x100 (disabled)

disabled:

dis·a·bled [dis-ey-buhld]

adjective

1.

physically or mentally impaired, injured, or incapacitated.

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As some of y’all may know, I have contributed in the past to Offbeat Bride and Offbeat Home & Life (I also was slated to have a guest post on the now defunct Offbeat Families, but the website shut down and went archival before my post had a chance to be published). Confused and slightly frightened around the subject of seriously describing myself (because, ahem, you couldn’t tell from the “About Me” on this blog that I don’t take describing myself seriously), I defaulted to a quote that I’ve used since high school to describe myself:

“Aurora is a lesbian Nazi hooker from outer space who was forced into a Weight Watchers program, and she will love you forever if you get that movie reference. But seriously, though, she is gay and she does love Star Wars, so it’s kind of accurate, right?”

The quote (from “lesbian… program”) is from the Weird Al Yankovic film “UHF”. It was made in 1989 and pre-dates the era of political correctness. I loved the slightly irreverent humor, and most of all I loved how it poked fun sensationalist media and the over-use/inappropriate use of the word “Nazi” (remember when Megan Fox got kicked out of the Transformers franchise for referring to Spielberg as a “Nazi”?).  Once one of my Offbeat Bride posts became more popular, however, people took issue with my biography, and while I initially defended it (here and here), I ultimately chose to change the bio entirely to avoid offending people.

This left me with two problems, the first being that I am very overly sensitive and have concerns about people who will harangue and judge me over the old biography when I meant no ill will (I have convinced myself that I should commit suicide over what Internet Strangers have said before, so this is kind of a problem with me). The second problem is that I was at a loss to describe myself in a more sincere manner. So I came up with this:

“Aurora is a disabled queer vegan who enjoys doing crazy things with her hair and expanding her theological horizons. She is a housewife who lives in the suburbs with her fiancee and their Chihuahua-Husky mix. In her spare time she cooks, journals, creates art, and sings in the shower. She blogs about her life and various mental health concerns at mydnyht.wordpress.com.”

Are you noticing the second problem? Hint: it has to do with the title of this post and its foreword.

I described myself as disabled.

Which begs the question: what the fuck even constitutes a disability, and can bipolar disorder be considered one?

I kind of hinted that I was looking for an answer to this question in my post “Housewife-in-Training”. At this point in my life, my bipolar disorder and my generalized anxiety disorder certainly impact me enough to be considered a disability – after all, I can’t work, I sometimes have difficulty functioning in social situations, and I struggled a lot in school (I did well in elementary school; by the time middle school hit I was getting good grades but struggling with attendance and time management, and I flunked out of college because I never submitted medical withdrawal paperwork before I left). I mean, hell, I receive disability payments from the government, so they seem to think it counts. But somehow, identifying as disabled when my disability is “invisible” seems… disingenuous. Particularly to people who have very obvious mental or physical disabilities. Even moreso when you look at people like Catherine Zeta Jones or Demi Lovato, who despite hospitalizations have successful careers and are in the public eye, looking “normal”.

I feel like I need to backtrack for a moment. Around the time I was a senior in high school and a freshman in college, I developed this concept of “bipolar pride”, if you will. It was often my first identifier when I was introducing myself to people, and I even created an image to post on my MySpace profile. This backfired when I joined an online chatroom and had to post an introduction in the new members forum. I stated that there are two things you should know about me: that I have bipolar disorder, and that I want nine children. People immediately jumped on me, stating that I was a nutcase and that I would be a terrible mother and that they felt bad for any kids I would have. I had someone even go so far as to state that I would be an excellent candidate for Jack Kevorkian (remember me feeling suicidal over Internet Strangers? Yea, this was one of those times). Chalk it up to youthful inexperience in life, but I figured since my bipolar disorder was something I couldn’t get rid of (only cope with), I might as well put it out there.

