Please do not judge

Don’t be too quick to judge those who suffer physically or psychologically.

I have never had migraine.  I know it is idiopathic and it is terrible.  But I don’t know how debilitating it could be.  Idiopathic means you don’t have control over what is happening to our body.  You can’t tell when it will happen.  You can’t do anything to prevent it.  You may avoid certain situations to minimize the chance to trigger attacks, but who knows?  It might be just waiting for us around the corner.  Once it happens, you just remain still waiting it to pass, hoping to survive.  After the first attack, you have to be constantly on guard.  There could be next attack at any moment.

Sounds familiar?

I have just been diagnosed with Meniere’s disease.  It’s idiopathic and I have no idea what triggered it.  In the last 6 weeks, I had 4 attacks.  Once it hits, I immediately have to lie down and wait it to pass.   Just raising head makes me terribly sick.  It won’t kill me but it is dangerous to stay upright because I lose balance.  Fortunately so far I was home when they happened. Now I am anxious.  What if it happens when I am riding subway?  What if it happens when I am walking alone at night?  What if it happens when I am walking down a stair alone at night?

I was suddenly thrown into a world full of danger.

Now I understand migraine is not just a headache.

You will never understand how debilitating it is to be a survivor of sexual assault unless you were sexually assaulted.  Yes, you can be compassionate and supportive, but you never understand how it feels.

So please don’t even think of judging those who are surviving.

 

Death Becomes Us

For a couple of hours, I didn’t exist. I was under anesthesia during breast biopsy surgery.  I was wheeled into an operating room and started counting.  Then I was no more.  No dream, no memory, no me.  Slowly I came back into being.   It was the most peaceful waking up I ever had.  I smiled.  If death is like this, it’s a blessing.  No dream, no memory, no me, total oblivion, that’s what I yearned for.  I looked for the peacefulness I experienced during the surgery.  I found Ambien provided the similar effect.  When I didn’t take the pill my nightmarish dreamscape came back with vengeance.  Eventually the nightmare started to seep in to my peaceful Ambien coma.  I stopped taking it.

Death was my parasite twin.  He was always with me so long as I remember.   I don’t know if a 5-year-old can have a concept of death. Nevertheless I remember myself telling my aunt that I was considering to “leave” but decided not to because if I left I wouldn’t be able to have my favorite cake anymore.

I’ve never been suicidal.  I was pretty careful about self-preservation.  Still there never was a day I didn’t think of death.  Suicide ideation, DSM V would say.  There is a code for that.  But where did it come from?  I wasn’t depressed when I was 5.

When my father was about my age now, he started have a cough.  His X-ray image showed a legion in the lung and he had a surgery.  Everybody including the doctors were sure that it was lung cancer.  My mom called me to come home to see him.  Everybody thought he was going to die soon.  After surgery, they found it was benign.  Still he had a lobe of left lung removed.   After he recovered, he showed me the long scar proudly multiple times.  We were not close but I visited him at the hospital.  My mother left for some errand and I was alone with him.  He suddenly said, “I thought I was a goner this time,” and he cried.  I didn’t say anything.   Neither of us were used to show vulnerability and neither of us knew how to deal with it.  That day I realized my father was afraid of death.  “So you are afraid of death and your daughter wants to die, Ha,” I thought.  It’s a joke, isn’t it?

He passed away at the ripe age of 86.  I started to understand where his fear came from.  My father was diagnosed to be diabetic when I was about 4 and my mother was pregnant with my brother.  It was early 1960s and a diabetic was not expected to live a long life.  After my father passed, I heard the family history from my aunt.  He lost his father, my grandfather, when he was very young.  My grandfather was diagnosed with diabetic when it was a death sentence.  He quitted his job as a police officer and stayed home doing nothing and lived another 7 years.  My father only knew his father as a sick man waiting to die.  Soon after, his older sister was diagnosed as diabetic.  She was married and had a kid.  When she became ill she came back to stay with her mother, my grandmother.  She soon died from complication when the kid was still young.   My father took care of his young nephew for a while as his little brother.

Now my father found himself diabetic.  He had a 4-year-old daughter and his wife was pregnant.  No wonder he was afraid of dying.  For the first time, I felt sorry for him.  I grew up watching him have an insulin injection every morning.  With every syringe he must have been fending off death.

My younger brother was diagnosed with diabetic when he was in 30s.  Last year I was diagnosed with diabetic.  We are both physically active and not obese.  I’m sure we inherited it from my father, and my father’s father.  Neither of us has kids to bequest the gene or fear of death.

I still occasionally have suicide ideation when I’m depressed.  But most of time I just enjoy my life.  Every day is a beautiful day to live.

