Hands Down

Do you have two hands that work?

If no, you have my deepest sympathy.

If yes, I suggest you put one of them in your pocket or behind your back.  Got it?  Good.

Now go wash your hair.

This has been my life since the summer of 1993, on and off.  Mostly on.

I’ve had four hand surgeries since then: three on my left and one on my right.

I won’t elaborate on the proximate cause of the situations leading to these surgeries.  I may finally get around to editing and posting the story of Costa Lotta Jack, the evil Appaloosa who tore my wrist bones apart back there in ’93.  Now is not the time.

Let us begin with the premise that my left wrist was destroyed in 1993 by an evil Appaloosa named Costa Lotta Jack, which lead to my first wrist reconstruction a few months later.

That repair worked so well that I was able to relearn to play the banjo and fiddle.  Not the way I played it before: I lost a lotta wrist action in that fight.  Good enough to cut a solo CD that still tops the folk charts, although it still hasn’t paid for itself.

Six or seven years later, that repair broke down.  Another reconstruction.  Lost some more range of motion with that one, but managed to keep playing music once they pulled a couple of steel pins out of my wrist.

And so on until a year ago, when I had a big crash and burn from tripping over a barrier between two campsites in the pitch black new moon dark.  The hand surgeon in Flagstaff was sure it was a tear in the joint capsule, and the MRI with contrast demonstrated the same.

And by the way, my shoulder started hurting then.  And it seemed to have jolted something loose in the minefield otherwise known as my neck.

So began my love affair with Flagstaff, Arizona, home of many orthopedists.  Hallmark of a ski town.

I got tired of running to doctors after awhile, and decided that some benign neglect might do me some good.  Or you might say I was sick of hearing that I needed this operation and that operation.  Really burnt out, if the truth be known.

Off I went, tending to this and that family emergency.  My wrist and shoulder and neck still felt bad, but not as bad as running to doctors.

When I landed in Tucson for the winter, it made sense to make friends with a local orthopedist about my shoulder, and with a hand surgeon about my wrist.

I had my initial consultations taken care of, and a return visit to the shoulder guy for an injection into my subacromial bursa, which is a fluid filled sac in the shoulder.  It didn’t help.

Then, toward the end of January, I had a terrible fall that tore the shit out of my rotator cuff and did something bad to my wrist.

I went immediately to the hand surgeon, who scheduled surgery, and to the shoulder guy, who sent me directly from his office into the nearest MRI machine.

The MRI shows two full thickness tears in my rotator cuff muscles.  As a bonus, I split the tendon to my biceps muscle in two.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I had my latest hand surgery 8 days ago, I think.  I’m still a bit addled from all that has gone down, so if I get things out of order, that’s why.

I’m told that the surgeon came and talked to me after the operation.  I can’t remember anything, because I was waaaaaaaaay over-anesthetized.  That can happen, especially if the anesthesiologist doesn’t listen when you tell them there is a very big reason you resist general anesthesia.  Some of us need a much lighter hammer.

I had rented an Airbnb room in which to recover for a week, boarded Atina the Doggess, and settled in with my vaporizer and edibles (I don’t do well with opiates).  I hired people from a local home health agency to drive me to the surgery and back and go to the pharmacy and Trader Joe’s for 24 bottles of Trader Joe’s brand seltzer water.

That night, or maybe the following night, I got two phone calls, one from each of my guys.

Shoulder guy: “Well, you have two high grade tears in your rotator cuff muscles, plus your biceps tendon is split.  Other than that, your MRI looks great (except for the rough place underneath another muscle that shows it is getting squashed by something else).  You should be able to put off surgery for a few months…provided you don’t fuck it up again in the meantime.”

He didn’t use those words exactly, but that’s what he meant.

Next call was my hand guy.

“Um, how are you feeling?”

“Just peachy.  What did you find in there?”

Pregnant pause…then he said:

“Oh sweetheart….”

WTF, my surgeon is calling me sweetheart, and I want to know why.

“I’m so sorry.  I thought we were just repairing your joint capsule, but when I got in there with the scope I found that your triquetrum (one of the 8 bones in the wrist) was rattling around loose in the joint, no ligament, no cartilage, no blood supply…so I had to take it out.  Really should have done a first row carpectomy (procedure that removes a whole row of those little bones because once they’re fucked up they don’t heal), but I didn’t have a permission signed for that.   We’ll have to watch this carefully and maybe plan that operation for the future.”

Instead of bawling, I said (with considerable irony),

“Well then.  I suppose I’d better sell that new guitar.”

“Oh, no, no, don’t sell your guitar!  We’ll get you back playing!”

