Tag: PTSD

Hey, I’m a Zebra: Part One

zebrahorses

Don’t worry. The title will make sense by the end of this, if you make it that far. (My darlings are survivors–no apologies.)

October 9, 2019, I woke before sunrise at my usual 5:30 AM, leaned up on an elbow in bed, and took a Synthroid pill stored on the bookshelf behind me. I have an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis requiring daily fake thyroid hormones to replace the ones my dumb jerk body no longer makes.

This was a movement I made every morning around the same time – nothing unusual. Slight upper back twist, plus I was going to the gym to treadmill and strength train multiple times weekly, as well as doing regular yoga. It should have been fine.

It was not fine.

I felt a sudden twinge of pain between my shoulder blades that grew rapidly stronger. Ouch. Not “I pulled a muscle!” ouch, but instead “Fuck, did someone just knife me in the back?” ouch. I froze, immediately flipped onto my back to assess, but it kept getting worse. I moved to the left side. Ouch, ouch, ouch. I got onto the right side. Zinging, radiating, pain. I couldn’t determine which muscle or bone was to blame. Lying very still didn’t help at all. Holy mother of cats, it hurt so much. I froze in place, trying to think logically about what to do.

***

Background: I first assumed back injury because 9 years earlier, I was hit by a distracted driver while waiting for a red light to turn green. He was doing 50 MPH and didn’t brake at all. He totaled his Ford Taurus and my Toyota 4Runner, violently slamming me into the car in front of mine. I spent 2 weeks in bed on painkillers, speaking in a hoarse whisper because the whiplash was so severe my neck and vocal cords were swollen, only getting up to roll sideways out of bed for crawl-walks to the restroom. This was followed by 2 months living/sleeping with my damaged right foot tendon (injured instinctively jammed down on the brake) in an Aircast® boot, and then 2 more months of physical therapy to get my foot working again after the boot was removed.

Short version: I assumed I’d tweaked my neck. Also, please don’t drive while distracted.

***

The pain was growing stronger by the minute, and emanating from what seemed to be the middle of my upper back into my neck, head, and jaw area. I began to sweat from the intensity. It was hot, sharp, moving upward, and my extremities had begun to tingle, arms and legs growing peripherally numb. I sat up in bed, stood, and almost passed out.

***

More background: I’ve had a C-section abdominal surgery (7 inch scar, stitches) after a 35 hour labor with my gigantic son, 24 hours of it active and without pain control of any kind, and a few years later, a hysterectomy/left oophorectomy abdominal surgery (5 inch scar, staples). I’ve had shingles on my face, forehead, and scalp for weeks (undiagnosed anxiety disorder). I’ve been been violently punched and beaten by two different men (broken finger, broken front tooth, damaged optic nerves, C-PTSD/panic disorder).

With that in mind, this pain was worse than anything, ever. I am known for my high pain tolerance (natural redhead – we’re weird about pain). An Urgent Care physician once commented, “Why aren’t you crying? If I had a break like yours, I’d be crying, for sure!” The bone had been broken for over 4 hours.

I share this “window into my tolerance for pain” not to sound tough, but to explain how incredibly explosive and horrific this moment was… I’ve literally never felt anything like it.

***

I ran to the bathroom with sweat trickling down my ribs, to empty my bowels in the way only pure adrenaline can. I mention this because 1) I have IBS-C, and the “C” stands for constipation, so this was not in any way normal for me, and because, 2) This complete elimination would be helpful later. (Please enjoy my fecal foreshadowing. You’re welcome.)

I began to involuntarily shake, which I would soon learn in the hospital, is my natural reaction to pain at 10+ on the Wong-Baker Faces Pain Scale. (Oooh… the hospital is coming. More foreshadowing. So exciting.)

I ran for the ibuprofen (<—this blood thinner was a bad idea… will the foreshadowing ever end?) in full primal panic, took 3 gel-caps, grabbed an ice pack out of the freezer, and placed it on my neck. The pain was making it hard to breathe–far worse than the peak of a labor contraction–and I finally accepted more was going on than a pulled neck muscle. My entire upper back/thoracic region was now on fire, and it was becoming harder to walk because of the tingling and numbness in my legs.

In searing pain, now teeth-chattering,  barely able to speak, I sat down alone on the living room couch in the dark, leaning back onto the ice pack because my arms were too weak to hold it up, and tried to once again assess the situation. I began to wonder if I was having a heart attack because of the jaw involvement and nausea/diarrhea. I’ve read that heart attacks can present in these ways for women. This medical show junkie was completely flummoxed, and in too much pain to think clearly. But I had to stay clear. Panic helps nothing. Assess, stay calm, assess, stay calm, panic will make it worse, stay calm, deep breathing, stay calm, assess. What is my next move? Do. Not. Panic. But the pain was making it so fucking hard to stay calm.

***

Oh, crap. She’s giving us more background: I am diagnosed with C-PTSD, which often helps me stay cool under pressure, and able to lose my shit later when I’m in a safe place. I believe this evolved as a coping mechanism to keep myself alive in violent and threatening situations. I can compartmentalize and dissociate like a rock star if needed – but the panic attack will have its way with me eventually. The body keeps the score, and all that. So I was now sitting quietly in the dark, wondering what I should do next. Sweat now literally running down my sides, stomach mercifully cleared of all contents, thinking about my son sleeping on the other side of the wall growing up without his mother. Good times, good times.

***

I should probably mention at this point that my husband, who is normally one of those people I envy who can sleep much later than 6 AM, happened to be awake while I ran frantically around the house groaning, because he’d had hernia surgery for 2 lower abdominal hernias 2 days earlier. He was in the early phase of his week off work for healing where the convalescent eats soup, takes pain meds, and sleeps odd hours. I had spent the day before taking care of him, made a trip to the grocery store to buy foods he could eat, and he was in no shape for a crisis. Poor bastard.

He called blearily from the bedroom, “What’s going on?”

I replied, “I don’t know yet… maybe a spine issue? Pulled muscle?”

Bent over in abdominal pain, he lurched out to the living room where I was leaning limply against the couch. We were quite a pair. (Watch the middle-aged people moaning in agony around the room, kids! Enjoy a glimpse into your future!) I could no longer lift my arms or legs–not even a finger or toe twitch–and they felt heavy, like they were metal and the floor was magnetic. I was for all intents and purposes quadriplegic, and I wondered how much longer I’d be able to breathe on my own or stay conscious if the paralysis moved further up my body. I knew if I succumbed to the panic attack, it would make everything worse, so I left my body a bit. I tried to stay calm by watching the situation from the outside, but the pain kept pulling me back into my body. Stupid pain.

He asked if he should call 9-1-1 and I said yep, I think paralysis of my arms and legs combined with the worst pain I’ve ever felt probably warrants that call. Fucking surreal moment. Also, as he was on pain meds, post-surgery, and not cleared to drive, there’s no way he could have gotten my newly-immobile human meat sack to the hospital. We needed help.

The 9-1-1 operator had him try to check my wrist pulse, which I can never feel, so I told him find my Adam’s apple and move up and to the side like I’ve learned in CPR classes, but then I think he and the 9-1-1 operator decided if I could help him find my pulse I probably had one and they stopped that part. She gave him the excellent advice to lock up any pets (2 indoor-only cats) and to turn on the porch light for the ambulance. He was then tasked with waking up our 13-year-old son, which is the part that makes my eyes water as I type this, because I’m a parent, and we want to protect our kids, not scare them.

I had been answering my husband’s questions in short bursts through my pain-clenched jaw, and now that my son was awake, I had to put on the strong mom mask. It has never been harder. I remember saying things like, “It’s probably just a slipped disc in my back, buddy. It hurts a lot, but I’m okay, don’t worry, the ambulance is on the way and they’re gonna fix me up,” and a bunch of other happy horseshit I didn’t believe. I honestly wondered if I’d ever see my child again.