Recommended Reading if you are interested in this kind of stuff.
It Didn’t Start with You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle
by Mark Wolynn
Link: http://a.co/1lVnzy4

 

Restricted Access Area

I am an adorable three year old.  A perfectly happy little girl with natural exuberance radiating from her smile.   Whenever I post my baby photo on facebook, many of my Facebook “friends” say, “You haven’t changed at all.”

And I’m like, “Yes!!!!” crying out my victory.  By age four, she was locked up behind a heavy door.  I dedicated the last 30 years of my life to find and raise her to be a woman she was meant to grow up into.

“You are too skinny,” Dad said. “You are ugly.  No man will marry you,” Dad said.   “Having girls is a waste.   I shouldn’t have had a girl child,” Dad said.  “Why aren’t you a boy.  I wish you were a boy,” Mum said.  “Your skin is too dark for a girl,” Auntie said, “but strangely red becomes you.”   “You were a tiny thing.  A tiny wrinkled faced monkey baby.  I was sure this baby wouldn’t survive,” Grandma said.  “Look at this girl’s eyes.  Too small,” Dad said…

I was too short, too dark, too skinny, too fat.

I was ugly and nobody would ever love me.  (Then why did you touch me?)

Everything about me was wrong.

Don’t believe what they say, Girl.  They are defective mirrors.  They reflect distorted, biased images of you, or maybe perceived images of themselves.  It’s not you.  You are a perfectly happy little girl with natural exuberance radiating from your smile.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nightmare that didn’t happen

This is a nightmare that didn’t happen.  I was about 11, sleeping in my room.  The door suddenly opened and my father came in.  He was yelling something and he threw things, talking to himself.  I hid under the comforter.  I heard him walk around in my room, talking to himself, throwing stuff.  Then he left.

I waited.  I waited for my mother.  I waited for my mother to come to check on me, comfort me.   Minutes passed.  Nobody came.  I fell asleep crying.

I woke up in the morning.  I found my stuffed animals were on the floor.  One of them, a stuffed kitty my friend gave me, was almost decapitated.  I didn’t understand.

I quietly went down the stairs, expecting my mom at least to explain what happened.

Nothing happened.

Nobody mentioned anything.  Mom was cooking breakfast.  My father was reading the newspaper or whatever.  Nothing happened.  I ate my breakfast and went back to my room.

That was the nightmare that didn’t happen.

But I remember that I sewed my stuffed kitty’s head back by myself, crying, saying to myself again and again, “My friend gave it to me.”

Decades and years of therapy later I confronted my father and asked what it was about.

He didn’t remember.

My mom came to me to tell that she had no idea and asked, “Your father didn’t hit you, did he?”

“No, he didn’t,” I said.

It doesn’t matter.  It was not my father’s unpredictable rage that marked me.  It was the absence of my mother.  I learned that nobody would come for me.   I didn’t want to be the scared little girl, so I became my father.  “You have a temper just like your father,” my mother used to say.

Now I have many friends who are fathers.  When I saw their daughter perfectly safe with their father, not hiding from them, not tensing up at the sight of them, remaining soft and smiling, I wonder how they do.  It is a dream that didn’t happen to me.

Heartburn

Through sheer chance my G.I. doctor found I had Barrett’s esophagus during a routine physical.  The lining of my esophagus was turning into that of small intestine.  That sounds scary.  The doctor asked me if I had an acid reflux.  I didn’t.  Part of  the lining of my stomach was also turning into that of small intestine.  That spelled the possible C word.  I was told I must have a silent (symptomless) acid reflux and I’ve been on medication since.  Eventually my stomach lining turned back to normal, but I still have Barrett’s esophagus.

I haven’t had stomach issues for a long time.  Definitely I didn’t have heartburn.  Then I remembered I often had stomach ache when I lived with my mom. I remembered my mom used to tell me that my younger brother had a delicate digestive system.  When he got nervous or stressed, he threw up. I didn’t thow up but I remembered that after I left home for college, I sometime induced vomiting, probably more often than average young women.

Something clicked.

My original home had been making me sick.

I ran away as far as possible.  There are a continent and Pacific ocean between my parents and me now.  I visit them once a year and that is our compromise.  I used to stay with them for more than a week.  I got depressed.  So my stay got shorter every year.  One year, after spending 4 days or so, I had a severe stomach pain.  Another year, after spending several days with my Mom, I suffered IBS like symptom for two weeks.