Nice one, Doc, but I’ve been around this block a whole bunch of times.  I didn’t fall off the turnip truck yesterday.  I know as well as anyone else what happens when you start taking out bones.  It’s a slippery slope.

The Hero in the Little Bottle, or: Thank Goodness; or: That #!*@$&! Dog!!!

Here is a sample bottle of some hydrocodone medicine.  You can see by the beat-up label that it’s kind of old.  The expiration date is 1995.

It’s part of my emergency kit.  The last time I took one was in 2010, when I was in India and broke my wrist.

Yesterday I was walking on a State Park trail enjoying the late afternoon sun when a lady walked by with her Golden Retriever.

“Is your dog friendly?” She asks.

“Well….sometimes.  She plays really, really rough,” said I.

By this time I had moved off the trail into a little grassy area to give the lady and her dog room to pass.

Instead, she decided to bring her dog over to “make friends.”

Before you could say “Oh fuck!” Atina was in her dog’s face snarling and making that fearsome sound dogs make when they’re fighting.  She was so determined, I found myself helplessly dragged along at the end of the leash.

Then I myself roared into life and dragged her off the terrified retriever, whose owner was triple quadruple terrified.

Atina had not finished snarling when I got hold of her, but she shut her face once she saw mine.

God I just wanted to kick her ass around the block!

I waited for the poor terrified lady and her dog to get back down the trail before I started back myself.  It was getting toward “coyote time” of the evening and I was in no mood for another confrontation.

As I led the now-chastened Malligator down the path, I spied a rock sticking out.  Watch out for that rock, my brain said.  Fuck you, said my body, and demonstrated my foot-drop so that I could trip on that very rock….and fall into thin air.

I saw the whole thing in slow motion.  The hard ground coming closer and closer….I dropped the leash from my left hand and the baggie full of dog poop from my right, and broke my fall with both hands.

Jesus Christ on a bicycle, I have rarely felt such pain!  Now I know why beating people on the hands and feet is such a popular form of torture.  There’s really nowhere for swelling and blood from broken blood vessels to go.  The pressure is maddening.

I’m able to this only because the first-aid measures of last night have much improved the situation.

First I managed to get myself and the Malligator into the van.  This was no small feat, since both of my thumbs were so swollen they were pulling my hands into claws due to the spasms in my thumb muscles.

Once I got inside, the only thing I could do was to sit down and bawl uncontrollably for a long time.

Next I had to remember where I’d stashed my emergency pain pills.  Fortunately my mind’s eye is pretty good, and I located the plastic box where I keep seldom-used meds.  It was dicey getting the box out of the overhead compartment, between my bad shoulders and my completely fucked-up hands.

I took a pill, then sat down to cry some more.  Eventually I remembered the Traumeel, that wonderful arnica-based homeopathic ointment.  It’s great for bruises and any kind of trauma that doesn’t involve an open wound.

And ice!  It required some ingenuity to get the damn ice out of the ice tray, but I did it.

As I was icing, I remembered that I am an acupuncturist.  I got some needles and by pressing my teeth into service, extricated a few from their sterile packaging.  I did some emergency points for general trauma, then did some decompressing local points.  After an hour the spasms had gone from my thumbs and the swelling was subsiding.

This morning my hands are much better, although I fear I may have further injured my already-fucked-up left wrist.  I guess I should call my hand surgeon’s office and make an appointment for next week….

(The Golden Retriever was fine, by the way.  Just a lot of noise and display, apparently, but soooooo NOT okay.  I might get the electric collar out for our next walk.  When she has it on, I almost never have to use it because she KNOWS what it means….)

Red Flag Warning

image

Here on the shores of Lake Michigan, at a state park right on the dunes, all is peaceful after a line of thunderstorms whipped the lake into a froth of foamy breakers.

image

As each five-foot wave recedes, it takes with it a hiss of sand that whisperes: “Riptide, Riptide….” that terrible current that will suck the sand from under your feet, sweep you up and before you know it, you’re bobbing around beyond the surf line, wondering how you got there.

A red flag with a “No Swimming” symbol on it cracks in the wind at the top of the flagpole.  Parents watch their children playing in the undertow, arms folded, chatting.  I bite my tongue, wanting to run and shake them and point to the red flag. 

The past few weeks have been frightening.  I’ve been swimming through the cloudy seas of dissociation since….well, ever since I turned my back on the beautiful West, where I feel grounded and relaxed.  That’s been a while.  Since the end of June, I think.  I remember it was beastly hot in Northern Arizona.  I came through Colorado, a lovely cool break, and headed for Michigan, where I picked up my new rig and camped in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula before schlepping all the way to North Carolina to get it registered there.

It was on my way back, via West Virginia and Virginia, that I realized I could only drive a couple of hours a day before becoming completely exhausted and having to stop for the night before mid-afternoon.

