Tag Archive | stigma

Trauma is in the eye of the beholder

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What do people really think about you? What are you showing them? Well what they think depends on how they frame it in their minds anyway. So much subjectivity, so much interpretation and assumption.

I’ve become increasingly interested in my doctors varying opinions of my mood lately and how it applies to my future. As most of you know, as soon as you have “Psych” history on your record, it can be difficult to get medical attention without doctors telling you how you feel and that somehow trauma and depression are actually causing the issues, not anything they can solve, and you end up with another referral for therapy.

If you have an “extensive Psych” history like mine, it is almost impossible.

I started comparing notes.

My back surgeon notes that I am pleasant and upbeat, cheerful, even 3 weeks post surgery when my pain level was still quite high.

But the neuropsych team inote, flat affect, appears to be severely depressed, speaking noticeably slowly, moved to tears.

Let’s see what is the difference here? It’s not just that the psych team is looking for it, I’m not saying that, I am behaving differently in these appointments. Hmmm, I wonder why? Seriously. That was snarky if you couldn’t tell. OK let me spell it out by giving you a glimpse of the conversations.

When I am talking with my back surgeon, I am grateful, he has changed my life, reduced my pain, restored strength and balance to my weak leg. He see me as strong, able, resilient, and able to do whatever I want to do. He knows nothing about my traumatic past and never has asked about it. He expects me to heal, because nerves, bones and muscles heal at an expected rate.

When I am talking with the psych team, they continually poke and prod about the relationship with my parents and brothers and husband. They force me to relive and retell some of the worst moments of my life. Usually I am meeting someone new, forced to tell my story to someone I do not fully trust for them to make another assessment of my condition. My flat affect is me trying to remain calm and choose my words carefully, knowing I am being judged. My tears are me, reacting to pain in the moment, recalling my sorrow.

But I don’t live there in that sorrow. Each doctor is only seeing a snapshot of me, a moment of me, not all of me, not how I function each day all day, not my life. I wonder how many people can retell their worst fears and memories without appearing traumatized. Even if you weren’t abused, I bet if you spent 3 hours describing every pet that died, how you miss your grandparents, maybe you were bullied, your boyfriend broke your heart in high school, your friend died in a car crash or overdose, your parents split up – whatever – life is full of heartache and tragic moments that we don’t call abuse. I bet if you made a list of them and described them out loud, that any “normal” person would appear depressed and traumatized and dysfunctional.

I don’t think its me that needs realistic expectations, I think it is the medical community. I almost want to prove my theory by starting over with a new doctor, stating I have a brain injury from purely physical means, caught in a shockwave perhaps and see I still have the same sad “Sorry but we can’t help you, you’ve been through too much to get better at this point in your life” story. I bet I would get sent to rehab and expected to heal if I didn’t have a psych history.

Well I expect more of myself, always have. Yeah, I got knocked down. But I’ve been down before, so what. I am out there jogging you guys. It isn’t beautiful, I mean I won’t win any medals, but I am not using a cane and both feet leave the ground at a pace faster than walking. I know I am healing. I know what I can do. I can do more.

I don’t care about my history, its irrelevant at this point. My brain doesn’t care. I am no longer being traumatized. I am sleeping, eating well, exercising, going to therapy, doing brain training games, pushing towards creative thought – why can’t I expect healing to happen? I don’t have a bunch of faith, but I’ve always believed in resiliency, set a goal, make a path, and eventually you get there.

My therapist thinks my lack of creativity is tied more to grief than brain damage. I’m starting to think she is right. My mom was my constant cheerleader, so supportive of my artwork and writing. I always shared my ideas and progress with her, always created for her, and she poured on the constant praise, sometimes annoyingly so, and almost over the top. I think I depended on that more than I ever knew though. Without her daily comments on my blogs, her multiple emails, I have no one else cheering me on, encouraging me to draw something today, asking what my next project will be, asking me to make something for her. She kept me going. I see this now. So at some point I will have to draw through the tears, and just keep going, until I am drawing for myself and the world, and show her that her years of support were enough to keep me going even after she is gone. I need to feel this pain of missing her and draw anyway. Somehow with my teary eyes and shaky hands I know this is the next step I need to take. An empty page has never been so frightening.

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Low and slow

Depression has ensnared me once again in its slimy muck. My thoughts are slow, painfully slow. Like the google cursor just spinning and spinning to load a thought that should have been automatic. Feeling so low lately I cry every chance I get Alone and feel the tears welling up in between.

So tired but can’t sleep.
So tired of being fat and getting fatter but can’t stop eating.

Eating is the only thing that takes any pain away and fills the void.

