The Black Place

IMG_1162Designing life a second time is not easy. Many people  stay angry and are openly hostile to the person who has attempted suicide. They watch you with different eyes, perhaps not knowing that you still haven’t overcome the sadness that led you toward death.

There is a paralysis that sets in during the long recovery period. Your shields are down. You feel all the energy of others emotions, it is very unpleasant.

In the person you previously thought was kind and sympathetic, you now see through them, just a couple of shades deeper, and find they have a certain smugness about them. People talk down to you, as if they feel you need to be punished for wanting to die. They tell you all the times you have disappointed them, they tell you they’re sick of your shit. They tell you all the times you have made them angry, not allowing you to answer back. There actually is no answer, because you’re so shocked by what you see  in them. In fact, we are judging each other.

They have declared themselves to be upright citizens, but I see something horribly different. It’s like I came back to the wrong world. People have no integrity, they justify their cruelty towards you. They believe you should have a life sentence of punishment, and enjoy bringing you to that black place in your mind. The black place that you can’t obliterate, it lives in you now, and you never feel safe.

How Shaming Leads To Suicide My Story

I was a newly divorced mother, and had moved back to America after living abroad for five years. I had been a dancer, and was now teaching ballet. I had finally been diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis after suffering for several years. My body was very different now, my spine was immoveable, and I still had pain every single day despite all of the medicines. I was also exhausted every day and had black bags under my eyes.

Bags_Under_Eyes_v2_640x360-1          bags under eyes

Needing a job, I contacted a school that was hiring. They called me back saying they had heard wonderful things about me from a man I had previously worked with, and after my interview, I was hired. On my arrival, I was pleasantly surprised when the man offered to take me to dinner and show me around the city. I hadn’t really known him very well, but was happy to have his friendship.

I  was surprised to find that some of his friends were not very kind. When I asked him why they were so unfriendly, he said they were afraid I was going to hurt him. He wanted to be more than friends. I was newly divorced and had no interest in a romantic relationship. I had just finished nursing my daughter, and she was my priority.

Things went sour quickly, and he began saying bad things about me. I couldn’t leave my job, and tried to ignore the rudeness from his friends. It went on for several years, and I became immune to their nastiness. The wellbeing of my daughter gave me tremendous strength. She brought so much joy to my life that I could block out everything else.

The man told my boss that my resume wasn’t quite accurate, and that he had talked me up so I would get the job. He was referring to a part of my work history that stated I had performed with a certain ballet company. This wasn’t a lie. Two dancers became injured, I was around and they asked me to perform and gave me a salary. I never said I was a member of the company. I didn’t feel defensive about having put my performing experience down, and carried on working. This small ballet company and school was not nationally known, and I certainly didn’t need his help to find a job. After all, he had been fired for his arrogance from the company where we met.

As years went by, my arthritis caused more damage and pain. I had days where my neck was so stiff I could hardly turn my head. His friends seemed to rejoice in my pain and  said my whole resume was probably a lie, and that I had never danced. One young dancer from Venezuela said he must speak to me. I was intrigued when he pulled me into an office, sat  behind the desk and told me to have a seat. “I have heard terrible things about you.” Surprised, I smiled. I had worked with many dancers from Caracas, one even came to my small wedding, and I had only fond memories. I wondered what terrible things they may have said about me. I questioned him and he replied that it didn’t matter. I agreed that it didn’t matter, as I had never really been mean or terrible  to anyone. I’m mostly a quiet, non-confrontational type.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, they made crude jokes, and I was shocked to find that they joined and made remarks about my posts. Soon, they invaded my privacy even more, and I couldn’t figure out what to do as I had never experienced anything like this,. Because they had no integrity, it was just fun and games for them and I was starting to feel very depressed and anxious.

In my mid-forties I had my first hip replacement. I was in my twelfth year of teaching and my daughter was about to enter high school. It was the end of summer and I realized my boss had not given me my schedule or contract for the new season.

To be continued…….





Pain Turned Me Into An Introvert

Chronic pain is an illness that depletes you of energy every day. There are occasional good days which you spend in a flurry of joy. These good days allow for hope, happy memories, and sustain you through new ailments and agonies.

