Sunday, January 30, 2011

Working Harder Than I Ever Have Before.

Yesterday, I woke up with a flicker of an image in my mind. I saw a foreskin being retracted. It was disproportionately large compared to me and I felt nauseated. I feel certain that this was a memory fragment. I am not aware of any personal experience in my adult life with an uncircumcised male, although as a nurse, I have taken care of male patients like this.
I believe this is a memory for two reasons. The first reason being how large the penis was and how close it was to my face. Even though it was only a flash of an image, there was movement and it was quite detailed. Which leads me to the second reason I believe it is a memory; the way it made me feel. I felt repulsed, nauseated and disturbed. I held my breath and I winced. Clearly, this would be the reaction of a child being sexually abused and not the reaction of a registered nurse caring for a patient.
You might think that as a survivor, I’d have difficulty dealing with people’s personal hygiene and handling various body parts. However, I have become very good at compartmentalizing. The “me” that goes to work has had absolutely nothing to do with the “me” that was sexually assaulted. These parts are distinctly different and until recently, they had never even met.
This really got me thinking about the part of me that functions out in the world. The one that raises a family, manages a home and goes to work. I realize now how much mental energy is required to pull that off and that I have always struggled to find balance in my life.
Of course I don’t do “balance” well in my “black and white” world. I have one foot in the past and one TRYING to stay in the present. I’m like one of those Irish River Dancers jigging around trying to stay here and function while simultaneously trying to run from the past AND the present. All the while, not moving anything above my waist in an attempt to look “NORMAL!”  Honestly, it’s exhausting...and not very attractive!
I have spent a great deal of time living in my head completely detached from my feelings and my body. This has served me well in my work life in so far as being able to work 12 to 16 hour shifts on my feet, running from patient to patient, (often without a break to eat or go to the bathroom). In true “care giver” fashion, being detached from myself has allowed me to put the needs of my patients above my own.
This worked well for me throughout my professional career EXCEPT, while in therapy recently, I cracked open the Pandora’s Box of feelings and memories. Having used up every drop of mental energy trying to stay in my head so that I could function at work has really taken a toll on me. I started dissociating more and found myself being triggered badly at work. What used to invoke compassion, concern and empathy now caused me tremendous anxiety, lots of non-hunger related eating and sometimes overwhelming rage. I have always been the type of nurse to sit with my crying patients, holding them and praying for them. I now found my heart racing and imagining I could cover my ears and scream to drown out my patients moans and cries!
I just couldn’t STAND it anymore! Something had to give. I had a choice to make. Therapy or work. For now at least, I just can’t manage to do both. For two decades, I put the work of healing on hold in order for me to function but now I found myself depressed, dissociated and barely existing. I want to live my life. I want to heal and feel and the only way to get there is to do it.
I have had to take some time off from working so that I can focus on the excruciating work of feeling and healing. I am working harder now than I ever have, but this time, I’m working on myself. I am so grateful to have my husband supporting me and encouraging me through the fight of a lifetime. I want to make him proud and I won’t let him down!


  1. I have a bit to share today...

    Under a file on my laptop titled "Betty Crocker meets Wonder Woman," I have some personal writings. One of which is a poem I wrote a year or so ago which I will share with you...

    Deep, deep depths of hollow hurt
    knocks my breath away.
    The nothingness aches
    ...there are no words to explain.

    This poem came at a time when I realized my pain and grief had come to another level, and to me it must be what others called sorrow. People would ask how I was, but I was paralyzed, numb, and hurting so badly... and sometimes downright angry. There were no words at times. Sometimes, though, it was the knowing look in another's eyes that conveyed that they, too, knew "sorrow." Mom described this to me as a special club. She joined the club (and lost her innocence) when her son, Rory, was stillborn (T's twin). To bring home one healthy baby, but inwardly grieve for the baby you left behind, seems unfathomable to me. Mine, as you know, was a post-partum hemorrhage that left anoxic brain damage. It's a turning point in one's life from which there is no turning back...some thing is gone, yet something is gained.
    Now, in my very humble opinion, I urge you to let yourself be ravaged by sorrow (or any other words that best fit for you) ...and not to let yourself make sense of it. There is none to be made. The emotions don't need your brain to make sense of them. Many of them just need to be felt...then they can go away. Allow the "wronged" person in you to rage, allow the "hurt" person in you to cry, allow the "confused" person in you to rest in bewilderment (don't rush her!). However, also don't inflict these on others. They are your own, so own them. In time, a long time possibly, they will no longer need to bubble up from inside you. Like a soda going flat, each little bubble will finally become untrapped, and the pressure from the trauma will be gone. Okay, so now that I'm totally exposed (LOL), I must add that this is what I would have wanted someone to share with me so that I was not alone in my journey. I don't know if I could have heard it or understood it, but looking backwards, it is what I would say to myself in order to love myself. It is what others have said to me through their eyes.
    Dear friend, if this in no way is of help to you, then I just ask that you take it in the love it is meant to share with you. I love you and know all of your hard work will pay off. :)

  2. Beautifully written my friend. It's true about the club your mother described. There is beauty and comfort in knowing that others feel what you feel. I'm sorry for what you had to go through- really sorry. What you have written has helped me in so many ways. Pain, grief and loss is the same no matter the source. I appreciate you taking time out to read the blog and giving part of yourself in your response! You are a courageous, beautiful woman and I'm glad you are my friend.

  3. take the time you need to are doing wonderfully! Keep it up!! Keep writing, talking, and processing....God bless you and may He give you peace that passes all understanding!

  4. 'This really got me thinking about the part of me that functions out in the world. The one that raises a family, manages a home and goes to work. I realize now how much mental energy is required to pull that off and that I have always struggled to find balance in my life.' You wrote this above, and that's why I've always been so ill. Also I constantly reject the 'flickers' of memories I have not dissimilar to what you describe, I reject them almost with force like I'm trying to EXPEL them from me, and physically I feel that way too. What do you do when you get therm - do you write them down? Lou

  5. Yes, Lou, I do. I keep a journal and now I blog about it. I talk to my husband, my best friend and my therapist about it. Sometimes I feel haunted by them like a funk i just can't shake, but mostly now I welcome them and thank God when I get one. Things are really picking up for me now, so I don't know how I'll feel if they come fast and furious. My advice if I may, would be to talk, talk, talk about it. Secrets keep us sick and there is freedom and power in speaking the truth. Mostly, I hope you know that you are not alone. Hang in there dear friend- the best is yet to come!