There’s something… almost comforting, if you will, about admitting to being disabled. Even the term is less poisonous than “bipolar” because, often, when people think of a disability, they focus on something physical and ignore the stigma that comes with mental health concerns. It’s less embarrassing to say “I’m disabled” than it is to say “I have bipolar disorder”. At the same time, there’s something crushing about the process of describing oneself as disabled. I’m fighting back tears right now and making some passionflower tea to deal with my anxiety because I am having trouble writing this down. I don’t know if it’s right for me to describe myself as disabled, but at the same time, I don’t know how else to convey to people that… there’s something wrong with me. I know that’s a horrible way to phrase it, but when I look back on all the mistakes I’ve made when I was on the wrong meds, or on the wrong doses of meds, or not on meds at all, all I can think is that there is something very seriously wrong with me. If I need pills to function properly, doesn’t that count as a disability? I always used to compare bipolar disorder to diabetes; perhaps it’s more apt, in this case, to say that my medication functions much the same way that a wheelchair functions for a paralyzed person.

Overall, I feel that this is an open-ended blog post. Despite the fact that I declared myself “disabled” on the Offbeat Empire, I probably won’t use the term in my everyday, non-cyber life (“but you don’t look disabled” would get really old, really fast). And honestly, I feel that I have the right to describe myself as disabled much in the same way that I feel I have the right to describe myself as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse – which is to say, I’m not completely sure I’m allowed to choose those terms to describe myself. That being said, when it comes to my internet-centric activism, the term (I think?) works well, allowing me to identify as someone who is affected by ableism in an able-minded society and advocate for other people in similar situations.

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disabled:

dis·a·bled [dis-ey-buhld]

adjective

1.

differently-abled but still awesome.

x99 (hope)

I could hear “Sweetest Perfection” in the background.

I want my life to be lyrical like that, I thought.

And there I sat

Remembering how it was.

The spinning, the darkness of the world
The silence was louder than the words I spoke
It was oppressive

But that’s how it was,
Not how it is now.

He asks how I’m doing.

He tells me that he’s proud of me
That I’m right
That it shouldn’t be this difficult to find a confidant
He says he’ll take care of me
Provide for me
Until a better one comes along

“You were right to advocate for yourself.”

I want my life to be lyrical like that, I thought.

There is hope.

I am supported.

I could hear their new album in the background.

my life is lyrical like that,

I thought.

x98 (therapy woes)

I keep running into roadblocks when it comes to finding a new therapist. First it was insurance hurdles. Then it was transportation issues. MassHealth sent me a list of therapists and psychiatrists who take MassHealth, but I have other insurances that also need to be accepted. Some providers accepted one of my insurances and not the other. Some of the therapists listed were no longer practicing. Some of them were no longer MassHealth providers. Some of them weren’t accepting new patients at the time. In a last ditch effort, I tried to switch my primary care to a doctor in Boston so that I could get a referral to one of the therapists in his unit. It worked, but transportation issues reared their ugly head again – I can’t afford to travel to Boston on my own for therapy, and despite the fact that MART (the transportation provider for disabled persons on MassHealth) assured me that they’d be willing to provide a ride from where I live to Boston, filling out the paperwork presented challenges. As it stands, they have only approved one visit per month, and I need to be seen at least every other week, if not every week. Thus far, I love the therapist I’ve been assigned to but I may not be able to do any work with her if I can’t actually get there. And so even though Boston isn’t that much farther away than the current therapist I’ve been seeing, I may be stuck with a therapist who I feel is not a good fit at a clinic where the unit director thinks I’m not taking my therapy seriously.

I thought I was trying to do the right thing by finding a new therapist at a clinic that is a better fit for my therapy goals. And even though others have assured me that this is not the case, I can’t help but feel that G-d is punishing me somehow. Am I really crazy? Was the whole sexual abuse thing just in my head, as was suggested by my psychiatrist? When I confronted him later on that statement he rescinded, but the memory of that diagnosis still haunts me. I still feel the sting of tears and shame from when the director at the center where I’d been receiving therapy told me that it’s not OK to want a cheerleader in a therapist and that it was my fault that the therapist wasn’t a good fit. I’m terrified that I’ll have to go back to that clinic and face the unit director once again, attempting to explain what I’m looking for and having him be rude and throw it back in my face. While I personally think that it’s debatable whether or not I need medication to function, the fact of the matter is that if I choose to stop medicating it should be a choice brought on by careful thought and discussion with a provider who can taper me down. It shouldn’t happen because I can’t find a provider and all of a sudden have no one to write the prescription. My eligibility for disability is also dependent on a doctor, and it’s going to look mighty funny if all of a sudden I have no therapist or psychiatrist to provide me with support for a psychological disability.

