I was probably 7 or 8 when I remember watching the show “Why, Charlie Brown, Why?”. The episode depicts a little girl who gets leukemia. I remember her symptoms of fatigue, frequent illness, and easily bruising being similar to my symptoms. Can you imagine being 7 or 8 and thinking you had cancer? Knowing your body is not well?… Yet I never saw a doctor.
Catch up on Part One of this series: My Symptoms Story
Child Abuse and Medical History
Going to the doctor is not the most comfortable thing, even without the added awkwardness of a complicated history. When you were raised in an abusive home, just the thought of intake and medical history is enough to make you want to just forget the whole thing. Let us just say it can get complicated.
First it the issue of declaring family medical history. Often times, abusers are also prone to other types of abuse, such as drugs and alcohol. Other abusers may have a complicated childhood or suffer from untreated medical or mental health issues. This makes family history sketchy at best. Lies about illness may be used for sympathy, control, or financial support. It may sound strange, but to this day, I have no clue whether my mother ever had cervical cancer, heart issues, or kidney failure. For all, I know this was said for pity or to make me stay by her side through the abuse.
Furthermore, it is difficult to even know what symptoms are due to medical conditions or unhealthy lifestyle choices. Was her high blood pressure and heartburn symptoms or alcohol abuse or something else? I couldn’t tell you. Most doctors give up on gathering family history quickly once they realize there is little to no useful information in any of them. In case you didn’t know, frustrating your doctor is not the best way to start a relationship. Yet as a child of abuse, there you are.
Child Abuse and Personal History
Next comes the personal examination. This can get interesting. Most adults have some knowledge of their childhood medical history from parents who were a part of it. Children of abuse don’t always have such luxury. Doctors are often avoided leaving symptoms left ignored or improperly treated. Furthermore, when medical treatment is received, we are at the mercy of the attention and memory of a parent who is anything but an ally. Lies to hide abuse are weaved in every appointment aftercare is neglected, and as adults, these individuals are not always available to clear any of it up.
The intake with a doctor usually proceeds as follows:
Doctor: Tell me about your symptoms and how long they have occurred
Me: *Explains symptoms the best I can. Unfortunately this is not complete or helpful.*
Doctor: *Frustrated* Did you ever see a doctor or get treatment? (Basically asking for anything useful)
This is where it gets fun as I am forced to explain that I was raised in an abusive home, so medical history is not going to help. It is at this point I usually come to learn just how little my doctor understands childhood abuse and the long term effects it has. I am usually forced to explain what that means that the repercussions it has had on my medical history, as explained here. So there I am. Worried about my medical health, frustrated over my lack of medical history revealing the most painful parts of my past to a stranger in a cold hospital room sitting on crinkly paper.
Being the Expert and Advocate
There is a tendency to believe that between doctor and patent, the doctor is the smartest person in the room. This can be both true and absolutely untrue at the same time. Doctors have specialties for a reason, and a cardiologist is not going to know about the brain the way a numerologist will. Likewise, a physical health doctor, no matter how smart they are, is not going to have the same understanding of mental health as a therapist or mental health professional will. So how do we bridge this gap?
No one will never know more about your personal experiences, then you will. This means that when it comes to your life, you are already an expert. Use that! I remember when I first went to a therapist, and he told me that I had complex PTSD and generalized anxiety disorder. All the symptoms suddenly made sense, and everything started to fall into place. I took the time with him to learn about me, my diagnosis, and the impact it had. I listened to my therapist when he taught me coping skills and complied with all the exercises on building mindfulness.
- Seek the wisdom of mental health professionals
- Research your mental heath disorders
- Learn how to self assess through mindfulness and reflection
Knowledge means nothing if you don’t use it. This was probably the hardest part of my journey from a child abuse survivor to an adult physical health patent. It involves seeing the doctor as your partner, your equal. You need answers from them about the medical side just as much as they need answers from you about your physical and mantel health.
- Always be honest with our doctor
- Don’t be afraid to speak up about pain, uneasiness and what is and is not working.
- Get comfortable with explaining what you mental health disorder means for you.
- Be patient and open
- Trust your knowledge about yourself