Work is too stressful. I was trying to carry on but started shaking and getting blurry vision, my migraine aura. I overslept yesterday morning and missed a meeting. I didn’t even care and went back to sleep. When I finally got up and realized work must be wondering so I made up an emergency and took another day off. I slept and ate all day today.

My manager told my sis in law that works with us about my ’emergency’ and she texted me in concern. I told her the truth. I never tell my bosses the truth ever. I already had ‘the flu’ and a ‘migraine’ recently so had to use the emergency bluff this time.

I hate lying but I know I can’t tell them I am depressed and wishing for a train to run over me. I don’t want to lose this job and I know these dark days will slowly brighten again. So I lie. And sleep and eat and try to get my brain rest.

Tried telling hubby and it seems all brand new again. What?  You get depressed?  Would it help if I tickled you?  Ummm no. No it wouldn’t help if you trivialized my suffering and seem like you don’t understand at all. Again. Never mind. I’ll do this on my own. Again.

Life After Rehab – Biography of My Schizophrenic Brother, Part 5

Eventually, one day, my brother was deemed to be rehabilitated and my family was supposedly all supportive and not dysfunctional now, so he was sent back home with us. The weeks in rehab passed with little outstanding events to recall, except for the one day my brother started a fire in his room.

I was home with Mom when they called, so I finally got to go beyond the buzzed locked doors and see the room where my brother had been living all these weeks. When we entered his room, he was just reclining on his bed, arms behind his head, staring at the ceiling, like this was the most carefree peaceful vacation spot. He looked up at us, said his usual, “Hey” and looked back up at the ceiling, like we were interrupting the show. The counselor showed us a dark spot on the wall near the electrical outlet, and said Mom had to pay for the damages, then looked at my brother, and said thankfully no one was hurt.

Mom went out into the hall to talk with the counselor, leaving me alone with my brother. I was staring at the scorched mark on the wall when he said, “I just wanted a cig. It was late and I couldn’t wait until morning smoke time, so I lit one here” I remember him laughing as he told me the story. “It was cool, the spark grew so big, guess I used too much paper this time, but it was cool, like a fireball – Fooomp!” He smiled and laughed and called himself stupid, but in a gentle way. I asked him how, feeling proud of him. He said he used a pencil, that lead is conductive to electricity and usually just sparks a bit, not a big Foomp like this time. Then he laughed again, “At least I still have my eyebrows – I jumped back real quick.” I laughed with him. Wow it was so great to hear him laugh. Was he all better now? And it felt great to hear his secret for starting fires, like he was  so cool like MacGyver and also a bit like we were partners in crime. We got to take him home that day – a few days early, I think they didn’t want any more fires.  And he had convinced them all he was better, with his gentle joking and good attitude.

It was beyond tough for him to return to school with his new reputation. Everyone knew where he had been, or thought they knew, and rumors had spread of all kinds of things. He was getting through it, day by day, until something happened at school. Our high school had a courtyard where the teachers and older students went out to smoke (Remember when that was allowed?). Every year, A Mama Duck would nest in the bushes out there, and parade her little ducklings past all the classrooms. My brother told me about them, and even took me there once after school to see the newly hatched babies. He was so gentle, and showed me how to stay back and stay quiet to not scare them. We brought them some bread and just enjoyed the cute little show in silence.

Mama Duck-1395

Mama Duck-1395 (Photo credit: MSMcCarthy Photography)

The next day after school, my brother was distressed. I didn’t know what was wrong, but he was just sitting and rocking on his bed, this terrible look on his face. He saw me, and just said, “No matter what they say, I didn’t do it. I’d never. I couldn’t.” And then he took off out of the room, got in his car and left. I had no idea what was wrong. Until the phone rang, and I overheard my Mom speaking to someone, she had to go into the school, but no, she didn’t know where my brother was right now.

Someone had stomped the ducklings. With their feet. Cruelly, and disgustingly stomped and smashed the entire fuzzy little family. The Mama Duck was going berzerk, that’s how the Principal even noticed. And someone had blamed my brother for this horrible deed, saying they see him out here often, and well you know his past. Everyone easily believed that “the druggie” did this. I knew he didn’t. But I think that was the final straw for my brother. He stopped trying to fit in, like it was pointless if everyone thought he was so terrible.

He got back into drugs. He started a car radio theft ring – they busted him with 5 in his locker at school. He sold them to buy the drugs. He was locked up a few more times, sometimes my parents let him stay in jail overnight – to teach him a lesson. He got really thin and pale, and his green eyes no longer sparkled. He stopped looking at me, or anyone else. He left our world, no longer able to cope. If he was home, he was alone in his room , door locked, and his electric guitar screaming out what he himself was unable to express. He still went to school, off and on, but only took Home Ec – 4 sections of it – his senior year, just to get enough credits to graduate. His graduation was not a huge celebration like our oldest brother’s, more like a ‘Thank God you actually did it’ dinner, at a Mexican restaurant, of course, so he could get his tacos. And the only reason he stuck it out and finished high school, was so he could follow his dreams of being a rock star. He knew he would get a better job in California with a high school diploma. He left us just days after graduation. Just got in his car with his guitar, a duffel bag, and a dream, and he left our small town where everyone had labeled him a murderous, loser druggie, and believe me – he did not look back.