This is crazy.  I’m one of those fanatics that likes to see if I can break my own long distance driving records (that is, if I really want to get somewhere rather than noodling along enjoying the scenery).  I wanted to get back to the West, to high altitude, to the beautiful mountains and forests of conifers with their resinous fragrance.

I’ve been having bouts of exhaustion that come and go, for years now.  But this was beyond anything I have ever experienced.  I felt as if I were struggling with all my might just to hold on in the same place, as if some force were dragging me down.  The stifling humid heat.  That has something to do with it.  Any heat, anything warmer than 80°F, totally wears me out.  Add humidity, and I’m body slammed.  Can’t move.

I’ve been having spells of extreme muscle weakness, muscle wasting despite living outdoors…hard to do.  Muscles going into spasm, cramping up, having to stop whatever I’m doing to wait for the cramp to ease up.  My life.

I decided to make a stop at the Cleveland Clinic, to check this out

Like most medical encounters, this one involved several hours in the MRI scanner, many tubes of blood, referrals on to other departments, and I think by the time I get finished it will already be winter.

Since I had a few days in between appointments, I came up to Michigan to enjoy the late summer peace and quiet of the State Parks.
………………………….

I remember another day, in 1992.  A bright blue day on the island of Maui.  My Pediatric Trauma conference had happily chosen the beautiful town of Lahaina as our meeting place.  The conference venue itself turned out to be a sprawling 1960’s vintage resort with a golf course, etc., beach frontage, etc., and it cost a bloody fortune.  I booked a room in a Colonial era inn, graciously furnished, with a crystal clear swimming pool lined with handmade ceramic tiles–and at half the price of the awful resort. I was an habitual swimmer back then: I put in an hour every morning before getting my son up and off to school.  Thank God.

In those days I did not know I was bipolar.  All I knew was that I always felt restless and jittery, and was often depressed and sometimes suicidal.  I managed all of this-not very well-by exercising to the point of exhaustion every day, often swimming, running, weightlifting, and dancing in the course of 24 hours.  Sleep was an infrequent visitor.

So I swam in the beautiful pool in Lahaina, and took my spare suit to my conference meetings in my backpack, to swim in the resort pool at the lunch break.

Our Big Social Event for that meeting was to be a Real Hawaiian Luau (groan).  I was disappointed in the organizers’ cultural insensitivity (tourist attraction: Hawaiians!).  Maybe it was that I had just completed my Master’s Degree in Cultural Anthropology a few years earlier.  But it was the big networking opportunity of the year: attendance essential.

I arrived at the conference center’s private mile of beach a couple of hours before the luau was to begin.  I wanted to savor some solitary beachcombing while the other attendees were out with their golf and tennis.

Red flags whipped and snapped in the stiff breeze that churned the tall breakers into foam as they thundered onto the beach.  There was a storm in the South Pacific, but here in Hawaii the sky was a dark blue crystal dome.

I mostly grew up by the sea in New England, where the people and the waters can get downright crusty.  I took a look at the waves and decided that swimming was out of the question; so I shifted my shell collecting mission to the highest tide mark, a span of dried and decaying sea-leavings far up the beach.

The sun hung low over the western horizon, glaring straight into my eyes.  I put on my brand new $100 Bollé shades…my first expensive purchase “just for me” since landing the new job.  Ah, they fit perfectly.  Now to find the ultimate cowrie shell!

A cloud covered the sun.

A very sudden cloud!  Perhaps the storm…I looked up from my shelling.

I just had time to grab a breath and clap my hands over my brand new sunglasses when the wave, towering at least three times my height, crashed down on me.

Years of martial arts training saved my life then.  My body instinctively became liquid.  I went with the wave, flowing with it.  I knew if I fought, it would break me.  The wave had the force of the whole Pacific Ocean behind it.  I made like the seaweed that flows and floats and survives.

I tucked into a ball.  The sea bounced me across its floor.  I still hung on to those glasses.  If I was going to die, it would be with my new shades on!

At last, an eternity later, I bobbed up to the surface and gulped air.  I looked around in astonishment: I had come up behind the surf line, out where the boats were moored.

The swells were huge.  It felt as if I were floating up the sides of mountains, sliding into valleys.

Worse, so were the giant catamarans that took people on whale watching tours…hundreds of people at a time.  They bucked like gigantic steeds against their mooring ropes, their bows rising, enormous pontoons clear of the water, then crashing again as the rollers went by…

All around me, these juggernauts strained at their ropes, sending sheets of water over me with each crash so that it seemed every moment I was blinded again.

I finally drew a bead on the shore and struck out for it, body surfing whenever I could to conserve energy.  I swam up the back side of the waves and surfed down the front, over and over and over…why did the shore seem no closer than before?