I know there are many people – even people I would have, in the past, considered friends – who would think that I am in the wrong here. That doctors are always right because they have training and there’s no need for seeking out a second opinion. It doesn’t matter that doctors are human beings with flaws and prejudices and biases – they receive elevated status because they have a degree that supposedly gives them the right to trump everyone else’s opinions. It’s maddening, saddening, and embarrassing, all at once. I wonder if I would have been treated the same if I was a cancer patient seeking a second opinion after a terminal diagnosis, or a car accident survivor who sought a second opinion after being told they would never walk again? I know of a former coworker who recently quipped on Facebook about her experience “firing” a doctor; if only I had received the same support from the people in my life.

I hate feeling like I’m trapped, and I hate feeling suffocated by a therapist. For years at the aforementioned clinic (because I’ve been a patient there since I was 14), I drifted from therapist to therapist, knowing they weren’t a good fit, but not caring enough to advocate for myself. I followed the unit director’s advice, and I stuck with therapists for well over six months and even more than a year, wasting time in therapy until the various therapists decided to retire or seek employment at a different clinic. The only time I fought to switch therapists was when the woman I was seeing was frequently 30+ minutes late to our appointments and tried to have me dropped as a patient of the clinic after I explained to her that I missed an appointment because of scheduling conflicts at my newly acquired retail job (if you’ve ever worked retail, you know they are proponents of a varying schedule that makes scheduling regular doctor’s appointments very difficult). I thought I was doing the right thing by being “outspoken” and advocating for myself. I thought that a month of appointments was more than enough time to determine that my therapist was judgmental and harsh and not a good advocate for my healing (nor was she adequately trained in trauma, PTSD, and childhood physical/sexual abuse). I switched from the first therapist I had been reassigned to after my old therapist left because she didn’t have the necessary training to deal with trauma. We both agreed it was the right choice. I tried to switch from the new therapist I had been assigned to because I didn’t think she was a good fit for my therapy goals. These are two completely different reasons for asking to be reassigned, and yet I was told that it was my fault that neither of these therapists worked out for me and that if neither of them worked out for me, there was no other therapist at the clinic who would be a good fit. And so, I felt trapped. Suffocated. Stuck in therapy, not getting any work done, because I couldn’t trust the woman to whom I’d been assigned. Knowing that my very existence depended on my ability to play ambassador, to smile and nod, so that I didn’t get kicked out of the clinic and get a black mark on my record that prevented me from seeking help somewhere.

Everything is up in the air now. All that’s left is to pray and to hope that this works out.

x97 (truth)

(Editor’s Note: The names, genders, and identities of all parties involved have been changed – please see “What It Feels Like To Think You’ve Repressed A Memory…” if you’re confused.)

For the longest time, I wanted it to be true.

I wanted that validation.

I didn’t want to be crazy, or delusional. I wanted to be right. I wanted to scream in people’s faces, “SEE? I told you so!”

I wanted to have a “legitimate” reason to suffer. I wanted to have a “legitimate” reason behind the not showering, and the nightmares, and the crippling, paralyzing fear.

Now, though? I’m not so sure.

BARCC is on my speed dial. I’m sick of calling them with the same questions, looking for the same validations.

I’m sick of having to find a new therapist so I can finally work through this in therapy.

I don’t know if I want it to be true anymore.

I know that something happened Chris, Jessie, and Dale. Dale told me, “Something happened. Chris and Jessie were able to forgive him; I was not.” That something could have been sexual abuse. Or it could have been something different. It could have been that “something” was going to jail via a plea bargain after he was accused of raping someone.  It could be a generally rough childhood that didn’t include sexual abuse. I don’t know. And judging my relationship with Dale and his unwillingness to talk to me, I probably will never know.

The further I get from that December, the fuzzier things seem.

I want to pretend December never happened. I want to ignore my fears and my inability to trust and just pretend it was nothing.

I don’t know if I want it to be true anymore.

x96 (hard)

It’s hard.

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When I was really struggling with processing the sexual abuse on my own, before I involved therapists or doctors, I wrote a letter. And the person I wrote that letter to referred me to the Enough Abuse organization from the Prevent Child Abuse America and Mass Citizens for Children.

