Relationship Between Chronic Illness and Assault

A personal experience #MeToo

I have done a lot of reading about how stress can affect the immune system and how it can have a pretty hefty hand in our over-all health. There are even some doctors who believe that stress is a major contributing factor in autoimmune disorders. This is not to imply a direct cause an effect, but something that I think is interesting and may warrant further review. In my own case of rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia, I can see where stress throughout my life may have had an impact, however, in my daughter’s case I do not seem the same correlation and she also has the same diagnosis. Something to mull over.

My reason for writing this is many. The Kavanaugh hearings and controversy surrounding it has been very difficult for me. In fact, last week was probably one of the worst weeks I’ve had in a long time. The painful memories this brought back affected my mental health, emotional stability and physical well-being. Even I was surprised by the totality of it. Something that I haven’t thought about much in roughly 30yrs, was brought into acute focus. Not only was it brought into forefront of my memory, but the discussions surrounding the Kavanaugh case and the arguments on both sides made me question decisions I made when I was no more than a child. So, I am writing this as a survivor who supports and believes other survivors and as someone who struggles with many aspects of her health posing the questions: 1.) Did the stress of my assault predispose me to chronic illness? 2.) Did it predispose me to my mental health struggles? 3.) Does reliving the experience via these hearings cause more harm?

To answer the third question first, I actually feel that while it has been a very painful experience to listen to the testimony of Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh, that it has in some ways brought further healing through discussions with my husband. A question that re-surfaced not only because of these hearings, but because of the #MeToo movement itself, has been the price of my silence. I never said a word of what happened to me as a kid to anyone. I was far too frightened of my assailant and moreover, I was terrified of what bringing it to trial could mean for me and my reputation. Not because I was a promiscuous teen-ager, but because I’d flirted with him, he was older than me and I felt it would be used against me like “I was looking for it.” Thirty years later, the question that arises from all of this for me and the pain with it is: “Did my silence lead to more girls being assaulted?”  “Should I have said something?” and, “If I saw my assailant was about to be nominated to the Supreme Court, would I bring it all back up?” No easy answer there. And as my husband comforted me he reminded me that not only was I just a kid who was scared, trying to protect my parents from the grief and anguish of not being able to protect me and the ordeal of a trial, but that even if I had said something it would not necessarily mean I could have prevented further attacks. I don’t think that the reliving of the experience through these hearings has caused more harm, but I do think that hearing the issue of assault as a partisan matter has caused some harm. It not only re-injures the child-victim within me, but also the adult who struggles with how assault can be seen as anything but abhorrent and wrong. Not Republican or Democrat. Not something chalked up to boys will be boys or wild antics of a youth. Because while the boy who may have drank excessively and tried to assault someone or did assault someone grows up, never held accountable for his actions, and revered for successes as an adult, the survivor of that assault never forgets, deals with the emotional injury done to her for a life time and may end up with life-long struggles because of that. Though I understand there is only a small window of opportunity to be able to criminally charge someone, and that after that time there is no way to really hold someone accountable, I think the true crime here is that women feel and have always felt, that if they say something they will be the ones to stand trial, they will be the ones to be picked apart, not their assailant.

Jumping to my first question, did my assault predispose me to chronic illness? Sadly, I am unsure. One of the things I believe my assault did, was predispose me to thinking that this was supposed to be how I was treated. There was no longer a boundary between allowed and dis-allowed behavior from boys and later on, men. In High School I was constantly touched when I didn’t want to be, whether it was the juvenile “snapping of bra” or slapping my rear that sent boys into fits of laughter, especially and even more heartily, if you got angry about it. I did not have healthy relationships with boys and that would eventually land me pregnant and married at 19. This was an abusive marriage that I stayed in for four years because not only did I not know how to get out but I believed it was deserved. The job I held during that time was also ripe with sexual harassment, something I felt was just par for the course and all women were treated this way. No one said anything and I simply tolerated the behavior of men who would touch me without permission and just chuckle about it. There was stress everywhere in my life and I can’t even quantitate it. So, while the initial assault may not have predisposed me to chronic illness, it predisposed me to consistently being in environments where sexual harassment pervaded and where I was under continual stress, which may have made me more susceptible to chronic illness.

Looking at my second question, and whether or not it had a hand in my mental health issues, yes. I believe that my assault caused severe depression.  While my brain may have been hardwired for bipolar, I believe that the assault and continuous environments of sexual harassment, coupled with a marriage that was abusive in all ways, exacerbated my mental health and caused my OCD and anxiety and left me with PTSD. It has taken many years to come to terms with things that happened to me and to be able to function as well as I do and more importantly, be happy. Much of it was done without clinical therapy though I do see a psychiatrist who monitors my health, I’ve used writing as my therapy and sharing my story when I can. I’ve never shared my story as publicly as this before, but I felt that with everything going on it was high time. My whole purpose for my blog is sharing my experience of chronic illness with others, so they know they are not alone. My assault left me with chronic memories and I felt emboldened by others who are sharing their experiences to share my own so men and women who have experienced an assault know they are not alone.

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