Medical History

My stepmother has been finding things to get rid of since my father passed. Last weekend she led me to a filing cabinet in her garage, and inside was a file with my name on it. Not one for my brother, just me.

Inside were notes I had written for friends, lists of my friends and their phone numbers, and medical evaluations written about me. I have read through three of them so far- evals written just after I turned fourteen. I am going backwards, and I hope to find some good stuff from when I was twelve and committed to a hospital.

I had called that hospital upon reaching adulthood and requested the file but it was no longer in existence. A legal rep for the entity informed me that all patient files had been destroyed.

So far I have found some interesting things. I was recommended to be placed in foster care and given intense therapy instead of going back home after I completed my survival course for troubled kids. My father’s parenting style was not working for me and was affecting my health, and I was considered to be isolated- which again is about my father’s parenting style.

I am hoping my proof of virginity is in here. Not because I need it, but because it is so fucked up that I had such a test done at age twelve that it seems unreal and I want to see it, even if in billing format.

Maybe I was predisposed to PTSD.

Dave Egar

Dave Egar was a street punk in Uptown Minneapolis. He already had a long and interesting history by the time I met him. I was only thirteen at the time, while he was about twenty-two. To me he was a sort of mythical figure. I know he was more faceted than I understood at the time, but my perception was limited and I couldn’t get into Williams Pub to spend a lot of time with him.

He was in charge of the squat we lived in on thirty-seventh and Garfield, and he was not terribly comfortable with that role, so he asserted his authority as little as possible. He did have his own room, and there was a bed in it, a luxury no one else had. But he was only in the squat when the bars were closed and he was tired.

He was beautiful. He had long hair when I met him and a short beard, his face was classically handsome. He always wore all black that winter, and typically had the tight jeans that punks always wore.

Everybody knew him. From the street kids to the crack dealers to the crazies hanging out on the corner that we called Pops or Grandma or whatever title seemed to fit. He knew everyone, and he spoke to all of us in the same manner. He never made the little kids feel little. I learned a lot by watching him interact with people.

When the police showed up during the Thanksgiving blizzard he stood in front of our door and tried to pass off our room as though no one were in it. Right up until the cops reached around him and shoved the door open. There must have been a dozen of us kids in there, all runaways, and none of us wanting to go home. He was smooth enough that the police wished us all a good night after asking if we felt safe. They let us stay.

One night around two in the morning he took the entire lot of us to Curly’s and bought us all a hot meal. Each of us had our own plate and we had cokes with it and none of us left much, even though shrunken stomachs had little room for a full meal. I remember the red light on the sign out front matched the red straws in the drinks, and they glowed even though the interior lighting was dim. He claimed he got the money off of a drunken yuppie. Not sure how true that was.. but we sure appreciated it. I doubt he kept any. He wasn’t like that.

But he did tell me one day while we were alone and keeping warm in the mall, after a long conversation, that I didn’t belong on the street and that I should go home. It wasn’t condescending and it wasn’t flippant. It was considered advice. He said I was too nice to be out there, it wasn’t safe for me.

I was arrested not long after. When I got myself in order and I managed to get back to Uptown a few months later he recognized me immediately and was a bit upset. He asked me if I was back and I told him I was visiting and he was relieved. He told me not to come back. He said “I can’t tell you what to do, it’s not my place, but don’t come back here to stay.” He was one of few adults who could get through to me. One of very few who knew me at all.

He hopped a train to New York, they told me. Aaron hung on my leg inside First Avenue and started to cry, years later. He told me Dave had died, someone had given him drugs and he didn’t make it. Dave never did drugs, he was a drinker, and the whole thing was suspicious. I was seventeen. It broke my heart. Every single street punk I was close to in my teens died from drugs. Some of them years later. But all of them are gone, before hitting thirty.

I tell my children about him. He has no equal. He is still missed.