I shared an image from them on Facebook.

I know that I write (somewhat) openly about my experiences with childhood sexual abuse, and I know that these blog entries are linked to my Facebook account. I know this, but it still seems separate from, say, posting a status update or sharing an image.

And it’s hard.

It’s hard putting myself out there, identifying as a  survivor or victim, knowing that I have family members who look and wonder and have questions but never ask. Every once in a while I’ll get from a friend, “I see what you put out there, and you are helping people.” But sometimes that seems distant, and I simply feel…

Watched. Judged.

And it’s hard.

___

I think the person I wrote the letter to thought that the Enough Abuse campaign was a therapy organization. They’re not. They’re an activist organization. The brilliant thing about the recommendation was, that me wanting what happened to me to never happen to another child and actually working to prevent that is some of the best therapy I could have been given.

So it’s hard. But if it’s hard for me, maybe it’s easier for someone else.

x95 (offbeat home guest post)

I recently submitted an Offbeat Home post that went live yesterday. It’s about making compromises about ethics without sacrificing you values.

When I was thirteen, I became a vegetarian. When I was twenty, I transitioned to veganism. In the meantime, I developed a lot of ideals that revolved around ethical consumerism — something discussed a lot on Offbeat Home. I chose not to shop at certain big box store chains, and tried to either thrift clothing or buy items that were sweatshop-free. I had a lot of time to fantasize about my future and prospective living situations, and the idea of a vegan, eco-friendly, ethical household was appealing to me. So when I met my now-fiancée and the topic of moving in together came up, it was apparent that some compromises were going to have to be made on someone’s end.

Read the rest here!

x94 (how to fast safely – a religious person’s guide)

This post originally appeared on my blog last year during the Christian season of Lent (well… Western Lent. I have no idea when Eastern Orthodox folx celebrate Lent/Easter). Although I have a strong desire to convert to Judaism, until that is possible I am giving myself social and spiritual opportunities at a local Episcopalian church. I wanted to re-post this article this Lent to help anybody who is struggling with fasting because of a history with an eating disorder.

Whenever I see a religious person talking about fasting for a specific holiday, my mind wanders to “I can’t fast because it would trigger eating disordered thinking and behavior.” I wrote the following guide to fasting safely and healthfully. While it can apply to any religious person, in particular it is geared toward religious people who currently struggle with or who have struggled with an eating disorder. It provides tips for working through your triggers or avoiding them, and alternatives to fasting. It was written for use in a Christian setting, but can be adapted for any religious purpose. If you’d like me to adapt it for your specific religion, please contact me and I gladly will. The information and statistics about eating disorders were gathered from NEDA, the National Eating Disorders Association (nationaleatingdisorders.org). The information about trauma triggers was gathered from Wikipedia, and the information about filling foods was gathered from various weight loss and Web MD type websites.

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Eating Disorders: What is an eating disorder?

An eating disorder is a complex mental illness that is common – 15% of women in their teens and twenties qualify as anorexic or sub anorexic, and 7% of women have exhibited bulimic behaviors at some point in their life. An eating disorder is not a choice, but instead develops over time due to multiple complex reasons and is frequently found alongside other mental illnesses. Anorexia and bulimia are the most common types, but are not the only ones. A “not otherwise specified” eating disorder includes behaviors such as maintaining a healthy body weight while still retaining anorexic thought patterns, or combining aspects of anorexia and bulimia, such as restricting eating while purging. Eating disorders primarily affect women, but can also plague men as well. Nearly half of all Americans know someone with an eating disorder. Warning signs include teen dieting, and the idea that “anorexic people don’t eat” is false – they simply eat smaller portions, low calorie foods, or strange food combinations. Often times, one cannot tell if someone has an eating disorder by looking at them – eating disorders are easy to hide. Control issues and low self esteem are key elements of an eating disorder that need to be treated. There is hope – you can recover. About half of all people diagnosed with anorexia make a full recovery.

