Given the family history of MSbP, it seems fitting that a medical trauma as an adult led me to the truth about my childhood abuse.
The first step in moving ahead with my post-injury life was to seek help for a phobia associated with medical personnel. I underwent two sessions of a type of therapy known as EMDR, or eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing. Part of the process involved reliving the trauma in a safe, guided way, inside a trained therapist’s office.
For the first time, I proved resistant to guided imagery, although I had used it successfully to overcome a phobia in the past. Certain images created a sense of panic and dread.
The day after that session, I went into a warm water pool for physical therapy. As I pushed steadily against the weight of the water, the anxiety of I can’t do this from therapy became a full-blow panic attack.
I was dizzy. My heart raced. I couldn’t draw in a breath, although I later realized I wasn’t exhaling fully enough to allow a decent inhale. I shook. I clung to my husband and begged him to get me out. I told him I felt very strange, very ill. As he helped me up the stairs from the pool, I fell to the tiles. Everything around me swam out of focus. I no longer knew where or when I was. I couldn’t make a coherent sound. I tried at one point to crawl to the locker room, thinking vaguely I had to go home, but failed.
An ambulance was called. Lifeguards administered first aid and oxygen. At the hospital emergency room, I was screened for psychological issues ranging from anxiety to bipolar to schizoaffective disorder. Eventually, the consulting psychiatrist agreed it was a good thing I was in therapy, administered a benzodiazepine, and sent me home.
At home, I encountered my mother. At the time, my aging mother resided with us, and the in-law suite opened right off the front door and foyer. As I tried to tell her about what happened, while I lacked understanding of it myself, I fell down again three times. I could not breathe. I was terrified. Seeing my mother brought back even more. What it was, I couldn’t identify, only that it sent me into full panic attacks.
I finally made it to the second floor, where my husband and I lived, and lay in a state of partial dissociation when the panic did not have full hold of me.
After I saw my primary care doctor, I saw my therapist, and sought a psychiatrist. I was diagnosed with PTSD.
It turned out that the days, weeks, and months following that terrible day at the physical therapy pool meant I remembered. I did not simply recall events. I now felt, decades later in some cases, the emotions attached to them.
Such events included: my older sister pinning me down in a bathtub when I was four and she was nine; my sister shoving me regularly; my sister punching me in the kidneys; my sister pinning me to the floor in a way that prevented me from breathing; my sister verbally abusing me on a near-daily basis; my sister trapping me in closets and telling me my birth ruined her life; and more I’m unable or unwilling to report here.
Other events abruptly given emotional context were: my father hitting me with a belt; my father throwing a wrench at me and taking a bit of shinbone out of my leg when I was around age nine; my father also daily or almost-daily telling me everything I did or said or thought was wrong and-or “not good enough”; my father having me haul objects heavier than myself so I’d “understand what POWs experienced” when I was twelve; and more, up until the day my father strangled me.
The truth within consisted of untangling a fundamental lie: That it never happened.