The dusty pink walls in the living room wobbled as I leaned heavily on the walls on my way to the bathroom. They didn't spin, and that's how I knew I didn't have meningitis, but they lurched around. There's an old cartoon of Goofy wearing a fishbowl for a head struggling to keep balance--that's how I felt.
The light hurt. Sound was too loud, so the toilet was like a machine gun of water. I went back to my position on the couch carefully. It was uncomfortable, but it worked. My head needed to be supported by firm pillows so it wouldn't move an inch in any direction, and my feet needed to be on the ground. The couch was the only place I could hold that position for hours on end and be near the bathroom.
It was mildly inconvenient for the family, especially for dad because he nearly constantly watched one of the many DVD sets of old TV shows because he liked the feeling of having one of the little ones sitting with him, watching too. I could tell when he was annoyed when he'd jokingly say, "It's all in your head."
See? Migraines are in my head! Ha ha ha ha, right?
He thought I was faking it. And I didn't know how to prove to him that I wasn't.
It was only years later I realized he was kind of...right.
Tuna casserole is a running joke in the family. Every time it was on the menu because Mom was making the budget stretch, Dad would take us out to eat. But one night we actually did have it for dinner, and it was my turn to do the dishes. As I scrubbed the baked-on noodles off of the pan, it felt like somebody stabbed an ice pick from inside my chest. It didn't feel like my heart, but it wasn't my stomach. I felt short of breath, so I went to sit down on the couch for a while with my family. Maybe resting would make it feel better.
My mom noticed I wasn't feeling good, so I told her my chest hurt. Dad thought it would go away, but Mom was worried--so they decided I should go to the ER. I didn't want to. What if it ended up I was faking it? What if they couldn't find anything? The pain started subsiding a bit on the drive to the hospital.
Mom was in the room with me as they asked basic questions. What did we have for dinner? How are things at home? What are you allergic to? (Tuna casserole, fine, and amoxicillin). They put round stickers with nubby cetners on my front and back, and clipped wires to the nubs, and they wheeled me down to a giant machine, and right beforehand, they injected something that made me feel like I would pee my pants.
The tests came back normal, and they asked again if everything was okay at home. Both my mom and I said it was--but as I said so, I wondered how I could tell them that Dad is angry a lot and yells--but they wouldn't believe me anyway.
When we came home, Dad joked, "So, it was all in your head?"
My knee kept hurting. I couldn't remember doing anything to it, except I thought maybe that I was overworking it because of my new job at a semi-fast and semi-healthy food place, bringing the orders to the tables during the lunch rush four days a week. I also squatted a lot while shelving books at the public library the other three days of the week. Wanting so much to avoid the doctor, because I was afraid they'd say there was nothing wrong, I simply wrapped my knee in a mass of Ace bandages that I found in the closet.
I was afraid that I was faking it, because sometimes the pain would be in the right knee, and sometimes the left. Sometimes I wrapped both knees. But it still didn't help.
I still was battling migraines--the stress would build up while working at the restaurant, and then the peaceful library environment left me crippled with dizziness on the weekend. I called out sick twice before realizing that there was no way I could keep calling out and still keep my job--so I started working through migraines. And sacrificing my knee by doing squats to keep my head steady while working.
I finally went to the doctor about the knee pain. There was nothing wrong with them and to keep taking Aleve. Oddly enough Aleve did squat for the pain. Same goes for Advil and Tylenol. The act of wrapping bandages tightly around my knees was the only thing that really helped.
After the doctor's verdict, my dad told me it was all in my head.
I came home early one day from working at the library because I was coughing so much I was out of breath. The bronchitis was long over, but the cough lingered. And I had no idea what triggered it. Often cigarette smoke, but sometimes dust, sometimes grass, sometimes nothing. And that day, the albuterol did nothing. I coughed in the basement by the garage door, and my mom was worried. Maybe we should go to the ER? Dad thought it was all in my head. He was in a bad mood. I coughed worse and worse. Finally Mom won over.
The doctors measured my oxygen levels. They were fine. They noticed I started feeling better and coughing less in the quiet, white emergency room. They gave me an infusion of albuterol anyway, but the head nurse asked my mom and me--was everything okay at home? Are you under a lot of stress?
Oh, things are fine at home. It's just the usual college student type stress. You know, taking overload classes, working part time, honors program. Yet I really wish I could tell them that my dad was in a bad mood. But they wouldn't believe me, I didn't think. Every dad yells. Plus it didn't affect the coughing anyway.
But it did.
His rages, capricious moods, and psychological abuse affected my body, even if he never really put his hands on me. That heart incident? Anxiety. Same goes for coughing--I was unknowingly using albuterol as a pacifier. My knee was my barometer for stress. And my weekly migraines was forcing myself to realize the stress i was under, just living at home.
He was right. It was all in my head. Research proves it.
Abuse doesn't just frequently cause mental illnesses. It also affects the body.
Research shows that adverse childhood experiences (ACE) aka, stress and trauma) causes vague pain symptoms, affects the immune systems, and causes a higher risk of chronic and/or life-threatening illnesses.
Basically, the body is so used to constant stress and trauma that it forgets how to turn off the stress response--and that wears the body out faster. And even if we DO turn off the stress response, it's hair-trigger sensitive so any new stress can send it into a tailspin.
And as you read about some of the other issues with ACE, you'll realize what I did--that I'm one of the lucky ones.
Others out there struggle with much worse--all because of trauma. Especially childhood trauma.
Filed under: Abuse