Friday, 23 July 2010

Health issues

After years of suffering from a variety of health issues, I now realise that they all link to my past, most illnesses are psychological after all. As a sufferer of irritable bowel syndrome for the past few years, I’ve recently found out that gastrointestinal problems (GI) may be second only to depression as the most frequent long-term result of child sexual abuse. As many as 71% of female children and adolescents who experience forced sex with an adult for more than two years may later develop GI disorders.

About four years ago, I was in a stressful work environment and began having difficulties urinating. I felt very embarrassed as my underwear was constantly soiled and I eventually had to go to the doctor for medication that helped control the involuntary urine loss. The doctor told me I was suffering from urge incontinence; it subsided a little when I left the stressful work place. Sexual abuse survivors have a significantly higher incidence of genitourinary dysfunction symptoms including stress and urge incontinence and voluntary urinary retention.

Over the past year, through talking to fellow survivors, I’ve realised that toilets are a significant trigger and have been the common place where I have experienced seizures. These psychogenic non-epileptic seizures (PNES) brought on by a trigger are an expression of repressed psychological harm in response to trauma such as child abuse. A flashback I experienced involved sitting on the toilet while my cousin held the door handle because there was no lock, on the other side of the door was a perverted man who wanted to enter.

I’ve since discovered a medical term for a phobia called paruresis, which is a fear of urinating in public. This phobia causes urinary retention due to avoiding public restrooms. Sexual abuse, public embarrassment or another traumatic event may trigger the condition.

Many women are unaware that they, too, are subject to paruresis; articles about women and urination emphasize other female urinary dysfunctions, such as urinary incontinence or frequent urination. Some people cope by deliberately holding in their urine, by refraining from drinking liquids, or locating unoccupied or single-occupancy public bathrooms.

Upon reading about this I realised why I had another medical problem only last year that literally changed my life. I was working in a closely confined space and therefore avoided going to the toilet on a regular basis, especially as the toilet was so close to the office space and you could hear the running water. I’d often hold it in for hours on end, arriving home busting for the toilet. I was also restricting the amount of fluids I was consuming to stop the need to urinate so much. Inevitably, after four months, I became desperately ill and I’d developed kidney stones. Thankfully, after six weeks, the stone passed and I didn’t need treatment. This drastic health change served as an impetus to change my lifestyle and I moved to a different company in a new location.

Being in so much physical pain was a trigger to the pain I had gone through all those years ago and I became very depressed. Upon reflection, I’ve realised how serious it could have been and how fortunate I was that I didn’t need any sort of medical intervention. Now that I’m aware that I am subject to paruresis and have suffered from kidney stones, I am very careful to drink enough fluids and urinate when I feel the need. My new work environment allows me more privacy and I feel a lot more comfortable.

It’s shocking to discover how many of my psychological and health problems stem from my abusive past. Survivors have to relive their past in order to get over it and as well as behavioural and psychological problems, many physical symptoms can develop too. Being aware of these problems can certainly help a survivor deal with them and gradually get better, which is why I wanted to share my own experiences here.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Pleasant flashbacks

This week I've been back in the classroom teaching a group of primary and junior teachers. I had flashbacks while I was in the classroom but they were surprisingly pleasant. They are only little things but they have helped me realise how far I’ve come.

The first flashback came when my colleagues were looking at a teddy I had on my desk; I said that I might keep it there for the rest of the day as a mascot. A few seconds later, I was suddenly transported back in time to my old school gym where I took my school exams aged 16; sat on my desk was a little teddy as a mascot.

The second flashback came a few hours later when I was monitoring my adult students having fun and getting excited while playing snakes and ladders. It looked as though they were having such a good time that I didn’t want to stop them, this took me back to my school days and how at exactly the same time (3.20pm) I would often not want the day or activity to end. I always loved the game snakes and ladders too!