When I Was Stolen

When I was fourteen, I was stolen, twice. I didn’t think of it that way at the time, I was sure I knew what I was doing, but they were adults. Now that I am a parent I know it was abuse, even if I considered myself complicit.
If I had a loving home and support from both my parents would I have made those choices again? No. I don’t think so.
I get hazy on the details, which might be a blessing.
But I ran away when I was fourteen, to be fair, I ran away at twelve and thirteen, too. I ended up squatting, nearly right away this time, in a suburb close to home.
I was in an abandoned apartment. There were no tools for survival or cleanliness besides running water and heat. There was some half eaten chicken that I recall, and I can still remember the smell of it- which was not pleasant. I don’t know if I ate any. I might have been vegetarian.
His name was Mike. I don’t know how I met him, but somehow I ended up in this abandoned apartment with him and then we got into a beat up old truck and there was another man in there named Tom. Those are their real names, though they sound made up and generic. It was really cold out, and it was the middle of the night.
We went to a house in the city that a couple with a new baby had just bought and were renovating. They let us stay a few days, it wasn’t bad, Tom and I babysat and Mike did odd repair jobs and it all seemed fine.
But after those few days it came out that Mike, a felon from Leavenworth, had a pistol. I think also he figured out Tom and I had been intimate. The couple in the house did not take kindly to unsecured firearms around their baby and Mike did not take kindly to my involvement with Tom and there was a fight on the front lawn. Very civilized. I sure can pick some winners.
Tom, outsizing Mike by quite a bit, won. Mike left, and I think he took his gun with him.
Days later Tom “borrowed” the couple’s older car out of a snowdrift and drove the two of us to Canada, right after I had given my age to the young mom, who had assumed I was an older teen until that point. I did not realize he was stealing a car. I had his ex-wife’s security number memorized with her birth date and we got through customs without issue. I passed for an adult. We were nearly to the first city over the border (about 120 miles in) when he turned around and brought us back, because he realized he had no work permit. Maybe he realized he had just committed international kidnapping. Not sure if he was smart enough to keep such a thing to himself. I spent a lot of time hiding in the car, though, so perhaps it had occurred to him.
We returned the car and of course were kicked out of the house for stealing it in the first place. We had been gone three days.
We went into Uptown and ended up sleeping in the back of a movie theater (they had an unused hallway on the side of the building) for a few nights before they realized we were in there and started checking for us at lockup. Tom got a job working under the table at the pizza shop next door and sometimes we slept there, but other nights we slept at a squat at 37th and Garfield.
There were tons of kids at the squat, one punk, and some crackheads. The heat was on, the water was not. The upstairs was not too bad, but the basement was awful. It was not a well maintained squat.
This was where I spent most of my time away from home during that run, on the streets in Uptown and sleeping in that squat.
My mother’s wife spotted me on a street corner there and mentioned it to my brother, who knew someone who knew someone who knew someone in my squat. So he had me arrested.
After they let me out of jail I asked to go back to the Bridge, a home for runaways. My mother had found a letter from Tom and read it at the hearing. Tom might have been there, I don’t know. I suppose I must have known him for a long time, as it was a twelve page letter, but I can’t remember how. Maybe I ran away to him, a second time, and am confusing the two as one. It seems telling to me that I cannot remember. Like my brain is trying to protect me. I spent a few weeks there at the Bridge before they sent me home.
I didn’t see Tom again as a kid.
He called on my eighteenth birthday. He described the cars in my driveway and asked who was in the house with me. I knew, right then, that this was not going to go away. I only had a two weeks before I was back out on the street but I wanted to nip this in the bud.
I invited him to dinner. At a restaurant. I invited every one of my friends over eighteen and every one of my brother’s friends that I could find-even the ones who couldn’t stand each other agreed to come. I think a dozen people showed up and they all knew the deal.
We all had breakfast (yes, at dinner, what’s better than all day breakfast?), with this bastard sitting at one end of the table and me down on the far right and all my friends in between being loud and obnoxious and laughing a ton. He never called my mother’s house again and I never spotted him after that, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t there. He had been there for four years I never knew.
I had some very good friends. I still owe them.

