I’ve been feeling like a raw, exposed nerve lately.

ptsd

I’ve been dealing with a particularly ugly batch of memories lately, one that I should have dealt with sooner: the sexual abuse/coercive rape in an otherwise abusive relationship I was involved in during my teens, and a sexual assault that occurred last summer.

Let’s back up. I had my initial consultation at a local pain clinic last Thursday, and while the attitudes of the doctor and his PA were certainly off-putting and had me feeling as though I was on trial, guilty of something, it was one particular portion of the physical exam that triggered me.

From what I understand, physicians are supposed to begin with “neutral voice, neutral touch” when approaching “private” areas. The first portion was okay, though the pressure on my lower abdomen caused quite a bit of pain (I have endometriosis, which is why I was there in the first place). The problematic part came when the doctor instructed me to sit up. Then, instead of letting me know what he was going to do before he did it, he slid his hands up my skirt, onto my inner thighs, pushed my legs apart, and then sat back to wait.

“Push your legs together and let me know if it causes pain,” he said. I did; no pain. There wasn’t any actual inappropriate contact; it was just the circumstances (abrupt touch and being in a closed room with two men who had already put me on edge with their accusatory attitudes) that happened to trigger me. The part that baffles me is that he kept referencing my bipolar disorder and (especially) my PTSD. He had a problem with the fact that my mood stabilizers put a damper on most of his plans for treatment and wasn’t afraid to tell me so.

The worst part was when, upon noticing my escalating anxiety, began commenting on my PTSD and saying that I need to find coping methods, need to work with a therapist, and so on. As he was heading out the door at the end of the visit, after we’d discussed a procedure involving a nerve block (which he had initially said would require only a local anesthetic), he looked over his shoulder and said, “Oh, yeah, we’ll want you very sedated for that procedure.” By this point, I was a nervous wreck; my hands were shaking and I had pushed myself as far back in the chair as I could, trying to make myself as small as possible.

I’ve put in a call to the complaint department and have asked for a new doctor, though I haven’t heard back yet on either count.

Moving on, I finally confessed (is “confessed” the right word?) to my family about the rapes and the assault. My mother and auntmom were infuriated but not surprised, considering they hated the guy I was dating at the time and knew I was being abused, though they never really tried to intervene. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, considering I wouldn’t have listened at the time, anyway; as we all know, abusive relationships come with a lot of brainwashing. On Sunday, I also “came out” to another aunt about many of the things I’ve kept hidden from my family for the past seven years, including the sexual abuse, the trauma I suffered as a child, the bullying, and the miscarriage I had at five weeks when I was 19.

Needless to say, it’s been a trying couple of days and I’m struggling to get back on my feet and regain my characteristic toughness. But dealing with all of this so directly and all at once has definitely taken its toll; I feel anxious when left alone and, unfortunately, have found myself feeling apprehensive around men over the last few days. D. and I were unloading bags from the car this morning and there was a portly man in overalls, a stained t-shirt, and a John Deere cap—basically, the stereotypical “farmer” type you see around here—standing next to his pickup truck in the parking space two away from ours. He was staring at me. He didn’t move, he didn’t smile, he didn’t say anything. He just stood there and stared.

Normally, I would have met his gaze fearlessly and unflinchingly until he looked away or left, but today, I just….couldn’t. I put my head down and kept my eyes locked on the ground as I walked as quickly as possible toward the building, thankful that management recently added locks to the outermost doors as well. D. followed close behind and agreed that the guy had been creepy, but the commiseration didn’t help much; I felt dirty for a while and hated myself for bitching out, for not being able to act like the bold broad everyone seems to think I am.

Right now, I feel vulnerable, exposed, weak. That incident on Thursday ripped me wide open and I don’t know how to close it up this time. I’m not sure why my mind decided now was the perfect time to deal with things that happened six years ago (though the sexual assault was last summer), but at least I have the wisdom to know that all I can do is cope to the best of my ability and ride it out.

If any other survivors of rape/sexual abuse/sexual assault/whatever you want to call it have any tips for coping, I would love to hear them.

Stay strong. Stay beautiful.

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I’m not afraid of anything, except feeling.

abuse, major depression, ptsd, therapy

This is something I think I’ve known for a long time, but I never fully realized it until my most recent re-reading of More, Now, Again (Elizabeth Wurtzel), where Wurtzel’s therapist tells her the exact same thing.

One of the ways I managed to survive, for better or worse, was by learning to numb myself to all the “big”/important events that would normally have provoked a lot of emotion. To this day, I can recite all the details of being abused and neglected as a child, or what it was like to visit my mother in prison, without shedding a tear or breaking out of a monotone. I can tell you exactly how it feels to be terrified by verbal abuse from a romantic partner, what it’s like to have them hit you for the first time, what it’s like to be coerced into sex (which is a form of rape), what it’s like to be sexually assaulted by someone who initially seemed like a nice guy. I can describe all of these things down to the very last, tiniest detail without feeling any of the emotions behind them because I’ve learned to store those emotions as far back as possible, but for some reason, my memories stay right up front, almost as fresh as the day they were formed.

It’s safer to feel sad about old people in general than to cry over the fact that I am terrified of losing my grandmother, who raised me and is like a mother to me. It’s safer to get upset about the minute details I remember about the days when the abuse (both as a child and as a teenager) was at its worst than to release all the emotions that pertain to the actual events.

This is why I’m so detached. I put all of my energy into feeling depressed and hopeless over seemingly insignificant things because once I open the floodgates about the really important things cluttering up the back of my mind, I can’t turn it off. Instead, they languish there, floating around like bits of shrapnel and inflicting more and more damage as time goes on.

I think this is why therapy doesn’t work for me. It’s like an ouroboros, really; we can’t get at the roots of what’s fucking me up because of my defense mechanisms, which are touchy and what’s keeping me so numb. But without working through the underlying issues, there’s no hope of ever relieving some of the numbness and the angst…it’s an ongoing process. Right now, I’m not seeing my therapist because money is an issue (but when isn’t it?).

In the meantime, I’m trying to keep myself occupied as well as I can, considering I’m unable to work. D. and I have been talking about me going back to school to finish up the last few credits for a B.S. in psychology, then on to grad school. I’m not sure if I want to go into counseling or go down the forensic/criminal psych path yet, but there’s plenty of time to figure that out.

Trying not to turn into my mother seems to be taking up most of my time these days, but I’m also trying to balance that with keeping myself alive. My coping methods really suck sometimes, but the general consensus (from friends, my husband, even my therapist) has been that even if something is problematic in the moment, if it can get me through a crisis alive, it’s okay. We can work on that bit later, but in order for any of the work to get done, I have to be alive.

I am alive. I left the house on a small errand today, and though the dissociation was a whole lot worse when I got home, I’m still relatively okay. That has to count for something.