Please Believe me!

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One of lasting impacts of experiencing abuse within the psychiatric system and oppression within the legal system, medical system, child protection system and police (mainly due to the combination of being a woman and having a psychiatric history),  is that I’m very sensitive to not being believed or not feeling believed.

Honestly, sometimes I feel like I spend the majority of my life just trying to justify my lived reality to other people.  Trying to convince professionals, friends, neighbours, family members and strangers that I am telling the truth.  It’s exhausting.

And even when people DO believe me, I have trouble trusting.  I get defensive when I even perceive that I might not be being believed, or that someone is challenging me on the facts of my own life.  Not being believed or not feeling believed are major triggers for me.  They bring me back to times in my life, during abuse, when the abusers did not believe that what they were doing was abuse.  It brings me back to times when health care professionals did not believe me about various things.  These triggers cause me to feel unsafe in the present moment.

Survivors of sexual violence spend a lot of time fighting to be believed.  Because “systems of oppression” (aka the medical, legal, police, CAS etc) exist within, and to maintain, rape culture, folks who speak out about experiencing violence are often viewed with suspicion.  There are a lot of myths out there about sexual violence and not a lot of people who see the facts.

The more marginalized a survivor is, the more likely it will be that she will face oppression within these oppressive systems.  Thus, systems which supposedly exist to serve justice are not applied equally to all folks.  Stigma based on mental health status is one form of oppression, perhaps it is a part of abelism, perhaps it is it’s own type of oppression.  But survivors who are women face the patriarchy, People of Colour and Indigenous folks face racism and colonialism, queer survivors face homophobia, trans survivors face transphobia, folks with disabilities face abelism, economically marginalized folks experience discrimation related to poverty, and some people, due to intersecting oppression, experience all of these things.

For me, the fact that there have been important times in my life where I was not believed, has impacted on my ability to feel safe in speaking my truth. I find myself constantly justifying myself and sadly sometimes even second guessing myself.

Maybe I am crazy.  Maybe I really did make things up.  Maybe I am really the abusive one.  Maybe I’m not a good parent.  Maybe I am seriously mentally ill…

The worst part of having survived emotional abuse and systemic abuse through the mental health care system is that I don’t even believe myself half the time.

I’m tired today.  I’m doing my best, but I don’t feel capable.  I’m working as hard as I can, but I feel like a failure.  But I feel vulnerable.  I feel very vulnerable.  I feel more alone than I technically am.  I had to justify myself too much this week and I let it get to me.

My advice to survivors is this:

You are the expert in your own life.  Be your own hero.  Believe yourself, you have no reason to lie. You can trust your memories.  You can trust your instincts and gut feelings, even if you have no memories.  You can trust your body. 

You don’t have to justify yourself to anyone.  No is a complete sentence.

I believe you.  I believe that this isn’t your fault.  I know that if you could do better you would do better.  Your best is enough.

Migraines.

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This will be a short post because I’ll be heading back to bed shortly.

Migraines and other chronic pain issues seem to overlap frequently with PTSD.

My migraines are genetic and heavily hormone related. I also have certain food triggers and stress is a factor, especially in the severity and duration of the migraine.

Basically for 10-14 days of the month my migraine threshold is lowered due to hormonal changes.  If during that time I also have a high amount of stress, I will be more likely to get severe migraines that last for multiple days without relief.  If I also eat certain things like caffeine, chocolate, red food dyes and artificial flavours or colours during that time…well…you get the idea.  It’s not a pretty picture.

If you have never experienced a migraine consider yourself lucky.  If you do live with migraines, you have my sympathy.

For me, migraines are much more than “just a headache.”  I get visual distortions and blurry vision in my right eye.  This makes it difficult to drive and difficult to focus.  I get a fog in my brain which makes it hard to think clearly (probably due to the severe pain).  I often get nausea and occasionally in the past even vomiting.  I become extremely sensitive to smells and the smells make me more nauseous and make the pain worse.  The worst smells are perfumes, peeling oranges, and coconut scented lotions or air freshners.  A random collection of scents, but things I can’t tolerate during a migraine.  Bright lights hurt my eyes and cause me to squint.  Loud noises and even vibrations will cause increased pain and sensory reactions.  During some migraines I also experience a lot of dizziness and sometimes shaking or general feelings of weakness.

But I don’t look sick and this happens on a regular basis so I can’t just put my life on hold, take day off or stop caring for my kids.  Sometimes I have to leave work early or ask for help with the kids, but the majority of the time I just keep on going.

I have had trouble getting treatment for my migraines for various reasons.  One of them is that because of my scars and my mental health history doctors don’t believe me.  They won’t prescribe me narcotics, even though pure codeine does help me with a severe migraine.  I’m always afraid to go to Emerg for pain relief because sometimes I will be believed and treated and other times ignored as a “drug seeker.”

The intersection between chronic pain and mental health stigma is real.  I also have a less common form of arthritis which took years to be properly diagnosed and treated because doctors blamed the pain on my depression and eating disorder.  They didn’t seem to understand that it is possible to have a physical and mental health problem simultaneously.

When my migraines are bad I know that I need to get a referral to a neurologist and explore other treatment options.  But when they are bad I have no energy to get this done.  When I’m feeling better I go into avoidance mode due to my fears of facing discrimination when seeking health care.  It’s a vicious cycle resulting in more pain because I don’t have a doctor following this.

Today I’ve spent quite a few hours lying in bed with ice on the back of my neck, the room spinning whenever I open my eyes.  It’s discouraging.  I have things I want to do, I have plans, I have work…but my body is saying NO! and I am forced to listen.

People with chronic pain aren’t lazy.  They don’t want to be sick or to need to slow down.  People with chronic pain are doing the best they can and even if their limitations are invisible they are valid.

Please don’t say “you don’t look sick” to anyone ever again.  You never know what battles people are facing (physically or mentally).  As with surviving trauma, sometimes the most helpful thing to hear about my chronic pain is “I believe you. How can I help?