For the past two weeks I’ve found it difficult to breath due to unknown anxiety and panic. With undue pressure on myself I dreaded putting pen to paper to begin writing this blog, or even get out of bed to go to work. I drifted through the days sad beyond belief, but smiling, pretending, and performing for family and students to convince myself that everything was fine. Whether it was because of the current political climate, problems with my family of origin, or a mixture of both, I can’t be sure. Either way, in my head I said to myself, “I can fix this!”
What I truly meant was, “I can fix me.”
So, I used the tools in my arsenal in an attempt to help myself feel better. I went to the gym, meditated, listened to calming music, went to my therapist (six hours away), went to my psychiatrist (also six hours away), slept, talked with my wife about my feelings (as best I could), and stayed on top of taking my medication. Unfortunately, none of these strategies worked as well as I would have liked.
One day, near the end of the school day last week, my chest began to hurt and my left arm became heavy. Sitting at my desk I thought to myself, “No! Not again! I can fix this! I don’t need to go to the hospital! I don’t have the time to go to the hospital! I can fix this!” So, I took some ibuprofen (prescribed by my doctor), waited, and the pain went away. I told my therapist and she said the same thing you’re thinking, “You have to go to the hospital. You can’t fix this alone.” I agreed, but I still have not gone because of fear, stubbornness, and the fact that I’ve been more times then I care to mention regarding of my heart.
You see, two years ago the same incident described above happened. I sat at my desk in my classroom in Baltimore grading papers when my chest began to hurt. I thought it was just another of my many panic attacks. Soon my left arm went heavy and numb with a pain that’s difficult to describe. I could feel my heartrate increase dramatically and I knew something was not right. I went to the school nurse and soon I found myself in an ambulance on my way to hospital to be treated for a viral heart infection. For two months I went through test after test to understand what, if anything was wrong with my heart. I did not enter my classroom, I did not work out, and I could barely move for two months. It’s during that two months I wrote a large part of Heroes, Villains, and Healingas quickly as I could out of fear that if I might die and other male survivors would not have the resources needed to heal.
As a male survivor, many times I feel the need to control as much as possible. This is because, as a survivor, my control and power were taken away from me when I was sexually assaulted at eight-years-old. This is not only true for survivors of sexual assault, but many individuals who have suffered trauma or suffer from PTSD. Lack of control means lack of power, making the survivor feel as they did when they were sexually assaulted. Hence why Batman attempts to control and plan for all situations. He does not want to feel like that weak little boy on the sidewalk as his parents died.
I have been told these facts by my therapist for years. I have read them in books, and even written about them myself in Heroes, Villains, and Healing, and Raped Black Male. However, no matter how much I know about the science of the brain and the impact trauma has on the body, I still believe and say to myself, “I can fix this!” because that’s what men do, right? We fix things. We identify the problem, form a solution, and get to work. It’s what we’re told to do as boys to become a part of our hardware as adult men. Add the extra layer of trauma and the belief that men are not supposed to talk about their feelings, you create anger,
perpetuation of abuse,
When male survivors think to themselves, “I can fix this!” they are thinking, “I can fix me!” without help. I can pull myself up by my own bootstraps because that’s what “real men” do.
I thought the viral heart infection would teach me differently. I didn’t truly learn the lesson that some things can’t be fixed until my son, Casus, passed away last August and I nearly lost my wife, Sarah. There were complications with the pregnancy as blood clots formed and attempted to pass. Unfortunately, we lost Cas just as we entered the second trimester. Up until the last moment I believed, “I can fix this.” I thought these same words as my mother cried in my arms when I was in high school and she received the news our home was being foreclosed. I thought these words as a child as my parents screamed at one another late into the night. I believed when the doctors entered the hospital to tell my wife the likelihood of Cas making it was very slim, that I had fixed my life so I could fix this too. I looked Sarah’s eyes and told her we would be fine. We can fix this. We’re strong. We can control this. It wasn’t until she was wheeled away and I was left standing in a bathroom of blood that I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt there was nothing I could do to fix this. I was helpless as our son was born prematurely and died in our arms, my wife was given two blood transfers to save her life, and we signed the paperwork to have him cremated.
I miss Cas. I wear a necklace with the names of him and his two sisters to give my strength when times are hard and I need a reminder of the man I was, the man I have become, and why I’m still breathing. Although I miss my son, he gave me a gift when he passed. With the passing of Cas came the wisdom that horrific things happen and sometimes, there is nothing we can do to stop them. They cannot be fix, no matter how hard we try, and these bad things are not our fault. They are no one’s fault. Sometimes, bad things happen to good people. This does mean finding something to hate to fill the void of the pain you may feel, but know that it was not your fault.
I now know (most days) that my sexual abuse as a child was not my fault. Bad things happen that are sometimes beyond our control. I was weak then, but that does not mean I am weak now. Many times throughout the week I remind myself of this lesson as my Dark Knight rises and takes a hold of my consciousness, refusing to let go. There are some things that cannot be fixed, but and there are some things can be fixed if we ask for help. You are not alone, so don’t try and recover alone. Find a way to know and understand it was not your fault.