Co-Dependency: I’ll Scratch Your Back If You’ll Scratch Mine

Co-dependent: I’m quick to use the term. It’s not so easy to define, though. I’ve been trying for better than a decade to find just the right words. It seems most psychology publications are in the same boat as me.

PsychCentral defines it as “a person belonging to a dysfunctional, one-sided relationship where one person relies on the other for meeting nearly all of their emotional and self-esteem needs. It also describes a relationship that enables another person to maintain their irresponsible, addictive, or underachieving behavior.” So really, they provided two definitions, not just one.

GoodTherapy.org breaks it down with a good ol’ list (because we love bullets) and explains that the “old” way of thinking was that everyone’s feelings were centered on one person’s addictive behaviors. Now co-dependence is recognized in much broader terms to include the role of caregiving, denial of personal problems, low self-esteem, feelings of guilt when offered help or attention from others, sensitivity to criticism, perfectionism and fear of failure, a projection of competence and a need to control others.

But the definition from GoodTherapy.org doesn’t make clear that there has to be at least two people in the relationship to make it co-dependent. At least one of the parties has to have low self-esteem and be sensitive to criticism and project a false sense of competence, and have support and attention from another party to continue carrying on with those behaviors. And let’s be clear, here: both or all parties can be co-dependent upon each other. Mothers and daughters, friends, teachers and students, lovers. Of course, some relationships are much more intimate and lasting than others.

Here is a comprehensive list from CoDA.org (Co-Dependents Anonymous.org):

Patterns and Characteristics of Co-Dependence; Co-dependents often:
• have difficulty identifying what they are feeling.
• minimize, alter, or deny how they truly feel.
• perceive themselves as completely unselfish and dedicated to the well-being of others.
• lack empathy for the feelings and needs of others.
• label others with their negative traits.
• think they can take care of themselves without any help from others.
• mask pain in various ways such as anger, humor, or isolation.
• express negativity or aggression in indirect and passive ways.
• do not recognize the unavailability of those people to whom they are attracted.

Low self-esteem patterns; Co-dependents often:
• are extremely loyal, remaining in harmful situations too long.
• compromise their own values and integrity to avoid rejection or anger.
• put aside their own interests in order to do what others want.
• are hypervigilant regarding the feelings of others and take on those feelings.
• are afraid to express their beliefs, opinions, and feelings when they differ from those of others.
• accept sexual attention when they want love.
• make decisions without regard to the consequences.
• give up their truth to gain the approval of others or to avoid change.

Control patterns; Co-dependents often:
• believe people are incapable of taking care of themselves.
• attempt to convince others what to think, do, or feel.
• freely offer advice and direction without being asked.
• become resentful when others decline their help or reject their advice.
• lavish gifts and favors on those they want to influence.
• use sexual attention to gain approval and acceptance.
• have to feel needed in order to have a relationship with others.
• demand that their needs be met by others.
• use charm and charisma to convince others of their capacity to be caring and compassionate.
• use blame and shame to exploit others emotionally.
• refuse to cooperate, compromise, or negotiate.
• adopt an attitude of indifference, helplessness, authority, or rage to manipulate outcomes.
• use recovery jargon in an attempt to control the behavior of others.
• pretend to agree with others to get what they want.

Avoidance patterns; Co-dependents often:
• act in ways that invite others to reject, shame, or express anger toward them.
• judge harshly what others think, say, or do.
• avoid emotional, physical, or sexual intimacy as a way to maintain distance.
• allow addictions to people, places, and things to distract them from achieving intimacy in relationships.
• use indirect or evasive communication to avoid conflict or confrontation.
• diminish their capacity to have healthy relationships by declining to use the tools of recovery.
• suppress their feelings or needs to avoid feeling vulnerable.
• pull people toward them, but when others get close, push them away.
• refuse to give up their self-will to avoid surrendering to a power greater than themselves.
• believe displays of emotion are a sign of weakness.
• withhold expressions of appreciation.

As I revisit the definitions, I evaluate first my own behavior, but also a few specific relationships near me (that I have to be careful not to become too invested in, though I tend to become protective and outraged when I spot misbehavior). I think that the actual name “co-dependency” will be adjusted within the next 5-10 years, though what it will morph into will be a great mystery.

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The Great Debate

When I was 14, I was visiting my dad’s house for the weekend and sleeping on the couch, which was the normal – I didn’t have a bedroom there. I’m a light sleeper. So it was a surprise that somehow between 12:30 a.m., when I fell asleep, and 7:00 a.m., when my stepmom answered a phone call from a stranger alerting her to the fact that her purse was scattered on the stranger’s front lawn, that the house had been robbed – and the burglar had somehow gotten past me. Three hunting rifles had been taken off of the wall along with a video camera and tripod, and of course, the purse.

The next night my dad took my place on the couch with his handgun in case anyone decided to come back. We used all of my babysitting cash to re-key the locks. But this story demonstrates many points: I grew up around guns (that were never locked up), the hunting rifles made it somewhere into the wide world to be used for who knows what, and that we are a violent society. The cops were surprised I was still alive and unharmed.

Not many years later, when my brother was five and a half, he was given his first gun for Christmas. His first few minutes alone with it and he shot out his bedroom light. I was never given a gun because I was a girl. Mind you, I never felt as if I missed out. But my dad and my brother perpetuated craving violence and guns. Even though I was the one who was on the couch, exposed, they were the ones who wanted to kill, kill, kill. At least, that’s what they projected.

My dad’s own father died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. In fact, Dad was the one who found him. Included in the three rifles that were stolen was the one that Grandpa used to do the deed. It had a strange sort of sentimental value that I couldn’t relate to. Who would want to cradle that weapon, and use it over and over, knowing its history?

Fast forward a few decades to when I lived with violent men. One was the guy who grew up in Manhattan in a household whose own siblings stabbed each other. The last day I saw him was the last time I called the cops on him, when he was supposed to be gone at work while I moved my things out of the house we were renting. Instead he was hiding in one of the back rooms and came out when I set down some moving boxes and attacked me. I struggled to get back out to my car in my stocking feet and he was restraining me and pinning my arms, telling me that if I would just do what he told me to do, we would be happy. I finally wrestled free and got in my car and called 911. The responding police officers bought his big-eyed innocent act and told me that if I called them again that I would be arrested.

Then there was the live-in boyfriend who threatened to shoot me – twice. He also talked about taking his guns to work to shoot all of his co-workers constantly. The cops reassured me there was absolutely nothing I could do until he actually followed through and hurt one or all of us. 

Most recently of course was my downstairs neighbor who moved out the last weekend of July, 2017. He used to beat his wife and abuse their cat. Whenever I had visitors I was a nervous wreck, because I had no idea if he would pound down the door while they were here, falsely claiming that we were too loud, or take it out on me later, screaming and raging and dreaming up reasons to call the cops on me. Worse yet he could of course physically pulverize his wife and cat for revenge, just for existing. He was ex-military so I knew it was likely there was a gun or two or seven in his apartment.

So here we are in the U.S. with our easy access to the worst kinds of weapons and ammunition. I am the one who was laying on a couch while a stranger or two crept past me to rob our house; you would think I would fall into the category of wanting a gun for home protection. I grew up around them; you would think I would relax around them. I’ve lived with and around plenty of assholes who have wanted me dead; you would think that I would feel safer armed.

Fuck that.

