Hello Dr. Patti,
I came across your book and read quite a large part of it and thought it interesting. I grew up in a family where my parents were highly-strung, stressed out individuals with my mother the sole breadwinner. She didn't even have a university degree but she worked her way up from being a clerk to a manager of a large company while my father remained unemployed despite a prestigious university degree because of his personality problems. They would get very upset with us because of their stressful life and there were often terrible screaming matches involving the whole family which escalated into fistfights more often than not. My siblings and I would also occasionally get beaten with different implements (canes, wire hangers, etc), slapped around and have things thrown at us. As the youngest, my siblings would also beat me up often, even to the point where I was taken to the hospital once.
When I was 6 my parents sent us all to a school far away and while taking the 2 hour commute, I began to be accosted by various strange men. They would do different things, some would just expose themselves or make lewd suggestions, others would rub against or molest me. My siblings also went through this. Initially, we told our parents but they said that "nobody would care". This went on for 10 years, not daily, but at least every month - always different people. When I was 9, a man pulled me over, dropped his pants and demanded a blowjob. I think that I got home okay after that but I really don't remember the details. And sometimes I have this same nightmare where he gets on top of me and is raping me and the feeling is just terrifying, stifling, and his smell overpowering and the fear and helplessness I feel seem so real. But I like to think that nothing happened.
I was a very angry person by the time I became a teenager, and my teachers would send me to the school counselor or psychologist but I never said anything about what my home life was like or about the other things. In my family, "you never tell our secrets" - that is what my mother said to me when she found out I was sent to the counselor. When I was 15, I took an overdose and was hospitalized for a week, and my teachers told my family that I would probably not succeed in my college-entrance exams. 7 years later, I am months from graduating medicine, the youngest at my university.
Your book "Invisible Girls" spoke about coping and overcoming. I can stand up and say that it is possible to build castles out of ruin, because it would appear that despite never believing I would ever get here, I have. A lot of it was the ability to "go elsewhere" in my head whenever I came across something distressing (e.g. male genitals in medicine, rape victims in ER) and the firm belief that even when you feel as if you are going to die, all you have to do to actually remain alive is simply keep breathing and the moment will pass.
There are many, many things in my life that I haven't sorted out yet. I recently ended a 1yr biweekly course of therapy due to geographical changes. I think I may someday return to therapy but not right now. If I walk down a road and someone passes by smelling like those men, I have to stop and clear my head. When I work in medicine and examine men I have to dissociate and think of my hands as separate from the rest of me. I doubt I will be able in the near future to conduct a romantic relationship with a man, or to stomach his hands on me.
But I just want to affirm that it is possible to make lemonade out of lemons. In a short few months I will be a physician. And you would never think it to look at me as I was - nor would you suspect it to look at me now. So many people that I know who have had damage done to them tell me that for them, they cannot see an end in sight and so they give up hope. I've been there and now, standing just a tiny way across the other side, I look back and I see that there is such a thing still left for people like me.
Dr. Patti responds:
Dear Mince ;
Wow you really are an inspiration. You do fit the picture of so many of the girls in "Invisible Girls". You forged ahead with blinders on no matter what anyone said to you. You prove that you are more than your circumstances! I am so sorry that your parents did not protect you and/or your siblings. I am also sorry that you had to be abused at the hands of so many sick men, and your sibs. We need doctors who are tuned into the souls and psyches of their patients, and I believe you will be just that kind of physician. I do think there will continue to be triggers for you and I encourage you to continue to work out the kinks. If you are not in therapy perhaps you can keep a journal. It is important to keep the release of the memories and experiences fluid. Thank you for sharing your inspirational story with us at Girlthrive.
................................xoxo, Dr. P.