Eating Disorders: My Story

I was diagnosed with a not otherwise specified eating disorder when I was fourteen. My symptoms predated my diagnosis; I started restricting my food and purging when I was thirteen. I began seeing a specialist and a nutritionist after my diagnosis, and my doctors no longer allowed me to look at a scale to determine how much I weighed. As an adult, I looked back at my medical records and discovered that at 5’ 7”, my lowest weight was 111 pounds. According to an adult BMI, this was underweight; however, I was still in the 85th percentile for juvenile weight. The specialist told me that if I were to lose any more weight, she would recommend for me to be hospitalized. Terrified by that prospect – I’d had two psychiatric hospitalizations by that time – I stopped purging and returned to normal eating habits. I’ve had two notable relapses since then, and to a certain extent, I still retain anorexic thinking patterns. My weight tends to fluctuate, and whenever it drops to the low end of the spectrum, I consider restricting my diet and purging so I can reach that elusive goal weight, which I know would continue to drop until I couldn’t stop. I still maintain that I “wasn’t good at being anorexic”, which, ironically, is a classic anorexic thinking pattern. My weight continues to be a constant source of guilt for me. Because of this, I choose not to engage in fasting from food for religious reasons – it’s too much of a trigger for me.

Trigger: What is a trigger?

A trauma trigger is an experience that triggers a traumatic memory in someone who has experienced trauma. A trigger is thus a troubling reminder of a traumatic event, although the trigger itself need not be frightening or traumatic.

Psychological trauma is a type of damage to the psyche that occurs as a result of a severely distressing event. A traumatic event involves a single experience, or an enduring or repeating event or events, that completely overwhelm the individual’s ability to cope or integrate the ideas and emotions involved with that experience. The sense of being overwhelmed can be delayed by weeks, years or even decades, as the person struggles to cope with the immediate circumstances.

Basically, this means that if something has made you severely uncomfortable in the past, something that’s currently going on that reminds you of that disturbingly uncomfortable event is called a trigger. It’s difficult to control triggers, so you may be able to safely fast for years and then suddenly the fasting triggers memories or emotions associated with the eating disorder you struggled with as an adolescent. In this specific case, while dealing with an eating disorder being the trigger, a trigger may simply mean that while fasting, you are moved to return to unhealthy eating habits.

There are two ways to overcome triggers: one way is to avoid the trigger – in this case, avoiding restricting food in a way that could mimic eating disorder behavior – or to challenge the trigger head on and work through it until it is no longer a trigger. This can sometimes be a scary approach, so make sure you have the supports in place that you need to process the trigger of restricting food to make sure you don’t slip back into eating disordered behavior. Keeping a food journal can be helpful here. Things to record in your food journal should include what you’ve eaten, the time you’ve eaten it, the room you ate it in, how you were feeling when you were eating, whether or not you were hungry and whether or not you ate until you were full, and if you ended up purging the food purposefully afterward. You may want to not include certain things I’ve mentioned or include other things depending on the nature of your eating disorder or personal eating habits. Making sure you have a therapist and maybe even a dietician on hand to discuss what it feels like to fast and what it feels like to return to normal eating habits after a fast are a great way to make sure you have supports in place. NEDA, the National Eating Disorders Association, can be found at nationaleatingdisorders.org and offer some great resources, including a helpline that operates during business hours where you can talk through your trigger and process some of your emotions.

Fasting: What Food is Allowed?

According to the following Catholic source, “[f]asting as explained by the U.S. Bishops means partaking in one full meal. Small amounts of food not equating to one full meal are permitted in the morning and at either midday or evening, depending on when the full meal is taken.”

The two days that require fasting are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Abstinence from eating meat is also required on those two days, as well as every Friday during Lent.

Eating nutritious foods that are also filling is a great way to make fasting easier and healthier on your body. For the small amounts of food to be eaten in the morning or at midday or evening, things like sweet prunes, veggies with peanut butter or a hummus or other filling dip, fresh fruits that are high in fiber, Greek yogurt, a small bowl of oatmeal, cheese and crackers, popcorn, and various nuts and seeds are great, filling, nutritious foods. For your meal, you might want to think about including things such as a potato with its skin left on, beans and other legumes (especially on Fridays when you can’t eat meat), lean proteins (fish is included in this group, something else which would work on Friday), and high fiber vegetables, which should be eaten first before the rest of your food. Ensuring that the grains you eat are whole grains is another great way to up your nutritional value and feelings of fullness.

