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The Trauma of Growing Up in a Body That Wants to Evict You

I was born into this world breathless and unsafe. I had a heart that didn’t work the way it should. As a child with a congenital disability, I was always told I had it easy. I had parents who loved and cared about me; my disability wasn’t “that bad.” Yet medical trauma seemed to show up in key points in my adolescence to adulthood and I realized that this trauma had made me feel as if I was never truly safe or in control of my life and body.

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder is usually when someone has repeatedly experienced traumatic events or has been exposed to prolonged trauma. Many people who have disabilities, chronic illnesses, and/or have undergone several surgeries deal with complex trauma. Since I was born, my life and survival revolved around doctors, tests, and surgeries. People ask me, “How do you do it?” I’ve always replied, “What else am I supposed to do?” It’s all I’ve ever known. It’s what I have to do to survive. Yet that doesn’t mean it doesn’t come with its own weight.

When our bodies never feel like a safe haven, it can cause issues in our life. As children, we are supposed to rely on our bodies. Our young bodies are made to run, ride a bike, and play with our friends. They are built to withstand mistakes like falling from the monkey bars and scraping knees. My childhood was sheltered by my condition. I was limited in what I was able to do. Each surgery was a complex medical trauma that my childhood brain didn’t know how to process. I don’t ever remember having that moment of realization of the consequences of death and dying. I think I always had an idea of mortality.

Although I was never ashamed of my disability, I had such a hard time talking about it. Even now, I can talk more about my other conditions and mental health than my heart condition. My heart condition has always been tied to so many traumatic memories that I tend to avoid it. People would ask me about my surgery, they would ask me about the future of my heart condition, and all I could picture is things that had happened to me in the hospital. When I got into high school, I hated going to my cardiologist appointments. I would be in an awful mood when I’d get there. For many years I was like this. I was easy to anger and I always snapped at my family who tried to help me through tests and appointments. But I saw each Echo, EKG, blood test, nurse, doctor as just another reminder of the trauma I went through. They weren’t just a reminder of my past trauma but the possibility of what I will continue to go through in my life with this disability.

Lately, I’ve been helped by therapy, talking, and writing more about what I’ve gone through. I’ve realized that I’m not alone. It can be so tough feeling safe in a body that feels like it is always trying to evict you. Finding peace with my body is a journey, but it’s one I’m willing to go on. My disability isn’t going to be cured. I’ll always have it. But working through my complex trauma due to my disability is a move that I can make to start making me feel safer in this beautiful body I have.

Getty image by Esben_H.