Writing at the blackboard, another flashback appeared and I was back in my brother’s bedroom writing on a little blackboard. I suddenly remembered how my brother and I would play at being teachers and students. We had a desk, blackboard and even set each other homework!

I guess these are good flashbacks, which is a positive sign. Is this what happens when we have released and dealt with all the bad memories? I sincerely hope so, having these memories is quite comforting and allows me to connect even more with that girl who became lost at 16.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

My inner child has bloomed

When I was the age they call ‘sweet 16’ I wrote a song titled: “I’m All Alone Again” and now, at twice that age, I suddenly feel the very same sentiment. I guess I’ll always be a loner and that’s something I just need to accept. It’s strange how I’ve come full circle and now find myself almost back in that same situation- kind of a weird flashback.

I’ve recently realised many things about my life and the jigsaw pieces have finally fallen into place, so to speak. One night I prayed for answers through endless tears and it’s strange how they suddenly came to me and hit me like a sharp blast of wind.

Sometimes we don’t realise what has happened to us until we reflect and look for the reasons why things occurred in our life. I recently had a memory of me as a young girl on the swing in the garden, making up songs and singing for hours on end. Then at 16 years of age, I lost all the things that I had going for me and hid away like a shrinking violet. My passion for music, dance and playing the flute disintegrated, my love of poetry and song writing vanished into thin air and my inner child was lost somewhere in the wilderness.

Then one day my prayers were answered and everything now makes sense. Through the work I did on connecting with my inner child, I started doing the things I loved and lost as a child. It began with poetry as a way of releasing my feelings during therapy. I then fell in love with the saxophone, eventually bought my own, and started playing it. I also bought a flute and felt myself connect with the girl who learnt how to play it all those years ago. The next thing to emerge from me was songs and I started writing with passion. From my love of music, I was then able to start expressing myself through dance once again.

Looking back, I grieve for that young girl who was lost for many years, unable to connect fully with the adult she had become. Now, she is a part of me and I must hold onto her, care for her, love her and allow her to bloom into that beautiful rose she should have always been.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

The final confrontation

I told my mother and father that perhaps they should confront the abuser, as I did, to release their anger. Upon reflection, my mother decided it was time to confront him, so I drove my parents to the hospital where he was a patient. I wasn’t planning on going in as I had already told him everything I had to say, but upon arrival I decided to confront that evil face one last time.

In the lift I could almost hear the thoughts swimming around in my parents’ brains, once again I felt an unknown power build up inside me. I was the first to emerge from the lift and as I walked out into the corridor there was an old, dying man sat alone in his pyjamas – it was the paedophile. My mother approached him and said, “You are a paedophile and criminal and you will burn in hell.” He tried shouting back but stayed silent when I told him to shut up- once again, I felt as though the roles had reversed. I had a flashback to all those years ago, strapped down to him naked with his hand cupping my mouth to keep me silent.

Snapping out of the flashback, I caught him saying, “I’ll call the carabinieri (police).” I replied, “They’re already here, outside!” He looked stunned so I continued; “You’re like a weak, scared, four year old child, and look at me, I’m strong now!” I said firmly while slapping my muscles. “Tremi (you’re shaking) eh!” I said, and he literally was.

I went up close to his face and said, “Say your prayers for penitence and forgiveness and maybe, just maybe you won’t go to hell.” As the nurses arrived, he piped up to try to gain sympathy, “I didn’t do anything to you,” he whimpered.

“Remember my face well because you’ll see it and all the other children you damaged when you go to hell.” I answered back. He was unable to walk and had to use a stick; he pointed it at me then uttered some rubbish. The nurse approached us, as I provoked him to hit me. “Violence solves nothing,” I said, “Don’t worry I wouldn’t waste my energy touching him.”

A nurse caressed his face and helped him up, “Yeah, look after him!” I shouted as they started to escort him away and I let him hear my final words, which were “Be prepared for hell because you’ll be there soon.”

Ironically, he died three weeks later…