We heard sirens and I was so relieved. The sirens stopped once they got into our neighborhood, which I later learned they do to avoid waking everybody up, which makes sense. At the time, however, I worried they’d driven past our neighborhood entrance.

We had our son grab my stuff, and open the door to wave down the ambulance. I will never forget the look on his young face as he stood by the front door, holding my purse to his chest while the EMTs rushed in, followed by the firefighters. He looked pale, and so, so scared. I hate that my stupid, weak body gave him that awful memory. I couldn’t protect him. I’m supposed to protect him. Damn it.

After asking the appropriate questions, the EMTs confirmed I needed to go to the hospital.

“Can you walk to the gurney?” they asked.

I tried to move my legs, and was horrified to find they were still completely paralyzed. I couldn’t even wiggle my toes. I then tried my arms. I couldn’t lift them or move my fingers. I tried so hard to do these simple things I’ve taken for granted my entire life, and no matter how hard I focused my brain, nothing moved. Lift an arm or leg as you read this. Go ahead, do it. Now imagine willing those limbs to move and nothing happening. No, not like when your arm falls asleep and you can flop it around tingling until the feeling comes back–I mean no movement at all, no matter how hard you try, you’re trapped inside your body. Like being held down by an invisible force, and completely helpless. That nightmare you have where the monster’s coming for you but you can’t move at all. That feeling.

(My biggest fear in life is being helpless, by the way. I was so far beyond horrified I can’t even describe it adequately with words. Just know that sometimes, still, at the end of a day when my back hurts badly in the affected area, I get scared enough that it’s happening again to shake and cry. I don’t want to go back to that helpless place ever again.)

I told them I couldn’t move, and the firefighters came in to help the EMTs lift all 5’9″-ish-and-not-underweight of me onto the wheeled stretcher. Yeah, not my best look. I was in a flimsy nightgown, too, with no underwear, which is just awesome. They came towards me with a small towel to support my neck. Terrified the tiny blanket would wiggle and make whatever was going on worse, I said, “Shouldn’t we put on a collar to support my spine?” The firefighter gave me an annoyed look, said, “Yeah, I guess,” and got a cervical collar. They put it on, and I was then 1-2-3 lifted onto the gurney like the dead weight I was, bless those strong men and women.

So here’s the thing about that collar, in case you’re ever in a similar situation. What we’d later learn was that what happened to me was so rare (without trauma) that there’s no way they could have known I definitely needed it, but the neurosurgeon with whom I’d soon become acquainted told me if I hadn’t gotten that C collar, I might have been permanently paralyzed. So trust your gut, kids. (And any awesome first responders reading this, please don’t dismiss annoying medical show fans, because we learn things sometimes while we watch TV and wish we’d pursued a nursing degree instead of a double major in English and psychology. Ahem.)

On the way out the door, I told my son I loved him more than everything, and not to worry. I still can’t think about his face in that moment. Stricken is the only word that comes to mind. Some combination of mortified, horrified, and bewildered that defies language. I never want to see that look on his face again. My husband called our next door neighbor, who happens to be a lifelong friend of his, because he couldn’t drive himself behind the ambulance (recent hernia surgery… again, poor bastard). Our friend drove them both to the hospital where they languished in the waiting room. My husband had his parents come pick up our son and he took the day off school because he was understandably freaked out. They took such good care of him, for which I will be eternally grateful.

I’ll never forget the bumpy, shitty roads of our state on the ambulance ride to the hospital because the pain blossomed like redneck fireworks as we hit every one of them. The sweet EMT woman put in an IV, attached electrodes, did something (I had my eyes squeezed shut because the ambulance lights were so bright) and said, “Well the good news is that you’re not having a heart attack!” and I felt a bit of relief. She noticed my eyes and asked if I’d like the lights off. I told her I’d love that and thank you (bright lights give me migraines). Eyes now open, I looked out the back ambulance windows at the city lights in the dark, moaning in pain with every bump, praying we’d get to the hospital quickly, because I’ve learned from 2 previous major abdominal surgeries hospitals have wonderful stuff that makes pain bearable.

When we got there, they loaded me into a dark bay where I could see a well-lit hospital hallway and people walking by casually, talking and laughing in scrubs. Concrete floors and barren white walls surrounded me. That’s it. No lights, no machines, no clock, no people–just me alone in the blank, shadowy loading area. It felt like a storage room in the back, like the bright hallway with the people were a doorway-shaped television set I could watch, but not access. The nice EMT lady wished me luck and left after giving my details to someone.

The intake nurse in the bay told me all the Acute Care rooms were full because there’d been a sudden weather change (it was Wednesday… not usually a busy day, she said) from warm to cold overnight. I knew this phenomenon always deflated my car’s tires, but didn’t know it was a thing that so dramatically affected people, too, before that morning.

Then she left me. For a long time. I tried to be patient (pun alert!) but I had been in the worst pain of my life for going on 2 hours at this point, and the lifting, jostling, and bumpy ride hadn’t helped. I. Wanted. Fucking. Pain control. And I wanted it NOW. It was growing harder and harder to choke down the panic attack. I felt vulnerable and helpless. I felt scared. I felt forgotten. I still couldn’t move my arms or legs. I thought I was going to die. Alone. In the dark.

Soaked with sweat and terrified, I started to shiver so violently (in the chest/torso area) I looked like I was convulsing, and a nurse checked in on me. Nurses know the signs of a person in severe pain, and she deemed me worthy of Percocet, the only pain medication my body will tolerate in pill form. It dulled everything down to maybe a 7 or 8, but I was bewildered by the lack of care. Nobody seemed concerned about me. I still wonder if I’d had the panic attack I was desperately holding in and started hyperventilating and wailing like I usually do in the master closet of our home, if they might have bumped me up the priority wheel. Screaming wheel gets the grease, right?

I later talked to my husband because I assumed it was one of those “felt like forever but was really only a few minutes” kind of things, but he assures me I was lying alone in the dark, empty bay-room, wondering if I was ever going to walk again because there was no sense of urgency–and why nobody was concerned that I was PARALYZED–for around 45 minutes. I’m completely serious when I say I could have coded and I don’t think anyone would have noticed.

***

Sad background: I remember in that moment I wanted my daddy, like a little kid. Except I didn’t get a loving biological dad, so I wanted the father I never had. I wanted a daddy, like a little kid, I guess. I wanted a guardian. I felt helpless and vulnerable and I wanted protection. I thought about how when my husband herniated a neck disc, his father drove him to the hospital and fought them to give him pain control–he angrily made them take care of him, the way a parent is supposed to advocate for their child. I remember wanting my husband’s father there because I knew he would make them come help me–he would angrily demand someone help me like he did for my husband, his son. I get frustrated with my father-in-law sometimes for needing to manage and control situations that maybe aren’t his jurisdiction–but when you’re in the shit and you need help, he’s exactly the kind of person you want on your side. I suddenly appreciated him so much more. I still do.

So yeah. I wanted that. I always feel alone. I’ve always been alone. But I’ve never felt more alone than in that moment. If I die here, I’ll die alone, I remember thinking, and my people won’t even know that these people ignored me instead of helping.

***

Meanwhile, my husband had been in the waiting room harassing the guard every 10 minutes to check and see if I was in Acute Care yet, asking could he please go be with me, feeling as confused as I was by the lack of urgency. It was really weird. I think, once again, the rarity of what was happening inside my body factored into the nonchalance of the medical professionals.  They had no idea that time was of the essence, and that I am freakishly lucky to not be paralyzed to this day, according to my neurologist and every study I’ve read. I think they thought I’d pulled a muscle and was overreacting, having a panic attack. Mostly, I think if I’d been a man, they might have taken me seriously. And that’s why I’m sharing this publicly. Because I’m hoping the next person who has a non-trauma-based, rare spinal injury like mine will be taken seriously from the start, regardless of gender.

