Tuesday, March 27, 2012

I Was Too Embarrassed to Say Anything

There's so much I don't remember from my childhood and teen years, but a few things are crystal clear.  I don't remember how old I was or who I was with, but I remember how it made me feel.

My friends and I decided to go to the high school baseball game.  I think I was a sophomore.  It was a warm spring day.  We sat on the bleachers looking at the boys and talking about mindless things.  The bleachers were semi-full, but not packed.

Before long, I felt someone brush my upper side.  I assumed I was encroaching into someone's space and had been bumped.  I scooted over, giving them space.  It soon happened again.  A definite brush in the same spot on my side, near my breast.  I still assumed blame.  I glanced behind me to see how close I was to this person and how far I needed to move to be out of his way.  He didn't seem that close, but I scooted again to give him space.  It happened again.  I was beginning to believe this wasn't accidental; he meant to touch me.  For whatever reason.

I was young and naive.  And I was embarrassed.  While I was pretty sure it wasn't an accident, what if I said something and he claimed innocence.  How horrifying it would be to wrongly accuse someone.  How shamed I would feel as people around me told me to relax and quit making a big deal out of an accidental contact. 

I didn't say anything.  I scooted again.  By now I had moved away more than a foot from my initial seat.  It happened again.  I froze inside.  I didn't know what to do.  I was embarrassed and scared.  I didn't want my friends to think I was being silly.  I didn't want to make a big deal of it.  So I got up and moved.  I moved to a seat below my friends under the guise that I wanted to turn around and talk to them.  I didn't want the man that kept touching me to think I had moved because of him.

I stayed there for the rest of the game, or until my friends decided they'd had enough baseball, who knows.  What I do know is that as we left a couple of other girls that had been watching the game came over to talk to us. 

One of them said to me, "Did you know that guy?"
I answered, "What guy?"
She said, "The guy that kept touching you."

And in that moment I knew I was right.  She explained that she'd thought of saying something but thought I knew him.  They had been sitting behind us and watched the whole thing.  She watched him stroke my side, watched me move away, watched him move closer to me and do it again.  They watched this and commented on it to each other but said nothing to me or him.

I appreciated her question and comment so much because it validated my feelings.  Something was wrong and I didn't feel safe, but I didn't trust my own feelings.  Until it was validated, I was too scared to say it was not okay behavior.  I was too embarrassed thinking I might wrongly accuse someone.

I was about 16.  He was at least 40.  He kept touching me even though I tried to move away from him.  And I felt like I'd done something wrong.

It would be a long time before I learned that men sometimes brush up against women in crowded places to get a sexual rush.  I was dumbfounded when I learned that this was a crime that was actually prosecuted, and that it often leads to these men committing worse sexual crimes.  Dumbfounded and validated.

I didn't say anything because I was embarrassed.  Because I though no one would believe me.  Because I thought it was my fault.

The same reasons I stayed silent over many years and many sexual assaults -- more explicit and undeniable than the one I describe here.

I have never reported a sexual assault, or an assault of any kind, to the police.  I never told my parents or anyone else.  I didn't want anyone to know what had happened to me.  I thought it made me dirty.  I knew I would be verbally attacked.  I just wanted to move on.

I learned to tell my story because of a trusted friend that I knew wouldn't victimize me again through his reaction.  I have since had lots of therapy.  And I've told my stories many times.  Because even though I still fear those things, it's not worth staying silent.  Too many women have the same experiences and stay silent.  I want to be strong for them and stand up and say that what happened to me was wrong.  I want to offer them my strength until they find their own.  I want them to know they are not alone.

My post was inspired by this post by London Feminist (contains a couple of swears).  It's important that we believe each other.  It's important that we speak.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

My Visit to the Psychiatrist

Some of you may remember that at my last physical my doctor suggested I get back into therapy and see a psychiatrist.  I am back in therapy, making progress, and this past Monday I finally met with a psychiatrist.