The tide was going out, is why.  And it was taking me with it.

I swam harder, finally got to where I could touch bottom, and ran like hell for the beach.  But just as I reached knee high, my legs were sucked out from under me, and the sky clouded over once more…I grabbed a breath, and my glasses, and crash….I collapsed, rolled into a ball, bounced across the sea floor, and came up, an eternity later, right between the pontoons of a sea-going catamaran…about to crash right over my head!  I dived, and the shock of the boat crashing into the trough of the wave sent me rolling again, but this time to my advantage, as I was a few waves closer to the beach.  I started again, strong but pacing myself, knowing that I could get free of this rip current by swimming parallel to the beach…if only I knew how wide the current was!  It could be miles wide.  And I couldn’t afford to get caught in the shallows where the waves breaking would break me too…

I reached the beach and dragged myself through the sucking sand.  There it is!  The beach!  I was there.

Then the sun went out again…

This happened five times.  I lost hope of actually living through this thing.  The sea had a bead on my life, but I refused to go down without fighting to the last.

After the fifth wave, I caught a good one in to shore.  I rode it as far as the knee deep mark, hit the sand running and ran right up the beach to the hotel sidewalk and kept running until I hit the pool, where I floated on the calm water and washed the sand out of my hair, my boobs, my butt crack…my teeth…

I wondered that I was still alive.  Or if I was still alive.  Maybe I only thought I was alive, like those ghosts you hear of that don’t know they’re dead yet…why would I have been alive?

And I still had my expensive sunglasses.  Maybe that’s what saved me: I was damned if the sea was going to get my Bollés!

My waterproof geeky Casio calculator watch said it was time to go to the luau.  I dragged myself out of the pool and threw on shorts and Hawaiian shirt from my rental car.

By this time I was feeling it.

But if you’re a Pediatric Trauma specialist, you ain’t allowed to feel.  So you just open that gate and walk into that courtyard with the kitschy tiki lights and the very decent Hawaiian band and the luscious brown dancers with the coconut shells over their boobs….you eat the poi and the pig…doing battle with the sea is hungry work.

Red Flag Warning

image

Here on the shores of Lake Michigan, at a state park right on the dunes, all is peaceful after a line of thunderstorms whipped the lake into a froth of foamy breakers.

image

As each five-foot wave recedea, it takes with it a hiss of sand that whisperes: “Riptide, Riptide….” that terrible current that will suck the sand from under your feet, sweep you up and before you know it, you’re bobbing around beyond the surf line, wondering how you got there.

A red flag with a “No Swimming” symbol on it cracks in the wind at the top of the flagpole.  Parents watch their children playing in the undertow, arms folded, chatting.  I bite my tongue, wanting to run and shake them and point to the red flag. 

The past few weeks have been frightening.  I’ve been swimming through the cloudy seas of dissociation since….well, ever since I turned my back on the beautiful West, where I feel grounded and relaxed.  That’s been a while.  Since the end of June, I think.  I remember it was beastly hot in Northern Arizona.  I came through Colorado, a lovely cool break, and headed for Michigan, where I picked up my new rig and camped in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula before schlepping all the way to North Carolina to get it registered there.

It was on my way back, via West Virginia and Virginia, that I realized I could only drive a couple of hours a day before becoming completely exhausted and having to stop for the night before mid-afternoon.

This is crazy.  I’m one of those fanatics that likes to see if I can break my own long distance driving records (that is, if I really want to get somewhere rather than noodling along enjoying the scenery).  I wanted to get back to the West, to high altitude, to the beautiful mountains and forests of conifers with their resinous fragrance.

I’ve been having bouts of exhaustion that come and go, for years now.  But this was beyond anything I have ever experienced.  I felt as if I were struggling with all my might just to hold on in the same place, as if some force were dragging me down.  The stifling humid heat.  That has something to do with it.  Any heat, anything warmer than 80°F, totally wears me out.  Add humidity, and I’m body slammed.  Can’t move.

I’ve been having spells of extreme muscle weakness, muscle wasting despite living outdoors…hard to do.  Muscles going into spasm, cramping up, having to stop whatever I’m doing to wait for the cramp to ease up.  My life.

I decided to make a stop at the Cleveland Clinic, to check this out

Like most medical encounters, this one involved several hours in the MRI scanner, many tubes of blood, referrals on to other departments, and I think by the time I get finished it will already be winter.

Since I had a few days in between appointments, I came up to Michigan to enjoy the late summer peace and quiet of the State Parks.
………………………….