Fasting: It’s Not Just About Food

Every time we partake in the Eucharist, Jesus dwells in us, in our hearts. A church is not a building – a church is a group of people who gather to worship. We are the church, and we are the temple of the Lord. We must take care of this temple in honor of Jesus.

Fasting during Lent doesn’t have to mean abstaining from food. It can also mean abstaining from things that prohibit spiritual growth. For example, take a page from the cardinal sins – fast from anger, greed, laziness, pride, desiring things you know you shouldn’t, or envy. The last cardinal sin is gluttony, and if abstaining from eating is triggering for you, try this take: incorporate more healthful foods into your diet, like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Also try fasting from impatience, selfishness, or self-righteousness. Maybe for you, fasting from things that prohibit spiritual growth could include a day of being unplugged from things like the computer, your phone, the internet, and television, and instead spending your time focusing on your family or strengthening your faith through prayer and scripture reading. Going to church services more often during Lent and praying and reading scripture daily are ways to take this sentiment and make it flow throughout the entire Lenten season. If you already pray every day, maybe you could try increasing your daily prayer time, and remember that prayer isn’t just talking to God – it’s listening, too. Try incorporating meditation into your prayer routine – this can also really help with stress and give you some time to process your day. For Catholics, going to confession more often is also a great Lenten practice that can be adopted instead of fasting.

Two important things to remember during Lent are:
“I am a child of God. I am His holy temple, and He lives in me.”
“I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”
Maybe for you, Lent isn’t so much about taking away as it is adding. Adding an exercise routine – even something as simple as taking a walk after dinner – and focusing on a more healthful diet can be great ways to take care of the temple God has given you. Daily affirmations can also be helpful in realizing your potential as God’s child. “Affirmation is more than words. It is a validation of the beauty and presence of God dwelling in you.” Reciting a daily affirmation out loud is the best way to drive home the message. Something as simple as “I am beautiful, I am strong, and God loves me” recited out loud three times daily can help improve your self-esteem. I do this daily, and I find it to be helpful in the healing process that comes with recovery from an eating disorder.

The following was taken from the eating disorder recovery website WeBiteBack.com: “First, the Catholic tradition in the Church promotes Lent as a season of fasting, self-denial, etc., but has maintained that these practices are to be modified for anyone who is ill. Anyone who is in a recovery program fits the bill by definition. Please don’t do anything in the name of religious practice which can hurt your recovery.

Lent is not about dieting, not about not eating to get oneself healthier. Healthy dieting (if there is such a thing) is aimed at getting one’s body into healthier shape. Neither is Lent about eating more if one is anorexic. Observing Lent is a spiritual exercise. Its aim is about our relationship with God and Jesus; it’s not about “me”. For people with an eating disorder, my “ME” is all about food and eating or not eating.

Lent is not about eating or not eating. For lots of people with an eating disorder, to deny oneself of eating is not denial at all.

The purpose of fasting during Lent is not to get in shape. Lent is not about the condition of our bodies. Fasting in Lent is to allow people to focus of their own spiritual relationship with God, to let them intentionally set aside the pleasures and distractions of life and recognize the importance of other matters. Again, for anyone with anxiety issues, some of these distractions are important and healthy. Be careful what you decide to set aside.

For anyone with an eating disorder, deciding to eat or not eat as part of their religious discipline is bound to fail, because “eating” is all about the eating disorder, all about the “me”, and not about their relationship with God and Jesus. There are lots of other things one can do to observe Lent, to simplify and deny ourselves that don’t involve food.

Jesus brought healing to people. He does not want us to do anything in his name that is against healing and recovery.

Have a blessed, gentle, deep and healing Lent.”