(Yes, I went there. I’m playing the sexism card. Bam! It’s on the table, bitches. If you’ve never been given what I call The Little Lady Treatment by a condescending doctor with a God complex, as in, “Now, now… don’t worry your pretty head, little lady. No need to get hysterical. I know your body better than you do, and there’s nothing to worry about,” only to find out later from a doctor who listens that there sure as hell WAS something to worry about… you’re either lucky or male. Women are strong as hell. If we say we’re in pain, fucking BELIEVE US. We can silently, quietly take a lot of that shit. End rant.)

Possibly because my husband was harassing the front desk about me so much, they rolled my bed from the dark room out into the bright hallway to wait for an Acute Care room to open up, and finally let him come stand next to my wheeled stretcher. My husband tells me we then waited at least 30 more minutes for a room to open up. The Percocet had dulled the pain a little, but my husband remembers that I was still shivering. The medication that had seen me through two major abdominal surgeries, a broken bone, and shingles wasn’t touching this pain.

A room finally cleared and they wheeled me into a room with glass doors that slid open and shut, with a privacy curtain if needed. There was a brushed nickel toilet in the corner that made me think of prison. They hooked up hydrating solution to the IV the ambulance EMT had placed in the crook of my right arm. (Yay! Breakfast!) The pain had dulled somewhat, but was still in the 8+ range, and the incredible Acute Care nurse, Delores, believed me and added morphine to my pain control, which helped so much. It calmed me down and pulled me out of the panicked animal phase of whatever was going on so I could stop shaking and answer questions.

My arms and legs had regained a little bit of feeling, but whenever a nurse or doctor did the “squeeze my fingers with your hands, now push my hands with your feet” test, I could barely lift my arms a few inches and they said I was extremely weak. I was in shock, thinking about how I’d been pushing 180 pounds on the leg press machine at my gym a few days before, and now I could barely make my feet move forward into the open hands of medical professionals. I’d been treadmilling a few miles and lifting weights 4-5 days a week for years… and now I couldn’t walk. It was unfathomable.

I saw multiple doctors and had to re-tell the above story of my morning events to them all. They were busy and kept apologizing for how long it was taking to diagnose me, but said they had more pressing patients and kept leaving. Delores was an angel and kept my pain under control, and was so kind. I started to need to pee, but found that I couldn’t, either in a bed pan or when helped to weakly walk over to the prison toilet in the corner by Delores and her nurse trainee holding me up. This was both my and my husband’s first clue that something very, very wrong was going on with my spine, because if there’s one thing this girl can always do, it’s pee. I can pee, and then 5 minutes later, before we leave to go somewhere, I can pee again. My son rolls his eyes when we get to doctor appointments because mom always has to use the restroom before we go in. It’s a whole thing, how wimpy my bladder is, and now I couldn’t pee, even though my stomach and kidneys hurt. I now understand this is a symptom of spinal cord compression-related paralysis blocking the muscles needed to release the bladder, but I didn’t know that yet. It really scared us, because I’m normally the Pee Champion and all that.

Finally a doctor ordered 4 MRIs with and without contrast, of my thoracic and cervical spine/neck regions. Delores did a bladder sonogram, determined my bladder was indeed full, and put a pee pad under me in case I lost control during the MRI. Someone came and wheeled me off to the MRI while my poor exhausted husband waited in my Acute Care room, off the pain meds he needed for his hernia surgery, hurting and not resting like he should have been. My stupid injury set back his healing process dramatically, and I still feel guilty, even though I obviously didn’t mean to do this. But I’m not alive if I’m not feeling guilty, so, you know. It’s fun in here.

The MRIs took what felt like forever (do… not… like… clanging bright claustrophobic metal tube time… at all) and I was having a muscle spasm during the first one, for which the frustrated disembodied female voice inside my tube kept chastising me, as in, “You need to stop moving your neck. I don’t know why you keep wiggling your neck.” I told her I was having an involuntary muscle spasm starting between my shoulder blades on the left side, shooting up into my neck, I was sorry, and that I was trying to hold my breath to see if that would help. She never spoke to me or answered and it was making me panic, feeling like I was ruining the MRI, making it last forever. Would I ever escape the loud tube of doom?

Then, a kinder disembodied male voice inside my tube spoke up and said, “I’ll be taking over your MRI now,” and proceeded to guide me through it, telling me what to expect and for how long. It was like night and day, the difference between the two MRI techs, and I kept thanking him for telling me what was going on, and that it was helping me so much to know what to expect. My muscle even stopped twitching.

(Any MRI technicians reading this: I was anxious because fear of the unknown is scary for some people, especially those of us with trauma in our backgrounds and major trust issues. As soon as the nice guy started talking me through the MRI, my stress levels decreased dramatically. Please don’t shove us in the clanging bright claustrophobic metal tube, criticize us, and leave us alone with our thoughts because some of us catastrophize and need reassurance. Trauma Informed Care is the future of medicine. Learn it, please. Thank you. Love you.)

I got out of the MRI tube and the nice tech and a nurse helped me weakly wobble back into my rolling bed, which we later learned I shouldn’t have done. But there’s a saying in medicine: “When you hear hoofbeats behind you, don’t expect to see a zebra”. We still thought my pain was a horse, because usually the hoofbeats are coming from a common bay mare. Unfortunately for me, we would soon learn from the MRIs we were dealing with a zebra. And it was a rainbow striped zebra, like the Fruit Stripe gum zebra, except my ordeal would not be anywhere near as fleeting as that ancient gum’s flavor.

I was wheeled back to the Acute Care room where my husband sat mired in post-surgical abdominal pain, and we waited for the results. A doctor came in to talk with us about them, sitting next to me, typing information into a computer. I did the hand-squeezy/foot-pushy tests for the umpteenth time that day, and he informed me there was bleeding inside of my spine, anterior (front of spine, not back) left, from the C/2 or C/3 neck (cervical) area and extending all the way down past the T/5 (thoracic) region. It seemed to be coming from what might be a tumor, lesion, or abscess around the T2 vertebrae, which could be cancer, and infection, or something else. No. Please no. My husband asked if this meant medication and physical therapy or what, and the doctor scared the daylights out of us both by grimly snapping, “Oh, no. Make no mistake… this is very serious. She’s going to need emergency surgery today.” Oh no. No, no, no. He told us the neurosurgeon would be in to talk to us soon, and left. OH MY GOD, NO. My husband asked, “Are you scared?” and I quietly replied “Yes,” but I was scream-thinking, “YES! Shitless! I am scared shitless!” I didn’t want to scare him further, so I kept that reply to myself.

What had happened is officially called a Spontaneous Spinal Epidural Hematoma, or SSEH. They’re so rare (0.1 in 100,000 per year) that I couldn’t find much research on them, which is why I’m writing this. I’m hoping that by telling my story, I might help anyone (medical professional or patient) recognize what’s going on more quickly if they recognize similar symptoms, because according to everything I’ve read, I shouldn’t be able to walk or use my legs today (i.e. acute neurological deficits), as my spine was compressed for just over 12 hours. The bleeding was towards the left, causing greater weakness on the left side, so if my issue had been mistaken for a stroke, and anticoagulants given, for example, it would have possibly caused more blood to enter my spine.

The extent of neurological recovery has been shown to be related to the interval between the onset of symptoms and surgery and also the degree of neurological deficit. It took the hospital, from loading me into the ambulance bay at 6 am-ish until emergency surgery at 5:30 pm-ish to diagnose this, which means I’m incredibly lucky to be able to type this right now. Or walk. Or pee on my own again. 50% of patients do not recover.