First of all, we have over 7 billion people on the planet. We are no longer hunting strictly for food supply. Anyone who claims that is an outright liar. And hunting season is so abbreviated that there’s no need to keep guns out for the entire year to make them accessible to every man, woman and child on the planet. Second, home invasions do not happen with the regularity that the NRA has somehow convinced the gun lovers they do. I remember reading from one guy a quote last week that Texas experiences 800,000 home invasions a year. My answer was, “Are you talking about bugs?” I mean, c’mon. If that were true, Texas would be experiencing a mass exodus.

The biggest and hottest debate that has resurfaced is the arming of school staff. I cannot stress this enough, but there are so, SO many reasons why this is a bad idea. Right now I live in the city where Philando Castille was shot. He had a permit to carry a concealed weapon and told the cops, and was shot and killed anyway. If for some reason some idiots decided arming school staff members would be a good idea, the staff members had better be lily white, because we Americans cannot be trusted to be color blind. Even black cops have proven to have prejudice against black suspects without meaning to.

I posted this article on Facebook regarding an armed officer who never engaged in the shootout that was happening in Florida. He simply hung back while all of those kids were getting shot. I pointed out that if an officer did this, why would we expect teachers to uniformly charge without fear or hesitation, and to act correctly? A friend of 27 years, whom I considered a decently good friend, didn’t like that I used this as an example of why we shouldn’t arm teachers and staff. He also didn’t like that I proposed that we have stricter gun laws regarding background checks, wait times, amount of ammunition sold, amount of ammunition guns could fire, types of guns that could be sold on the market, and age of buyers/operators. He resorted to calling me an idiot. Finally, he just outright blocked me. 

But am I an idiot? I’ve just been trying to stay alive. I have all of this violence swirling around me, and all of these men are insisting that they have a right to violate me. I’m saying no. I will continue to say no. I’m good with saying no.

Lastly, here is a comprehensive list from a woman named Karen Nichols in Ottawa Center, Michigan; she had many questions regarding arming teachers and staff, and did a great job of articulating them:

Which teachers get guns?
Where will the guns be stored?
Who decides when guns can be brandished?
What penalties will apply if teachers mishandle a weapon?
Will teachers volunteer for gun duty?
Can teachers refuse it?
Who will audit their adherence to regulations?
Will students know which teachers have weapons?
Who will be liable if the teacher with the gun becomes the shooter?
What will be the consequences when students are accidentally shot by a teacher?
How will armed teachers communicate in a tactical situation?
Will teachers with a history of mental illness be allowed to use weapons?
Will teachers be required to disclose any history of mental illness?
Will teachers be issued a weapon? Reimbursed for purchase? For ammunition?
How will administrators conduct non-weapon-related discipline against a teacher?
Will there be armed assistance available to deter workplace shootings?
Who will shepherd the armed teacher’s classroom while the teacher is attempting to locate the active shooter?
What happens when a teacher misidentifies a student as a threat in good faith?
Will teachers who do not carry lethal weapons be offered non lethal alternatives?
If an armed teacher is shot, can another teacher employ his or her weapon?
How will armed teachers identify themselves to arriving first responders?
Will armed teachers be required to learn how to give first-response medicine?
Will armed teachers be required to attempt an arrest before using lethal force? Under what circumstances?
Will proficiency training on weapons count for teachers’ continuing education and professional development?
How will insurers adjust health and other rates to account for the presence of armed employees?
Will teachers receive additional pay for being armed?
how often will armed teachers be re-evaluated for licensing purposes?
Will armed teachers leading field trips deposit their weapons in a personally owned vehicle or school-owned transport?
Will one teacher per wing of a school building receive weapons? Two? Three?
Exactly which standards will count for proficiency—greater than a big-city police department, State Police, FBI, hobbyist, marksman?
In training scenarios, how will using force against innocents be penalized?
Will racial sensitivity courses be required?
Do parents have a right to refuse to send their kids to schools with guns?
Will students have to sign waivers? Will parents? What if a parent signs a waiver for a minor student who, when that student turns 18, refuses to abide by its provisions?
Will teachers on probation be allowed to carry weapons?
What about teachers with active union grievances? Complaints about sexual harassment? Anger management? Divorce proceedings?
Will armed teachers wear holsters?
Will they be stationed strategically during pep rallies or other gatherings?
Will they participate in lockdown drills as if they were armed or unarmed?
Will funding for the policies outlined above be distributed according to local budgets, statewide formulas, or national formulas?
Will schools in high-risk neighborhoods receive more or less funding? Suburban schools?
What is the right ratio of armed:unarmed teachers by grade level?
What is the procedure for debriefing and assessing armed teachers’ performance during a crisis?
Can an armed teacher who flinches be fired? Can an armed teacher who breaks protocol be rewarded?
Will preschool teachers have guns?
Will teachers in “juvie” (high risk) schools have guns?
Will the teacher or the school be liable if their gun is stolen?
Can administrators carry weapons? Can they do so in disciplinary situations?

Think about this: I quit playing clarinet after 8th grade because my band teacher was an outright asshole. After I quit, he was fired for punching a student. But let’s give him a gun, right?

If Nothing Else, There Is Hope

Written as a MySpace blog post 10.5 years ago, approximately 3 years before I became seriously ill with the disease that took me down and now has me bedridden. I can’t believe it’s been a decade already.

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The Legacy of Hope   6/2/07

 

When I went to the Chandler library to cruise for movies to check out for the weekend, the selections were pretty slim.  The Poirot series that usually appears on PBS didn’t hold any appeal, and “Show Boat” wasn’t looking any better.  I picked up a documentary called “Legacy,” about a multi-generational family of single moms trying to escape the inner city projects of Chicago.

The narration is provided by one of the teenage girls who lives with her grandmother, mother, aunt, six cousins and four siblings.  Within the first 10 minutes of the film and after the grandmother gives her first interview about living in the projects, one of the nephews – the one that showed the most academic promise and stability, and was looked up to by family and neighbors alike – was shot dead in the street.  The filmmaker chose to follow this family for a total of five years after this devastating murder, which included the boy’s mother joining and completing her 5th addiction treatment program, the narrator’s mother getting a stable job after being a welfare recipient since the age of 16, and the grandmother finally qualifying for her own house after a generous donation from an area businessman who saw the news story of the boy being shot.  The narrator was the first in her family to complete a high school education and receive her diploma.

This was a difficult story on many levels.  It is not dissimilar to watching episodes of “Intervention” on A&E.  Nearly every person of my immediate and extended family is or was an addict; I saw and learned things that no child should.  Every person in my father’s family with the exception of my uncle died young, including my father.  This month will also mark the violent death 12 years ago [as of 2007] of my aunt at the hands of her boyfriend.

Poverty was also a strong factor in my childhood years.  My mother nearly died when I was five after she contracted a bacterial infection, and was bedridden for three months.  Add that to the strain of my own medical bills, with my terrible asthma attacks, allergies, and numerous bouts of pneumonia and bronchitis….and no health insurance.  “Preventative care” was impossible to consider.  We stood in line for milk and cheese.  We were also issued these awful frozen fish portions, which were breaded fillets of cod with a hunk of cheese wrapped in as well.  Luckily an uncle was a manager at General Mills and would give us test samples of various foods that they were developing to mass market.  It was a treat when we once got “Bonkers” – if you remember those, they were rolls of peanut butter with rice crispies and chocolate chips on the outside.  Mostly, though, we got these horrendous breakfast bars – vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate – that had the taste of chalk and the consistency of a doorstop.  We ate them because we had to.  [It is no mystery that impoverished people are overweight because the least expensive food is the most fattening and unhealthiest fare you can conjure up.]