I remember another day, in 1992.  A bright blue day on Maui.  My Pediatric Trauma conference had happily chosen the beautiful town of Lahaina as our meeting place.  The conference venue itself turned out to be a 1960’s vintage resort with a golf course, etc., beach frontage, etc., and cost a fortune.  For much less, I booked a room in a Colonial era inn, graciously furnished, with a crystal clear swimming pool lined with handmade ceramic tiles.  I was an habitual swimmer then: I put in an hour every morning before getting my son up and off to school. 

In those days I did not know I was bipolar.  All I knew was that I always felt restless and jittery, and was often depressed and sometimes suicidal.  I managed all of this-not very well-by exercising to the point of exhaustion every day, often swimming, running, weightlifting, and dancing in the course of 24 hours.  Sleep was an infrequent visitor.

So I swam in the beautiful pool in Lahaina, and took my spare suit to my conference meetings in my backpack, to swim at the lunch break.

Our Big Social Event for that meeting was to be a Real Hawaiian Luau (groan).  I was disappointed in the organizers’ cultural insensitivity (tourist attraction: Hawaiians!).  Maybe it was that I had just completed my Master’s Degree in Cultural Anthropology a few years earlier.  But it was the big networking opportunity of the year, so attend I must.

I arrived at the conference center’s beach a couple of hours before the luau was to begin.  I wanted to savor some beach time alone while the other attendees were out with their golf and tennis.

Red flags whipped and snapped in the stiff breeze that whipped the tall breakers into foam as they thundered onto the beach.  There was a storm in the Pacific somewhere to the south, although here in Hawaii the sky was a dark blue crystal dome.

I mostly grew up by the sea in New England, where the people and the waters can get downright crusty.  I took a look at the waves and decided that swimming was out of the question; so I shifted my shell collecting mission to the highest tide mark, a span of dried and decaying sea-leavings far up the beach.

The sun hung low over the western horizon, glaring straight into my eyes.  I put on my brand new $100 Bollé shades…my first expensive purchase “just for me” since landing the new job.  Ah, they fit perfectly.  Now to find the ultimate cowrie shell!

A cloud covered the sun.

A very sudden cloud!  Perhaps the storm…I looked up from my shelling.

I just had time to grab a breath and clap my hands over my brand new sunglasses when the wave, towering at least three times my height, crashed down on me.

Years of martial arts training saved my life then.  My body instinctively became liquid.  I went with the wave, flowing with it.  I knew if I fought, it would break me.  The wave had the force of the whole Pacific Ocean behind it; I made like the seaweed that flows and floats and survives.

I tucked into a ball.  The sea bounced me across its floor.  I still hung on to those glasses.  If I was going to die, it would be with my new shades on!

At last, an eternity later, I bobbed up to the surface and gulped air.  I looked around in astonishment: I had come up behind the surf line, out where the boats were moored.

The swells were huge.  It felt as if I were floating up the sides of mountains, sliding into valleys.

Worse, so were the giant catamarans that took people on whale watching tours…hundreds of people at a time.  They bucked like gigantic steeds against their mooring ropes, their bows rising, enormous pontoons clear of the water, then crashing again as the rollers went by…

All around me, these juggernauts strained at their ropes, sending sheets of water over me with each crash so that it seemed every moment I was blinded again.

I finally drew a bead on the shore and struck out for it, body surfing whenever I could to conserve energy.  I swam up the back side of the waves and surfed down the front, over and over and over…why did the shore seem no closer than before?

The tide was going out, is why.  And it was taking me with it.

I swam harder, finally got to where I could touch bottom, and ran like hell for the beach.  But just as I reached knee high, my legs were sucked out from under me, and the sky clouded over once more…I grabbed a breath, my glasses, and crash….I collapsed, rolled into a ball, bounced across the sea floor, and came up, an eternity later, right between the pontoons of a sea-going catamaran…about to crash right over my head!  I dived, and the shock of the boat crashing into the trough of the wave sent me rolling again, but this time to my advantage, as I was a few waves closer to the beach.  I started again, strong but pacing myself, knowing that I could get free of this rip current by swimming parallel to the beach…if only I knew how wide the current was!  It could be miles wide.  And I couldn’t afford to get caught in the shallows where the waves breaking would break me too…

I reached the beach and dragged myself through the sucking sand.  There it is!  The beach!  I was there.

Then the sun went out again…

This happened five times.  I lost hope of actually living through this thing.  The sea had a bead on my life, but I refused to go down without fighting to the last.

After the fifth wave, I caught a good one in to shore.  I rode it as far as the knee deep mark, hit the sand running and ran right up the beach to the hotel sidewalk and kept running until I hit the pool, where I floated on the calm water and washed the sand out of my hair, my boobs, my butt crack…my teeth…

I wondered that I was still alive.  Or if I was still alive.  Maybe I only thought I was alive, like those ghosts you hear of that don’t know they’re dead yet…why would I have been alive?

