When I Wasn’t Me

For the most part, I’ve dealt with the rape (January 10, 1987- Austin, TX) relatively well. Initially, there was a lot to deal with to prepare for the trial, and after that I just tried to get back to ‘normal’ (nothing is ever the same after being raped).  I coasted. For two decades.  I knew that Numbnuts (what I call  the ‘being’ who raped me) would be coming up for parole review in 2006 (? I’d have to dig up the files I’ve got for the exact date).  I had been seeing a therapist to help deal with being on disability, and she and I agreed that seeing someone who dealt with rape and sexual assault issues would also be helpful.  So I did.

During this time, I was also on some medications for the chronic medical issues I’ve got, and had some interactions that took a long time to get figured out. Between the weird physical stuff going on (medications and diagnoses) and the stress from the parole review, I got really batty. It was frightening and confusing, and made me a horrible client/patient to have to deal with for any therapist.  I had been in therapy before, and seldom called a therapist after office hours. During the ‘crazy year’  or however long it was, I wore those two therapists o.u.t.  I feel horrible about that; they were both very kind and compassionate. I was a mess.  I didn’t know that the medications (particularly a muscle relaxant combined with my other meds) were having some of  the effects that were going on, and part of that included increased ‘panic’.  I’d actually have mini-strokes from my blood pressure dropping too low, and was constantly in the ER (and very disliked by the nurses and MDs there- they didn’t figure out the medication thing either).  I’d lose the ability to swallow normally, and my balance was shot, which also stirred up the intense anxiety. It wasn’t unusual for my blood pressure to be in the 50s/30s….at home alone.  I’d freak out- thinking it was from all of the chaos going on with being on disability, and the loss of my life as a working RN, as well as the stress of the parole review.  I thought it was all in my head…and it wasn’t.  There were times the therapists called 911 to come to my apartment and get me.  Sometimes, I’d be passed out when they got there (I don’t remember what all was going on- or how they got me to unlock the front door…..?). I woke up in the ER many times, trying to remember why I was there.

I actually figured out the problem with tizanidine (muscle relaxant) and the other medications myself, and once I talked to my primary doc and changed to a different muscle relaxant (for fibromyalgia), the weird TIAs (mini-strokes/transient ischemic attacks) and many of the blood pressure plunges just plain stopped (with the dysautonomia, blood pressure issues are just part of life). I already had some scarring in my brain from the TIAs.  By then, those two therapists had turfed me to someone else.  And not long after that,  I had multiple severe blood clots in my right lung, and had to deal with that… but the memories of those many, many months of being so ‘not me’ aren’t good.  It’s all very detached and just weird.

I’d wake up (or never get to sleep) and be in a bizarre unprovoked panic that I couldn’t deal with, and I’d call one of those poor therapists either late at night or extremely early in the morning, to help talk me down from wherever I was.  I’d be so spaced out, but still absolutely unglued and removed from the fact that I was safe where I was- nothing was actually happening to me.  The years of shoving the rape to the side and the new crazy anxiety were life altering if I hadn’t already been on disability for physical disorders (including seizures and dysautonomia that caused problems with losing consciousness and being very foggy -sometimes when I’d be on the phone with one of the therapists). Other times, the seizures and/or dysautonomia happened first (there were times when I didn’t know which was which- I’d just wake up exhausted and more spacey), and I guess  I’d call in the middle of the episodes.  I don’t remember now exactly what was going on that I called, other than remembering months of weird panicky episodes that were very uncharacteristic of me.  And being a therapy client from hell.

Prior to the parole protest/review period, I’d spent a fair amount of time becoming a rape survivor and ditching the rape ‘victim’ title. I hate the ‘victim’ role in myself and others.  But I sunk way back into the victim role. I couldn’t stand that regression.  It reminded me of earlier times after the rape, and I wanted distance from that.  Some of the emotional upheaval was somewhat expected, I think. For twenty years, Numbnuts had been contained, and the possibility of him getting turned loose was terrifying (even though I knew consciously that it was a remote chance he’d ever find me).  I knew that there would come a time when the TX Department of Criminal Justice would have to turn him loose, because of mandatory release times…but I wanted it prolonged. After many letters and copying the many old newspaper articles to send to the parole board, the initial parole review/release was denied.  By then, the medication changes had been made, and life settled down.  But so much was still a fog during those bad months.

I was a really ratty therapy patient.  The medications were a big part of the physical reasons for the amplified anxiety.  The reminders of what Numbnuts had done to me were oppressively  vivid.  The way my life changed after the rape (and how differently it all turned out from my dreams and ‘expectations’ of a family of my own) was also in my face.  A  lot was going on.  But I’m not sure I really accept that those reasons are what caused so much to fall apart, and drastically change my ‘normal’ life (on disability) to one of childlike neediness (I’m repulsed writing that).

In the years since then, Numbnuts has been back in prison, after more protest letters. I’ve survived a very aggressive form of leukemia and 19 months of continuous chemotherapy of some form.  I’m dealing with significant diabetic issues and blood sugar control problems post-chemo.  And I’ve done it without therapy, and no freaking out in the middle of the night.  I still have seizures. I still have dysautonomia, that actually seems to be getting worse from the standpoint of heat intolerance (I had to shave my hair off; I can’t tolerate having heat from hair) and activity intolerance.  I can’t leave home without an ice vest to prevent overheating.  Other physical issues aren’t good.  And yet, I keep going on my own.  Blogging helps. It’s some sort of contact with someone, somewhere.  It’s ‘open’ 24/7, and only ‘bothers’ those who choose to read it. 🙂

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The Designated Nut At Age Eighteen

As a result of anorexia and the depression I only experienced during periods of starvation, the university I was attending decided I wasn’t safe staying on campus. I was to be sent to a psychiatric hospital near Chicago.  It no longer exists, but my memories sure do.