One Christmas there was no money for presents.  My mom contacted a local charity that gave us $14 each to spend on gifts, took us shopping, and had a wrapping party afterwards.  Mom still had a sense of humor about it – somehow she convinced me to tell her what I got her, saying “Oh, I’ll forget, I promise.  Just whisper it in my ear.”  Of course I told her.

It is also no mystery that being poor is stressful, humiliating and limiting. It is easy to say “Why don’t they just ___________ ?”.  Right now, as a nation in general, we have a very them-vs.-us mentality; every man for himself. If you are lucky enough to have grown up in a household that never really had to struggle to survive, it is much more difficult for you to understand how this cycle of poverty continues through generations.  But instead of saying “Why don’t they ________?”, why don’t you ___________ to help?  Because it’s their problem, not yours.  I’m not saying that we have to give $10 to the people with signs at the end of freeway exit ramps.  Can’t we lend a hand before it gets to that point?  It may not be you or your family right now, but it could be in the future.  Medical expenses alone are becoming outrageous, even for those covered under company policies, and one major illness could be financially devastating.  Half of all bankruptcies filed are attributed to medical bills.  For some reason, we as a society have associated medical bills with outright laziness, when it couldn’t be further from the truth.

There were elements in this film that I could not relate to.  My extended family never bonded to get through the hard times.  When my aunt was killed, my father had to admit to the detectives that he “never really socialized with her” and didn’t know her boyfriend was violent.  Her death was heartbreaking, but instead of offering each other support, fights broke out over stupid things like who would get her dresser and bed.

These women in the documentary also had strong faith in God, which was never a part of my upbringing.  Hearing “God will get us through this” and “by the grace of God” was like they were speaking in tongues to me.  Faith is not something I practice.  Even if we’re talking about people in general, or work, or good health, or anything for that matter, I never sit back and say “I have faith”.  Instead, I have hard work and critical thinking skills.  If I don’t do for myself, I have no business sitting back and waiting for something, or someone, to take care of everything for me. 

Yet, there is still the legacy of hope.  We need to be reminded that despite our circumstances, we can rise above with dignity and flourish.  You or I may have been in a bad place 10, 20, 25 years ago, but that doesn’t mean we have to be there now.  Good deeds should be handed out to strangers, friends and family alike – you may need their help one day.

My mom has recently started worrying that she made too many mistakes and bad decisions when raising my sister and I.  It’s quite a time delay, since we are both in our mid-thirties and turned out pretty straight.  I don’t hold anything against her.  She also taught us love and affection, dignity, and the joy of survival. 

Invading MySpace

Remember MySpace? I kept a blog up there too. In fact, I also dated some men through MySpace. The following is a story about one of those men, and knowing what I know now, he has exactly what I have: mast cell activation syndrome. I have thought about him often only because I wonder if he has actually been able to find the correct and comprehensive medical care. But hands down, he is a fucking lunatic. There is no way I could be around him for even five minutes ever again.
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I debated about posting these, but the whole incident is classically surreal, like when the main character in “Swingers” calls a girl named Nicki that he just met at a club that night.

I went out with this guy for one date in November of 2005, where we met up at a bar and he was too cheap to even buy me a drink after he asked me what I was having (the woman sitting next to me was so pissed, SHE bought me a drink).  Afterwards I drove him to his apartment because he had taken a cab, and we ended up working on some of his original music together. While we were there, he got into a screaming match over the phone with his mother, and they were calling back and forth and hanging up on each other, and he was stomping and slamming doors.  Some other background:  he own(ed) his own business that manufactures DVDs and CDs.  He also has horrendous food allergies where if he deviates from eating six specific foods he can go into anaphylaxis, much like most of us with this disease.

We talked on the phone the Monday after that date, and I timed him talking non-stop about himself for 20 minutes.  He repeatedly said that he wanted to have children, so after the sixth time of hearing that I stated that I probably wasn’t the person to do that for him and tried to explain why (this was before I had my hysterectomy). He blew up.  He went on for another 10 minutes solid and accused me of criticizing him.  I told him I was getting frustrated because he wouldn’t let me finish my sentences, then he said I was being hurtful because I was accusing him of being rude, and he was completely insulted.  Anyway, after he hung up on me, I found this string of e-mails sent overnight.  I have blanked out his name for semi-privacy and included the times for your reading pleasure (all of his typing mistakes were left in):

11:58 pm:
Chelsea!

You know, you opened up the other night, and I was very, very, kind about it. I opened up tonight to you and you were VERY tough. Very not fair.

The items I discussed are not definite ever. But you had pre-ideas and canned my personally as to what I felt about you the other day and what you disapproved of me tonight. I had the HIGHEST FEELINGS, THEN TONIGHT YOU CAN MY FEELINGS. Hope your happy. If you want to call, go ahead. I don’t care if we are exact or not, but the words were very harsh.

12:09 am:
Chelsea,

I am only willing to love. Email never does justice. We just hit it off, something was up the other night, just want the one I met that night. Sincerely,
P

3:04 am:
[blank]

3:08 am:
I thought your were happy I was in to you. So there are differences, I was very insulted because you refused them last night. I can’t believe you would immediately be that way. We had a nice night the other day. You told me you had a great time. Something I’m missing?
P

3:20 am:
Not fair.

The decrisption of the “PERFECT” man was wrong. If that is exactyly what you want, you tell me, and tell me upfront and all! NO ONE EVER CUTS ME DOWN

I told you about the possibilitiles, and how I actually can handle the differences. But I still can handle the differences. And let my partner know.

3:23 am:
Not fair.

The decrisption of the “PERFECT” man was wrong. If that is exactyly what you want, you tell me, and tell me upfront and all! NO ONE EVER CUTS ME DOWN because I have the ability to raise a kid. Anyone who does cuts them self down. I just want to know who can.

I told you about the possibilitiles, and how I actually can handle the differences. But I still can handle the differences. And let my partner know. Kids are tough, but not 100fficial in a new relationship. But anyone who cuts me down about that…I can be the best dad.

I just only wanted to meet and go out. With no big deal.

Sincerely.

P

3:50 am:
Chealseal

OK. here it goes. I really like talking and hanigng with you. I almost died this weekend. I’m sorry.
I lost almost 10 pounds. I;m not having fun. I am just doing what I can. It is too much too handle by myself. I really like you, you just caught me in a time where I may or maynot have much time. PLEASE FORGIVE.

3:55 am:
Chelsea,

Please hang on. I did not mean to hang up.

It is hard to be myself with what is going on.

LOL…I’d really like a pizza! Can’t have it though.

All the things on the phone, just take them as friendly. You are great. Just know that.

Sincerely,

4:00 am (titled “RUDE”):
yes,, me,

I really hope you call me. I am not very happy with my self. It is hard, just please forgive and talk with me again. Sincerly,

P

5:22 am:
Chelsea.

I was about to Bankrutcy the business. I am not mysellf. You know, you are beautiful. I have words on the phone, and email. But they are just my venting that I might/might not loose everything I worked for. I am not my self at the moment. I apologize completely. I have a funny habbit of calling my friends in the middle of the night if I drink a bit. You caught me in a time of my life where everything is on the line.