And I still had my expensive sunglasses.  Maybe that’s what saved me: I was damned if the sea was going to get my Bollés!

My waterproof geeky Casio calculator watch said it was time to go to the luau.  I dragged myself out of the pool and threw on shorts and Hawaiian shirt from my rental car.

By this time I was feeling it.

But if you’re a Pediatric Trauma specialist, you ain’t allowed to feel.  So you just open that gate and walk into that courtyard with the kitschy tiki lights and the very decent Hawaiian band and the luscious brown dancers with the coconut shells over their boobs….you eat the poi and the pig…doing battle with the sea is hungry work.

Where Have I Been?

Dear Readers, I must apologize for my long silence.   I have been traveling, and have landed in the midst of a terrible mess which I must sort out before my mind will settle to write again.  Nothing life-threatening (I hope), yet completely disruptive of my normal chaotic “routine,” if it can be thus called.

I hope that things will settle down in a few days, and I will then be able to explain or at least summarize the past few weeks.

I also want to give you a “heads up” that I will be making some changes to my blog soon.  Things are becoming too scary writing under my own name.  There are circumstances that might become very traumatic if this blog is read by certain people.

Previously I have felt it important that I write openly rather than using a psuedonym, but those days are, I’m afraid, over.

In my next post I will fill you in on the pseudonym I choose, and after that I will make the switch.

Blessings to you all for good days and a good night’s sleep.

Copyright 2012 Soul Survivor all rights reserved

PTSD: Damaged Goods

Everyone knows how “tough” I am. I walk around cheerful most of the time. I cheer everybody up, whatever it takes. Everybody knows they can count on me at the last minute. Call Dr. Laura, she’ll patch up your hurts, listen to your tragedy, diagnose and treat your illness.

But….

Then there are the days, weeks, months or years that you don’t hear from me. I don’t pick up your call. I don’t return your text, your email, your hand-written invitation….I don’t answer the door.

Or: we are having lunch on Emek Refaim (posh Jerusalem street). It’s a lovely day. I pick up my purse and head to the Ladies’. You wait a long time; the check is on the table. You realize I have gone: out the back door, and it might be a while before I permit you to see me again. It was the panic button that you hit with the sharp elbow of your mind. Never mind that the words were pointed: you meant nothing by them. But I saw. And I left.

I think there must be a kind of man who likes to take on the challenge of Damaged Goods. Or maybe it’s not a “challenge.” Maybe there are men who look for women who are damaged because damaged women are vulnerable to that kind of man. Women who don’t know what a healthy man looks or feels or smells like. Maybe there is a special breed of predator that waits for a damaged one to come along, waits patiently or impatiently for one to happen along…

See, I don’t know much about sexually traumatized men, so I can’t write from that perspective. Why would i want to? Because i am eternally apologetic, is why, and I don’t want to seem like I’m leaving them out. Sorry, damaged guys, you’re on your own for now. All I know about is damaged women, women who have had their natural healthy sexual part of their being snatched away, clutched and groped and grabbed and punctured over and over until every remnant of its original joy song has been squashed and smashed and smeared across sticky floors until it lacks any memory of itself, especially any glimmer of hope of rematerializing as the innocent dewy posey it began.

So you saw me as a fascinating project. An exercise in stealth: don’t scare the skittish animal off. Offer her delicacies you know she likes. Feed her mango on the tip of your razor sharp knife. Get close, really close, before you strike. Hard, fast, without warning. Ah, that feels good to you. You have mastered her, no? You know what she loves, what makes her melt, what will keep her coming back after the sting subsides.

Oh, but I’m not like that anymore. True, I fall for it, I fell for it again this time, and it makes me feel like shit, like…damaged goods. But I got out a lot quicker this time. Yes, it feels like shit, I did it again. I should have known….why? Because it was some guy that knew what I loved, fed it to me, stroked my soft spots before striking like a snake? Or maybe it was all in my imagination, maybe i simply imagined that he knew me in that way, because I wanted so much for it to be true, for him to be the one….Ah, there is no way to know. I am too damaged. This is my tragedy. Call Dr. Laura, please, somebody….what? Shit. She’s not answering her phone.

Bipolar, Rape Survivor, PTSD. In that order.

In a previous post I wrote about my dread of April 22nd, the anniversary of the first time  was raped.

I know that I was a bipolar child.  A bipolar depression set the stage for that first rape.  I was heart-breakingly vulnerable.  The combination of my own depression and vulnerability with intense familial emotional abuse set me up as a prime target for predators. 

