Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Relativity of Crazy

During extended recoveries from trauma, crisis and illness, survivors are often faced with the difficult, casual accusations of complaining, whining, exaggerating, and flat out lying about pain and symptoms. These accusations can affect the courses of treatments, altering them to only partially address the complaints while overlooking other aspects.

During the stress of this emotional and physical turmoil, it can be additionally debilitating to suppress the pain and contemplate the symptoms based on these accusations. Survivors can feel like they are going crazy, doubt their own feelings, and lose hope they will ever regain any semblance of their life before.

We look at the walls of the asylum pressing in and begin to believe we, not only belong there, but deserve it.

Today, during a routine appointment, while charting the need for an upcoming test, a doctor, new to me, took the time to really listen to the way I was describing my pain, look at the locations of my symptoms, and review my medical records including old x-rays. 

After five years of pain and numbness in my hand and neck, this new doctor, in less than five minutes, had an eureka moment making a new diagnosis which not only made sense, but included all of my symptoms. This not only explained why I had pain, but detailed where I had pain. It revealed why earlier treatments hadn't worked or had only been partially helpful, and set a course for how new treatments will help me.

Just by listening and connecting the dots, in a way no single doctor had done in the last five years, he gave a solid diagnosis which offered the chance for my future to go from one of life-long pain, potentially to a life without the same level of suffering.

He didn't have new information. He hadn't run new tests. He wasn't looking at current scans or x-rays. He merely listened to me and really looked at my medical history.

In the long run, I don't know if today will have been the turning point in my recovery. I only know I have a name for some of my pain today which I didn't have yesterday. I only know now that, on top of everything else, I have Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, due to being born with elongated transverse processes which were in turn effected by muscular scar tissue from whiplash and exasperated nerve damage from brain surgery. 

But, knowing has made a difference in my emotional well being. 

I am not going crazy. I have real pain. It is not made up or exaggerated. It is not me seeking attention. I am not whining. I am not a liar. It has a name and it has a course of treatment. 

As survivors, we are the only ones who truly know what we are feeling. We are the only ones who know our pain. We are the only ones living with it and enduring. 

We have to believe in ourselves and listen to our bodies, even when others don't. 

We have to keep trying to find the right help. We have to keep trying to make people listen and understand. We have to reach for new treatments, new medical professionals, new shoulders to lean on, and new hands to help us up when we are down.

We are not crazy. We are surviving.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Surviving Freedom, Hatred & Donald Trump

Freedom of speech is an amazing thing.

Survivors, who have to come to terms with their illnesses, crisis and traumas, struggle everyday to have a voice. A voice that rises above the pain, the sadness, the fear, the guilt, and the shame. A voice that speaks for their value and lights the way of their healing. A voice that some days may merely manage the barest of whispers, while struggling not to drown in the depth of their own screams.

Anyone who has ever had to fight to be heard knows that Freedom of Speech is not free. It comes at a great cost. Many have died for it, both figuratively and literally. But, it is a cost worth paying, protecting and fighting for, even when it isn't pretty or kind or easy.

Sometimes the ugliest speech has paved the way for this freedom, solely because it has raged the loudest and offended the most. Larry Flynt fought for it, so did the Klu Klux Klan.

Other times the silenced voices have spoken volumes shining a light on the cost of human rights and personal freedoms. Nelson Mandela did this from a prison cell, while Anne Frank did this from an attic.

In this country, we have the hard-earned right to free speech and you don't have to be a billionaire to have a voice or speak your mind.

However, currently, here in the United States, there is a self-proclaimed billionaire speaking his mind:

By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America - Donald Trump, CC BY-SA 2.0,

"They're killers and rapists." - regarding Mexicans.
"Laziness is a trait in blacks." - regarding African Americans.
"I hate it, I'm a traditionalist." - regarding homosexual relationships.
"Disgusting." - regarding the opposing counsel in one of his trials who needed to take a break to breast-feed her 3-month old baby.
"You have to treat 'em like shit." - regarding how to handle women.

Donald Trump said these things and so much more. You can quote him all day. You can quote him in context or out of it. And, it just takes a few minutes on the internet, on the news, or on a twitter feed to find some other quote to provoke. Words, not just from the current Presidential election race, but spanning back decades.

One quote is a mistake, two quotes is a judgement call, but three quotes, or in this particular case three-hundred quotes, is a pattern.

Sadly, on June 12, 2016 an American walked into a night club in Orlando, Florida and opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle. In a brutal act of hate and terrorism, he murdered 49 human beings and wounded another 53, many of whom have years of recovery ahead of them.

Afterwards, Donald Trump did not call for gun-control or increasing access to mental health treatments or promoting tolerance through education, but instead, again called for a ban on Muslim immigrants, despite the fact that the killer was an American, born in the United States to parents who had legally immigrated here. 

Trump has a lot to say on immigrants, but has selective memory on his own linage. Donald Trump's grandfather, as a teenager, was an immigrant from Germany, who as an adult, actually tried to return to his homeland. But, Germany deported him back to the United States as a draft dodger, since he managed to avoid his mandatory military service in Germany during his years in the United States.

No matter our politics or beliefs, it is time to stop the hypocrisy. Freedom of speech is not the right to loathe or voice outrage at acts of violence, whether organized or random, while routinely supporting hate or bigotry in lesser forms. 

Freedom of Speech is not an act of hatred to murder people because they are different from you or their belief system is different than yours. 
Freedom of Speech is not an act of hatred to kill because you believe your God is more important than someone else's God.
Freedom of speech is not an act of hatred to belittle others because you believe you are of more worth then someone else.
Freedom of Speech is not an act of hatred to destroy other cultures because you value your culture more.

Freedom of Speech is not an act of hatred to spread bigotry and fear in an attempt to justify your cause.
Freedom of Speech is not an act of hatred to victimize others in an attempt to empower yourself.
Freedom of Speech is not an act of hatred to demoralize humanity in an attempt to ram your morals down someone else's throat.

Sadly, Freedom of Speech does not protect any of us from hatred. 
But, it does allow us the right to speak out against it. Loudly and often.

On November 8, 2016, many Americans will walk into voting booths. There is a good chance, in a brutal act of democracy, some of them will vote for hate by casting their ballot for Donald Trump.

But, one of the most amazing things about Freedom of Speech is that we have the right not only to speak with our voices from our hearts, but also the freedom and the right to speak with our votes.

We are the roads to our own enlightenment.

As a survivor, I truly know it's an act of freedom to speak up for our own survival and the survival of others. It isn't always easy. It comes at a great cost. But, we must speak up.

I am not telling you who to vote for, what to vote for, or how to vote for it, I am merely speaking up, like I have the freedom to do.