Above, I’m hyperlinking some of the fun information my husband found on the internet while I was having spine surgery and he was wondering if he’d be raising our son alone, or perhaps also taking care of his quadriplegic or paraplegic wife, what kinds of ramps/door-widening we’d need in the house for my wheelchair–if I got lucky and survived. All while in pain from not taking that day’s post-hernia surgery meds or lying down to rest. (Ugh. Guilt guilt guilt.)

My husband later told me he was paranoid the whole time they diagnosed my injury because as mentioned above, it happens literally once in a million without trauma, he’s 6’5″, and they always blame the husband. It didn’t even occur to me the whole time, but I had no signs of outer trauma on my back at all, so I don’t think this was never really in question. We both wonder if that was possibly why the doctor was so abrupt and snappy with him. He had an angry glare on his face while he told us I’d need surgery. Maybe it was just the end of his shift and he was tired or something, but he scared the fuck out of us both.

Delores, the best nurse ever in the history of nurses, had been by my side all day, and was about to give me a temporary in-n-out catheter to empty my bladder because her portable sonogram said it was really full (of IV fluids… I’d had nothing to eat or drink all day and it was now late afternoon). She told me we didn’t want my bladder to burst because that was very bad. But as soon as she heard I was going to need surgery, she told me she’d stay late so she could be the one to put in my Foley catheter (the kind that stays in, not the intermittent catheter). She told me less catheters means less chance of a UTI, so we might as well just place the Foley now. She was at the end of a 12 hour shift, AND she’d picked up an extra day that week, yet she still offered to stay late to put in my Foley catheter. I love her so much. If anyone reading this knows Delores at St. Francis, tell her she is an angel straight from heaven and I will be sending her positive energy and goodness for the rest of my life. Seriously. Somebody make me a millionaire so I can buy her a car or something, please.

The neurosurgeon and his assistant came into the room next, right as Delores was getting ready to cath me, and that queen stepped aside to wait, again, proving that nurses are amazing humans. She stood aside while the nice neurosurgeon with kind eyes and a calm manner talked to me about how he was going to have to open my spine and suck the blood out to decompress it, a laminectomy. He said they’d check the evacuated blood for cancer cells and infection while I was on the table, and go from there. His assistant was also kind, and I felt in very good hands. Fortunately, I hadn’t eaten anything since 5 pm the night before, so that wasn’t a conflict.

They left and a phlebotomist came in to put an IV in the crook of my other arm. I have tiny veins and the EMT already placed an IV into my right arm (the one good vein), but Blake must be the phlebotomist they call for tough cases, because he got a smaller needle into my left arm vein. (The Blood Whisperer, I call them. Every office has one, and they usually call them out to help after lesser phlebotomists have poked my hand veins to the point of massive walnut-sized swellings.)

Delores finally had the chance to put in the Foley catheter, and I immediately filled the bag. My stomach and kidneys stopped hurting. Oh, the relief… the bizarre relief of not being able to release your pee muscles until someone inserts a tube up your urethra, into your bladder, and then opens a balloon to hold it in place. It sounds awful, right? Except hold your pee all day long even though you’ve tried repeatedly to release it, until your lower abdomen hurts, and you’ll welcome that catheter tube, I promise you. Heaven.

***

Anxiety disorder background/Trauma Informed Care rant: In addition to my morning thyroid replacement pill for Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, I take an anti-anxiety med 3 times daily to prevent Complex PTSD/anxiety disorder-related panic attacks. This is on record, and I’ve been on this prescription for years, under the treatment of a very good psychiatrist. I’ve tried to wean off this medication, for which my doctor has yelled at me because it can cause seizures to suddenly stop taking it, and because he says my brain chemistry is what it is–the neural pathways were formed as such–and I will need this medication for the rest of my life. (I don’t like taking medications. I’m sorry, doctor. I won’t do it again.) When I foolishly tried to wean off the meds, I noticed my hands and feet were tingling all day, looked it up, and sure enough, this was a symptom of weaning off my anti-anxiety meds. I took one and it stopped. Oh. Duh.

With this in mind, because most medical people don’t seem to understand Complex PTSD, generalized anxiety and panic disorder, which are two of my official diagnoses, the doctors typing my medical history into the computer kept recording my anti-anxiety medication as “1 daily, for sleep” rather than “taken 3 times a day” LIKE I REPEATEDLY TOLD THEM. Maybe because “for sleep” is a more typical dose? I don’t know, but I got all-caps shouty back there because this was immediately a source of frustration because I shouldn’t have to relive my multiple lifelong traumas explaining why I need doctor-prescribed meds to complete strangers because it’s triggering and none of their fucking business – and in this instance would continue to be really irritating for my entire week-long stay at the hospital.

I write “immediately a source of frustration,” because when various people coming in and out of an Acute Care room keep having you squeeze their fingers and push their hands with your feet, they also ask if you have any tingling and run pens along your toes and poke them and such. And I kept saying, “Yes, my hands and feet are numb and tingling, but I normally would have taken 2 anti-anxiety pills by now and when I go off them suddenly, my hands and feet get numb and tingle, so it could be that.” My logic being, let me take the damned anti-anxiety pills because 1) I can’t tell you exactly why my extremities are tingly if I don’t take my usually scheduled pills, and, 2) I’M FUCKING ANXIOUS AS FUCK BECAUSE I’M SUDDENLY PARALYZED AND IN PAIN AND I REALLY FUCKING NEED THEM. It was taking everything inside me not to have a panic attack for almost 12 hours straight, and nobody would give me the pills I’ve taken for years to stop the panic attacks. Before the meds, I had worked up to 2-4 panic attacks weekly and become agoraphobic because they’re humiliating. The anti-anxiety meds literally gave me back my life. I need them. (Sorry Big Pharma conspiracists. Rubbing coconut oil and turmeric on my asshole while sniffing essential oils wasn’t going to fix me. Western medicine and science for the win. Deal with it.)

So there was that. I had my anti-anxiety meds on me, but I was worried about surgical/anesthesia contraindications, so I didn’t take one all day. It didn’t help. I’ve had positive reactions to morphine after my other 2 major surgeries (good pain control, no itching), so I think that drug filled in a bit of the anxiety control for my missing daily pills. But still. The cause of the tingling was inconclusive.

Once the 2 inner arm IVs and Foley catheter were in, I figured we’d be waiting all night to be worked into the neurosurgeon’s schedule, but I think once he realized how long I’d been sitting in the hospital with a compressed spine, with my chances of not having neurological/motor deficits waning by the minute, he bumped me to the front of his surgeries because suddenly the orderlies were there to wheel me away. My husband and I were shocked by how fast everything started moving after the neurosurgeon spoke with us. I guess that’s why they call it emergency surgery.

It’s really important for me to be an organ donor–I’ve felt strongly about it since high school–and for the rest of me to be donated for medical research/students for learning purposes. If I hadn’t been so freaked out, I would have reminded my husband of these things, in addition to telling him I love him, but that’s all we had time to say and then they rolled me off to the giant white operating room.

We were met by 2 anesthesiologists who were super nice, and I told them how I grew up with bright red hair, even though it’s fading, and before I could mention how redheads handle anesthesia differently (I’ve woken up during surgery – we’re hard to keep down), the blonde one said, “So you need extra anesthesia,” and I was relieved she obviously knew her stuff.

She took off my nightgown so they wouldn’t have to cut it, which meant she had to lift each of my paralyzed arms for me, and this was such a touching moment for me, even though I felt like a weak child. I asked the anesthesiologists if they wanted me to count and they laughed, saying they didn’t make people count, and to just breathe. The mask went over my face. I stared at the bright lights, wondering if I was seeing my last glimpse of this world. I told myself to be brave, and I breathed.

Then darkness.

***

(To be continued, next blog, with pictures…)

5 Things to Kindly Keep in Mind with People Processing Violence

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Children learn what they see, so please, lead by positive example. Psychologically healthy parents protect their children, they don’t hit them. Fear and respect are not the same thing, and children deserve to feel safe.

