Abuse = PTSD = Stress on Physical Health

“You should take better care of yourself,” is only applicable if someone is in control. Exercise, diet, and the sort can only do so much. Genetics also has a lot to do with it. To a survivor, it feels like victim blaming.

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Trigger Warning: I’m in a particularly blunt mood, so here is a warning about topics that may trigger another survivor: PTSD, Sexual Abuse, Suicide, Disease.

One of the ghastly door prizes from childhood sexual assault (CSA) can be summed up into four little letters – PTSD. PTSD stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. While the abuse is horrific on its own, the long term struggle comes from the effects of PTSD. It’s like the nagging little monster that constantly undermines and holds you back through everything you do while you try to heal and deal with the trauma that happened.  There have been many times over the last 20 years where I was fully convinced that I would be fine and productive if PTSD wasn’t holding me back in some regard.

Mostly, I’ve overcome most of my triggers and mental spirals, but they will still sneak up on me. Most of the issues I have these days involve anxiety and stress over every single action, thought, and perceived slight I may have inflicted on someone. Here is an example of a trigger sneaking up on me. I’m sitting at a coffee shop just typing away and I hear someone talking to their kid about the movie The Lion King. Cool, it’s a great movie. Until the father says Nala, the name of the female cub. My brain goes from my normal functioning fast track of thoughts to being tackled by a abusive linebacker holding me down and shoving awful memories into my mind.

Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash

The man who sexually abused me for almost 4 years called me Nala as a pet name when he was doing his nasty deeds. I proceed to spend the next fifteen minutes trying to fight off memories of abuse, enduring the trial, all the times I was called an attention seeking whore (I was 12 when we started court proceedings), and almost slitting my own throat in a hallway at my high school. Once I surface from the barrage of horror, I quietly pack everything up and go to my car. I’ve shut off all my emotions and most of my perception. Once I make it home, I’m stuck in a mindless fog anywhere for a few hours to the rest of the day. When these triggers don’t happen, I worry almost constantly that I will somehow trigger. In the last 5 years, I went from 3-4 triggering episodes a week to a single episode every couple of weeks, but that means that now I worry about it far more than I used to.

One of the issues of a constant state of high stress, is that it can have negative effects on your health. There are so many studies linking elevated stress (and PTSD specifically) to a decline in health. Here is an excerpt from The National Center for PTSD which is part of Veterans Affairs. They are one of the leading groups in research of PTSD because of the number of soldiers that return home with it.

Two recent studies found that reports of childhood abuse and neglect were related to an increase in physician diagnosed disorders including cancer, ischemic heart disease, and chronic lung disease. It is also likely that a relationship exists between the experience of a trauma and an increase in utilization of medical services for physical health problems. In addition, health care costs have been found to be higher among women who report a history of childhood abuse or neglect than among women who report no history of maltreatment as a child.

Since this a recently discovered association, there hasn’t been much done as far as studies for populations outside of veterans. According to The Refuge:

The lifetime risk for developing PTSD in US adults is 3.5%… The highest rates for PTSD occur among sexual assault survivors, military veterans who have been in combat, and survivors of genocide.

What studies have started to show is that PTSD has been associated with an increased reporting rate of several health issues:

  • Cardiovascular complications
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Musculoskeletal issues
  • Respiratory Problems
  • Sexual Dysfunction
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic Pain
  • Obesity
  • Increased Inflammation
  • Autoimmune Disorders

Which oddly is almost the same list of health issues that results from prolonged exposure to stress. To be fair, there will always be stress and a little stress is necessary to strive in life. But this stress is minimal, and should be about 3-4 on a 10 point scale. Operating at 7-10 for any length at time can be detrimental to health. Stress accomplishes this by causing your body to secrete too many hormones. In a burst, they can do wonders, but long term they tax your organs and body. This also leads to chronic conditions and chronic pain.

Just the anguish from the physical aspect of chronic health issues is enough to make people feel helpless. Something else that makes it worse?

