The very first therapy group the VA put me featured me as the only woman, surrounded by: a cop who had beaten more than one wife, which makes me wonder how he treated women he worked with or encountered on the beat; a guy who'd lost his rank and command and career for harassing women, yet who still urged the whole group to admire 'nice tushies', a guy with a wife and and a girlfriend, both of whom he claimed were horrible bitches (after watching him a few times I found myself joining them), plus a variety of men who hinted that the bitch was lying or she wanted it.
None of them were combat veterans, at least not till later sessions.
Oh, yeah, the therapist who sat there in his leather-elbowed tweed jacket and urban cowboy boots while these guys waxed racist and sexist?
He didn't say anything.
It kept getting worse and worse; the statements the guys said started out grotesquely sexist and got worse. So did the hostility. While they were justifying their actions with, "She didn't say no,"----and then glaring at me when I asked, "Was she even conscious?"----the therapist sat there while the men attacked me, and the cop bashfully admitted----to coos of male sympathy----that he wouldn't have beaten his wives if they hadn't driven him to it. In private, in the residence, these guys were even worse. "Man-hater" was the best thing they called they. God only knows what they said in private among themselves.
For guys who really want to be allies, by the way, here's how you do it: go after these guys. Significantly enough, the one guy who did was the only black man in the group. With typical VA shallowness, they'd treated the symptom rather than the problem, and let him hanging, a fact I pointed out. He lived in a shitty neighborhood with a son who'd run afoul of one of the area's gangs (I lived down the street from him), and one day they came looking for the son and shot him instead, leaving his arm paralyzed. He'd sought comfort in various substances, and the comfy white people who made up the VA staff diagnosed him as an addict, not as a desperate man in a bad situation, and did fuck all to help the problems that drove him to seek the solace they now declared was bad. These are the sort of people who declare they never give money to homeless people because they'll buy drugs or booze. I said good for the homeless people. If they want some relief, by God, I'd say they're entitled to it. Same thing with this man.
I reported the sexism and the sexist slurs to my therapist. She shrugged them off. "There's jerks everywhere."
So much for the VA's newly-passionate approach to womens' issues. You know, like institutionalized sexism? Like sexism, period? "Yeah, I'm looking at them," I responded. "You're fired."
This, by the way, was the woman who advised me to stop watching horror movies, despite the fact that the monsters in my nightmares have human faces. It's been seven years since she gave me that advice. A month ago I had my first zombie nightmare. I was so damned proud. Even in my nightmare I was so happy that I actually admired the zombie for a while, then finally snapped off a mop handle to spike the zombie through the eye with the sharp broom handle. Then I turned around to see Robert Pattinson of Twilight behind me in full sparkle mode and I woke in terror.
I recently hooked up with a womens' veterans' group and managed one meeting so far. I had to take so much Klonapin to get out of the house that by halfway through I was reeling and unsteady on my feet and slurring my words. And that was good, because for the first time in months, my heart had stopped hammering, I didn't jump at strange things, and I was fairly relaxed.
It's funny, though, how so many of those women share the same symptoms. One young woman had been in a building that got mortared; a wall collapsed on her. The VA diagnosed her with....arthritis. Same doctor as me, too, how odd, surely a coincidence. But still totally valid: after all, don't you have buildings fall on you and then suddenly develop arthritis? Like, within days?
All the women who went to this particular doctor got the same diagnosis. I'm sure it's just a coincidence.
Quite a few of them had the same psychiatrist I have, too. All of them reported the same thing: the lack of attention, the reluctance to listen, the attitude. When somebody has panic attacks thanks to agoraphobia and flashbacks, which statement do you think might make them feel better?
"That wasn't so bad, was it?"
"I'm glad you came."
Thanks to her, and four years of the same off-label anti-anxiety drug, I'm gulping them down in twice and three times the dosage I'm required to. That I find it kind of worrying illustrates that it might very well be: my idea of a drug is Diet Coke. She claims she's worried about dependence. I told her after years that was like worrying about the condom when the baby's crowning. I also asked for a new doctor. An awful lot of the women who had her were extremely dissatisfied with her.
So for two years or more I've been trying to get a new doctor. There was a meeting with the patient advocate and the Womens' center director at the office of House Representative Betty McCollum. That was two years ago. Within three months they broke every promise they made at that meeting: transport, new doctor, new medication, a fresh approach.
I've gone through six patient advocates, one of whom I called six times who never called me back. I was told that the patient advocate I'd dealt with at McCollum's office had changed jobs, lost his phone, been in an accident, and other things as justification for not answering my phone calls.
I called four Senators over the years, two governors, and the White House. Finally I got a hole of some guy who's the assistant secretary or chairman or something of the VA. To each and all I cited the case of me and that therapy group, and how much I hated it and that the doctor sat there, silently, while the men spewed sexism. Hated. It. I stressed how much I wanted someone to listen to me.
A new patient advocate read to me my notes from my doctor's last visit with me, (after which I met another disgruntled female veteran): "Patient agrees with course of treatment and to continue meds as needed." Without treating the anxiety I can't make plans, can't go anywhere, can't get better. I hate having to enumerate how bad it is. Throwing up blood and stomach acid? Headaches that take away my eyesight for several hours? That's just trying to get in a vehicle. One night before a VA appointment, I took a Trazadone (an anti-psychotic), a Mirtazapine, and two Klonapin to try and quell the racing thoughts and pulse. I didn't get any sleep that night. It didn't work. It might very well have killed someone else.
Phone calls, phone calls, phone calls. They make it very clear what contempt they have for us whiny wusses, us pill-popping druggies. Which is ironic because I'm asking for medication that I don't have to take every day. I've never asked for pain meds; I want to be fixed, not subdued.
I was on my way to drill one day when I slipped and fell on the ice and woke up with right foot in my right armpit. I got up and put my weight on it; it felt odd, but it didn't necessarily hurt. So for an hour I hobbled around on it, till it got to feeling more and more odd, and I finally called my First Sgt and told him I might have injured myself. He ordered me to the ER, and when they got me up on the table, they unlaced my boot and found a licorice twizzler. Then it hurt. (I'd broken in in three places.) Still, when an ER doctor poked one of the more notable blackened swellings and asked, "Does this hurt?" I still leaned into his face and said something quite a bit different from asking for pain meds. And when they tried to cut off my favorite fifteen-year-old jeans, I refused, demanded scrubs, and somehow took myself and my floppy leg to the bathroom, where I sat on the floor, got my jeans off, donned the scrubs, and hopped back triumphantly. All without painkillers. Does that sound like somebody who's trying to scam lots of drugs? Recounting symptoms over and over again is almost as painful as the symptoms themselves. I'm not weak. Why do they make me feel that way, though?
After all these years, all these requests, calls to the director, they get a meeting. They get me a new doctor. I talk to the patient advocate. "Oh, yeah, so-and-so (the VA local chairman secretary or whatever), he said you loved that program."
I hated that program. I've never said anything good about it. I hate it, I told him I hated it, and I told this dipshit I hated it, too. And when you consider that I wanted somebody who'd listen to me.....
Then I found out who my 'new' doctor is.
The therapist from that first therapy.
He's not even a doctor. He can't do squat about my drugs.
That is the doctor they give me. Oh, excuse me, not a doctor. The guy who didn't listen, didn't do anything.
And by the way, before people ask, I did in fact go to Senators, Representatives, even the White House. These people fear no one. That's because these guys just send an email. Hey, after all, the patient might kill herself, and you'll still have to work with these guys. So it's a win for everyone but the patient.