 

People who’ve survived any form of physical abuse or threat are often left with hard-to-heal emotional scars. The damage can take many forms, such as: sexual molestation, rape, being physically struck or beaten, experiencing danger, and military service. But no matter how personal safety violations are inflicted, any may lead to psychological dysfunction.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder, dissociation, denial, depression, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are some issues experienced by humans whose nervous systems have been pushed beyond their limits. People who experience assault-based trauma are more likely to develop PTSD, but everyone has a different level of stress they can handle before becoming permanently overwhelmed. Because all humans are different, there’s no way to predict psychological disorders, and no guaranteed cures.

Some common symptoms felt by those who’ve been in threatening situations may include hypervigilance, being easily startled, insomnia, never feeling safe, brain fog, irritability, an exaggerated fight-or-flight response, mood swings, and panic attacks involving dizziness, nausea, sweating, rapid heartbeat, tunneling vision, or a sense of impending doom.

Below are 5 things to kindly keep in mind while talking to people processing violence:

  1. The Compassion Competition—

One of the worst assumptions to make about a person affected by violence is that they lack perspective or don’t understand that somebody always has it worse. Abused people know they’re not the only person to which injustice has happened, and unless they’ve never been on the Internet, they’re obviously aware of life’s many atrocities.

Examples of this might be saying, “Well, at least THIS WORSE THING didn’t happen to you…” and giving an example of something you consider a greater wrongdoing.

This reaction completely invalidates the feelings of the person who trusted you enough to confide, and insults their intelligence. The fact that bad things also happen to others doesn’t magically erase the bad things that have happened to them, no matter where you’d place the abuse on your spectrum.

In short: Pain is not a contest. You can show empathy to more than one person at a time without dismissing the feelings of anyone. Because regardless of how someone was hurt, it always matters.

  1. The Dance of Denial—

Many victims of physical or sexual abuse find themselves alone with their pain because the topic makes others feel uncomfortable. This can be especially true if the person was violated by a family member.

Families sometimes brush unflattering stories about sexual or physical abusers under the rug because it’s hard to believe a relative is capable of such brutality. But this reaction can re-victimize people by invalidating their pain.

Often, rather than helping those harmed by a family member or stranger, friends and relatives defensively ignore the issue, allowing the perpetrator to get away with something evil. This lack of justice or support can severely hamper the healing process, because a person can’t heal from a wound nobody will acknowledge.

In short: Abuse at the hands of a stranger -or- a family member hurts, and all forms of abuse are abuse. Ignoring the “icky” can make those harmed feel like they’ve done something wrong, rather than the person who caused the damage. Listen, believe, and strengthen instead of shaming.

  1. The Blame Game—

If you ever feel like saying, “Well that person is a ____, so what did you expect?” or, “I just accept that they’re messed up, and ignore it. That’s just who they are!” about the person who harmed someone, go ahead and keep that thought to yourself, because it reeks of victim blaming.

You may have the best intentions, such as trying to commiserate with the person who’s sharing their painful experience with you. However, what they often hear instead is: “Shame on you for being stupid. You should have known what you were dealing with, and anticipated your own violation.”

In short: Nobody in a civilized society should ever have to expect violence. Don’t imply that people could have predicted their own abuse and avoided it, because this only makes you look uncompassionate.

  1. Downplaying the Damage—

There is nothing more unhelpful than someone telling you to “get over it” in reference to anything, including the violation of your personal safety. Unless you have the ability to crawl into another person’s psyche and assess how something has affected them, dismissing their damage can be downright dangerous.

Everyone has a right to feel safe, and whether you’ve experienced similar things or not, your decision that everyone else has to deal with emotions exactly the way you do is thoughtless and condescending, at best.

Being told you’re “histrionic” or to “put on your big boy/big girl pants” are examples of thoughtless advice, and often given by those who choose to live in denial, rather than being brave enough to deal with their problems. This form of blatant invalidation is heartless and harmful. If someone has the courage to face their personal demons, rather than attempting to humiliate them into silence because of your own cowardice, you might instead watch and learn.

In short: Gaslighting is gross. Stop trying to make people feel like they’re overreacting or incorrectly imagining their own abuse. Everybody’s emotions are valid, and your motives are questionable if you’d prefer people in pain “suck it up and move on.” If you feel this way, why don’t YOU move on… somewhere out of hearing range.

  1. No Pity Parties, Please—

Most people who’ve been hurt by someone else are furious that they were forced into the role of victim, and don’t enjoy it. Treating them with compassion is lovely, but viewing them with pity can be upsetting. Being helpless is the worst feeling in the world, and nobody who’s experienced it ever wants to feel it again.

The word “survivor” is preferred over the word “victim” by many because it implies strength, rather than weakness. Surviving doesn’t have to mean someone has survived a life-or-death situation, either—it simply means someone is trying to accept and cope with what’s happened to them.

In short: Nobody chooses to be abused, and treating people like they’re fragile or broken because of the violating actions of another can frustrate them. Let them know you think they’re strong for moving forward, despite those who’ve tried to hold them back. Survivors of abuse would much rather you celebrate their courage than pity them.

***

People on the path to wellness don’t appreciate roadblocks created by other humans, well-intentioned or not. If you truly want to help someone move past bad things that have happened to them, listen to and believe them, don’t invalidate their feelings, and try to empathize.

Kindness and understanding go a long way in this world, and by avoiding the potentially harmful reactions listed above, you might give someone the compassion and support they need to heal themselves.

Victim Impact Statement

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Me, age 5.

When I was 15 years old, my biological father viciously beat me up via repeated closed-fist punches to both sides of my face, eyes, and mouth. He has grossly downplayed his brutal actions over the years by lying to our family, as many shame-filled, violent offenders do.

I am writing this Victim Impact Statement because I am tired of explaining the ways in which my father repeatedly punched me in the face to people who wonder how I could possibly have an anxiety disorder or PTSD.

If a stranger had jumped anyone in an alley to beat them as severely as my father did me, no rational or intelligent person would be surprised to learn they had an anxiety disorder from the experience.

I will be sending anyone who wants to understand from where I’m coming to this writing from now on, because I’m creating a personal boundary I’d like all to respect.

Every time I am forced to discuss my father’s violence, it makes me think about a bad experience I’d rather not relive via repeated dialogue.

I refuse to deny what happened, because facts are facts, and it very much affected me, both emotionally and physically. To deny it is to deny the truth, and I won’t do that.

The truth is that my father should have been in jail for what he did, and had I called the police, he would have been. And he knows this. Not because I would have been lying, but because I was unrecognizably bruised and swollen, bleeding, covered in my own blood—and he didn’t have a scratch on him.

But I accept that it happened, and also that I can move forward into wellness, even if nobody believes me.

I would like to officially invite all doubtful people to join me here in Acceptance World. Because Denial World is not a place in which anyone can heal. And Nobody Believes Me Even Though I Have No Reason to Lie World invalidates me and hurts my feelings, so I’m not letting anyone send me there anymore.

You can believe me or not—that’s your prerogative—but my truth is no longer on trial.

I am not awaiting your verdict.

You can, however, consider yourself a part of a very disturbing problem if you believe the grown man who beat up a 15-year-old girl was in any way justified for this horrendous action.

If anyone needs further confirmation, I am still in contact with many school friends who saw my swollen, beaten face, puffed-up lips with cuts inside that bled if I smiled, two bruised eyes with one swollen shut, and chipped front tooth. The same friends who saw me drink my “lunch shake” through a straw for a week until the inner mouth cuts healed enough to stop bleeding, allowing me to chew again.

My science teacher was so shocked by my post-beating appearance she called Child Protective Services, causing a social worker to come to our home, who offered to drive me away on the spot. This means my abuse was legally recorded by my school and the Arizona Department of Child Safety (teachers are legally required to do this).

