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Archive for the ‘self-consciousness’ Category

but we have been shaped by it. Case in point: Dead Girl.

That’s what I call this photo, my high school graduation picture. To my mind, there is no joy or aliveness in my face. There is image–who I was supposed to be. A mask. Was I happy to graduate? Sad? Full of pride?  Fear?  Truth is, I didn’t know how I felt, and no one else did either. Locked up, shut up, frightened, and in retreat, I’m holding my breath. If I move too quickly or spontaneously, I’ll break. There are many reasons for this, including what our society told girls about who they could be. But largely, I’m frozen due to unacknowledged PTSD, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, from infant surgery.

Next is my college graduation photo about twenty years later after a breakdown; a year living in a rehabilitation community; two years of a botched therapy relationship; four years working in therapy with a psychologist I loved; two years in couples’ counseling; a decade of living with my beloved partner Griffin; and twenty years of writing, drawing, and painting.

Ten years after my college graduation, I learned the words for what I had: PTSD. Because I can now identify my symptoms, I know that the fear, nightmares, startle responses, excessive cautiousness, frozen breath, rigid body, and panic attacks that I still cope with are not me; they are a result of PTSD. And I can transform them.

In fact, somatic and neural repatterning is happening as I write. I am literally making new connections all the time so that each day, my experience of life gets better and better. Yesterday, I floated anxiety-free on a lake under the blue bowl of sky. It was as if the sky were water and the white wisps of clouds waves radiating out from a center. When I found myself worrying about my wallet left behind in the canoe, I reassured myself, All is well. When I became concerned about my safety, constantly checking my surroundings, I told myself, You are safe. I was floating in harmony and trust with the world and the universe. I am not my PTSD. I am Alive Girl.

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This post is inspired by Fred Vanderbom’s Survivors of Infant Surgery blog post “Scar Acceptance 2.” He writes about the challenge of making peace with our pyloric stenosis scars. And in his post, he includes a wonderful photo of he and his wife in swimsuits, lounging on beach chairs at the side of pool. He has come a long way with regard to “scar acceptance.”

I have always had a love/hate relationship with bathing suits because of my feelings about my scar from pyloric stenosis surgery. In my family, I was taught to feel ashamed of my scar.

Here’s a photo of me standing next to my brother at Sandy Hook, New Jersey. I am wearing what I think of as the dangerous suit. Since the straps tied behind the neck, I was always worried about them coming loose. Once while swimming in the Atlantic Ocean, the top of the suit literally flopped forward from the waist up, exposing my scar!  I quickly submerged myself to my chin and re-tied my straps, double knotting the bow. My scar was ugly and I wanted to stay cute. When that bathing suit wore out, I bid it good riddance.

In this photo, I wear my black tank suit, as it was called. Why it was called a tank suit, I don’t know, but I did think of it as protection. This suit was stretchy and the straps didn’t need to be tied. See those three white discs on my chest?  The buttons were big and clown-like. Just beneath them and a little to my right sat the pyloric stenosis scar. To me, the buttons and I had a secret; we knew the scar was underneath but no one else did. We fooled everyone. I felt powerful.

I wonder what it would have been like if my brother had been the one with the stomach scar.  He certainly would not have been able to hide it during swimsuit season; it would have been much harder for him. One thing’s for sure–parents can help kids accept and befriend their scars. They can help them see their scars as marks of power and survival. Scars can show how strong one is and how good one is at healing.

Scars can also be cool. I remember reading a scene in a memoir in which a little girl pulls up her dress at her birthday party to show off her cancer surgery scar. The kids oooh and ahhh. One child actually says that he wishes he could get one!  She lowers her dress, and they all go back to batting balloons around the room. You bet her parents had everything to do with her ability to accept her scar. Luckily, my illness was cured unlike hers. But she inspires me to one day be able to feel pride about my scar. Scar Pride!  Would make a cool T-shirt.

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