Dissociation

So here is my theory on the past few weeks of crazy:
Hearing someone was in love with me and not confronting the issue immediately led to a loss of taste. Dissociation. Extreme stress.

This happened immediately after I was overwhelmed with emotions that did not fit the situation. PTSD emotional flashbacks caused by a trigger.

So what happened was some sort of inner tape went on replay. Emotional flashbacks that lasted days. Then I reacted to the stress of this skew in reality by dissociating (losing my taste) and that caused me to not want to eat at all. The lack of calories kept me in the stress reactions and also nixed my ability to sleep. Like: What? We are starving? Must be an emergency!! No sleep! Need to be alert! My really experienced stress hormones kicked into overdrive and would not calm down until I force fed myself a healthy amount.

The morning after I wrote a post on it, the morning after I had a conversation with him where he assured me he had zero plans to visit me, I woke up with the tape off, and my food was food again instead of tasteless cardboard.

I have dissociated before, the year after I left I did not even once recall any abuse or abusive incidents. I had a few dreams of being afraid but no recall was available to me. I was just surviving, trying to take care of the kids and starting over from nothing.

So I can’t say I don’t have dissociation any longer. I think I do. I thought one could only have dissociation from childhood. If that is true, I wonder what happened to me? The therapist calls it emotional neglect. Surely that is not enough to create dissociation.

I knew dating would be a bad idea for me. I am so glad I don’t try. Not everyone is going to wreck my life or kidnap me- but apparently my lizard brain believes the opposite.

Trust as Illusion

I don’t understand trust. Why are people suspicious of those they just met, and not those they live with?
Surely we have all had experiences where people we have known for ages and trusted became dangerous to us.
There is no guarantee someone will not attack you or betray you or steal from you.
All of us have experienced some sort of betrayal from people in our lives that we felt as close to as our jugular vein.
People change. You must constantly reassess your trust, anyway.
Trust, to me, is a decision. Not to be suspicious in that moment, not to look a gift horse in the mouth. I decide to trust. Anything else is me allowing myself to be lulled.
I don’t talk about this sort of thing much, others get uncomfortable with the concept. What do you think?

Replay: PTSD

So a few weeks ago a long time online friend messaged me that he was in love with me. I played it off and made light as I fell down the rabbit hole.

Fifteen years ago I was talking to an IRL friend I was helping with a legal case and he told me he loved me on MSN Messenger, which I was using for the first time. That relationship ended five years ago when I ran from him with our children with only hopes of staying alive long enough to see them safe.

Living with an abusive unpredictable monster for a decade has given me a lot of skills. Unfortunately it took me quite a few days to figure out what was going on, but in those days I did:
Come to a conclusion to be honest with my feelings instead of just deflecting his.
Spent an honest hour in therapy discussing my own trauma instead of telling jokes to my therapist as I have done for the past four years. She was stunned, I swear.
Treated the friend like an adult who I can trust despite wanting to protect him. Okay, so I did mention my various flaws in every casual conversation with him… some things never change.
Madly coped by listening to music, a lot of music, and I found some good new stuff out there.
Forced myself to eat a sustainable amount even though all food tasted like cardboard, and only lost five pounds.
Worked, every day.
Took perfect care of the children without them knowing I was rattled- though I was a bit lenient on the schedule.
Did all my self care, except sleeping, which the forced eating helped cure. Insomniacs, take note of the above and check your caloric intake.
Cleaned all the places I hate cleaning, like behind the stove and under the fridge.
Decided to purge. Got rid of half the contents of a closet and a couch I hated.
Debated intentionally with trolls daily and adequately defended the rights of women in a public internet environment instead of doing nothing with my insomnia.
Overcame some sort of sore throat virus with the help of turmeric heated in milk (thank you, internet friend’s mother).