There is also an impartial non-relative witness to the event: my former stepmother, who screamed at my father to stop punching me, cleaned up my bloody, swelling face, and disposed of my blood-soaked clothes.

It turns out mouth cuts bleed a lot. Until my father repeatedly punched me in the face, I didn’t know this. I’m getting ahead of myself.

I think what I’m mostly trying to ask of you is please, stop blaming the victim. Start believing the victim.

(Also, please realize the victim doesn’t consider herself a victim and hates that label because it implies weakness and she’s one of the strongest people you’ll ever meet, but can’t think of a better way to say the above. Thanks.)

Below, I’ve written for anyone wondering, exactly what happened. Not “my version of what happened” but what actually happened.

You may have been given a different version of the events by the man who beat up a teenage girl, and I would like you to please use basic common sense and realize the person with nothing to hide and everything to lose is telling you the truth, not the man who is rightly ashamed of beating up a girl.

I am not afraid of legal repercussions or slander charges as I write this, because I know I am telling the truth and have nothing to fear. My father has lied to my family over the years, describing what was actually 6-7 sudden, hard, closed-fist punches to my face as “a slap to the mouth” to make me look like I’m exaggerating.

He recently confessed to his sister that yes, he actually did punch the shit out of me, but then lied about the circumstances, prompting her to tell me I deserved to be beaten up, as if there is ever a justification for a 36-year-old man to beat up a 15-year-old girl.

(I can forward you the email in which she admits he told her he beat me up if you still need proof.)

She stupidly believed his lies, once again. Yes, that’s right. She believed the person with every reason to lie—the man trying to make something he did look less disgusting or somehow justifiable—over the person with no reason to lie. She abused her daughter, too, so I think she’s hoping that by justifying my father’s violence, she can justify her own.

I now realize they are both very sick, psychologically damaged people, and am officially done trying to salvage a relationship with either one. I will explain this further below.

Because of my father’s fists punching my eyes, my optic nerves are permanently damaged with no other explanation. My eye doctor has confirmed that being beaten to the point of having swollen shut, blackened eyes without medical treatment is likely the cause, as I have no other glaucoma symptoms. (He couldn’t figure it out until I finally shared that I’d been punched in the eyes and face repeatedly without medical/anti-inflammatory treatment. This can cause permanent nerve damage.)

I have to get the chipped tooth my father’s fist knocked out replaced whenever the composite filling falls out.

I will pay for my father’s violence for the rest of my life financially and physically. I’m working with psychological professionals to heal the emotional damage, because that is the only thing I can hope to lessen.

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On the way to get a chunk of front tooth my dad’s fist knocked out replaced a few years ago. Again. No, he’s never offered to pay for this, even though he caused the damage. A real stand-up guy, right?

 ~

I share my story because I’m one hundred percent tired of discussing it and trying to convince even my own family members that this happened to me. It did. I have no reason to lie. By ending contact with my father for my emotional and psychological well-being 10 years ago, I lost a large financial inheritance… and it was worth every penny.

Because love is what matters in this life, not money. On your deathbed, the amount of money you amassed means nothing. The difference you made in the world, and the kindness you’ve shown others is all that matters.

At least, that’s what I believe will matter to me. Was I a good, honest, compassionate person with integrity? If I can answer yes to this question, I will be satisfied with my life.

I don’t feel sorry for myself, I am not seeking pity, and I am aware that worse things happen every day all over the world.

And this fact doesn’t negate what happened to me, or make my feelings about it any less valid.

Below is a detailed account of my father’s abusive actions, and the psychological impact his violent, sudden, and completely unjustified attack had on me.

~

My biological father was sitting in my newly-painted stark white bedroom – the one he’d destroyed in a fit of immature rage while I was at school that day. Every music poster I’d saved to buy had been torn down and destroyed, all color and life drained from my room via coat of white paint, creating what it already felt like to me anyhow: a prison cell.

The latest thing I’d done to piss him off was bleach my hair white blonde against his wishes because I wanted to look like a Madonna album cover. It was the late ‘80s, and I thought her hair looked rad. My father, upon seeing the hair color I’d secretly bleached told me the next morning before school I looked like a cheap whore. I told him I thought it looked cool, and assumed our latest conflict was over… until I came home to my completely-stripped-of-all-personality bedroom.

~

When my father walked into my Benjamin Moore Jailhouse White-painted bedroom to lecture me, I’d been sitting on my bed listening to a record. He lectured me about my disobedience, this time in reference to my bleached hair, although there’d been previous incidents that contributed to his worn patience with me.

I’m diagnosed with ADHD, and have always had extra nervous energy to burn off every day. Sometimes I’d catch myself rocking in place, or tapping a foot without realizing I was doing so. Unfortunately, this was a foot tapping time.

My dad noticed I was tapping my foot to the beat while he lectured, saw it as an act of defiance, and lost his temper.

~

He had a sudden, flash, blackout rage-type of temper. When he got back from Vietnam, I experienced it in the form of hitting, smacking, and having to go get the belt.

One cruel memory that stuck with me was when he snapped each of my individual crayons in half and dropped them, one by one, into the kitchen garbage can while my mom and I begged him to stop. My sister had left them on the floor, and not me, but I was punished anyway. He smiled as I sobbed.

Another disturbing memory involves his arriving home, taking off the black horrible-smelling socks in which he’d worked construction all day in the Phoenix heat, holding me down, and putting them over my mouth and nose. I would nearly suffocate trying to not breathe the horrible smell, and would struggle—little girl versus large man. If I peed my pants or accidentally kicked him during these struggles to escape, he would smack me as hard as he could. It would sting like bees wherever he’d hit me, so being 5 or 6-years-old, I’d sob until he told me to shut up or he’d “give me something to cry about.”

Luckily my mom divorced him when I was 7, remarried when I was 8, and moved us away to Kansas. My biological father still managed to occasionally smack me on summer vacations with him, but at least the majority of the year was spent far away.

~

But now I was 15, and once again unsuccessfully living with him. My father’s well-known temper this time culminated in his grabbing the record spinning on my player, and snapping it in half in front of me.

“There! NOW will you pay attention to what I’m saying?!” he yelled.

The nervous foot tapping. Whoops.

I told him to stop breaking my records. He grabbed another from the pile, pulled it out of the jacket, and snapped it. Then another. And another.

I’d already lost every music poster for which I’d saved, and was now watching my record collection disappear, one snap at a time. I wasn’t a rich kid, and had saved every allowance or bit of birthday money to buy everything I had. Often I skipped school lunch so I could save the few extra dollars per week that allowed. I knew I’d never replace everything in my room he’d destroyed that day.

Desperate to get him away from my quickly-depleting record collection, I ran to the living room to grab one of his records, holding it in the air, poised to snap, just as he’d destroyed mine. It was an album by The Beatles. The difference between my father and me was that I couldn’t do it.

He yelled at me to drop the record, and I replied, “Then stop breaking my fucking records!”

My mom told me later when I spoke to her on the phone about the beating that the f-word had triggered him to smack her across the face when they were married, too.

He dropped the record he’d carried out of my room to punch me repeatedly in the head and face, three or four hard, closed-fist punches with his right, then three or four blows with the left. He was an equal opportunity abuser, according to both sides of my now-swelling, bleeding face.

The attack was so sudden and vicious, one blow after another, that it took me a moment to stop trying to defend my 15-year-old self from a man with weight machines in his garage and a history of hitting women and children. I think I tried to block with my arms. I should’ve run after the first punch. It just happened so fast. There wasn’t really time to react beyond instinct.

Punchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunchpunch, his fists rapid-fired at my head like gunshots.

