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What My Therapist Told Me When I Realized I Was a Victim of Medical Child Abuse

“Just put one foot in front of the other, sometimes that’s all you can do.”

Those are the words my therapist said after I explained to her that I had realized I was a victim of medical child abuse, where a caregiver had done things to make me sick during my childhood.

“What am I supposed to even do with this?” I asked her.

The whole world seemed like it had been flipped upside-down. Instead of looking at my childhood of doctor appointments and hospitalizations as something that had just happened to me, I now knew it was something that had been done to me. And that hurt. That hurt a lot. I was wrestling with some pretty big questions, but most of them all started with one of two words: “How?” or “Why?”

My childhood was far from ideal, but the first thing I struggled with deeply was my health. When I was around 8, diagnoses began getting piled on: GERD, migraines, reactive hypoglycemia. At 9 years old, I was hit with the one that ultimately impacted me the most: a rarely diagnosed form of autoimmune encephalitis specific to my basal ganglia. In short, my brain was microscopically inflamed, just enough to throw my neuropsychological functioning into chaos. Add in the fact that I seemed like a magnet for infections, and I spent more time in hospitals and doctor’s offices than anyone I knew, far less anyone my age.

I had a difficult time socially, as my life looked so different from that of my peers.

I had a difficult time academically, as my ability to process had crashed from the encephalitis.

I had a difficult time emotionally, as in so many ways, I felt my diagnosis had taken over my entire identity, like I had lost the very core of who I was.

“How could someone do this to me?”

“How could they see how much they were hurting me and still keep doing it?”

“How could they do this, yet say they loved me?”

“Why did they do this?”

“Why would anyone choose to make someone to go through this?”

“Why would anyone ever think this is an OK way to treat someone?”

I had so many unanswered questions, so many aspects I was trying to wrap my head around. I felt a tremendous amount of pressure to do something with this, to address it in some way.

But how can anything be addressed when your whole world has just been flipped on its head?

I needed time to process. I needed time to allow the waves of emotions I was feeling begin to subside. I needed time to recognize that my world as I knew it had not ended, to remind myself that I was safe now.

Back to my therapist’s response:

“Just put one foot in front of the other, sometimes that’s all you can do.” 

As much as it went against every fiber of my being, she was right. All I could do in that moment was to keep moving forward, one foot in front of the other. It was too much to make any long-term decisions before giving myself a chance to even begin to process. It was too much to do anything about it before allowing myself some time to simply feel.

Those words removed the pressure I had unnecessarily placed on my own shoulders: pressure to have it all figured out, pressure to do something about it, pressure to know all the answers to my own endless line of questions. With those words, she reminded me that it was OK to just be, to simply keep moving in this life I had built for myself. In fact, that was really all I could do, for now.

As the following weeks passed, I often found myself asking that same question again:

“What am I supposed to even do with this?”

And every time, without fail, my therapist’s words echoed in my mind in response:

“Just put one foot in front of the other.”

Photo credit: YakobchukOlena/Getty Images