I've been both eager and anxious about going.  I was eager to feel better and had hopes that she could help me.  And I was very anxious about the medicinal roller coaster of trying new meds until we find something that works or give up in failure.  But I trust my doctor and had a good recommendation for this psychiatrist.  So, off I went.

It was kind of like going to therapy with a doctor.  Lots of psychological and medical questions.  She took an extensive history and asked follow up questions about my life and behaviors.  The history part took about forty-five minutes.  I'm telling you, she asked questions I've never been asked.  And considering my therapeutic and medical history, that's saying something.  Some of these questions sparked thoughts I hadn't had before.  They changed my perception.

She asked about my sleeping habits.  I don't sleep well.  I haven't for years.  I gave a description of my typical bedtime, rising, and nap habits.  She asked me to quantify it.  In a twenty-four hour period, how many hours do you sleep?  I'd never quantified it before.  I knew my habits were bad.  I knew I should be getting more sleep.  But until she had me add it up I had no idea that I was sleeping only 4-6 hours on a regular basis, including naps.

She asked about my eating habits.  Ugh!  I hate this topic.  I described my general aversion to food and my typical eating patterns.  I knew I didn't eat well.  I had no idea how bad until she asked me to quantify it.  Do you eat enough to sustain life?  Calorically, probably.  Nutritionally, not even close.

Having someone ask that and having to admit how badly I was failing was eye opening.  But not as much as her next statement.  Earlier in the interview, we'd discussed my history with self-harm.  I'd explained that I hadn't purposely hurt myself for over a year, except for once after a particularly difficult therapy session.

She said that sleep deprivation and starvation are forms of self-injury (common with a history like mine).

Now, I don't know if that hit you hard, but it hit me hard.  I had never thought of those behaviors as self-harm.  But after considering it for a few moments I realized that she was absolutely right.  It didn't mean I was converted and ready to change in that instant, but it made an impact.

She also said that sleeping during the day is a self-soothing strategy.  An unhealthy one.

Again, not something I'd thought of.  (After thinking of that and the other bomb shell I spent a lot of time over the next few days wondering why I am self-injuring and self-soothing my way through my life.  I guess I still have lots of work to do.)

She said she wouldn't think of trying meds until I start sleeping.  So many of my symptoms could be sleep related.  Also, she'd like to build on success rather than failure.  In other words, let's try something we know will help instead of working our way through things that might not.  Once we fix the sleep problems we can see if we still have things to work on.

Of course, she doesn't simply want to work on the sleep problem.  That's just the beginning.  Basically, my life is in complete overhaul.  She wants me to change several of my behavior patterns.  She was very direct and specific.  She said I am well on my way to an eating disorder (something I'd actually considered before).  And then she gave me the following goals.

*  I am to eat three meals and three snacks a day, on schedule.
*  I am to sleep 7-8 hours a night, going to bed and getting up at the same time each day -- zero naps!  (Melatonin is allowed)
*  I am to drink 96 oz. of water a day.
*  I am to walk at least 20 minutes a day 4-5 times a week.
*  No soda after 3:00pm, as the carbonation interferes with sleep.

Having her spell it out so definitively is helpful.  No thinking on my part, just follow through.  She set standards.  It's my job to do my best to meet them.  It was also helpful when she told me that changing patterns like this can take 3-6 weeks.  You see, I've done it for a month at a time before and seen no change.  It helped to have a time frame.

I agreed to do my best.  I will go back and see her in two months.  She also ordered a sleep study; I meet with that doctor next week.

She works in the same office as my therapist.  I saw him a couple of days later.  I am not exaggerating to say that he was tickled pink with how well it went and that I was taking it seriously.  He said only about 30% of patients follow through with a plan like this.  They both also agreed that whether these changes take away all my symptoms or not, they will help my therapy to be more successful.  I know that's true.  Therapy always goes better when I feel better, especially when I have the energy needed to maintain boundaries.

I expected sleep to be the toughest one.  It's not.  Not by a long shot. 