I am totally sorry for anything I said wrong. I am really stressed. And, maybe wrong. I am sorry. I had the best time talking with you. You just met a guy who is “got it together” on the outside, but not on the inside.

I have done my best, but, I have now to realize the way it is.

Sincerely,

P

PS – anything I said in a voicemail is just me venting. I hope to hear from you, venting or what.

5:32 am:
Chelsea,

I had a rough night, obviously. But, just so you know, and whether you contact me again or not, you are very pretty. Your eyes and your smile are the best thing.

I had a really bad weekend. My food allergy thing is lethal. No one understands. My mom, well, she took about 5 phone calls to calm down and realize, and help me find a potential solution.

I am not myself. I just want to run the bus and play guitar/sing, and even sing with you.

I may have blown it. My bad. Then it is my fault and I must deal with it. I have these stupid health things that make me not myself. But if i was out of line, I apologize. Very sorry. Most Sincerely, and just not myself tonight, P

This was posted after I went to work, 9:05 am:
Chelsea,

Hi. In summary, I went overboard last night.

When I asked you if you were real, I was meaning a real person. I have been screwed over the last few times I met someone.

You are not only real, but again, have the prettiest eyes and smile. The first thing I noticed. So, anyway, I had one too many last night, and will NOT DO THAT again. I was very emotional and you just happened to be there.

So, I really like you. And everything you said was fine. I really enjoy looking at you the way you are. And/or the way I don’t yet know, but either way, you are good with me. Your eyes and smile are fantastic.

P. has some inside issues obviously of stress, probably from the business. They come out once in a while. I just need someone to slap me in the face if they come out again. Because I do not want them around. I just want me and….well…you….at least when I’m talking with you.

So, please forgive, I am just a human. I take things too personally sometimes, but understand.

So call me please. Anything wrong I did I apologize, I just had a bad night after being very sick for three straight days. I lost 6 pounds since you saw me. That bad. I was in a lot of pain.

But anyway, I am here. Most very sincerely,

P.

After much time and consideration, this is how I replied:
P,
I remember trying to explain the reasons why I have decided not to bear or raise children, and during the first point (of three) I was attempting to make, you interrupted me to talk about you again.  I remember thinking “What in the world do his allergic reactions have to do with MY ability to bear and birth children???”, but I let you continue talking.  Then somehow you turned it into me criticizing you for wanting to be a daddy, when no words of criticism or judgment (and in fact no words at all) came out of my mouth.  Then you got pissed because I said I was getting frustrated about not being able to finish my sentences.  You ended the call by talking for another 10 minutes non-stop and then saying “Maybe we’ll talk again, have a nice life, talk to you soon” and proceeded to hang up on me.

To top it all off, when I wake up this morning and check my e-mails, I have ELEVEN messages from you that are barely coherent and alternatingly rude, apologetic and complementary.

If ever there was a time that you needed someone special in your life, it is now.  However:  no matter how sick you are, no matter how drunk you are and no matter how stressed you are, if you treat me like crap, I’m not going to stick around.  I don’t let anyone else treat me this way, and I’m not going to start with you.

I have a hell of a lot more to say, but let’s just leave it at agreeing not to contact each other again.

V-Day

I ran into my next-door neighbor yesterday as I was coming back from the pharmacy up the street and she was heading out to her car. We usually only exchange a “hey” and weak smiles. Instead, I said, “Did you hear the downstairs couple screaming for eight and a half hours Saturday???”

She said, “Oh, I guess he has PTSD, so that’s why he’s violent.”

I said, “That’s NO excuse. None.”

She walked away from me quickly and snidely said over her shoulder, “Well, stuff happens in relationships.” 

Yeah, it does. I can tell you all about the relationship downstairs. There’s a lot of crying. The guy rages and screams and says that he CAN’T EXPRESS HIMSELF LIKE SHE CAN and SHE’S GOT IT EASY and EVERYONE LETS HER TALK BUT NO ONE LETS HIM TALK and I can’t hear her response clearly because he’s raging and screaming and telling her to shut the fuck up. Sometimes he tells her she’s stupid for touching his stuff. Sometimes he tells her she’s stupid for cleaning a certain way and that no one else cleans that way in the entire world. THE ENTIRE WORLD DOES IT BETTER THAN SHE DOES. If she would just LISTEN TO HIM THEN THINGS WOULD BE BETTER, but NO, SHE’S GOT TO BE FUCKING SELFISH, and WHY DOES SHE MAKE IT SO HARD ON HIM? She’s so self-centered!

This went on for eight and a half hours Saturday night. The only break was when they had visitors at around 7 pm to sing one of them – I think the husband – happy birthday. Just a half hour beforehand there was sobbing, so someone had to get cleaned up before the friends came over. Then when the visitors left, there was a huge, audible sigh, and the fighting resumed. 

Is this what my next-door neighbor really believes is the norm? Is this really what is healthy in her eyes?

It doesn’t feel good to me. It makes my skin crawl. Specifically, it affects me because I have been in it before. The worst was Drummer #2, the guy who would write me hate letters in dry erase marker on the kitchen tile counter overnight and cover the entire counter and I would wake up to chaos. Our fights would last hours and days, and the scripts were the same: he couldn’t talk about his feelings (while screaming at me), if I would only do things his way then he wouldn’t get pissed off at me (but the rules were always changing), and by the way, why was I so selfish?

But I didn’t learn my lesson with him. The most recent live-in boyfriend that I had turned violent after we moved in together. He became very unhappy after realizing that I wouldn’t be able to wait on him hand and foot because I’d be recovering from one of my many surgeries, and it really pissed him off that I made twice as much money as him. He shoved me three weeks after one of my surgeries. I broke up with him five months after we moved in together, but I still kick myself for even letting it go that long.

Eve Ensler, the creator of “The Vagina Monologues,” came up with a brilliant movement: V-Day. On Valentine’s Day, it’s important to remember that it’s not always roses and chocolates – sometimes it’s booze and bruises, or worse.

http://www.vday.org/homepage.html

And of course a block down the road from us in St. Paul is the oldest women’s shelter in the U.S.

But even though we have these wonderful resources, and we have the women’s march in D.C. and around the globe, and we can say “pussy” and “vagina” without raising an eyebrow, there is still such a huge disconnect.

Why is my neighbor so flip about “stuff” happening in relationships? Is she just so fucking grateful that it’s all about pleasing the guy? And is her assumption that I’ve never been in a relationship so I don’t have a clue? Oh, honey, let me direct you to my blog…

But I feel like it is such a never-ending battle, for me, and for all women, to be considered equal and to not be slut shamed or used as punching bags, and to make sure we are not buying into some patriarchal and misogynistic vomit.

Fake It ‘Til You Make It Out Of There Alive

A few minutes ago I was standing in the middle of my kitchen, trying to figure out if the married couple downstairs was fighting again, and whether I should reach for my phone. Last Saturday the husband, whom I have nicknamed The Leprechaun because he’s shorter than my 5’6″ height and sports a red beard, had a 3-hour meltdown. One of many, I’d like to point out. He rages. He hits the wall. He hits furniture. He may even hit his wife. I hear her crying all the time.