Somehow it happens that you become more introverted. This must be because you now recognize that you are very affected  by the energy around you. While emotionally it feels as though you are hyper-aware to the point of anxiousness, physically parts of you don’t work at all, as though they were turned off.

More simply put, there seems to be no room for negative exchanges, it is a waste of precious time. Some people may feel dismissed, discarded or excluded, but no apology is necessary. Perhaps, they should be relieved you haven’t shouted “Off with their heads!”












Dislocating A Hip Replacement At Work

The speed alone is terrifying, I can only compare it to what a roller-coaster crash must feel like. One minute you’re standing and without any warning, you spin and crash to the floor. Instinct tells you to get up but you can’t, you cannot even sit up.

I could at least turn my head to look at my leg that was off to the side. I stared at what looked like a tennis ball just under the skin. There was continuous pressure as though it wanted to escape my body. As I tried to move my leg, the ball seemed to edge right up against my pubic bone.

I tried to smile, but it felt more like a grimace. The pain was intense, I was in a ballet studio, and my poor students weren’t sure what to do. My hands became ice-cold, but I was sweating profusely. In minutes, my hair was drenched and I desperately tried to avoid chattering my teeth. Now, my clothes are wet and the floor beneath me feels warm.

Too many faces looking down at me, they want to help me get up. Please, get away. Don’t make me move or talk, I’m trying to escape somewhere deep into my mind until the fear and pain go away. The pain over-shadows the embarrassment I feel, and a sense of dread makes my heart pound. I think I’m still smiling, at least I’m trying to, because I notice that some of the students have become white-faced.

The ambulance  has arrived and two EMT’s are hoping to lift me onto a long narrow board. Wait! Please, don’t move me. I beg them to fix the hip right there, but learn that I must go to the emergency room. Once in the ambulance, they give me some kind of shot for the pain. It doesn’t seem to help and I suggest a sleeping pill. They smile, thinking I’m being facetious.

It is my first time in an ambulance, and I am surprised to find that it looks and smells very much like the barns I used to play in as a child. It doesn’t seem to be a very sanitary place, perhaps it is more like a dog house, unpainted wooden walls, ceiling, and floor. It’s a bumpy ride and I hold my breath and try to brace my body. I’m not having any fun.

Once at the hospital, after x-rays and endless delays, I’m taken into an operating room to have the hip reduced. When I wake up, I’m sent home. The whole thing happens again in one month, at work, same studio, different students.

Revision surgery happens eight weeks later.


When Illness Invites Insults (Bad Memories From The Workplace)

  • “My God…you look exhausted!” What can I say? “Thank you” doesn’t sound quite right.

  • You do not look happy.”      Oh. (tears start to form)

  • “You’re actually pretty nice, a lot of people don’t see that.”  

  • “It seems like you’re in a rush to leave…”                                       img_0801

  • “You can be very intimidating.”     Me???

  • “Has anyone ever told  you that the circles under your eyes make you look a lot older?”

This is life. You usually don’t feel well,  but it has never made you a mean person. In fact, you’re so nice that you try to smile warmly at the person who just insulted you. They didn’t want a smile. They hoped you would at least defend yourself or snap out with some sass. No. No sass, that would take too much energy.

Have a little integrity people! Don’t gang up on the person who is trying so hard to do their best. Life is a struggle for them right now. You may experience some of what they are going through when you are much older and retired. It sure couldn’t hurt you to develop some sensitivity, show a little gentleness, or maybe just smile without saying a word.



When Chronic Illness Is Mistaken For A Drug Addiction

Medicine bottles spill out of my cupboard, and I finally decide to combine the many prescriptions into fewer containers. One reason I do this is for my own convenience, the other reason is that I have been labeled a drug addict. I will try to keep  my humor intact while writing about this (all too common) accusation  and the mistrust that ensues on the side of both the pill-popper (me) and the finger-pointer.