I was in Middle School then, when he left. I was 11. My parents were planning to get a divorce. My Dad was scheming to get me to live with him, to convince me Mom hated me still, and to make me sign those custody papers. My mom put a twin bed in their bedroom and slept there next to dad in the big bed now. She started going to college, in preparation for the divorce. My dad had that all planned out too, gave her 2 years to live there with us, get an associate’s degree and learn to support herself. My scoliosis was advancing, the brace was not working, and my doctors were discussing surgical options. And now 2 of my brothers were gone, one in college and one in CA. My other brother was now in high school and drifted away from me, too busy with his friends and girlfriend to talk to me any more. I hated it at home, and did everything possible to avoid going there. I rode my bike everywhere, to the mall, to the library, to the park, to my friend’s house. Sometimes I just rode with no destination, just to feel like I was moving, and stuck in my own personal hell.

It was weeks – yes freaking weeks! – before my brother called us from California. If my parents worried about him, they sure did not show it. In fact they seemed relieved that he was gone, that they were no longer responsible for this failure. My Dad made it clear he would not support any losers in his house once we were 18. The call was long distance from a pay phone, so it was brief. He was OK, had a nice apartment with his band mates, and sold his car for a motorcycle. He had a job delivering pizza, and had lined up a few gigs for the band. He had slept in his car or on the beach the first few weeks until they found a place to live. He said the tacos were amazing in CA! He sounded – happy.

That made me happy, but I missed him. And I was jealous, so extremely jealous – he was free. He got out of this house. That’s when I became even more determined to be a perfect student, get a scholarship, and go to an amazing college. I wanted out. I wanted to prove myself to the world, show everyone I wasn’t a stupid worthless girl like my Dad said. I wanted to be famous and the best at something, win awards for my writing and poetry, cure cancer, be the first asthmatic female basketball MVP, design rockets, and maybe even create world peace too, ya know, in my free time.

Mental Illness Stigma – Keeping Quiet about Depression

Cover of "No Talking (Thorndike Press Lar...

(Cover via Amazon) I have to remind myself to keep my own secrets

Today has been slow. Agonizingly slow. Slow to wake up, slow to get up, slow to move, slow to think, slow to speak.

I have not been able to work yet today, but my boss does not know this since I work from home. I do what I can , when I can, and somehow it all gets done. When they don’t hear from me, they assume I am crazy busy. Not just crazy.

I hate that I can’t share my struggle with my boss and coworkers. But I know that I can’t. Another coworker is struggling to recover from surgery to remove endometriosis. We all know the details and have taken some of her chores to lighten her load. Another coworker just returned from maternity leave and has shortened hours. Another coworker has just had shoulder surgery and can only type 1 handed, her load is reduced. We all know these facts and jump in to help out.

No one knows I can barely sleep all night, that I struggle to rub 2 thoughts together, that I sit in a foggy haze all morning, that I can’t understand the request in the email even though I read it a zillion times. I can’t share that I have depression and still have them treat me with respect. Hell, I may even lose my job. If I ever make a mistake, and I do, they wouldn’t just brush it off, they’d blame my depression.

But the good and honest part of me feels like I am lying to withhold this information. I blame the kids for keeping me up all night, that’s why I sound sleepy in the teleconference. I blame the cable outage for losing my documents. I blame my busy schedule for missing meetings, not admitting I just forgot.

They picture me as a supermom, running around like crazy, getting everything done, and squeezing in my work on top of it. They don’t know that most days I have only managed to do the work, there was nothing else.

And then they praise me. What? seriously? Yes, they think I am brilliant, creative, hard working, responsible. Well, I am all of those things, but it is hard to accept compliments when I feel like I am barely doing the minimum requirements. But, even with my struggles, I get things done that others do not. I wonder if they have hidden struggles too?

A coworker was given a project in November, checked on her progress last week, and she had not even started it and never told anyone. I was shocked. They gave the project to me – they know I will do it. I started it, but the tedium is wearing on me, and it sits untouched most days. But I presented the part I had started in the last meeting, and got oohed and ahhed. They love it. They will wait for it. I could have it all done today if I could just focus. But I can’t focus, so it takes weeks, and then I get praised for putting in so much time.

The world is messed up. I just have to shake my head in amazement. But I can play the game for now.