I notified the apartment managers the week they moved in, and they told me to call the cops. On Saturday, I did. I got tired of the screaming and my walls shaking. The cops came and went, and The Leprechaun took it upon himself to immediately knock on my door afterwards and demand that I talk to him about why it’s acceptable for him to be abusive. You see, he has a traumatic brain injury. You see, he can’t drive. You see, it’s none of my business if he makes his wife cry. I didn’t open my door. I simply put my headphones back in and eventually he went away.

I drafted a letter to the apartment managers. In it, I recapped what happened in the past, including The Leprechaun knocking on my door right before New Year’s because I had dropped a bottle of lotion on the floor, because it had “caused a huge ruckus” (like that’s the same as 15 hours of his screaming rage) – and by the way, I hadn’t opened my door to him that time either. I also indicated that he had knocked on my door and demanded we talk after the cops had left on Saturday. I was told that the managers were going to have a meeting with him as well as talk to their attorneys to find out how to handle him because he had a disability (traumatic brain injury from serving in the Navy) and they have to “accommodate” him – though I’m not sure why his TBI overrides my disabilities. Also, let’s face it: no one has ever called the cops on me for being violent and threatening, because I’m not.

I got a text from one of the managers Wednesday night that they were setting up a meeting with him Thursday morning. Fifteen minutes later, The Leprechaun knocked on my door again and demanded that I open the door and talk to him. I told him through the door that I wasn’t dressed to open the door (which was the truth – I was resting in bed), and he said very forcefully, “I’LL WAIT.” Then I said that I was also on the phone (which was true – I was talking to someone out of state, and that friend could hear the entire exchange). Eventually The Leprechaun went away again, but I had to text the manager and tell him what happened, and he told me to call the cops if The Leprechaun came back.

I know the meeting happened on Thursday morning. I heard The Leprechaun return back to the apartment because he slammed the door as hard as he could. I didn’t hear him start packing boxes though, so I have no idea what the verdict was. Looks like I’ll have to pursue that answer Monday.

But it seems silly that I had to point out to the apartment managers in my letter to them that I don’t condone spousal abuse, I am not okay with him retaliating against me, I’m not his wife, he doesn’t pay my rent, and it doesn’t say anywhere in my lease that I’m required to accept abuse from the tenant who lives in the basement apartment. So now I’m on alert and ready to call the cops. C’mon, Leprechaun, your box of Lucky Charms is gonna run out sooner or later.

This ties into another subject that I was discussing with a friend about why women fake orgasms. Specifically, why do women who are having a one-night stand fake orgasms. Mainly because there’s so many douchebags like The Leprechaun running around. The worst are the ones who like to proclaim that they’re nice. No really, they’re nice! But then get any of your bits naked around them and they’ll make your nipples bleed or tell you that you like anal sex, you just don’t know it, and they’re going to show you how right they are.

I actually had the privilege of talking this process of faking it through with a man who was willing to listen rather than becoming defensive or angry. Think about it; when you talk about having one night stands as a single woman, you get the pious lecture about how you don’t deserve anything nice because you gave a man your body for only one night, you dirty whore. No lecture for the other party, though. He did nothing worse than stick his dick in another hole. But I digress.

We talked about the various reasons why women fake orgasms. But there’s a specific reason that isn’t talked about much that comes up from time to time on first dates/first-time or only-time sexual encounters, and that is personal safety. Sometimes you don’t know that things are going to go badly until you are both naked and the fucker has stopped listening, and it dawns on you that he simply wants a porno show. His script is running and you had better perform. The light bulb goes on over your head.

Of course, some men love the whole resistance and crying thing. That’s not what I’m talking about. The guys who can’t tell if a woman is faking are the ones who rely solely on porn for the cues of orgasm: “Oh” sounds, clenched hands, clamped jaw (or maybe even gaping open, whatever your preference). They want to dig a hole to China through your clit. If you complain that the pressure hurts, they push your hands away, tell you that you should stop being shy or that you really like it, and wrench your legs back open after they have closed to protect your most tender flesh. Same for anything that they want to do to you rather than do with you.

The light goes on. You give him his show, make all the right noises, tell him he is king, and get the fuck out of there before he rips your skin any more or gives you additional bruises and you have excruciating pain every time you pee because the urine is passing over open wounds.

I’m just saying, it’s okay to fake it sometimes. There’s a lot of Leprechauns out there.

The Ballad of the Broken Neighbors

“FUCK. FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK! SHUT UP! JUST SHUT UP! FUCK YOU!”

It first came on Sunday night, a man’s voice, from the direction of my windows to my right. I had my ear buds in and had been laying in bed, watching movies, as usual. My first thought was that a guy was watching a sporting event and was just generally being a dick and being really passionate about a goal that was scored.

But then I heard a much softer female tone answer. I could tell she was in tears but I couldn’t make out what she said. Then he again exploded: “FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU! SHUT UP! SHUT THE FUCK UP!” Then he punched something, hard, multiple times. It may have been the wall, or it may have been a piece of furniture, but I don’t think it was her. I couldn’t tell where it was coming from. I got out of bed. This building is old, built somewhere around 1910, and the floors are the original wood. They creak with every step I take no matter how quiet I try to be.

I went to the kitchen, and it seemed to be slightly louder. I could hear them both. I have a very tiny apartment, only 360 square feet, and much of the wall space is covered with art, so it was really difficult for me to find any blank wall to put my ear to. By the time I did, they had stopped. I hovered for a while but everything stayed quiet. I slowly walked back to bed, wondering if they were truly done.

At around 12:30 a.m., there was another outburst. “FUCK! FUCK YOU! STOP IT! JUST STOP IT! JUST SHUT UP! SHUT THE FUCK UP! FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK!” More crying from her, and words, but I still couldn’t hear what she was saying. I got up and they stopped. I got into bed again and wondered when they moved in, because I hadn’t heard anything like it before from that space below me.

At around 9:00 the next morning, the yelling started again. I got out of bed and laid down on my floor so I could put my ear to the floor boards. I could hear them walking around, I could hear the air moving between their bodies and their ceiling/my floor, I could even hear them making holes somewhere close to me – maybe to hang electronics, or pictures? I felt like I was in a movie, where the cinematographer shows how close one character is to the other, and all that is separating them is one flimsy piece of board. I wondered if they could hear me breathing. I tried to hold my breath.

I heard him say, “Why do you always fucking do this?!” and I know that she answered because I heard her voice, but it was still too quiet and tearful to make out the words. Then it was silent except for their bodies moving, and the periodic pounding into the plaster. After about 15 minutes I got up from my place on the floor because it was becoming far too painful to maintain, and I started getting ready for my caseworker to visit. As soon as I did, the yelling started again.

When my caseworker arrived at around 1:30 p.m., I warned her that the couple in the apartment below mine had been fighting, and she would likely hear it. About three minutes later, we heard the guy again, just as loudly as all of his other rants. He never seemed to tire. I imagined that the woman was exhausted.

His rage continued for a total of 15 hours on Monday. He hit something again too. I still don’t think it was her, but it set me on edge. The last screaming rant was around 12:30 a.m. again; I had my ear buds in watching my final movie of the night trying to get tired enough to sleep and his screaming penetrated the ear buds.