It was February 1982, and I was falling apart.  The eating disorder and coinciding mood swings were making university life and class attendance nearly impossible.  I was horrified that I couldn’t just make it work.  I had some suicidal thoughts, and the means to carry them out , as I’d discussed with the therapist I’d been seeing as a condition of staying at the University of Illinois (they found out about the anorexia very early in the first semester in the fall of 1981). She didn’t want to take any chances.  I’m sure that the fact that I was talking more had to be somewhat alarming, since I’d said little besides “I don’t know” to anything she’d asked since first meeting me in September of 1981.  I didn’t have much choice- either voluntarily admit myself to a psychiatric hospital, or be committed.  I was horrified and ashamed, which wasn’t helping anything.   I agreed to go to the hospital near Chicago, but only if my parents were NOT the ones who drove me there.  Arrangements were to be made, but in the meantime, I was taken to the university health center and kept for observation.  Nifty way of saying they didn’t trust me, and weren’t sure I wasn’t going to kill myself.  The therapist had the university fire department drive me over there.  Subtle.

I didn’t really want to die. I just wanted the pain to stop and I hadn’t found any way to make that happen.  I was 18 years old, and didn’t have the life skills to know that the bad times don’t last forever, and the eating disorder that made most anything ‘logical’ impossible was driving a lot of my thinking.  So I was to stay at the inpatient clinic until the plans were arranged.  I’d asked for a specific family friend to drive the 200 miles to come and get me, and then take  me the 170 miles or so to the hospital.  That’s a lot to ask, but she agreed.  Then it got complicated.

In February 1982, central Illinois got hit with a blizzard, and the arrangements to pick me up had to be postponed until the roads were cleared, and it was safe to travel.  If I remember right, it took about 3-4 days.  During that time, my dorm friends came to say goodbye.  It was sort of surreal.  My brain was so starved that not much really sank in.  I knew what was happening, but at the same time,  I had no idea about what  type of place I was going to be admitted .   The only type of psych hospitals I’d seen were those on TV, and the accuracy of those was questionable.  Finally, the weather cleared enough for me to be picked up by my friend and her daughter (who I also know and like- I still know them), and I was taken to the hospital.

I was mortified to see my parents in the lobby. I was so ashamed that I’d failed to just pull it together. They had to be there to sign the insurance forms and admissions papers for billing, but I also had to sign myself in since I was ‘of age’.  I was the youngest person on the adult unit.  And in for a real education.

My psychiatrist (assigned at random) ‘banned’ my parents from contacting me for at least a month. He let them know if I was doing OK.  He wanted to get to know me, and find out why I didn’t want them to pick me up in Urbana (shame). He also wanted me to learn to let loose a little bit; I was too restrained and worried about what other people thought.  He asked my folks to send $100 (worth a lot more in 1982 than it is now- though still a nice chunk of change) so I could go to K-Mart and get some overalls (something my mom refused to let me wear) and have some fun shopping with one of the psych techs who monitored us nuts on the unit.  My mom never let me go to K-Mart (it hadn’t spiffed itself up at that point; afterwards, she didn’t mind it).  I was to be dressed in name brand clothing (preferably stuff that made The Preppy Handbook… I’m not kidding). Marshall Field’s & Co. was HER preferred place to get my clothes. I hated that store when I was growing up.  Too much foo foo.

I was the designated ‘nut’ in the family, but no member of any family gets to the point of needing psychiatric hospitalization for eating disorders (or anything else) in a vacuum. In the early 80s, eating disorder treatment was in its infancy.  Nearly all ED patients were put on general psych wards, and the stigma went with that.  I didn’t find out how bad that stigma was until much later when I found out that my folks never told anybody where I was.  I just ‘wasn’t’ at the U of I.  Enter a void in time and place regarding my existence. My mom’s ‘baby’ brother came to see me, so he’d found out.  I’m still not sure how.  It doesn’t mean that my immediate family was some raging psycho farm, but something wasn’t OK.  Sometimes it’s perceived, and sometimes it’s actual dysfunction- but the end result is actual dysfunction for somebody. When I got older and worked as an RN in a psych hospital with adolescents, I saw it all the time.  The family needed someone to direct their troubles at.  The kids are easy targets- and often are acting out in some way because of the dysfunction.

My mom was not a warm type of mom.  Even the social worker caught on to that during the one  interview with my folks.  My mom wasn’t ‘evil’ or ‘bad’-she just had her own stuff.  She and my dad had both lost newborn sons about two years apart from the same disease, before they were 25 and 29 years old (roughly).  That’s pretty young to deal with such loss. Dad turned to work, and mom just shut down.  Now, they’d be offered counseling without that being seen as ‘weak’ or ‘defective’ (as therapy often was up until, and through, my treatment for anorexia).  It just wasn’t done by ‘normal’ families.  So a lot of hurting people were stuck in their pain, alone.  My mom wasn’t in a place to be nurturing a baby when she was terrified something would happen to me, and she stayed at a distance to protect herself. It wasn’t about me.  She was in pain.

Anyway, I was at the hospital for about 3 1/2 months that first admission.  I did better, but eating disorder treatment didn’t address the core issues of self-worthlessness and overall loathing of taking up space on the planet.  That wasn’t about dying either.  It was about feeling like  I just shouldn’t ‘be’.  It took many years to get to the core reasons I was so self-destructive via the eating disorders.  It made me the designated family crackpot.  That seemed handy, and it was a big secret to anybody outside of our home and very close family; I’m still not sure most of them ‘know’.  I’m not proud of it, but keeping things secret just perpetuates disorder.   NO family gets through this life without something dysfunctional going on.   Everybody has stuff.  It hurts less when it doesn’t seem to be so shameful.