Being blamed for being chronically sick.

Yes, you heard that correctly. I’ve been blamed for my hearing loss – my hearing loss started around age 2-3 and regardless of surgeries, remains. I’ve also been blamed for needing my tonsils removed at 19 after 15 years of repeated cases strep throat and tonsillitis. The phrase “you should take better care of yourself,” is only applicable if someone has a way to control what they are going through. Exercise, diet, and the sort only affects your health to a certain point. Genetics also has a lot to do with it.

Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

People who have first and second hand knowledge of this are generally more aware of how upsetting a phrase like that can be. Someone who has never seen the effects of abuse may not even realize the connection. To a survivor, it feels like victim blaming.

Long rant aside, this is a friendly reminder that you never know what a person has suffered or survived through. This is a friendly reminder that victim blaming comes in all types of forms. This is also a friendly reminder to try and be more aware of what you say, because every time you speak you have the opportunity to show support or voice blame.

Survivors and victims are every where and we generally try to blend with normal not-traumatized people. Remember 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men are CSA survivors. Next time you are in line at a grocery store, at the DMV, or just in a group of people, count how many people could be a CSA survivor.

A Life Changing Writing Prompt

This last weekend I went to a writing retreat. Typically, one goes to a writing event to learn about writing, marketing, publishing, and so one. What I didn’t expect to learn about, was myself.

This last weekend I went to a writing retreat. Typically, one goes to a writing event to learn about writing, marketing, publishing, and so on.

What I didn’t expect to learn about, was myself.

During a panel titled “Writing About Your Life”, which I figured would mostly be about stuff I already knew since I spent the last 4 years writing a memoir about my life, I learned that I truly believe I am where I am supposed to be in life. After finishing the writing prompt, I felt like this would be a good exercise to share on my blog.

So, you start off by picking an event that changed the course of your life. Then you write a summary about what actually happened as you remember it.

The first thing that came to mind was the day that I almost attempted suicide. I was already struggling during my freshman year at high school, and every little mistake I made always felt like the end of the world. Every failure, no matter how small, was just a constant reminder that I was a failure as a person and good for nothing. So on this particular day, I was supposed to give a speech about a sentimental object in my English class. There had been a fight at home the night before and I had forgotten my item and my speech at home. Since it was a scheduled speech that we had to sign up for ahead of time, failure to do the speech on that day would result in a failed grade. No exceptions. So, when my name was called, I told the teacher I didn’t have my speech and walked out of the class.

Now up until this point, I had done a lot of research about the best ways to commit suicide. I had already decided how I wanted to kill myself, but I hadn’t chosen a place or time. Quite often I kept a small pocket knife on me because I would walk to school every day. On this particular day, I decided that my knife would be the perfect way to end my misery. I was sitting in the hallway just outside my classroom. The door to the classroom was at the end of the hallway so there wasn’t much foot traffic.

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My mind was on an endless loop of every failure that I’d had up until that point in my life. A broken record of being told that the childhood sexual abuse that I endured was my fault. That because I was abused as a child I ruined their family. My own voice in my head told me that I would never amount to anything and that I could never escape the cycle of abuse.

I slowly pulled the knife out of my pocket and opened the blade. The glint of the shiny silver blade intrigued me. It was peaceful knowing that something so beautiful would put an end to my miserable life. As I started to pull the knife to my own throat and prepared to tilt my head down so that it would only take one swipe, a classmate that I knew walked by at that exact moment. Startled, I quickly hid the knife before my classmate could see what I had. He only gave me a simple hello and continued to walk by.

It was in this moment that I realized I had hit rock bottom, and the only way I would be able to survive was to get up, feed my stubborn nature, and fight to live the life that I wanted. I told myself that someday I would no longer be a victim, but instead I would be a survivor.

Now the second part of this exercise was to write about what would’ve happened.