For the next two days, Tuesday and Wednesday, he had screaming fits again, but not for the 15 hours that he did on Monday. On Wednesday I typed up a text to forward to the property manager but at the last second deleted it. Then an hour later, a notice was slipped under my door saying that we were getting completely new apartment managers (our 7th and 8th in a year and a half), and to be patient during the transition. That’s why my instincts wouldn’t allow me to text the now-fired old manager!

Today at lunch I took a chance and stopped by the office, which is located directly across from the new tenants’ apartment. I pulled the door shut, introduced myself, and told the new managers that I heard abusive behavior from the male tenant of the two. The new managers said that maybe the guy was just watching a game or playing XBox. I said that was bullshit, and that the woman had been crying. Then one of the managers said that yes, she had seen the woman crying. Then they said they didn’t see any marks on the woman’s face. I told them that didn’t mean anything, and by the way, women don’t cry over scores that men get while playing XBox. They said that I could always call the cops if I needed to. I am fine with that – and I will, do not doubt that – but here’s my problem: I have to actually do things to get ready to get to the front door to let the cops in that people who are able-bodied don’t think twice about. We have a secured front door without an intercom. Plus I am the only apartment within close proximity of the asshole, they don’t touch walls with anyone else (even though my next door neighbor heard him shout once), so when I report him, he’s going to come after me.

The new managers assured me they would talk to the new tenants. I went back to my apartment and laid down, and then someone started banging on my door and buzzing the ancient doorbell. I had to say “Just a minute!” more than a few times to get them to stop. After putting my wig back on, I opened the door to discover one of the managers there; she apologized and said she should have called instead of knocked, but then said that the woman said the man was playing with his XBox. I told the manager that that was absolute bullshit. The manager said that if I felt like the new neighbor was disturbing the peace, I was certainly welcome to call the cops, but she had to accept what the woman told her. I asked her if the woman came up with the XBox explanation on her own, or if the manager gave her that option as a possible “out,” and she couldn’t tell me.

So at this point, it’s me against the neighbors. Why do women stay? They just want the abuse to stop. They want their men to value them and to see how much they love them. They want their love to be enough to fix them. They don’t want to get their men in trouble. They need their men for financial support. I run the risk of both of them turning against me when I pick up the phone.

You had better believe I’m going to call it in.

To Put Into Words

Six days post-election here in the U.S., and it feels like every day is different.

The night of the election I stayed awake until about 11 pm until it was clear that Trump was going to win the electoral votes. I refused to watch TV; I couldn’t bear to listen to voices yelling in disbelief, but rather I listened to my own favorite music and instead refreshed Google and saw everything roll in real time.

On Wednesday morning I woke up with my alarm clock – or rather, I woke up with alarm, saying to myself, “Fuck, Trump is president.” I went through the motions of getting ready for an appointment; as luck would have it, my regularly scheduled counseling appointment just happened to be that morning. Above and beyond my normal anxiety and depression and PTSD, I cried for all of the kids that morning who my friend as a teacher said were scared in her classroom about being targeted by racism and ignorance because of their immigrant status and religious beliefs.

On Wednesday afternoon, I was shocked by a call I received out of the blue. Back in August I wrote a letter to the POTUS regarding the sluggish process of applying for disability and antiquated means of qualifying, when people like me are clearly disabled but can’t qualify because science hasn’t caught up to our diseases. This woman was a staff member of the Obama administration and she had the unfortunate task to call me the day after the shitty election to talk to me about my letter to make sure my immediate needs were being met. I assured her that my hospital bed finally came through (it should be here in a few hours this morning) after trying to get it since January. Then we talked about how my current governor chose to expand medical assistance (“Medicaid”) to everyone at or under a certain income level (which comes out to be around 120% of the poverty level, or $1313/month for a single person without children in my case). In two years when my governor’s term is up and he has indicated that he will not be seeking another term, our new governor has the option of continuing this, or only allowing people with children and/or only allowing people who are federally recognized as disabled (which I cannot get) to continue receiving medical assistance.

So to be clear, I could lose my last line of access to healthcare. I confirmed that with her because I just needed to say it. We both cried on the phone together.

She gave me her phone number and told me to call her in case I had any follow-up questions for her. I will call her this week to see if she has any connections at the NIH to see if I can get anyone to reconsider my case, but I think that’s all that I can ask of her.

There are so many things rolling around about Trump already. I’m not sure I can remember all of them and they change hourly, so please excuse my imperfect recall. First, there are rumors flying about his desire to only spend part of his time in the White House in D.C., and part of his time in his place in Manhattan. It can be argued that not all presidents lived at the White House 100% of the time, but that was probably before there was electricity and running water and the Secret Service and, you know, technology. It’s not like his Manhattan penthouse has a bunker in case he starts a nuclear war by being a complete asshole – and let’s get real, it’s not such a far-fetched expectation.

I’m not sure what to think about him actually making it to the swearing in ceremony. Is he truly going to trial for rape and false imprisonment of girls under the age of 18? Are those cases going to suddenly disappear just because some judge is going to feel sorry for a guy who has been elected, just like judges feel sorry for star athletes?

And Jesus H., why isn’t anyone bothered by how many times he has filed bankruptcy? When I worked for Bank of America, we had to pass strict financial checks, and I just worked in the tech area. We couldn’t be hired on if we had bad credit including bankruptcies or foreclosures or judgments. Also, during my years as an escrow assistant, I was especially skeeved out when I had to work with mortgage brokers who had no scruples about giving financial advice to customers when I knew that the brokers themselves were on their own fourth or fifth bankruptcy filing (they told me how they played the Ch. 13 system before the laws were made more strict).

After his first visit with Obama, he walked out telling everyone that he wasn’t going to reverse everything about the Affordable Care Act, specifically the bits about the pre-existing conditions. That means that he has already reversed one thing he promised the ignorant, writhing masses who were convinced that “Obamacare” was responsible for their rising premiums – not the greed of the insurance companies trying to make a profit off of our bodies at the widest margins possible.

So if Trump doesn’t get sworn in, does that mean we’re stuck with Pence? I’m screwed with him too, since I no longer have my uterus, and he thinks that’s all that I’m good for – bearing babies and overpopulating the earth. That’s all he’s concerned about. Read “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood for reference.

On Thursday I had my very first psych evaluation test, ordered by a neurologist I met on Monday. It took about six hours to go through everything and I was mentally exhausted. It’s one thing to explain to doctors that I lose my words when I’m speaking and writing (you can’t see it, but sometimes it takes me 7-8 tries to write words that used to come easily to me), so this test was supposed to help pinpoint my deficiencies. From what I could tell I had pretty good picture and spatial cognition, but when it came to actual word gymnastics, I had a really hard time. One really painful portion of the testing was coming up with words that began with a particular letter. I think we did four or five letters total, but I only remember two letters – “A” and “S”. With the letter “S” I came up with about 10-12 words in 60 seconds that had multiple syllables, and with the letter “A” I came up with about 5 words and they were 1 to 2 syllables at most. It felt like the bottom of my mind had dropped out. This is actually what happens now on a regular basis and is one of the reasons that before every phone call I make I get a fair amount of anxiety, even if it’s just to make an appointment.

So after I went through all of that (I won’t get results for at least a few weeks), I got my usual cab ride/medical transport. I’ve been taking pictures of the cabbies and asking them questions and posting everything on Instagram. I asked this particular driver what he thought about the election because he was an immigrant and had only been living here in the U.S. for five years. He said he supported Trump because “Obama hadn’t done everything he promised to since he was elected.” I was absolutely floored. This guy was everything Trump (and all of Trump’s supporters) hated. I feel like his safety is at risk and I don’t want him to find out the hard way. I feel like all of us are at risk.

