Backstory to what you’re about to read: Regular readers of this blog know I was born with Spina Bifida. I wrote this after I came back from my first Spina Bifida conference in 2003. Before that, I had never even met another adult with SB. I knew they were out there, I just never met them and so, well, here’s that story (and I still changed my name through out, to My Bleeding Ink because even tho everyone and their sister knows who runs this blog, I still dig whatever anonymity I can get):
“Hi! My name is (Bleeding Ink). I’m 28 years old. I’m married. I have a dog and a pet snake. I like to read. I like to go down to 16th St. Mall and people-watch. I hope to go back to college someday.”
That’s how I introduce myself now. It wasn’t always like that. I used to say, “Hi. My name is (BleedingInk) and I was born with Spina Bifida.” Maybe I would add, “I was born in El Paso, Texas but my family moved to Colorado when I was 3 months old, in order to find better medical care.” I used to say that because, in my head, that’s all I was….a disability. But that said nothing about my interests, about my likes and dislikes, nothing about my hopes and dreams. I’ve learned a lot in the past year, and while this story may seem like one of pessimism and sadness, by the end you will see it’s a story of healing.
While I did have friends growing up, it was often a struggle to get to know people. And even with the friends I did manage to make, I never really got out socially and did much with them. I was fortunate in not needing any shunt surgeries until I was 15. Then from 15 to the age of 20, I had at least one surgery a year. This contributed to the depression I’ve had most of my life. I know there are many others with SB out there who say, “Just one a year?! That’s nothing!” But to me it was new and scary and sad. I was hardly in high school, hardly saw my friends. In college, I had to drop out because of more surgeries as well as dealing with this growing depression/anxiety.
I’d always experience what I now know were classic symptoms of panic attacks. Every day. In situations that I was not comfortable with, which were most of them, I would start to sweat…I’d get a headache…my chest would get tight and start to hurt….my heart would beat faster and faster. I felt as if the whole world was watching me and laughing at me. I was afraid of meeting new people, of being in new social situations, afraid of getting stared at, laughed at, pointed at. As a teenager I even grew my hair down to my waist and had piercings on my face. But it wasn’t any sort of “rebellion” thing. These were my ways of getting people to stare at something other than what I thought were my glaring physical disabilities.
Depression. I had it big time. All the surgeries and all the medical issues only made it worse. My home life didn’t help much either. My dad was not a very nice man.* I’ve struggled with what to say about him in this story. He is such a big part of my pain and my depression. I’ll just say that while there was no physical abuse, there was verbal and emotional abuse every day. He said things, he screamed things at me, that you should never say to your child, let alone your child born with disabilities who already has a hard enough time in school being made fun of. “Why are you so stupid?!” “You’re useless!” “You were a mistake!” And I believed him. Growing up, your parents, especially your father, might as well be God. You hang on to his every word. And when those words are negative, poor self-esteem becomes the least of your issues. I don’t blame my mom. She was and is amazing. She was always there for everything. She was supportive and loving and she is truly the only one in my life who never left. I have been blessed to find my wife.** But growing up, my mom was the biggest source of love and support I had. I don’t blame her because I am adult enough now to know that life is complicated. It’s not as easy as “Your husband is mean. Leave him.” She was 23 years old. She was a housewife. She didn’t speak the language of this country. She didn’t know anybody. She also had my older brother to take care of. If she left my dad, where was she going to go?
So I did the only thing I knew how to do. Stay in my room. Literally. Afraid to come out to eat. Afraid to even come out to go to the bathroom, for fear of incurring the wrath of The Father. And it wasn’t just as a child. I was 19, 20, 21 years old, unable to move out because of my physical disabilities and my “special needs.” I spent a lot of time in my room. Alone. Sad. Scared.
All of this started to change in August of 2002. My wife and I had been in our own home for a year. But I seemed to be getting more and more depressed. I’d cry a lot. I’d feel hopeless and often scared, but never knew why. That’s when I decided (and it was not easy) to finally get the therapy that 1 or 2 people always knew I needed, but that I never admitted to myself. I spent 8 months with a therapist. While I did learn a few things and did improve somewhat, it didn’t help too much. It helped me stabilize enough that I didn’t want to die, but not enough to really be happy. Therapist had recently gotten her Master’s degree, and had been working exclusively with rape victims and schizophrenics before I showed up. Heavy-duty stuff, but stuff that really didn’t prepare her to deal with a disabled man who was dealing with depression.
In February 2003 I decided to discontinue therapy with her. I had gotten myself well enough that I thought about going to the National Spina Bifida conference in San Antonio that June. In the past it was something I would NEVER have done. I never participated in any of that. Not Colorado SBA, not the Adult group, and certainly not a national conference. I always thought, “Why bother? Nothing will change. I’ll still have SB. I’ll still have problems and nobody will change that. How is hooking up with a bunch of people in SBA going to help?” Still, I decided to give the national conference a try.