One thing that survivors of long-term abuse are not good at is self-care, when you have been repeatedly given the message that you are not worthy of being taken care of you tend to believe that this is true. I have already written about how it took an inordinately long time for me to actually get to see a dentist (here) and this was due to a combination of things – I feared what might happen if the dental chair triggered another flashback as I was acutely aware of the fact that the situation was a trigger for flashbacks and that I had NO idea what I was doing when dissociating during flashbacks. A good part was also due to the plain and simple fact that I suck at self care.
My most recent, and most difficult, battle with this has been in relation to pain management. I have suffered with chronic pain for many years – some of this is related to injuries I sustained when I was beaten up; I have tinnitus and hearing loss in my left ear following the pretty bad kick in the head I received. Some of my pain is related to the physiological effects of complex PTSD – being in a hyper vigilant state all the time puts a big strain on the body and I often suffer from tension headaches and bouts of stress-induced eczema as well as acid reflux.
I have become so used to the pain that it is often just a “white noise” so much so that it once took me 3 weeks to realise that I had broken my wrist after a fall. I was in a lot of pain but felt it couldn’t be broken as that was meant to be really painful whereas this pain, in the grand scheme of things, was bearable. It was only when I continued to have difficulty with motion that I eventually went to see my GP (Family Doctor) and was told that it was broken.
So when I have come across “niggles” during my running I have generally ignored them as each ache is added to the ever growing catalogue of background pain that makes up my daily life. This changed when I developed a common running injury – bursitis of the hip; the pain was so great that every time I put my foot on the floor it felt like someone was stabbing me in the hip; I tried the usual prescription of rest and pain meds but the bursitis recurred whenever I tried to resume running. Another unfortunate side-effect was that my back pain was much worse due to inactivity and my mental health was once again declining as I slipped into a depression.
I finally decided to see my GP for advice and they told me that the only way to treat it would be a course of Physiotherapy which I would need to pay for*. My first reaction was to give up running as I couldn’t pay for treatment – why couldn’t I? Because it meant spending money on myself, money to alleviate pain which I deserved – I deserve to be in pain because I am a bad person.
At least that’s what the voice in my head says to me, it says I am a bad, person who deserves to suffer because I didn`t speak out to raise the alarm about what my abusers were doing when I knew it was wrong it led to a whole load of other kids falling victim to those predators. Even when they were brought to justice I turned my back on the victims all over again by walking away and letting someone else take the stress of giving evidence, stress that led to many of them taking their own lives or dying from substance misuse as they sought solace for their pain in drugs and alcohol. For those reasons I feel like the pain I suffer is like my penance. I know the voice of reason would say otherwise; I too was a victim, I was young and scared but that doesn`t ease my conscience in any way – I can`t let myself off the hook, it`s like a form of “survivor guilt.”
However things are starting to change; when I told my partner what the GP had told me his first reaction was, “So when are you going to see a Physiotherapist?” I mumbled something about expense and he replied, “It’s not expensive if it gets you out of pain.” At that moment the inner voice started to creep in again but this time it was outnumbered – I was starting to listen to the voice of reason instead.
I spoke to a few people I knew through my running group and made an appointment to see a Physiotherapist, yes that`s right I actively sought out someone to help me get out of pain.
The appointment was a revelation – they asked me about my history and how I got the injury then stated that they would make a plan for me to return to running as soon as possible. They did not judge me or tell me that I deserved to be in pain and when the voice of doom tried to creep in I found it was quieter – almost meek, I felt like I had raised an army against it and it was no longer the loudest voice in my head.
The voice of doom in my head has kicked back big style since that first appointment and I am still struggling with the idea of being kind to myself but I am starting to believe that I don`t deserve to be in pain and that it is ok to do something about it. It`s a pretty major milestone though, I now have regular dental appointments and take care of my teeth and am finally beginning to address the rest of my body – in time I hope I can address the brain too.
*For those wondering why I was told I had to pay when we have the wonderful National Health Service (NHS) here in the UK. The truth is that although we have an amazing NHS system the Physiotherapy service where I live is under tremendous pressure with a minimum 6-8 month waiting list. The Therapists are also only able to allocate 15 minute sessions to each patient which I was told would not be sufficient to treat my injury hence I would need to seek out a private practitioner to treat it thoroughly.