All of us, that is, unless you are a white guy between the age of 18-70 and you’re telling everyone else that they have to adapt to Trump/Pence and that you’ll be “fine” having your rights and/or access to basics taken away from you. Because, you know, ‘Murica.

Medical Sexism and Trump Grabbing My Girl Parts

I pride myself on being a college-educated woman. The education came at a steep price. The student loans will likely haunt me long past my death; I only finished two years ago, and I was even handing in projects while I was in the ICU recovering from my many surgeries.

My education is not strictly located in books, though. I have traveled through 36 states and 7 countries in 20 years, and moved across the U.S. 4 times. As my friend pointed out on Friday night, I seem to be able to talk to people wherever I go (I didn’t realize anyone noticed!). Sometimes I hang back and observe, and there is a lot to be learned by listening and watching body language.

I have never liked Donald Trump. I was never attracted to his slicked-back hair and definitely would not have recognized him if I stumbled across him in the 1980’s or ’90’s when his star was rising, and I couldn’t stomach his show for even one hour when “The Apprentice” started airing. I didn’t understand the appeal of him being put in front of a camera for being extra nasty. I never bought into the idea that it was being played up for entertainment; I actually thought that he was even worse than what we were seeing.

Now here we are and somehow he has slipped past all of the 14 other candidates for president and it’s the last few weeks before the big election. Here in Minnesota we’re allowed to vote early by absentee ballot, so rather than join the crush on voting day, I made arrangements to go to the county office at a time I knew it would be much quieter. It took me about a half hour to fill in all of the boxes manually for all of the different options. We had state representatives and judges that needed votes as well as the president and vice president. Luckily Minnesota is still using paper ballots – so many states tried to go electronic and the glitches resulted in votes disappearing forever, and Republicans winning votes where they might not have.

In case you haven’t guessed yet, I didn’t vote for Trump. I happen to be a few things he hates: a disabled, fat, bald woman who will never compete in beauty pageants or for his attention. But here’s a more comprehensive list of why having him as president would pretty much guarantee that 99% of us would be dead by February 2017 (or there would be a coup, but that would require people getting off of their asses and abandoning their cats).

I attended a school in a very rural area of Minnesota for five grade levels before I moved back to Minneapolis to finish school. Some of those classmates are now friends with me on Facebook – or at least “friends” as Facebook defines us. But we have led very different lives. As much as I have ventured out on my own since the age of 16, the majority of them have stayed very close to home, married very young (some even fellow classmates), had children, and some have already started working on grandchildren, even though our age range is only 41-43. Collectively and in general, they are afraid of anyone who isn’t white and Catholic; Lutheran is marginally okay, even though those fuckers don’t kneel. You’re fucked if you’re Jewish in that area. There’s been a mighty wave of Muslim Somalians of course, and the white folks are scared shitless. Trump seems like a white-orange god because he makes them feel secure – walls! Muslim registry! Deny entry to any more Muslims! All Mexicans are bad (except for tacos)! Um…money! (Shhhh, don’t say anything about the fucking bankruptcies. He was smart for dodging taxes, you’re just jealous because you’re not as smart as he is.) And the creme de la creme: GRAB WOMEN BY THE PUSSY! He sure tells it like it is!

Well, let me tell it like it is.

First, let me drop in a little truth bomb. I had my genes analyzed through 23 & Me just to get the raw data because of all of this rare disease business and to see if they could pick up anything identifiable, and something that came up on my mitochondrial DNA (mom’s DNA) is that I’m Yemeni Jewish. That’s right, fuckers, I’m Jewish. Yemeni Jews happen to be the oldest lineage of Jews, desert dwellers who often converted to Catholicism in order to avoid being put to death, which is likely what happened with our family somewhere along the line – we’ve got bishops and nuns. Jews who converted to Catholicism became self-haters publicly to save their lives. I’m a survivor.

Second, I feel like we are moving backwards in time. Trump is just a very obvious sign of it. Here we are in 2016 and a swimmer gets 3 months in jail for raping an unconscious woman in a back alley because a judge feels sorry for his potential swimming career; young men are deciding that as a reaction to women trying to get equal rights and pay to men, there needs to be a movement called “menenism” where their “grievances” need to be aired (and though it was started as satire, I’ve been personally targeted numerous times on Twitter by guys with the “menenist” agenda – mostly ending with “shut up bitch what have you done nothing,” so of course I’m mentally correcting the punctuation); and now females aren’t going into medicine in equal numbers to men.

When I was debating the Trump vs. Hillary vote with these former classmates and they were telling me why they thought Trump was still “better”, and here was the list that one of the debaters came up with:
Instead, I suggest folks vote based on simple, concrete (non-emotional) things like
1. Who will keep us safer?
2. Who will keep the government out of my health and education choices?
3. Who is LESS LIKELY to be swayed by bureaucracy?
3.5. Who is least likely to fu*k up our economy further?
4. Who hasn’t been linked to several national security leaks?
5. Who hasn’t been linked to voter fraud?
6. Who hasn’t been linked to multiple nefarious deaths to those opposed to or threatening to them?
7. Who HAS BEEN?

This was my response:
Okay, I’ve gotta jump in on this, because I’m a little worried about just where the “facts” are coming from. First of all, we have a pretty solid idea of how Trump is going to treat certain issues.
1. Trump is going to be just as challenged with geography and world events as Palin is.
2. Trump needs to stay away from my vagina and needs a thesaurus because he only knows the word “tremendous” – so do you really think he needs to be in charge of determining how education is either built up or broken down?
3. Trump is easily swayed by anatomy, money, perceived power, hair spray and dementia (his own). 3.5. Are you guys really okay with the number of times he has declared bankruptcy and denied payment to all of his contractors, big and small?
4. He leaks what’s going on through his brain (i.e.: “I don’t pay taxes because I’m ‘smart'”) – pretty sure he shouldn’t be trusted with nuclear bomb codes.
5. He doesn’t have a voter fraud record because he has never had an office that he has been voted into; he has bought all of his offices. And then filed bankruptcy. Multiple times.
6. Multiple nefarious deaths….well, that comes with the territory of being American, doesn’t it? We’re all bullies. We don’t take time to listen or understand or practice any diplomacy.
7. Silly question that is more like a bumper sticker and carries no meaning.

Then one person asked how I felt about “all” of our health care providers supporting Trump?

I’m going to let the “all” slide because I don’t think that’s the case, but I am personally struggling with getting adequate care, and I truly think it’s because we have a boys’ club that is going strong still. Right now the breakdown is about 70% male and 30% female doctors, and I really do feel like my female primary care doctor isn’t confident she can stand up to the male specialists who misdiagnose me. Because she can’t, it really, really fucks me over. It fucks over my case with the undiagnosed diseases with the NIH, and it fucks over my case with disability.

I’ve been struggling with the right way to put this into words, and it’s a little more complicated. I have a deep mistrust for doctors at this point in my life. I expect them to let me down. Last week when I had my appointment to follow up on the testing for the mast cell disease, I barely slept three hours the night before and fully expected to be sent away, just like hundreds of other times. So right now, if I even have the slightest hint that someone worships Trump and his hatred for women besides as sexual vessels, I instantly get anxiety. I can’t trust that doctor to write objective notes in my file and I can’t trust that doctor in my personal space. This is not unfounded.