I swear I was a superhero.

I finally pinned him down to a real conversation today and he did not mean it. When you are in love with someone, you plan, right? He has no plans, never had any plans, did not even consider any plans. He downgraded love to attraction, most notably. It was very sweet, I suppose. He, as always, was quite kind.

I always, always! fall in love with people who say they are in love with me- despite everything. This time I will never have to explain it, embrace it, or deal with any fallout. Some feelings I can keep to myself, right? The relationship it affects is mine, with myself. My life will be unchanged. I will be back to normal shortly, I expect. I am looking forward to my tastebuds registering again. Still have some purging to do in the house, though.

Oh, and my abuser, who messaged me his love on MSN so long ago? He didn’t mean it, either. He was lying that day, as he told me years later. He was fishing, and I got caught. Caught good.

Still Looking Backwards

It was a short-term goal my therapist and I set for me, well over six months ago, to look back at my life and try to see it through “the lens of autism” in the hopes that it would make sense.

It doesn’t, still, and I have gotten in the habit of looking back and analyzing frequently.

What I talk about in my sessions with my therapist is about the feelings of isolation or being misunderstood. I can explain that as being symptomatic of autism but what stands out to my therapist is neglect.

I know I am a different sort of parent from my own.

I try to figure out what is going on with my kids in school, I play with them and their friends, I encourage them in things I don’t care for – growing out their hair, playing social video games.

I don’t always do this because I am interested, though I am. I sometimes am motivated by what I remember of my own childhood, because I don’t want my children to ever feel as I did. I felt a lot of self-loathing, and as if I were never good enough. I want my children to feel validated, to feel that their own interests are legitimate, that they matter as their own selves.

I look back and I remember always feeling as though people did not understand my intent. My intentions were often announced by me, and still not understood or accepted.
I think this is how things work, actually. I think we assign our own motivations to others and rarely accept their stated intentions as truth. For we see others through our own lenses, our own frames of reference, rather than through their eyes.
I think we also deceive ourselves quite frequently, even regarding our own intentions. So maybe it is not that people did not understand my intentions or feelings, but that I did not understand their interpretations of me- why or how they were so off.
I remember feeling gutted by the assessments of others.

This all looks like autism at first glance. But the therapist says that a skewed or dysfunctional attachment to the primary caregiver creates a bit of disassociation like this, for instance:
I have always felt closer to people who talk a lot about themselves. I often feel as though I have a better picture of them, as if they were “more real” than others who are more conservative or discreet in their self praise. This is not the healthiest, but it is instinctive, I cannot help it. I know, now, that this is my tendency, and so I try to lean away from those I am trying to lean into. If that makes sense. Because I know now that self absorbed people are not good for me (or really anyone) and that their endless chatter on their favorite subject is not necessarily the truth.
So the therapist’s assessment is that I am attracted to people who convey a false sense of intimacy (immediate intimacy) because I did not have real attached intimacy with my primary caregiver as a child. Deep shit, right? Makes for a complicated life and a lot of bad judgement of character. Like being autistic.

How can I untangle all that?

And my therapist, in case you were wondering, is pro-neurological diversity and not in doubt of my autistic assessment last year. So it is not even a simple matter of her throwing her own disbelief into it.

Boundaries Between Identities

Most often when I try to explain emotional things my tongue dries up and my mind goes blank and I crack a joke instead.

I wasn’t always like this. I used to write poetry, free form stuff that drew pictures in the mind of the reader and also created emotional response. I used to be in touch with myself, I think.

I haven’t been able to write poetry for years. I think I stopped during my second marriage. I don’t know if it was about the marriage or about being happy or about embracing religion or about being so busy working that I put in fifty plus hour weeks. I just stopped and never started again.