I finally ducked, turned, and ran for the front door, blood pouring from my mouth because my teeth had been knocked so repeatedly against my gums that the area above and below inside my lips was shredded. My peach sweater and white skirt were blood-soaked from the gushing mouth cuts, and the skirt proved a traitor, allowing my father fabric to grab, preventing me from fleeing.

Thwarted from escape, I curled up into a ball, trying to protect my head and face, and my father kicked my curled-up body, sneering at me, “Stop being so dramatic.”

Being dramatic? That was when I heard the screams. I hadn’t realized they were coming from me until he spoke, snapping me back to reality, and stealing the protection of psychological dissociation from my traumatized brain.

I remember looking up into the light coming from the beautiful etched glass panels in the front door my dad and his current wife had picked out through the one eye that hadn’t swelled shut. I was groggy and confused, wondering why I hadn’t made it to the other side. I didn’t understand why so much warm liquid was running out of my mouth.

~

My stepmom had my infant half-brother in her arms when my father started punching, and now that she’d found a safe place for the baby, she ran to where he stood over me and the puddle of blood forming on the concrete beneath. She yelled at him to stop, to leave, to go to his sister’s house down the road, but he wouldn’t, instead storming down the hallway to their bedroom to cool off.

She took me into the guest bathroom where I didn’t recognize the girl in the mirror.

I looked as if I’d been in a car accident, my face ballooned round because my cheeks were swollen and bruised, my lips huge, both eyes rapidly bruising, with one closed. One of my front teeth had a big chip missing, I’m assuming from his wedding ring.

All of the teeth in my mouth were loose enough to wiggle for a week afterward. I remember lying in my bed afterward, testing them one by one. I worried they were going to fall out from the trauma.

I remember being amazed by how the numbness from the extreme facial swelling took away the pain.

I’m positive I had a concussion, because all I wanted to do was go to sleep, and my brain had been sloshed around via repeated punch to my head.

My stepmom kindly cleaned me up, put me to bed, and disposed of my ruined, blood-stained clothing.

They would be divorced within a year or so. I wasn’t surprised, and always wondered if watching her husband beat up a 15-year-old girl showed her exactly what kind of man she’d married. I also want to tell all family members who don’t believe me to ask her what happened that day, as her son is fully grown, married, and no longer very much in touch with our shared biological father.

I would never have asked her to talk about my beating while my brother was in my father’s care out of protection for him. She couldn’t jeopardize her son’s safety, and I wouldn’t have wanted her to do so. In case you’re wanting to blame her, I also want you to know that I don’t and never have blamed her. She had an infant son to protect, and any action taken to legally or criminally prosecute his father could have been dangerous for her child. As a mother, I understand completely that she couldn’t risk her son’s future.

I only blame the adult man in his mid-30s who thought that violently beating up a 15-year-old girl was morally or legally acceptable under any circumstances.

But now, my former stepmom could talk, if asked. She has no reason to lie, after all. She’s not related. I would challenge every disbeliever to ask her if my words are true. I have to wonder if maybe, since some family members have written me off as “histrionic,” they’d believe someone with no reason to lie.

Or would they still defend a grown man who beats up teenage girls?

What a sad question this is, in a culture full of victim-blaming, to wonder if a girl beaten up at age 15 by an adult male will ever be able to convince her relatives, the people who are supposed to love her, that she has no reason to lie.

There’s a magazine cover floating about our media right now with 35 women who’ve experienced the same shameful phenomenon.

~

To this day, one of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t call the police on my father, because then at least there would be photographic proof to show family members who still can’t believe their relative could be capable of such brutality, and wrongly assume I’m being hyperbolic.

If I’d just made it out the door, to the road, to the neighbors’ house for help, my father would have been in jail for assault and battery when the police saw the blood-soaked and badly beaten teenage girl, and her completely unharmed father. I looked like I’d been hit by a truck; he didn’t have any injuries at all aside from sore knuckles. It was a clear case of assault and battery: a “no-brainer,” to use a trite term.

My father would be a mugshot on the local news if he did today what he did to me back then.

I also wish I’d called the police because if I had a photo of my face to show, there’s no way any rational, compassionate human would decide that I “deserved it” or that my father “deserves love and forgiveness,” as I’ve been told by family members. They would recoil in disgust, and likely feel stupid for suggesting I forgive him.

If he was a stranger who had turned my face into someone bloody, beaten, and unrecognizable, they’d only want justice for me.

If a man did to their child what my father did to me, they would be filled with rage on behalf of their child.

But because it happened to me, their empathy disappears.

Except for my violent, child-beating father. Everyone feels incredibly sorry for the man who beat up a teenage girl. So much empathy for my abuser.

I want to ask my family, where is the love and understanding for me, when they ask me to forgive someone who’s brutally beaten me without remorse? My father not only never apologized for the damage he did, but is still lying about it.

How can they not see how hard it is to forgive someone who won’t even acknowledge they’ve harmed you?

Why do the people who are supposed to love me care more about the feelings of a man who violently beats up teenage girls? He doesn’t care about my feelings or forgiveness, so when asking me to forgive him, perhaps ask yourself, why is it so important to you? And please don’t give me some “enlightened” answer about how it will heal me because my healing journey is my own, not yours.

I tried denial disguised as “embracing positivity” for decades, after all, when I had a relationship with the man who caused so much damage. I tried to be the Forgiving Good Daughter. We spoke on the phone, had occasional visits, and guess what? It didn’t change a damned thing. In fact, it was harmful to me. The pain was still there because he never apologized, and he is still, to this day, justifying his actions with lies.

So my dad deserves forgiveness and empathy for beating me bloody at age 15, and I deserve none?

I’m supposed to magically heal and forgive a person for violating me, even though he refuses to be truthful about or acknowledge what he did?

Are you really going to pretend a grown male in our society didn’t know that violently beating up a 15-year-old girl was wrong, because, as one family member actually told me recently… that’s just how he was raised and he didn’t know any better?

Because of course he knew better. He still knows better. And the fact that he won’t tell you the truth means he has no respect for you, either, by the way. He’s lying to you, because that’s what people who are ashamed of what they’ve done and realize they’re in the wrong do: they lie.

Stranger hurts family member: everyone wants justice. Family member hurts family member in the exact same way: everyone wants silence. I will never understand this phenomenon. Wrong is wrong.

Abusers often downplay their violence to make the damage less damning, attempting to make themselves look less horrible, and to make their victims look histrionic. This is a known fact about violent men, making it especially disappointing when female family members don’t believe what happened. They of all people should be emotionally savvy enough to know this.

I was recently told by my father’s sister, for example, because he told her I yelled “Fuck you!” and hit him—two things I never did—that I deserved to be beaten, and that any person in our family would have done the same.

The fact is, she’s a sadistic idiot, at best, for believing a grown man’s weak attempts to justify beating up a teenaged girl—especially considering that he’s lied to the entire family for the last 20+ years, including her, telling them that he’d “only hit me in the mouth” before only recently confessing to her that oh wait, yes, he did violently beat me up, followed by the fake justification given above, as if there is ever justification for a man to repeatedly punch a teenaged girl (or to beat anyone not attacking them, for that matter).

Rather than explain to her that she was stupidly believing lies he’s created to make himself look less awful… again, I instead gave up on her. And him. Forever. She also violently beat her own daughter, and actually sent her 16-year-old daughter to live with our grandfather, the pedophile who molested her daughter while fully aware of what he did to her daughter—so I’ve finally had to accept that my father and aunt are very sick people with whom I have no desire to communicate again in this lifetime. They were both abusive, sociopathic, terrible parents – so of course they want to rewrite history. They’re ashamed of themselves, as they should be.

I’m not engaging with either of them anymore because he’ll obviously never tell the truth, and she’ll keep defending his violent behavior in an attempt to justify her own. And I don’t have time in my precious life anymore for ridiculous, toxic, lying people—related to me or not.