No one in my family noticed that I was depressed, just as they hadn’t noticed that I had anorexia.  I guess they just thought I “looked good,” which is the family code word for “thin.”  Yes, even at 5’1″, 78 lbs is thin.  “Lookin’ good.”

Even if they had noticed my depression, they would only have given me the usual treatment for any kind of aberration: derision and mockery.  They didn’t believe in psychiatry, not for us, even though my mother worked in a psychiatric hospital.  Even if they had taken me to see a doctor I wouldn’t have dared to say anything for fear that my parents would find out and give me hell.

So I came by my PTSD by way of the abuse at home, the initial rape, then running away from home and living pm the streets,  more rapes, more PTSD, untreated bipolar… But I didn’t die.  I fought my way back.  I haven’t won the war yet, but I’ve won a lot of battles, and with G-d’s help I hope to win more and more.

By the way: if you happen to know my family, I thank you to watch my back.   Don’t go to them and say, oh guess what I just read….

Writing that last paragraph just jogged my consciousness to notice how difficult it is for me to let go and trust. When we write a blog post, it’s like an offering to the world, a butterfly that flutters up from the palm of your hand into the breeze. There’s no telling who willreceive it, or what their reaction will be. It takes a certain measure of chutzpah to publish these extremely personal reflections publicly, as all of us in this particular mental health blogging community do.

Nevertheless, even as I sit here in this coffer shop I’m aware of every door. I’m sitting where I can see all of them at once. I didn’t do that consciously. It’s burned into my neurology. At the same time I’m watching the man who just came in and sat down at the table to my right with my peripheral vision. He is directly between me and a rear exit. My breathing is constricted. After I finish this post I will move so that he is no longer in my field of vision. He is paying the table in time to the bubble gum music overhead. He chews whatever he is eating loudly. Space invader.

Time for me to move my act somewhere more safe.

Copyright 2012 Laura P. Schulman all rights reserved

PTSD Redux

Let me first inform you that you almost never find me sitting in a public place –restaurant, bar, hotel room–with my back to the door.  I will already have made note of all the signs that say “exit” and memorized their locations, against the need of a discreet back door disappearance:  my friend in so many tight situations.

If you should find me comfortably seated with my back to the door, you will inevitably find that I am facing a mirror, perhaps the one behind the bar, or a TV screen that reflects what lies behind me.  I have been trapped too many times to allow that to happen on my shift again, at least not without maximum preventive measures.

I am the queen of the quiet back door disappearance.  Situation getting tense?  I don’t like tension.  Loud voices cause me to panic.  They’re associated with soul-crushing punishment.  So I take the back door out.

Where to?  What, you expect me to actually tell you that?  Fat chance.  I don’t want to be found.  I’m out of here.  You might see me when things chill out.  Or not.  I’ve got nothing to lose, remember?  “When you ain’t got nothin’, you got nothin’ to lose.”  I just don’t want to get raped any more, or trapped for any man’s pleasure.  I’m already full up with that kind of shit.

If there ain’t a physical back door exit, my brain creates one, real quick, before I even know it’s happening.  I havea suspicion that it’s always there, on standby, in case my beaten, punished brain thinks it’s needed.  In that case, all that’s needed is the proper trigger and poof, I’m gone, nobody home for days, complete amnesia for the intervening time.

Why does my brain do this?  It goes back to childhood issues, which I might go into on another, anonymous blog.  I’ll let you know.  But I’ll give you an example here.

WARNING:  RAPE TRAUMA TRIGGER POSSIBLE

1971.  I was 17 years old and had returned from a year on the street in California and New Mexico.  I was pretty numb from the whole thing but still desperately hoping to find somebody to trust.

I was at an antiwar rally on Boston Common.  There was a network of medic stations set up and I was allegedly attached to one of them as a volunteer.  As things started heating up at the rally–tear gas, water cannons, pigs with riot gear– I started getting stomach pains.  I had been stuck in the middle of the Isla Vista riots the year before, which you will have the opportunity to read about in my new blog coming up, and my body was not happy about this revisitation of riot conditions.

I mentioned my discomfort to a young man in my medic unit, who claimed to be an intern at one of the local hospitals–might have been, probably was.  He told me he lived a block away from where we were, we could go to his place and get out of the scene, and he could check me out medically and make sure everything was ok.

Like the innocent I was, I followed him there.  He led me straight to a bedroom and told me to undress and lie on the bed.

“Just don’t make any noise and you won’t get hurt,” he hissed.  How many times had I heard that already?  My soul left my body and went up to hover around the ceiling.

She (my soul) watched him take a doctor’s pen light from his pocket and rape me with it, then climb on top of my naked body, himself fully clothed, and hump me till he came in his pants.  My body remembers the discomfort of all the junk in his pocket protector rubbing against my breast.