I must give a little background information on my illness. Having suffered numerous pains (in my spine, neck, ribs, and chest) I was not given a correct diagnosis for several years. It was only when I moved to Europe that I found help. When my doctor in Scotland told me I had Ankylosing Spondylitis, he spent the time to carefully explain what had happened in my body, and that the disease was chronic or life-long. He said there were medications which could slow down the progression of the disease and help control the pain, but there was no going back. In other words, I was stuck with the damage that had already occurred. Every word he said made such perfect sense, but I didn’t want to believe him.

I was a professional ballet dancer, and over the course of five years I had lost the ability to twist, arch, and round my back. My neck would no longer move, and I was exhausted. Many of my joints had fused together, and my ligaments had shortened and become rigid. I thought perhaps I could have some of the damage lasered away, or surgically removed, but my doctor said it would all come back. The disease  progresses because of an auto-immune reaction.

I went to the pharmacy to fill my prescriptions, and as I was not yet thirty, it came as something of a shock to be given several different bottles of pills. I had to have regular blood tests to make sure  my liver and kidneys were not being damaged, and this made me feel like a very old woman. I couldn’t wrap my mind around this new reality, and I hoped that maybe there was some mistake. The American doctors were always saying I had stress fractures that caused the pain, some suggested I was imagining the rigidity, they had not helped me at all.  I decided I would try the medicine and I quickly had positive results. I could do some “normal people” things like sitting through a movie, blow drying my hair, and walking without a limp. There were still problems and pain, but less tears for sure.

I want to make the point that nobody wants to  be on medication for life. You wonder why and how this could have happened, you feel like a patient. How could you go from being a healthy twenty something to a senior citizen within just a few years? I suppose my coping skills are less than stellar.

So, I take four of one pill a day, two of another, one at night, and one for the really bad times as needed. During this time, I met a young woman with Addison’s disease, she was quite good-humored about the whole medicine thing, and I decided I must buck up and find the bright side of the situation. I did feel better, but I was heartbroken that my body was forever changed from a flexible dancer into a marble, unyielding statue.

When I moved back to America a couple of years later, I had to deal with the more forward nature of our culture. Among friends and family, we think nothing of opening a cupboard in their house to search for a snack or get a glass. This never seemed to be abnormal or rude, and only became a problem now that I had drugs. Curiosity was aroused by the various boxes and bottles situated in a formidable pile behind the spices.

We all like to put in our two cents, offer solutions to problems, and we regard this as a helpful duty. I listen. I often look at them with wide-eyed innocence while inside I feel like I am a thousand years old. All of their doubts are the same ones  I experienced when first diagnosed and still in denial.  My initial reaction is that I am far too worn-out  to have to explain, apologise, or argue. I must tolerate being  lectured on things (both true and false) that I have heard about  time and again:

  • These drugs can cause permanent liver/kidney damage, ulcers, weight gain and fatigue. (So pass the mashed potatoes)
  • There are diets that can totally cure your illness.
  • Those doctors in Europe don’t know what they’re talking about, I’ve never heard of a disease called Ankylosing Spondylitis.
  • If you still have pain while taking all that medicine, why not just stop, it must not be working?

Sadly, I could go on for hours.img_0151

Here is where I truly start my adventure with a so-called drug addiction.

In a heroic quest to save me from all of my shortcomings, someone made a list of all the medications in my possession. They researched each one carefully, met with their experts, and strategized how I may best be helped.

Around this time, I was in a bad marriage, had only recently finished a year of treatment for breast cancer, and in a span of seven months, had a hip replacement, was threatened with job loss, dislocated the hip replacement twice while at work, sued by the company I worked for, had a second hip replacement to fix an impingement problem which would cause multiple dislocations  if left unrepaired, and feeling desperate physical and emotional pain so much so that I didn’t want to live another day. I had never felt such deep sorrow, but the support I received was often unhelpful or made me worse. One example was people implying I dislocated the hip replacement by not following the doctors orders. Nothing could have been further from the truth, and I was relieved when a new doctor took an x-ray showing the impingement, and told me that no one could possibly dislocate a hip replacement the way mine went unless they were in a high-speed car accident. My first hip replacement was posterior, and the dislocations were anterior.