~

Fortunately, I have multiple friends with whom I’m still in touch who saw my face when I returned to school a few days after the beating who can back up my truth. This helps, knowing there are people in the world who believe me because they saw the damage, even if my own family won’t listen. One is a close female friend of mine who cried because she barely recognized my battered face.

I told most who asked that I’d been in an ATV accident because I didn’t want them to feel sorry for me, but one teacher, a smart woman who saw through my story, called Child Protective Services and reported the obviously beaten up teenager sitting in her science class.

The social worker came to our door and had me sit in her car to talk separately from my father. She asked if there was anywhere else I could go, but at that point I felt like I’d ruined relationships with every available adult in my life, so I told her no. I felt like I was a bad kid, and must deserve the painful thing that had happened to me.

As an adult, of course I realize I should have called the police and pressed charges, but I was 15 and scared. I felt alone in the world. I begged her to let me stay, even when she told me we could drive away and she’d send the police back with me later to retrieve my belongings. I truly felt everyone hated me, and that I had nowhere else to go. She ended up giving me her card, making me promise to call her if it happened again or I changed my mind.

~

Despite all of this this, 8 months ago, I tried to reach out to my biological father in forgiveness, for my own peace.

I realize now I don’t forgive him at all, because I would never do to a child what he did to me. A better word than forgiveness would be acceptance. I accept that what happened, acknowledge that it shaped me in many ways, refuse to let it define me any longer, and will stop allowing it to negatively impact me as much as possible.

So I extended the olive branch to my father via letter telling him I forgive him and would like to have a relationship on whatever terms he’s comfortable, trying to find peace. I even apologized for the abrasive way I cut him out of my life 10 years ago because I expressed my anger in an unkind way.

That’s right—I apologized to my father for expressing anger at him for beating me up and never apologizing to me for it or acknowledging it. I apologized to him. And I had no expectations of an apology or anything from him, I was simply trying to move forward. I wanted to permanently place my pain behind a brain door labeled “This Bad Thing Happened” and get on with life. Acceptance. Peace.

And guess what, all you “positivity” hashtag-sharing people telling me to forgive my father because it will heal me, and he’s a good person, and surely it couldn’t be that bad, and blah, blah, blah…?

My loving, kind, poor, misunderstood, teenage girl-punching father blew me off.

He never answered my letter. So because I took everyone’s advice and tried to forgive the man who violently beat me up, never apologized, has lied about it to everyone for years, then admitted to doing it but still tried to justify beating up a 15-year-old girl… now, I am more hurt than I was before.

Yup. I gave him a second chance to hurt me, and he took it.

And great advice, everybody. Thanks for your help. #positivity #forgiveness #bullshit

Sorry for my bitterness. I know the people pushing positivity and forgiveness were only trying to help.

But I would like to ask anyone who blindly does this to please realize you don’t know the details of personal relationships, so this advice can possibly harm, rather than hurt. Sometimes a person seeking emotional wellness needs to close the door on a toxic person and move forward, not try to embrace the toxicity.

So this was obviously disappointing and hurtful for me—my lifelong deadbeat, unsupportive dad once again not being there for me—and there might have been some closure to be found if my father and I could have put this behind us.

But as my husband always says about my biological father: What do you expect from a pig but a grunt?

~

I am now done trying to maintain a relationship with him out of some sort of “good daughter” guilt trip-expectation society places on people who’ve been harmed by relatives.

This double standard is one of the weirdest aspects I’ve noticed about my father’s violence. If a stranger had violently beaten me the way my own father did, my entire family (and most members of a civilized society) would want justice. But because I’m related to him, this somehow means I’m supposed to forgive and forget about pain this person has inflicted on me without remorse or apology? This makes no sense to me.

And it goes against the principles of basic biology to harm one’s own offspring. The number one priority of any mammal parent is to keep their progeny safe from danger. Because I know firsthand how worthless it makes an emotionally underdeveloped psyche feel, I will never understand how a parent can hit a child. My son is nearly 10, has ADHD neurology, and it has never once occurred to me to smack or slap him, much less punch him. The thought makes me physically ill. My job is to protect him from the danger, not BE the danger.

Another odd phenomenon I’ve encountered is the idea that being beaten up by someone I know—by the person who should be protecting me from such things—is somehow less traumatizing than a violent beating at the hands of a stranger, rather than more traumatizing.

A stranger doesn’t know me, so it’s not personal if they hit me.

But growing up feeling physically unsafe around the one person in the world who should have made me feel safe?

That’s worse than anything a stranger could have inflicted upon me.

~

As I was telling my psychiatrist about the recent discovery about my eyes, I embarrassingly started angry-crying, because this permanent optic nerve damage was completely avoidable had my father acted like an honorable man instead of a malicious bastard.

My doctor asked me if I have bad dreams or relive it, and I told him I relive it whenever I talk about it too much, and yes, which recurring nightmare would you like me to share, because I have five?

I confessed that I often have to sleep with a hunting knife folded up in my hand because I never feel safe.

I think every noise or creak of the house is someone breaking in, and patrol windows in the dark, trying to protect my son from unseen dangers.

Sudden noises have me shaking in an adrenaline rush of terror, I can’t be in crowds, and I always have to be facing a clear exit in restaurants.

If my son playfully sneaks up behind me, I have to hide the anxiety attack-tears he causes because I don’t want him to feel guilty for something “normal” moms can handle.

I’m damaged, and I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Spending the earliest, most formative years of your life being afraid of a parent who should be making you feel safe and loved will do that to a person.

Being violently beaten up by your own father at 15 will also do that to a person.

Because Child Psychology 101. It’s really not that hard to figure out.

My psychiatrist then diagnosed me with PTSD, and gave me an antidepressant he said is commonly given to people with PTSD.

Desperate to pull myself out of the pool of anxiety, fear, and sadness I’d felt since I found out my optic nerves were damaged, I tried the SSRI antidepressant. It made me feel even more anxious and scared, and after giving it a week, I stopped taking it because it was making everything worse.

My doctor told me I’d done the right thing the next time I saw him and prescribed another antidepressant in case I wanted to try a different one, but we both agreed that I should probably stick to only anti-anxiety meds. I never filled the second antidepressant prescription.

I am currently seeking a behavioral/talk therapist to help me learn how to avoid being “triggered” or upset when discussing violence.

~

What I would like anyone reading this to know is that I’m not crying or upset as I type, I’m actually calm, because writing is cathartic and soothes me. I’m not wishing to be considered a victim by sharing the truth about a bad man, and don’t want pity. It makes me furious to think of someone feeling sorry for me, actually.

I would also like to make it clear that I recognize someone always has it worse. There is nothing I loathe more than a Compassion Competition, so telling me things like, “At least you didn’t have THIS happen to you…” only makes me think you have problems with which you need to deal and are living in denial, or perhaps that you are lacking in empathy.

Because yes, I get it: of course there are one million worse things that might have happened to me. But that doesn’t make the pain of what happened to me any less valid. Pain is not a contest. And neither is empathy.

I also want people to understand I write about painful things because reading about similar experiences from other people has made me feel less alone, and like someone else in the world understands. I’ve experienced a lot of gaslighting from family members who’ve chosen to believe my father’s downplaying of the facts over the truth—all doubts that could be erased in seconds had one person snapped a picture of my face after he violently beat me up.

And no matter what anyone thinks I did— no matter what a sad old washed-up piece of shit whose three children barely speak to him has to say—this 15-year-old girl didn’t deserve to be brutally, repeatedly punched into permanent facial damage for any reason. There is no justification and no excuse for what my father did to me.

I am not my PTSD and I’m not my anxiety disorder. What I am is a good-hearted person who had a crummy thing happen to me that I’m actively trying to work through and move past for emotional wellness.

Thank you for listening, and especially for believing people like me who have no reason to make up stories.