealing with my ex-husband.

PTSD

I was conditioned to marry a man like him.  I was an easy target for him.  I was 23 years old when we met.  I was young, naïve, and unbeknownst to me, also a codependent.  I learned to be a codependent from childhood, but I am breaking free of that.  Looking back at the ones who raised me, she always made excuses for him and we were to not upset him. You learned really fast never to show pain or cry in front of him, because he would yell.  He yelled all the time and was emotionally distant. We were scared of him.  She was passive aggressive and emotionally abusive, but she didn’t realize it.  She still is that way.

She kept expecting me to be like her, a mini-me version of her, but I am not.  I am me and no one else.  I have my own passions, fears, and desires.  I am uniquely me.  She once told me, after I found out I was autistic, that she thought I would never be able to live independently, but she never said anything.  She just pushed me on to men and wanted me married off.  It didn’t matter how hard I had worked to gain my independence (which I did, by the way).  I had to be married off.  She never did that with my younger sister nor did she push my younger sister to have kids like she did me.

She wanted grandkids, and when I was engaged, she started pushing us to have kids before we were ever married.  We waited, though.  After my divorce, she told me she did not trust my ability to make good decisions regarding the kids.  She demanded that I move into a camper trailer on their property that was three hours away so she could look after the kids.  I fought back this time.  I was not going to let her use guilt and shame on me again.  I was stronger this time.  I was not going to tuck my tail between my legs and run away.  She had expected me to do that, because that was what she would have done.  She got mad at me when I refused.  She told me this herself.  Again, she is still thinking I am like her when I am most definitely not.

I had been the primary caregiver of my children since they were born.  I was the only reason my children were getting the medical care and educational assistance they needed.  The kids’ counselors told me that they wished more parents were like me, informed, involved, and I didn’t keep my children in the dark as to why they were receiving the care they were.  My children have been an active member in their own care for some time now, because I understood and accepted them for who they were early on and I helped them understand and accept themselves as individuals. Yet, I wasn’t trusted by the one who raised me to know how to care for my own children.

When I was little, it was drilled into my head that I had to be responsible and had to protect my younger sibling.  I was only two years older, but I did my job, because rules are rules.  I had to be the responsible one.  I was the one who told them she needed to be on birth control.  I was the one who discovered she was skipping school.  Why was all this my job?  Isn’t this a parent’s job to be aware of these things?  No one made sure I had access to birth control.  I had to ask when I knew it was time for me to be put on them.

There is a reason I felt I had known him all my life when I had only just met him.  I grew up surrounded by his type of behavior.  It was all I knew, so I tolerated it, made excuses for it like I had learned growing up, and it ended up destroying me.

I know I should feel very fortunate to have what I have and I do.  I have two amazing children.  Both my kids survived being born and I am not in a wheel chair.  I know if I had gotten pregnant again, and if I was able to make it to term (and that is a big “if”), I would most likely have been paralyzed.  I should be grateful, and I am, but I can’t shake these awful feelings.  The feelings of guilt, shame, regret, the feelings of betrayal, jealously, anger, and fear, oh, the terrifying, debilitating fear. It won’t go away and I have tried so damn hard to get through it, to process it, to let it go.  It won’t let go of me.  What is wrong with me?

A few weeks ago, my sister announced that she is pregnant with her first child.  The announcement triggered me so badly that I essentially went into hiding.  The announcement sent me into a terrible flashback.  I was back at the hospital.  It was happening all over again and I couldn’t stop it. The panic attack over whelmed me and I kept having panic attacks for days afterwards.  I can’t talk to any of my family members out of fear.  My younger sister is having baby, the sister I was always supposed to protect growing up.  I should be happy for her, but I can’t be.  I need to be there for her, but I can’t be.   I am going to be an aunt, but I can’t be involved no matter how much I want to.  How frigging screwed up is that?  It makes no sense at all.  Not. One. Bit.

I don’t want to hate myself anymore.  I am tired of it.  I want to live my life without feeling haunted.  I want to be free.  I just want to be free.

My fingers have slowed down now.  I think I am coming to the end.  I started writing when it was almost midnight, because I couldn’t sleep and the words were clawing to get out.  It is now 1:30AM.  I feel some relief now, perhaps I can finally sleep.  Perhaps the volcano has finally made itself heard.   I know I still have a long way to go, but perhaps my spirit can be free after all.

Can you hear me? I am here and I will not be silenced! I will be free!

Spirit

(Original art work from fantasy artist Josephine Wall )

**Note:  All images not given credit were licensed for reuse with modification.