I don’t know if I ever explained myself properly, emotionally. I just know I used to write it down pretty clearly. I could write rants, too. Those emotional rants you write while crying, the ones you never wanted anyone else to see. I don’t cry anymore, either. I stopped crying and talking about emotion while I was with their father.

I joined a PTSD forum a few years ago and was flagged as being in violation of the rules because my paragraphs were not double spaced on my intro (see how I am doing it here, remembering this). I made maybe four comments and never went back. It hurt my feelings, to not be able to follow the rules. It brought up some deep pain in me that I know has been there since childhood. I was always in trouble, socially.

I was in touch with myself when I was very young. I knew what abuse was, from outside, when it was being done to others. I had boundaries and I had terrible crying fits that could last hours when I realized someone didn’t love me or had cheated or had hurt me in some way. My boundaries eroded from constant battering, on all fronts. Abuse wasn’t abuse anymore, it was how things were. It was what was to be expected if I wanted to keep my religious beliefs, my husband, my everything. It wasn’t until the children were being battered that I woke up and I remembered where the boundaries should be.

Most of those boundaries never came back. I tell my children all the time where their boundaries should be, how to respect the boundaries of others. But I haven’t got them anymore, myself.

I think it is a good thing I don’t date. I think it is the best thing I have done for my children apart from separating them from their abuser.

I worry all the time that it is not enough. I worry every time I am angry that I am abusive, that my children are being scarred. My own mother was pretty cold. I don’t remember much anger from her, or much feeling, really. She compliments me all the time now and I have no idea where it is coming from. She was not like that when I was a child. I have always responded to very verbal and very intense people, like my father. Which is not a good thing, necessarily. Very verbal and intense people are often self absorbed or abusive. I just couldn’t feel people who were more low key. So I worry that I am setting my kids up to expect outbursts from people, or scolding, or punishment when I make them clean up their messes or go to their rooms. Am I being hard on myself? Maybe. I don’t know the proper boundaries. I feel a sense of panic if they have no consequences, too. I am terrified to go easy and frightened of coming down too hard.

I don’t know how or where being autistic plays into this. I don’t know where I and autism differ (perhaps we do not) and I often do not find the PTSD until retrospect kicks in. I hate it, I hate the PTSD. I was the most patient person in the universe until PTSD. Now I am tired and I am distracted and I am irritable often enough that I worry how it affects my children.

I was sick with food poisoning for the past few days. None of the last minute Christmas stuff got done. There is no one to do it for me. I have to get it done and I have to do it while being tired and meeting my prior commitments. I have to keep the PTSD at bay. I don’t want to spend Christmas yelling at my kids, like I did this evening. Kids will goof off and break rules and violate boundaries with each other. Why do I expect more? PTSD is always so much worse with stress or fatigue.

Maybe I should try EMDR. Maybe I should talk about what happened to me.

Happy Holidays.

Triggers- How Can You Tell?

When I was evaluated and treated by a psychologist for PTSD he corrected me on my perception of ¨being triggered¨.

I had always thought of it as experiencing emotional distress or panic in reaction to something that brought on memories of undergoing trauma. He told me I was profoundly mistaken, that ¨being triggered¨ means you are reacting inappropriately, in any way, to something- and that you can trace the source of that reaction back to your trauma.

He informed me that I was triggered pretty much all the time. Just most of my reactions were internal and not visible to an observer.

That blew me away. I thought, you know, that my PTSD was pretty controlled and that I had no problems. But it turns out that seeing dads of children in the grocery store and wondering if the mothers knew where their children were is me being triggered. Assuming most couples have an abusive relationship is me being triggered. Being nervous around strange men is me being triggered.

I never could tell him what happened to me, and I have told my therapist only a couple of stories in the two years since I saw the psychologist. I suppose if I talked about it more, I would trigger less. That is the theory.

But the therapist gave me some homework. She wants me to identify my triggers. It seems impossible, since everything triggers me. Has anyone else had to do this? Any advice? My list is crazy long. Is everyone´s list ridiculously long?