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Most importantly, remember that God and Jesus will forgive you, so learn to forgive yourself. Every moment we experience is a fantastic chance to start again. You are more than capable of putting your past behind you and beginning a spiritually and physically healing journey – you just have to want to.

x93 (did you)

I don’t wanna talk about it
Fighting, kicking, screaming
Just don’t think about it
The hole in my heart bleeding

I want to put this behind me
Not in any current danger
The answers will always elude me
I never suspected a stranger

They call Dylan a liar
The stories make me want to scream
My body is on fire
I feel his hands on me when I dream

Somehow I’m the bad guy
Please don’t touch me there
The rawness makes me feel shy
Progress is going nowhere

I wish that I was dead
I wish that I had answers
I scream until I’m red
I keep giving out more chances

I don’t know who to trust
So I pretend it’s all ok
Fragile broken, can’t feel lust
Waiting for you to say “hey”

“Hey, this is what happened
This is why I cut you off
Hey, your journey for truth is at an end
I’m sorry it took me so long”

But that will never happen
And I don’t have the strength
To ask, “Did you molest me?”

…And so the pain won’t change

x92 (i feel stupid: a survivor’s story)

I remember reading an article about terminology when it comes to sexual abuse and assault. Some people advocate for the use of the term “survivor”, as it’s empowering. Some people automatically use the term “victim”, especially when it comes to the cold, unfeeling news articles that also use terms like “accusations”. And some people advocate for choice when it comes to the terms people use to describe themselves. If someone feels like a survivor, they have the right to use the term survivor to describe themselves. If someone feels like a victim, they have the right to use that term.

I don’t particularly feel like a survivor.

Right now, I don’t even feel like a victim.

Mostly, I just feel stupid.

Reading all of these articles about Dylan Farrow has been difficult. Knowing that people don’t believe her has been difficult. Knowing that the initial issue I identified as sexual abuse is seen as a non-traumatic issue by many has been difficult. Knowing that I don’t have any answers as to whether or not something else – something more serious – happened has been difficult. Knowing that some people think I overreacted or was delusional has been difficult. There are days when I just wish it all never happened. But wishing it away or ignoring it doesn’t help, because physically, it still affects me. And that’s what makes me feel the most stupid. How could I let something that happened in the past, something that may not even have happened at all, take physical control of my body now, at 25? How could I allow myself to believe that people I was supposed to trust and love could have done this to me? Does that mean I’m going to hell, because I “accused” people? If I am, I know what it’ll feel like – it’ll feel like those nightmares I have when I am being raped or molested and I can actually feel it happening. I don’t know if that means I’m reliving something that did happen in the past, or just that feeling it happen is punishment for making “accusations”. I wasn’t trying to “ruin anybody’s life”. I wasn’t trying to “hold it over [their] heads, or blackmail” anybody. I know damned well these kinds of “accusations” (and can we talk about how much I hate that word, how dirty it sounds?) are very, very serious. All I was trying to do was figure out why I didn’t feel safe. Why I didn’t feel safe in bathrooms, or feel safe when people touched me, or feel safe wearing pants. I wanted to figure out why I didn’t feel safe around certain people. I wanted to figure out why the stress of whether or not something happened was giving me migraines and making me throw up. I wanted to know why I was having nightmares. I wanted to know what was behind the driving force that prohibited me from taking a shower for a month because taking a shower was that fucking scary.

I’ve had people – people who remember what happened, people who have every right to identify as a victim, or a survivor – tell me that I am a survivor. I have had people – doctors and hotline counselors from rape crisis centers – tell me that I have a right to ask questions. To take that advice I was given; be selfish, ask questions, and don’t be afraid of people’s responses. But I don’t feel like a survivor, and I don’t feel like I have any right to ask questions. I feel stupid and afraid. And I feel angry. Angry that people who may know if someone has a history of sexual abuse won’t tell me about it. Because it would be easier to question someone knowing they had done it in the past. Angry at myself, for letting this get as far as it did, for convincing myself that something happened. Angry for trying to advocate for myself and in the process having people tell me that I was the problem. Angry for dissolving in tears and praying every day for answers and letting this continually affect me. I’ve been told it gets better, but I’m stuck in a void where it feels like it never will. And the fucked up thing? I’m not even sure if there’s a thing that happened that I need to get better from.

I’m not sure how I should close this. I’m not sure what good this has been, except perhaps to express that I am 110% done. Maybe you’ll read this and the next time you’ll encounter someone who’s been in my position, you’ll be compassionate and try to help them find answers instead of telling them “it’s just in the past, don’t let it get to you” and “those are very serious accusations”. Maybe you didn’t know that repressed memories were a thing, and now you do. Maybe you’re experiencing the same thing I am, and you feel solidarity and peace knowing that other people have been and are in your situation.