But the truth is that most doctors won’t talk politics freely. I just have to trust my instincts and  read the doctor’s body language and figure out if he’s an asshole the old-fashioned way.

Nothing Like Designer Jeans

I’m listening to Pandora right now, and Whitesnake’s “Is This Love” happens to be playing. What were the hottest jeans from 1988? Maybe they were Guess?, maybe they were Girbaud (with the little loop at the top of the fly). I remember that it was important for guys to have Levi’s, at least in the little town where I was attending school when Tawny Kitaen was straddling two Jaguars.

There’s trends in medicine too. Remember how just over a century ago, no one really had a grasp on how important it was to wash your hands? And remember how 80 years ago, antibiotics were just around the corner, but before they were available to the general public, syphilis could very well be a death sentence? But it’s not so much trends as it is that we become more aware and educated.

Medicine attempted to treat PTSD in soldiers and document it for as long as wars have been fought. Different names have been attached to it; “Soldier’s heart” for the Civil War, “shell shock” for World War I; and “Combat Stress Reaction” for World War II.

After WWII, the American Psychiatric Association worked to put together a label that would apply to all symptoms that would appear as a result of traumatic events, not just war. It has actually been through five revisions to date and includes four different types of symptoms: reliving the traumatic event (also called re-experiencing or intrusion); avoiding situations that are reminders of the event; negative changes in beliefs and feelings; and feeling keyed up (also called hyperarousal or over-reactive to situations). Most people experience some of these symptoms after a traumatic event, so PTSD is not diagnosed unless all four types of symptoms last for at least a month and cause significant distress or problems with day-to-day functioning (see PTSD: National Center for PTSD ).

Since I’m part of the Chronic Illness Bloggers network, I’ve been able to read a lot of my fellow bloggers’ unique perspectives, and more than once I’ve seen references come up about PTSD in medical settings. I cannot believe what some of you have had to endure. I worry about putting on my Girbaud jeans and raising my hand and saying “Me too,” but after having many discussions with my counselor, she has confirmed that I indeed have PTSD triggered by my experiences brought on by this mystery disease.

Was there one big bang? I don’t think so, just like there isn’t one big battle in war, but a whole war. There were certain things that were especially traumatic. The time that my neurosurgeon stood in the doorway of my hospital room on the night of my birthday in 2013 after my fourth surgery and told me he would have to send me home nearly blind because he was just in there and it had to be something else, not a shunt failure was especially traumatic (turns out that it was a kink in the shunt that developed that would not have been discovered if I would not have thrown a hysterical fit to have a nuclear shunt study performed).

One story that I told to my counselor in this week’s session happened January 2014. 2013 was my big year of surgeries – six in all. I got to know my symptoms of shunt failure really well, plus I figured out that I was making copious scar tissue and adhering the shunt to my chest and abdominal wall. At various times I also leaked great big pools of CSF out of my spine so that I had a softball-sized vat of fluid sitting on my back, and a more dangerous situation of having a shunt in my brain and another one in my back, making it harder to control pressure.

My last surgery in 2013 was December 21st; that was when my neurosurgeon finally believed me after 2.5 years that I was allergic to the shunt, when he saw for himself that my abdomen was red and inflamed, like a “war zone,” as he put it. I told him that I needed to see an immunologist and a rheumatologist, but he said that I was “taking it too far.”

A month later, my shunt clogged or strangled again and it was adhered to my abdomen by scar tissue. I went to the ER and saw the on-call neurosurgeon, someone I had never seen before but who was with Barrow Neurological like my neurosurgeon and had access to all of the notes from my surgeries and could talk to my neurosurgeon. I demonstrated for him my usual problem when my shunt isn’t working and my symptoms come back: when I’m upright, my face is paralyzed and I can’t open my eyes; when I lay down, my eyes immediately open because the fluid moves away from the brain stem. When I sit back up, the fluid moves back to the brain stem and presses on the nerves again.

The neurosurgeon went away. The regular ER doctor came in and said I had a clear case of a classic migraine headache. I told him it was ridiculous and asked if anyone read my notes from my chart from all of my other admissions and surgeries, and he said he didn’t know, but that was what the on-call neurosurgeon said. Then he handed me a prescription for opioids. I was absolutely floored. I demonstrated for him what happens when I put my head parallel to the floor – my eyes open – and what happens when I’m upright, and asked him if that’s “typical migraine symptoms,” and he said he didn’t know, but that was what he was told, so that was it. I told him it was bullshit (never raising the volume of my voice, by the way). I told him that if they discharged me, I was going to turn around and ask to be admitted again. He told me they would refuse to treat me. I asked him why he prescribed pain medication for me when I wasn’t in pain, my shunt was simply clogged. He said that with patients with clogged shunts, they always get headaches, so if that was really my problem, I should have a headache. Then he left.

I was openly crying and shaking. The nurse came in and her whole demeanor toward me changed. She told me that I had to stop being abusive to them, they were just trying to help me; all the while I couldn’t even speak, I was so stunned. Then she yanked the IV out of my arm without putting pressure on the puncture so that I bled all over and then snidely said, “Oh, look at that, you’re a bleeder!” I just sobbed harder. She left the curtained room and I shut the curtain and cleaned myself up and managed to get changed. She came back with the discharge papers. I asked her if she could walk me out of the maze of the ER back to the lobby. By then it was 4 a.m. and quiet. She told me that she was too busy and that I had to find my own way out. My room was next to the nurse’s station, and many of the night ER staff had congregated there and were observing the exchange. They could also see that I had a cane and paralyzed eyelids that were mostly closed; one offered to help, but my nurse said, “She’s fine.” Another person asked me if that was true, but I couldn’t speak. I just kept walking. You could have heard a pin drop.

I finally made it out to the now-empty ER lobby and managed to call a cab and directed my face to the windows so I could watch for the familiar colors of the cab company. When the pressure gets bad, that’s all I can do – make out shapes and colors.

When I contacted my neurosurgeon’s office after that visit, I discovered that he actually upheld the on-call neurosurgeon’s decision to diagnose me as having a migraine episode, even though my neurosurgeon had been following me for 2.5 years and knew my symptoms just as well as I did at that point and performed all 8 of my surgeries to date. Everything that I have told my neurosurgeon that has been wrong with my body has been completely correct, and for him to suddenly go with something as far-fetched and outlandish as to describe this as a migraine episode immediately caused me to distrust him deeply. Before I would have talked to anyone who would listen about how great he was about thinking outside the box; after that I only hoped to survive.

Because of this horrible ER visit, I went home and started stretching my torso because I could tell that the shunt was adhering again to my abdomen only 3-4 weeks after the previous surgery. It was the only thing I could think to do. In the process, I managed to stretch so vigorously that there was a tug of war internally and I created a break in the shunt, which led to a leak…and because my neurosurgeon finally conceded that my demand to get an immunologist and a rheumatologist involved in my care was actually very practical, he refused to fix my leaking shunt for almost a year, which was EXTREMELY painful.

But that’s another story.

Back to PTSD. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder isn’t reserved for those who only experience war, or even a natural disaster. It certainly applies to anyone who has been abused in a relationship.

And it certainly applies to me. And I’m not even done with the war. I’m not even “post” anything yet. 

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