Walking is tough because I have a bit of a social phobia thing happening right now.  The idea of going out and walking through my neighborhood makes me anxious.  It doesn't mean I won't do it, but it's tough.

The water has been relatively easy.  A lemon Propel Zero packet in my water bottle and I'm good to go.  It's also cut way down on my Diet Coke consumption.  I am making a lot of trips to the bathroom, but that is supposed to level out over time.

The biggest difficulty for me has been food.  I really had no idea it could possibly be so hard to eat.  I eat every two and a half hours now.  Meal, snack, meal, snack, meal, snack.  I have to set an alarm on my phone to keep myself on schedule.  I try to make healthy choices, but I'm not working super hard on balance throughout the day yet.  Right now the goal is to teach myself to be hungry and respond to it.

I did okay for the first few days.  I ate on schedule.  I made healthy choices.  But it got harder yesterday.

It was time to eat lunch.  I went to the kitchen and tried to find something that looked good.  Nothing.  So then I looked for something that would meet the basic needs of a meal.  I ended up choosing a peanut butter on wheat sandwich and yogurt.  As I took my first bite I started crying.  I desperately didn't want to eat this food.  It didn't taste bad, I just didn't want to eat it.  I forced my way through.  It was hard just to open my mouth and put the food in.  I sometimes gagged as I swallowed.  And I cried the whole time, but I did it.  Then I was super nauseous afterward.  For several hours.

The high and determination I felt those first few days seems to be gone.  Now it's just a chore.  It's so hard to find food that I like.  It always has been.  I prefer somewhat bland food with few ingredients.  Today, as I make up the grocery list, I find myself struggling to think of things to put on it that I will eat.

It sucks.  It seems like I spend my whole day thinking about food.  What am I going to eat next?  With all these changes I'm working on, I'm struggling to even think about anything else.  I'm not taking on anything new or making any other plans for a while.  I just don't have the time and mental energy to do one more thing.

But I am doing my best.  I have always been one to do my homework.  I just hope it's worth it.

To see how it was all going a year later read this.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

I Don't Like Food

I don't like food.  There.  I said it.  Now it's out there.

I believe there will be some who read this and accuse me of being anti-American or from another planet or something.  I've asked around, and this just isn't one of those things that makes people around me say, "Me, too."  This is weird.  It's just not right.

And I agree.  It's not right.  In fact, it kind of sucks.

It seems that food and I have a different relationship than just about everyone else on the planet.  I listen to people talk about food.  They oooh and aaah like it's magic.  Like it casts some kind of spell on them.  I watch people at restaurants, struggling to choose something because it all looks so good.

I envy that.

I look at the menu and spend a good ten minutes trying to find something I can eat.  Something I might enjoy. 

Sometimes I can eat food just like normal people.  I get hungry, I get something to eat, the taste is pleasing, I am filled.  But that's rare.  And even when things go well I don't seem to be getting the same pleasure from it that others do.  It's not a glorious experience for me.  The food was good.  Now I'm not hungry.  That's about it.

And other times, if I think about it too much, I can't really eat more than a few bites.  I'm not a big fan of the process of eating.  I can be chewing along, eating my meal, and then I think about what I'm doing.  I pay attention to the food in my mouth.  And I gag.  I'm done.  No more food for me.

I go hungry a lot.

It's not uncommon for me to realize it's four in the afternoon and I haven't eaten anything that day.  My body doesn't like that.  I often eat medicinally.  I usually eat because it's necessary to sustain my body and because my headache gets worse if I don't.  My life would be much simpler if eating weren't required.

I've seen people look at cook books like they are food porn, drooling and desiring.  That's just never been me.

So please understand if I don't eat what you offer me.  It's not a statement on your cooking.  Chances are it's just not a good eating day for me.

I know it's strange.  I've come to accept the fact that I'll never be like other people in this way.  Food and I will never have that kind of relationship, that seductive romance that I watch others experience.

I'm strange and that's okay.

To read more about my food issues, go here.
To read more about my resulting psychiatrist visit, go here.