WARNING: This page contains references to medical and familial abuse that may be upsetting to some readers. If you'd prefer to leave this page, click here to return home.
Constant flashbacks. I see an ambulance, a gurney, I hear a man yell, I see a needle, and there I am, back there, helpless and hopeless and unable to do anything at all. "Have you ever experienced any trauma?" professionals ask me, again and again. I say "no." Because it wasn't that bad, right? The nightmares and panic attacks are just an overreaction, right?
I first wanted to hurt myself when I was only 8 years old. It was November of 2007, I was in the third grade, and I was haunted by the library book that I'd never returned the summer before. I imagined my family having to pay millions of dollars in late fees...it wasn't the book itself that hurt so much. It was the constant fear, guilt, and anxiety that formed the background noise of my head. I was pushed over the edge one day when I got into some argument with my third grade teacher (you're a fucking bitch Mrs. Miller), and realized that there was a solution to all of it: school, my self-hatred, the goddamn book....
A classmate of mine had recently wrapped his hands around his own neck in class until his face turned red. I tried the same.
The school guidance counselor pulled me out of lunch. I ate in his office. He talked to me about random things for a while, and we played some games. Eventually I asked him if I could go back to class yet. A Look came over his face. "You can't go back to class." I pulled my Minnie Mouse hoodie over my face, and stayed that way until my mother arrived.
I went to DRENK, which is now SCIP, which is an absolute hellhole, known officially as a "crisis screening center." A hospital bracelet was slapped on my wrist, and I was forced to change out of my clothes (which were put in a bag) and into a hospital gown. I thought I must be absolutely insane to want to hurt myself. I thought I was quite possibly the only person who'd ever tried such a thing. My parents told me that if I was trying to hurt myself, then I wouldn't be able to go home. I thought they meant forever.
So, when the screener, Jim, whom I immediately hated, pulled us into his office, I lied my ass off. I was just putting my hands on my neck, I swear. After what felt like hours of questioning, including about some drawings I'd done about destroying my school, he declared, "Leah is not a danger to herself or others. Maybe her face just turned red because she was angry."
I learned a valuable lesson that day: don't trust mental health professionals, and keep your suicidal thoughts to yourself. I wish I'd remembered that years later...
And so I continued to lie, while I was interrogated many more times by various therapists and psychiatrists. No, I've never had any thoughts of harming myself or others.
Or, when I was 14: yes, I do cut myself, but I'm not suicidal. (Although I knew I definitely was.) And so this lie persisted, until my senior year of high school, when I had my little meltdown at school and was referred to a full-day outpatient program. I thought I'd hit rock bottom (god I wish that were true), thought I might as well tell the screener lady everything. And so I did. And everything went downhill from there.
Only four short months later, I had my first inpatient stay, after some puny wrist-slitting that seems like absolutely nothing compared to the things I've done since. It was a 6 day, voluntary stay in an adolescent unit. It wasn't terrible, all things considered. I knew I'd end up back in that place, but wasn't particuarly anxious about it.
I had no idea how bad things could get.
The moments that return to me the most...
The man who said dirty things to me in Spanish because he knew the staff didn't understand it, who came into my room in the night, who I practically had to harm physically to make him go away, and the staff did nothing. The man in another hospital who constantly followed me and asked me out, and the staff did nothing. The man at another hospital who always commented on my ass, and the staff did nothing. I was still a teenager, even if I was a legal adult, and all these men were over 30. Oh, and the man at yet another hospital, who woke me up in the middle of the night stroking my feet. And again, the staff did nothing.
Or the time that I was pinned down while they shot me full of 10 milligrams of Ativan and Haldol, against my wishes. It happens to lots of people, right? Does everyone feel so violated afterward? Does everyone develop a new fear of needles after that?
Or the pivotal moment. "Oh, we forgot to mention one little thing...it's protocol for all involuntary patients...." And they laid me down on the gurney, and they wrap the leather cuffs around my wrists and ankles, and they lock them and I'm unable to move I'm powerless, completely powerless, completely and totally helpless....
It happened twice, actually. The second time I didn't even try to argue. Because I knew. I knew it was pointless. I was just a wild fucking animal. I had no choice in what happened to me.
"It's hospital policy." That phrase drives me bugshit to this day.
"Is there any other time in your life that you've felt that way?" my therapist asks, when I finally feel I can trust him.
Yeah, there was the time my dad hit me, and hit me, and hit me, and I thought he'd never stop, he threw me on the floor, and I screamed and screamed and I thought he was going to kill me. The police came. He knew he was in the wrong, he begged me not to send him to jail as I walked past him to the cop on the porch. And so I lied for him. I lie for him to this day. I don't want my siblings in foster care - he's never touched them, only me, for whatever reason.
It was just one incident in a long line of him hitting me, throwing things at me, and later vehemently denying it or blaming me in the exact same sentence. He controls me to this day. I'm terrified to tell anyone.
But he didn't leave bruises. So it's not real abuse, right?