My mom has spent her entire married life feeding somebody.  It was her role in the family.  She has taken care of my father, who has type 1 diabetes, for half a century.  It requires a lot of work to feed a diabetic.   Both my brother and I was a light eater when we were little kids, so it has become her mission to feed us as much as we would ingest.  Through therapy, I realized that my mom force-fed me and I was exercising to set a boundary by saying,”No, thank you.”

I told her I usually didn’t eat breakfast.  I woke up to find a breakfast ready on the table.  What can I do?  I ate breakfast: ham and eggs, toasted bread, and yogurt, milk and coffee.  Mom brought a jar of homemade jam to the table and told me to add it to yogurt.  I only ate plain yogurt, so I said, “No, thank you.”  “It’s too sour without jam.  You should add it,” mom insisted.  “No, thank you,” I said.   I told her I didn’t usually have a breakfast, that she didn’t have to prepare mine.  The next morning I woke up to find the same breakfast ready on the table.  “Do you like to add the jam to your yogurt?”  My mom asked.  “No, I told you I didn’t eat sweetened yogurt,” I said.  “It doesn’t taste good without jam,” she insisted.  “No, thank you,” I said.  I set a boundary firm, don’t I?  The next morning I woke up to find the same breakfast ready on the table.  I found she had added her homemade jam in my yogurt bowl.  I didn’t say anything.  I stopped feeling.  When it doesn’t matter what I want or what I don’t want, why should I feel anything.  I swallowed the sweet yogurt in silence.  “It is good, isn’t it?” she said.  That night I had an acute stomach pain.

It isn’t about a spoonful of jam in my yogurt bowl.  The same pattern repeated again and again for lunch, dinner, snacks and everything else.   Eventually I became a foie gras geese.  No wonder I had issues around eating.   I still can’t tell if I’m really hungry or not.

I told my friend the story and she said, “You have a nice mom.  She likes to take care of you.”  She made me feel that I was a thankless brat.  I felt like throwing up.  If you force a piece of chocolate into a child’s mouth, it still tastes sweet. But it doesn’t mean the child wants it.  “I told you it was delicious, didn’t I?   You like it, don’t you?  I was right.  You were wrong..  You don’t know how you feel so I’ll tell you how you feel.  I am right and you are wong.  How you feel doesn’t matter.”   This is how we lose the ability to be ourselves…

If you still think forcing a piece of chocolate in a kid’s mouth against his/her will doesn’t matter, just substitute it with a more sinister word.

How do you feel in your body?

“How do you feel in your body?” my therapist asked.  “Fine,” I answered.  “Do you feel the floor under your feet?” he asked.  “Yes. (So what?)” I answered.  This question irritated me like a hell.  I didn’t understand what it was to do with my psychological misery.  I had two arms, two legs, feet and hands.  I was fine, thank you for asking.  “Stump your feet on the floor.”  I stumped.  “How does it feel?”  “Nothing,” I answered.

“What does it make you feel like?” the therapist asked and I looked for my feeling outside of my body, staring at the ceiling, or watching my therapist’s cat yawn. I didn’t find my feeling in my body.  My feeling didn’t reside in my body.

Disconnection is an excellent survival mechanism.  In a battlefield you won’t survive if you feel.  And for some of us, childhood was a wartime, and the body is where the battle was fought.  In Trauma and Recovery Judith Herman writes, “Traumatic events violate the autonomy of the person at the level of basic bodily integrity.  The body is invaded, injured, defiled.  Control over bodily function is often lost; in the folklore of combat and rape, this loss of control is often recounted as the most humiliating aspect of the trauma.”  Our trauma doesn’t have to be of rape or combat.  It could be grandma pinching your cheeks.

I am not saying that pinching chubby cheeks of an adorable kid is a form of child abuse.  It could be a rather innocent expression of affection.  However, when it is done repeatedly against the child’s will, it could amount to loss of “control over bodily function”.

My ex-boyfriend had a habit of pinching.  He pinched his daughter, he pinched his nephews and he pinched me.  It was his way of saying, “Hey Sweetie.”   I can’t speak for his daughter or nephews, but when he pinched me I felt a rage surging up deep in my body.  “Stop it,” I yelled.  “Don’t pinch me, ever.”  He pinched me a couple of more times, and every time I reacted violently.  Then thankfully he stopped pinching.  He listened to me.  While pinching itself didn’t hurt much, it triggered an uncontrollable anger out of nowhere.

