Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Childhood neglect, abuse and asthma

I don't really talk about my childhood abuse and neglect very often . . . well, I guess I talk about it more often than many abused children, but because I wasn't regularly beat up by my parents it's often hard to talk about.

(There was a period where I was beat up pretty regularly - when my mother was married to her second husband, Jerry.  It is weird.  Before and after, my mother didn't really hit me, but when she was with Jerry, she did.  I'm not even talking about with her hand, I'm talking about with a stick, a 1 inch by 2 inch stick, just wailed on me.  But only for those two or three years she was with Jerry.)

It's hard to talk about because the shape of the abuse was neglect (the time with Jerry notwithstanding).  While all abuse is tragic, I think neglect is insidious because it's often very difficult to talk about something's lack.  When you've been hit, you can go, "Holy shit, these adults kicked the tar out of an eight year old with a fucking stick!"  But when they don't do something, it's harder to parse.
In particular, there are a lot of things that happened to me that aren't normal but because no one really talks about (because they are pedestrian) so the abnormal, the terrible, seems normal to me.  I don't even realize that they are a sign of neglect.  Which is why it took me thirty years to figure out that I was neglected in the first place: I thought everyone had similar experiences.

The specific case is this: I have asthma.  I have probably had it since I was a little kid, but I only - right this very day - realized that I have it and have probably always had it.

A chief symptom of asthma is coughing at night.  I remember, as a child, coughing a lot at night, coughing until my sides hurt and my throat was raw.  I remember because coughing sucks and because my mother and grandmother's response to me coughing as to tell me to shut up.

It is only now that I'm looking back and going, "That's fucked up."  You have this kid of single digit years and he's coughing up a storm late into the night, just absolutely miserable, and the response isn't to take him to the emergency room or even to schedule a doctor's appointment - it's to tell this sick kid to shut up.  Hell, they didn't even come into my room to check to see if I was okay - they would just yell, "Shut up!"  They treated it like I was faking it, like it was some sort of ploy to get out of school or chores the next day - that a reasonable kid would put that much effort into not going to school or taking out the trash.  I submit this says more about them than me.

(Which puts a zap on a kid's head, too.  For a long time, I did think I was faking it - or, more precisely, that I had a weak character and found it easier to "pretend" to be sick than to do work, because we learn the meaning of things from our family.  It wasn't until I stood up to dozens of bullies, stared down cops, told the truth even if it meant getting fired that I realized that I don't have a particularly defective character.  I might not be particularly strong, but neither am I particularly weak.  It's something else.  But it was a hard road because I was taught that stuff like asthma was a ploy I used to get out of school and chores.)

The coughing was and continues to be a fairly frequent occurrence, by the way.  It is just this constant thing in my life that I've assumed is pretty normal because, y'know, it was treated it that way.  No one talks very much about their doctor's visits as a child but I had, basically, none unless I had a broken bone or was spurting blood.  I didn't know that was strange.  I figured everyone coughed. (And, to be fair, everyone in my family did, because they smoked like chimneys.)

I want to emphasize here, too, that I had insurance and both of my parents had good jobs.  It wasn't that.  Going to the doctor was quite affordable.  But I can't remember ever going to a doctor unless there was severe structural damage and we never had anything so high falutin' as a family doctor.  Ditto dental - I didn't have my teeth cleaned once, not once, as far back into my childhood as I can remember.

Also looking back, I am angry because this is the sort of thing that really effects a kid's - and adult's - life.  For instance, I have struggled with weight my entire life.  I have generally found exercise to be really hard.  Other kids would be running and I would have to stop to cough.  That is the classic asthma symptom, too, right up there with night coughing.  I thought it was just that I was really out of shape but now I'm wondering how much more difficult all exercise has been because I have trouble breathing and rather than checking it out, when I was a kid and coughing my lungs out, I was told to shut up.

No comments:

Post a Comment