Maybe we can feel stupid together.

x91 (doctor drama: aka, you are your own best advocate)

One of the things that I’ve wanted to write about, but that I’ve been afraid to discuss, is finding a therapist or med provider. The reason I’m afraid to write about it is because there are two schools of thought on the subject, one which can be potentially damaging: the first being that you should have control in the selection of your provider and find someone you can trust and have an honest and open dialogue with, and the other that a doctor’s opinion is finite and the problem lies with the patient if they disagree.

Certainly there are some people who think the latter approach is inherently problematic. Articles abound on the internet about accounts of overweight persons whose doctors tell them to lose weight before considering testing for conditions whose symptoms are apparent. And everyone has heard the story of a friend who has cancer who sought a second or even third opinion because there was just no way their concerns were being heard and validated. But opinions like these work slightly differently in the mental health field, which is divided between independently licensed therapists, psychiatrists, and LCSWs who often take insurance-free payment on a sliding scale and clinics who accept Medicaid and cater to low-income persons and people who are not on a high enough level of functioning to be working. The former, frequented often by wealthy WASPs who prefer to discuss their problems behind closed doors and pretend everything is rosy and fine when asked, tends to take on the attitude that the patient and their opinion is of value. Two to three sessions may be set up in the beginning of the patient-provider relationship to determine if the therapist is a good fit; if they’re not, the patient moves on, carefully selecting someone with whom they can do good work with. The clinicians in the latter situation, however, seem to think that they know what is best for their patients, operating often on little input from the client and making it clear that missed appointments and lackluster medication regimes are not tolerated. Because they see patients who don’t take their care seriously, they often become jaded and accusatory with those who put effort into their therapy.

Recently I ran into an issue with being assigned a therapist in a clinic. I asked to be assigned to a therapist who specialized in trauma recovery to cope with childhood sexual abuse, and was assigned to a therapist we’ll call M. After about a year and a half of therapy and not having made any progression in trauma recovery because M didn’t have enough experience in that area, I asked to be re-assigned. I saw my new therapist, J, for about a month before deciding that she wasn’t a good fit. I didn’t trust her and I felt that she was rather judgmental and because of that I couldn’t be open and honest with her. When I asked to be reassigned, the director at the clinic informed me that I needed to be in therapy for at least six months before accurately being able to determine whether or not a therapist was a good fit, that if M and J weren’t good fits for me then he didn’t have anyone else he could assign me to, that wanting someone to take a “cheerleader” or life-coach approach to support during the difficult work of therapy was not a valid quality to desire, and in short informed me that I was the problem and that I was not taking my therapy seriously.

In tears, I relayed the situation to several people I know and a hotline operator in hopes of receiving some sort of validation that in doing what I had been taught since childhood (find a provider who is a good fit and advocate for your own self-care) I had done the right thing. Being close to feeling solid in my actions, I mentioned the situation to someone I know who commented that it was their belief that the doctor is always right and that comfort is secondary in selecting a physician. I was absolutely devastated, and therein lies the root of the fear behind writing this blog post. I don’t know if I was right to seek out a therapist in the manner in which I have become accustomed. I don’t know if it’s a good idea to tell my future children or a good friend that it’s important to be able to trust your therapist, and if you don’t, immediately look for a new one. Despite the fact that I’ve had confirmation from therapists, social workers, and people working in mental health fields that I was doing the right thing, I still feel doubt and worry that G-d is punishing me for not taking seriously my mental health care.

Despite this recent shock to my resolve, I do believe that you are your own best advocate and you know best how to dictate your self-care. I believe that you should have a comfortable relationship with your physician and be able to confide in them and feel confident in their bedside manner. I believe that if you determine your care provider is not meeting your needs, you have the right to seek out one who does. I believe that you have a right to a second (third, and fourth…) opinion. I believe that even though the work done in therapy is often very difficult, you have a right to seek out a therapist who will support you, cheer you on, and encourage you. I believe that the stigma of certain health conditions – mental health, weight, or whatever else – should not excuse assumptions that you are a child who cannot care for themselves. I believe in me and my ability to make my own decisions about my healthcare. And I believe the same for you.