When he finished, still breathing hard, he ordered me to get dressed again and lead me, numb and dissociated, back into the riot scene.

I felt very ill, so I slipped away from the demonstration/riot and went to a nearby hospital emergency room.  When the male doctor came to see me, all I could say was “I don’t feel well.”  I couldn’t say, “Help, I’ve just been abducted and raped with an object by a person who called himself a physician!”  So I was sent away with a lecture about misusing valuable medical resources.

Copyright 2012 Laura P. Schulman all rights reserved

PTSD and isolation

One of the classic traits of PTSD is isolation.  PTSD sufferers often feel unable to relate to other people.  Sometimes this results from a feeling that others can’t possibly understand them, and sometimes it’s not a conscious thing at all, just an uncomfortable or even aversive feeling around other humans.

I say “other humans” because people with PTSD often feel comforted by animals.  Animals will love you unconditionally, and often will protect you during an episode of symptoms.  The mere presence of an animal can sometimes be comforting enough to head off a full-blown episode.

One problem with isolation is that it is self-perpetuating.  Who the hell wants to be around a touchy individual who tends to disappear off the map for reasons most people cannot fathom?  And if concerned individuals ask why, they are not likely to get a straight answer, because who wants to go through the whole “I have PTSD” explanation to somebody who is not on the “need to know” list?

As for people who are on the “need to know” list, their job is so difficult that many of them bail out.  Here you are with this lovely person, going along just like usual, and something you do sets them off, and all hell breaks loose.

Granted, the triggering behavior often resembles the original wounding behavior itself: aggression, threats, or actual acts of violence. And there are, unfortunately, individuals who thrive on the power trip of controlling a person with PTSD, as is seen in domestic violence, and in the pimp-prostitute relationship.

Among returning veterans with PTSD, the rates of divorce outstrip the rates of marriage success, among preexisting marriages. Likewise, the rates of homelessness among vets with PTSD are astronomical. Much of this is due to simply being unable to reintegrate, unable to relate to civilian society.

Other groups that show similar social isolation patterns are domestic abuse survivors, rape survivors, and survivors of prostitution and human trafficking. Much like combat veterans, these people find it hard to integrate into a society that not only has never had to deal with the traumas they have been through, but also may look at them as pitiful, dirty, or damaged people. In addition, survivors of domestic abuse and sexual trauma have difficulty knowing who to trust. Repeated experience of betrayal of trust erodes the foundation of the ability to trust, making isolation preferable to being abused once again.

Suicide is the ultimate act of social isolation. I don’t have the numbers handy at this moment, but the relative risk of suicide is much higher in people with PTSD than in the general population. This is greatly multiplied if the person with PTSD also has an additional psychiatric diagnosis such as Major Depressive Disorder or Bipolar Disorder.

I’m breaking my head trying to come up with a good closing sentence, but I’ve depressed myself writing this post such that I can’t think of one. So that’s the way it odds, today.

Copyright 2012 Laura P. Schulman all rights reserved

DSM-IV-TR criteria for PTSD – NATIONAL CENTER for PTSD

http://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/pages/dsm-iv-tr-ptsd.asp This is a good link to check out if you want to refresh your memory about PTSD. It’s geared toward veterans, but it contains the DSM criteria, so it applies to everyone unfortunate enough to live with this crippling illness. There are three major classifications or groupings of symptoms. A person can have symptoms that cross groups, too. If you’re one of my regular readers, you might notice that my writing style is not its usual sparkling self. That’s because my personal PTSD demon got let out of its cage yesterday, and I haven’t managed to get back into the world enough to get it corralled. My PTSD falls mostly into the avoidant group. I get numb and totally leave my body, even as I scramble to try to grab onto something to keep it from happening. This time, I felt myself slipping, tried to stop it, and then got totally knocked off my pins by a second, larger trigger. When I was younger and had fewer resources, I would ends up depersonalized a great deal of the time. I had a lot of severely traumatic experiences, running the gamut of childhood abuse to multiple rapes to multiple trauma from being hit by a car while riding my bicycle. But the worst was being the helpless target of childhood verbal and emotional abuse. I’ve done a huge amount of work on this stuff, and got a lot of it under control. From my own work as a pediatrician I have observed that abuse that happens to preverbal kids just does not get integrated and has little hope of being erased. Prior to language development, a kid just has no way of processing what happened. So when they’re confronted by a similar situation, even as an adult, boom, you’re right back there in that same place of no-escape terror. For me, the only way out was to leave my body and let the chips fall where they may. So yesterday I got triggered. I’m still trying to find my way back. My dog helps, but I think I’m even freaking her out a little. Time is the only healer for this.

Copyright 2012 Laura P. Schulman all rights reserved