Several weeks ago I wondered aloud where I had been carrying The Sadness all these years. The answer became painfully obvious the more I thought about it. I’ve carried it throughout my body as it has sought escape. This is hard to write, but it’s been heavy to carry lately and I’d like to write it down so I can stop dwelling on it.
In childhood it often manifested in my stomach and head. I had constant stomach aches. My mother bought papaya pills for such troubles and one of my clearest memories is the musty smell of papaya as I opened that brown tinted plastic jar to fish out yet another pill to ease my aching belly. In fact, my body often knew when the abuse was coming as I’d come down with severe stomach aches both before and after. As an unpleasant side effect that took me years to notice, I often felt ill during the early stages of romantic relationships, especially once they started to dabble in physical closeness. That aching feeling eased with time and increased comfort, but I often dreaded those early kisses because of the pain I knew I’d suffer afterwards.
The headaches, too, were a constant companion early in life, although I remember those less clearly.
The Sadness has often lived in my lungs, making it difficult to breathe. As a young adult I saw a series of doctors to address a long-standing inability to breathe. It was a nebulous thing to explain – it wasn’t an asthma attack, exactly, it was a chronic inability to get a satisfying breath. I felt as though I never got enough air. All the lung capacity tests came back fine, as did the chest x-rays. The doctors eventually gave me an inhaler, but that was an acknowledgement of defeat, since none of them actually thought I had asthma. For the past two or three years I have had no trouble breathing, which leads me to believe my earlier troubles were one of the ways my body was trying to process trauma.
Early on the Sadness, unfortunately, took up residence in my speech. I started stuttering when I was eight or nine years old. As my mother harshly reminded me I spoke “clear as a bell” until I, suddenly and inexplicably, started stumbling all over my words. My mother and her boyfriend nagged me relentlessly about the stuttering, threatening speech therapy if I didn’t snap out of it. Speech therapy would have helped me immensely but was, instead, used as a stigmatizing threat that caused me years of shame. I never got early therapy and my speech didn’t improve much until I saw a speech therapist in college. I hated stuttering and the accompanying paralyzing fear of starting a sentence and then getting stuck in the middle. If I could have snapped out of it, I would have. I was teased mercilessly by neighborhood playmates. I became unbearably terrified of the telephone, which was doubly awful because that was my primary contact with my dad. For long periods of time I simply refused to speak. It was horrible.
For a while the Sadness manifested as a nervous habit of tearing out my own hair. Eventually I had a visible baldspot. Any outward signs of stress were frowned upon because someone might find out what was going on, so the hair pulling had to be stopped. My mother informed my friends, my brother, and my brother’s friends of my embarrassing habit and were offered a reward for telling on me. Soon there was no safe place to practice my nervous habit and I was so humiliated I stopped. Effective, I suppose, but needlessly embarassing.
The Sadness haunted my dreams causing severe insomnia and nightmares. My mother eventually had me see a hypnotist for the insomnia. It didn’t help. The Sadness also crushed my self-esteem and, somewhat mercifully, my mother had me see a counselor for poor self-esteem when I was six. That didn’t help, either, and soon I stopped going. I must not have told what was happening because no one stopped it. Or I did tell and no one listened. I don’t remember.
And, as chronic stress often does, it lived in my muscles, specifically in my jaw, and I clenched my teeth for years. Eventually that pressure dislodged something-or-another between my skull and jaw, resulting in an inability to open my mouth more than .5″ for more than a year. Finally, I saw a physical therapist that helped me regain the mobility, but I’ve had to learn to relax in order to keep that problem at bay.
It even made a home in my heart, raising my blood pressure to alarming levels before I was ten years old. Now my blood pressure is very low and my doctors cannot believe that I have a history of high blood pressure. I can only attribute it to the chronic stress I suffered as a child.
And then there are the more recent acknowledgement of anxiety and depression, which are a direct result of chemical changes in my brain due to years of stress and fear. And then there is the compulsive overeating. And the crying – oh the crying. It’s back, although not as desperate or fierce as it was before. And the difficulty with relationships and the trouble being close to people….
It’s hard to put this down like this, to list it out. It’s been there so long, and in so many ways.