The Familiar Rhythms of Not Being Believed

The Weinstein scandal has echoed through the socialsphere for about a week now.  All of the usual steps have been followed: the vehement denials, the plausible deniability of seemingly everyone in the film industry, the distancing of people and companies from a truly abhorrent person - it’s a public relations waltz so well rehearsed no one even looks at their feet anymore.

It’s been wearily familiar and not a little triggering for many of us who have been sexually harassed or assaulted. What's (happily) a little different is that this time, there seem to have been consequences. The rapist lost his job at a company he started. The Academy kicked the abusive asshole out on Saturday.  And in the socialsphere, the #metoo campaign has been staggeringly successful at allowing survivors of assault and harassment to simply stand up and be counted, with as much or as little detail as the teller is willing to share. 

But I realized there is another dimension to this experience that I hadn't properly interrogated even as I was willing to sit with the discomfort: This particular song-and-dance is also nauseatingly recognizable to those with pain or disability. It's not the exact steps, or the exact tune, but the rhythm is one we know. It's the unwillingness of others to hear our experience or believe our suffering without excuse, denial, or deflection.

To head certain indignations off at the pass: Not trying to hijack the conversation, here, merely pointing out:

Those feelings of erasure? The empty, lonely question of “why doesn’t anyone believe me”?  The mental calculus that weighs “people understanding me and my experience and my trauma and my pain” against “how is this disclosure going to affect my career/ my status/ my credibility”?  

ALL of that is something that ALL sufferers know - whether you have been victimized by the predation of some malignant narcissist or the stubborn, broken state of your own body.

The victim-blaming, the desire to see the person who is already suffering somehow deserve it, the relentless Just-World-Hypothesis is the poisoned fog we all are trying to see through. The underpinning belief that We Somehow Brought It Upon Ourselves.

There are so many ways in which pain/trauma sufferers are told we're Doing Pain Wrong, regardless of our lived experience.  Even those who love us dearly, out of their own ignorance and desire to just not have to deal with it anymore, often offer “we’re just trying to help you” advice laced with “you must be doing something wrong” arsenic:

If you don’t medicate your pain because you’re worried about addiction:  

“If you were really in pain you’d do anything to stop it. You’re just taking OTC meds/getting massages/doing PT, your pain can’t be THAT bad! Buck up and learn to cope, why don’t you?”

If you DO medicate your pain because it’s what was offered to you and it stops your agony:

“Why would you do that do yourself?! Don’t you know that’s addictive?”
(Later, when the prescription runs out; “Of course your life is in shambles! You’re an addict!”)

If you haven’t been diagnosed with A Real Medical Thing people understand (or have heard of):  

“Are you sure it’s just not all in your head/ stress-related/ depression/ anxiety/ gluten/ sugar/ too much exercise/ not enough exercise?” or “Everyone feels achy sometimes, it’s just a part of getting older. Take an Advil, you’ll be fine.”

If you HAVE been diagnosed with A Real Medical Thing that people understand (or have heard of):

“You should try this supplement/ gizmo/ treatment that someone somewhere said works for people like you!” or “Why are you doing (insert treatment that works for you here)?! Don’t you know that never works?!”

If you complain about your pain in any way deemed "excessive"; doctors will accuse you of drug-seeking, employers will accuse you of malingering, and the socially insensitive among us will remind you that "well, it could be so much worse."

The articles that tell you that Yoga Heals Everything, or the books expounding for hundreds of pages how your pain is the result of some unhealed psychological trauma and all you need to do is meditate your pain away.

The doctors who offer anti-depressants instead of an answer. The recommendations to “exercise, lose the weight” when you’ve come to the office because it hurts to walk. The tests that are stubbornly “inconclusive” and you know, you just know, you’re being labeled any variety of troublemaker in your medical records because they can’t figure out why you’re hurting - so you must not really be hurting.

Heaven help you if you need to work, and can’t take the time out for your specialist visits or PT or OT or pysch therapy - that’s assuming you can even afford those therapies, even with insurance.  But who cares if you don’t have the opportunities for treatment, or those treatments might impoverish you - If you’re not going to therapy, you must not really want to get better, right?

The indignities, the gaslighting - they are all part of the experience when you suffer. Be it at the hands of some repugnant-but-powerful pig who really believes his behavior’s OK, or at the hands of a doctor who doesn’t really feel like doing the work to figure out what is destroying your life by degrees - it feels the same.  

And for those who are fortunate enough to be healthy and un-traumatized, please remember: The impulse you have to tell a disabled or suffering person that “it’s probably just stress” or “your pain would go away if you don’t pay attention to it”... it falls into the same dismissive, victim-blaming territory as telling an assault or harassment victim “are you sure it wasn’t a misunderstanding?” or “why didn’t you fight back?”. Act accordingly, with love and compassion.

So, again, not trying to derail the conversation away from sexual assault and harassment - because holy hell that's a necessary and lengthy discussion - just wanting to gently remind everyone else who also suffers from other kinds of pain and trauma: That familiar rhythm? I hear it, too.