For me, there is a very short would have been scenario. If that classmate had not walked by me at that exact moment… It could’ve gone two ways. Either I would’ve slit my own throat and died, or I wouldn’t have made the cut deep enough and been taken to the hospital. If the second scenario had happened, I probably would’ve continued to spiral out of control until I managed to take my own life.

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The third part of this writing exercise is to contemplate what should have happened.

I will admit, that at first, I struggled to come up with an answer for this.

Among the 30 or so people who were attending the panel either typing or writing away, here I sat at a loss for words. What should have happened in that pivotal moment? The only answer that I could come up with was that what actually happened is what should’ve happened. I spent somewhere around 10 minutes trying to come up with another answer. Something witty or creative, but in the end what actually happened felt like it was exactly what should’ve happened.

 

Now I know this is kind of a dark piece of writing. It was a very dark time in my life, but I wanted to take a moment to show that when we reflect on the actions of the past we may find that however dark that moment was, we managed to find the light. It wasn’t right away that I knew I had made the right choice. For several years I considered suicide, but it no longer made sense for me. The idea of struggling to survive no longer sounded daunting. I knew it was going to be a lot of work, but I had a goal and it felt achievable.

Humans like to ask question, “What if?” What if this thing hadn’t happened or on the flip side what if this thing that didn’t happen did happened? Quite often, we sit and reflect on our decisions or non-decisions of the past. Rarely do we feel confident that we made the right choice. Usually we only reflect on the wrong decisions when we should be reflecting on the right decisions.

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Take a moment to think back about a big decision you made that you know was truly what should have happened. Then use that to have confidence in yourself.

This post was featured on Voice of Literature e-zine.

To Honor Those Who Have Moved On

In the last 10 years, I’ve met so many wonderful and interesting people. I’ve helped people heal and return to independence, and I’ve held their hand as they slipped on from this world into the next.

I’ve worked as a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) for over 10 years now. I hit the 10 year mark in July. In my time, I’ve met so many wonderful and interesting people. I’ve helped people heal and return to independence, and I’ve held their hand as they slipped on from this world into the next. I’ve laughed and cried with them. Through all of this, I knew I would eventually write a book dedicated to those I’ve taken care of. It has been a long time coming because first I had to get my memoir finished, but while I look into getting that published, a new manuscript has taken over my waking thoughts.

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Usually during November, you can find me furiously typing away at my keyboard trying to keep up with NaNoWriMo goals. That’s National Novel Writing Month for anyone wondering. Basically, during the 30 days of November, hundreds of thousands of people all over the world try to write 50,000 words of a novel. Averaged out, that’s about 250 pages. Quite the challenge. I already had 2 projects planned out because I like to bounce back and forth between the two, but a home health client said something to me recently that inspired me to attempt a third project during this year’s NaNo.

My working title is “To the Grandchild I Will Never Meet”. This is not MY story. This is not the story of a single person. This is a story of hundreds of voices over 10 years. This is a creative fiction story of regrets and hopes that I’ve extrapolated upon from many voices. This is the book that a person can read who has longed for a grandparent they never met, or don’t remember. I hope this book will give them closure if they are still grieving what might have been; to help them imagine what kinds of memories they would have had. I also hope it will help inspire people who are first time grandparents who don’t have memories of their grandparents.

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I’ve always wanted to help my patients and clients get their voices heard. Maybe one day I will help write someone’s story, but until then, I am writing what so many of them wished they could remember or live long enough to experience. Death is a time of longing and grieving, but I’ve learned to take their lessons to heart. Each client inspires me to change one thing about myself. Maybe it is to say “I love you” when I would be too shy or too busy. Maybe it is to remember that life is short and I should stop putting off tomorrow what I can do today. It could even be that I need to make changes in my life now so I won’t have the same regrets. Regardless, I feel honored to help each and every one of them, and didn’t know how else to thank them since most of them have moved on.

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Let this book show my gratitude. Thank you for the honor of assisting you when you needed it most.