I have one beautiful, smart, nice daughter who is the light of my life. I have a close relationship with my mother and stepfather. Under normal circumstances, I would have been able to cope, but too many things were happening and the therapist I had started to see left, taking a job an hour away.

I’m really back-tracking here. I’m still stuck in the anguish of all that happened, and on certain days, these feelings are triggered and leave me sobbing and shaken. Today is one of those days. I don’t know exactly what triggers these memories, but I was diagnosed two weeks ago with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever with a co-infection of Lyme disease. If you can still make sense of what I’m writing, Kudos!

I will skip ahead to the days after my attempted suicide, which came just a few months after my second surgery, and a new injury in to my knee. I held out as long as I could with such debilitating sadness, I wanted my daughter to have a memorable sixteenth birthday, and went to Tiffany’s to find her a beautiful ring. How bad can life be when you feel you have to leave in order for everyone else’s life to be better? For the people who are dumb enough to insist that suicide is selfish, why are you reading this anyway? You cannot possibly have empathy if you haven’t experienced the horror of such thoughts, so You are not really entitled to an opinion.

It was decided by various people that I was a drug addict, after all, I had taken an overdose of drugs. I must be sent to a drug rehab place. All of my arthritis medicines, my anti-depressant, my fibromyalgia pills, migraine pills, etc., were taken away. Some of my medicine would be given to me each night, and the lidoderm patch I used on my lower back was to be applied and removed by a nurse.

I did very much like everyone at the rehab place, and I had a good experience, good food, comfortable lodgings, etc. The complaints I have are related to my own body’s pain. I was used to taking my anti-inflammatory medicine morning and night. Several times a day (for the past thirty years,) I have needed to lie down to combat exhaustion and take pressure off of my spine and neck.  This was just not possible, you had to attend and participate from morning to night. They later explained to me that insurance companies had insisted  the programs must run seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. I’m sure the schedule was hard on them, also.

I was not  going back to the house I had lived in. Divorce proceedings were started, and I didn’t have a job anymore. I wasn’t fully myself, my thoughts were only about my daughter, and how I must have hurt her. I existed somewhere in the top of my head, trying to buffer everything I observed. Life was going to be very different this time.

It wasn’t until I went back to the house to pack things up that reality finally dawned. When I went into the bathroom or kitchen, someone followed me. I didn’t think too much about it, but began to worry that they were annoyed I had so many little  items to pack, make-up, brushes, lotions and potions.  All of my pill bottles had been lined up in the front of the cupboard and as I readied a box to pack them  a family member stopped me. “You’re not taking those drugs. We have all sacrificed a lot for you to get therapy for your drug problem, and you are not going to go back on all that stuff.”  I was perplexed. Why would anyone but my own doctor have control over how I treated my arthritis? My heart moved up into my throat and I experienced a terrible, familiar fear. My own lack of power and money meant I was to be trapped and controlled. Any decisions I made would be questioned, I would have to apologise and explain myself again and again. I was told that any pain I had I deserved, because I had chosen to be a dancer, and everyone knows that causes arthritis. No! I don’t suffer from that type of arthritis! I started to explain with different words, how could I make them understand. Well, you can’t teach people who believe they know more than everyone else. They told me I wasn’t being honest with myself and they would find me a new doctor to set me straight. Of course, no one apologized when the new doctor prescribed all of the same medications. All that mattered to them was that I feel ashamed of myself for having so many problems. abstractwoman

The next game was for them to control when and how much of my medicine I took. If I was taking two anti-inflammatories a day, that was too much. “Why not take Advil? That’s what I do.” If I took just one a day, (usually due to an upset stomach) they insist I’m not taking care of myself. I say that “over the past thirty years that I have taken these medications, there have been several times that I had to cut back for a week or two, not to ruin their lives, but to protect myself from additional health problems.”

Writing this hasn’t made me feel better about things. I guess because the problem is ongoing. I try to surrender gracefully, to submit to the control they need to exert, but it has become harder over time for me to pretend it is okay. I have to stop here and try to escape from reality. It’s too brutal for me.