When I was a little girl, my childless aunt doted on me.  She literally tried to eat me with a spoon.  Since she was the source of love and affection, and chocolate and candies and dolls and all the goodies, I clung to her.  She used to tease me by doing something I didn’t like.   The more I shrank from, the more she seemed enjoying.  She used to lick my face, saying I was so cute that she wanted to eat me up.  It was wet and yucky.  I said, “No!!!” but she was much bigger and stronger.  She told me that she loved me and that I should let her do whatever she wanted to do.  Sometimes, she bribed me with goodies.  It’s an innocent expression of affection, isn’t it?   Pinching was a variation.  I don’t remember who pinched me, but it does not matter.  It told me the same story.  My feeling does not matter.  I don’t have control over my body.  They have.  And I am an ungrateful brat if I don’t appreciate the affection the adults are giving to me.  Tolerating the feeling of discomfort will be rewarded with chocolate, or whatever goodies.  Got it?  Just replace the word “pinching” or “licking” with “touching improperly.” It tells the same story of trauma.  “The traumatic event thus destroys the belief that one can be oneself in relation to others”(Herman 53).

When I was a little girl I told my mum that my tummy ached.  I told her that I would feel better if she let me eat a piece of bread.  She didn’t give me bread and took me to a family doctor.  It turned out that I was not sick but just hungry.  I didn’t know the word to explain the intense sensation I felt in my belly.  What I felt in stomach, aching for food, was denied as not legitimate by adults. When I was a teenager, I had a painful period.  I told that I had severe cramps and couldn’t move.  My father said, “No, you don’t.  You are lazy.”  My mom didn’t protest.  (Later I found that my mom never had a painful period in her life, and she couldn’t imagine how bad it could be.)  Thus in my early ages I learned not to trust the feeling in my body.

We lose the ability to connect to one’s body little by little.  When someone in authority, such as parents and teachers, tells us we have to feel certain way again and again while we don’t feel that way, it becomes unsafe to be ourselves.  Others in our life take away our connection to the body.  We gain artificial limbs and body parts instead, which function very well.   Nobody notices it’s artificial.  Sometimes they could be much more useful than real limbs, just like a sword loaded limb, since we don’t feel pain.  Eventually we might even forget they are not real. When one suffers a hugely traumatic experience and survives, the disconnection between mind and body could be much harder to reconcile.

About the photo: I took the photo of the glass sculpture at Corning Museum of Glass. Unfortunately  I don’t know the artist’s name.

Respect What Hits You in the Gut

Once in a while something hits you in the gut.  It could be anything.

I was in an Anatomy class.  Dissecting cadavers forces students to face the reality of life and death.  It might trigger something you didn’t know it was there.

Each person has their own trigger quietly waiting for them.   It could be the scar tissue left by triple bypass surgery brutally adhered to the ribcage.   It could be the massive adipose tissue in which the person’s life story was stored.   It could be just realizing being alive juxtaposed with the death.

I was aware that something could hit me.  After all, we were looking inside human bodies, our bodies.  Almost 3 weeks had passed and a couple of days were left till the end of the workshop.  So far I managed not to step on my trigger which I had no idea about.  Surprisingly nothing about cadavers really bothered me.  I felt I was in peace.

When I came back to the gross anatomy lab from the lunch break, there was something going on.   On a stainless steel dissection table, something unfamiliar to me were placed.  They were so red.  The sight slightly shocked me.  I couldn’t guess what they were.

They were placenta donated by happy new mothers.   Three of them lined up with umbilical cords attached.  They were massive and looked alive.

I was speechless.  Students started to gather for the presentation by the midwife.   One of the cord was in true knot.  “The baby did it,” the midwife said.  “The baby swam around in the placenta.  The baby was born fine.”  A male student realized his wife had an unusually large-sized afterbirth and wanted to know the reason behind it.  “A large placenta usually is compensating for the baby,” the midwife said.

And it hit me in the gut.

I couldn’t stay there anymore.  I quietly moved out of the crowd.  The male student asked me if I was O.K.  I realized I was crying.  I retreated to my cadaver.

And I have no idea what hit me.  I don’t have any trauma related to placenta or childbirth.

Later the midwife came to acknowledge my reaction.

“I have no idea,” I said with tears flowing from my eyes.  “See? Just talking about it does this to me.”

“It could be yours,” she said.

“Mine?  I’ve never been pregnant.”

“No, I mean the one you were in.”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t have to know.  It’s important just to acknowledge that it’s there.”

“Damn.  I found another (issue to work on) when I thought I was well-done.”

“It sucks, doesn’t it.”

“Yes, it never ends.”

I still don’t know what hit me.  Every time I talk about my encounter with placenta, I still feel the tears running down my cheeks and I don’t have any emotional association with it.

So at this time of my life, I just respect what hit me in the gut, acknowledge it is there, and hold my psyche gently.  There will be the day we see each other again.