Olivia Cyr

@oliviacyr | contributor
I am a teenager living with six chronic health conditions, OCD, anxiety, PTSD, and depression. I want to be a voice and an advocate not only for myself, but for others who might not have the opportunity to have their voice heard.
Olivia Cyr

To the Hospital Who Saw Me as a Liability

Dear Hospital, You say that you are here to help people; you are there to provide care for those in their darkest hours of need, when their lives and futures are in jeopardy. You are the place that proclaims to offer supreme treatment over all the other medical institutions one could choose to receive care at. You are where people place their hope when all goes wrong and they or their loved ones find themselves in dangerous or compromising positions, believing the rooms within your walls to be sacred places where hope is given and lost, where life and death meet under the compassion of experienced doctors who work tirelessly to save lives, a place where the value of human life is recognized and placed upon the highest pedestal. I used to believe that hospitals were places of healing, spots where angels in disguise worked endlessly to provide the best care for patients, walls that held hope and safety within them. You have shattered that illusion. I no longer believe hospitals to be places where hope is given and held, rather they are, in my experience, places where hope is placed in your hands and then savagely ripped away, institutions where your wounds are sewn up, only to have the stitches torn out, leaving deeper injuries than the originals. In my experience, I come to you broken and bleeding, crying out for help, for hope, for someone to hear me, and as quickly as steady myself on your land after drifting and being thrown about by the waves, you rip the solid ground out from under me, tossing my body back into the waves, more exhausted than I was when I began seeking your refuge. You claim to like puzzles, searching for the missing pieces and taking pride in the product when it is done, hanging it up on your wall like a physical visual of your ability and intelligence. I am learning, however, that what you really mean is that you like short, sweet puzzles with all traditionally shaped pieces, fitting together in under a day and with all the pieces included in the box. Puzzles such as myself, with our missing pieces, lack of clarity in the final picture, and mixture of pieces from other puzzles that must be sorted through before you can tell what our final image can be are too burdensome for you and shatter your perfect illusion that you project to the public; we show that not every puzzle looks like the finished picture of the product on the box. I used to believe that hospitals placed the highest value on human lives; I used to believe in your promise to provide care; I used to believe that you prioritize patient care. I was wrong. You have placed a dollar sign above my life, decided that the value of my life was less than the amount you could be sued if something went wrong. You have blocked my doctor from helping me, going directly against your promise to provide patient care. I am learning that “patient care” is caring for patients with predictable outcomes that promote business and line your pockets, while abandoning those whose outcomes may be less desirable, but require and deserve care nonetheless. You see me as all the things that could go wrong, basing my worth on the potential outcomes and consequences you could experience. But, I am more than all the ways my health could potentially impact you. My name is Olivia Cyr. I am 19 years old. I love school and have been a straight “A” student my whole life, seeking out knowledge and learning whenever the opportunity arises. I have chronic illnesses, but they will never have me. I have been a visiting resource for five years for DCF, meeting two girls who I love with all my heart and are the reason I keep fighting. I promised that they would not lose me, that I would not suddenly disappear the same way that so many others have. But you, hospital executives, are making that promise a very difficult one to keep. I want to fight not only for myself, but for those who cannot fight for themselves, to repay those amazing providers who advocated for me by passing on the favor. I would not expect you to know this about my life. After all, you have never met me personally, and I am nothing more than a name on your paper, and on a risk versus benefit analysis somewhere in your office. What I would expect from people who run a hospital, who control the treatment of some of the most vulnerable populations is that you would realize that every patient who walks through your door is more than a dollar sign, or potential liability, that you would see their lives as having value and understand that we all have hopes, dreams, plans for the future, and those we love who we are fighting to stay for. I would expect that those in a place of healing make at least a passable attempt to do just that. But, despite all of the damage you’ve caused me and my health, I thank you. I thank you for shattering my deeply believed illusion of you, and I thank you for giving new meaning to my life. Because my life does have value, and I solemnly swear that I will use every moment to not only advocate for others the same way that amazing providers have for me, but to dedicate my life to shattering society’s rosy view of you, exposing your actions so that your greed and apathy will be met with outrage and not accepted as a normal part of American medicine. Sincerely,A patient whose life has value  

Olivia Cyr

Open Letter to Doctors From Your 'Difficult Patient' With Medical PTSD

Dear Medical Provider, You say that you are frustrated. You are angered by my inability to trust you and your treatment recommendations. Your ego/pride is wounded by my explaining my condition to you. Or, maybe, you are one of those rare gems of professionals who genuinely care and are concerned for my well-being, feeling helpless because you want to help and feel that I am hindering your ability to come to my aid. Whatever the reasons for your frustration, I have a message for you: I have been irreversibly damaged by your profession. It’s a hard truth. The blame does not fall on your shoulders, but you are part of a community that has caused immense trauma that has left a mark and forever changed the person I am. There was a time when I trusted doctors, when the mere mention of a new doctor or hospital visit did not leave me quaking on the floor, battling flashbacks of medical neglect and trauma. The door to my care used to be wide open to all doctors, nurses, PAs, and any others in the medical field who wanted to participate in my care. In fact, I flung that door open with enthusiasm, so hopeful that I would find answers and help for my health. But over time, that door was abused. Words and accusations flew wildly, knocking out the beautiful front windows on the entrance, leaving me cowering within. And so, ever so slowly, the door began to close. It wasn’t a conscious decision; most days I was not even aware of the sliver of space that got smaller and smaller with each new rock hurled. Until, one day, no one could get in. And I could not get out. A solid barrier stands between us, and you yell at me to tear it down, without ever questioning why it was necessary to build in the first place. You tell me to trust you; you tell me to open the door, you pound with your fists without stopping to realize that your behavior is only furthering the belief that the barrier is necessary and the only way to keep myself safe. As one of my favorite quotes says, “Stop asking me to trust you while I’m still coughing up water from the last time you let me drown.” I did not become this way overnight. It took several years of neglect and trauma to shape the views, beliefs and fears that lock me inside. It was not one mistake, but a pattern of mistakes, arrogance, and actions that directly endangered my life that have created the guarded human in front of you. I did not ask to become this person; the medical field damaged me. I am learning to heal, but you do not get to judge or dictate a timeline for how I repair what your profession broke. I did not ask for this trauma. I did not ask to feel like it is safer to die in my house than to get medical treatment in a hospital. I did not ask for not one, but two doctors tell me to my face that they would not give me an epi-pen when I have an allergic reaction because I “have a history of anxiety that you will take into account.” I did not ask to have my throat begin to close up and have an ICU doctor stand over me refusing to give me epi until my nurse yelled at him that I would code if he did not administer it. I did not ask to be literally starving with my body breaking itself down for nutrition only to be held in the hospital for six days with no nutrition because of the assumption that I was faking. I did not ask to fear for my life because of the arrogance and neglect of medical professionals. My medical PTSD is not a result of the numerous possibly life-threatening situations my health has caused. I have not walked away with trauma from any serious health situation where I was believed, cared for, and validated by medical staff. My trauma is a direct result of the behavior of those taking care of me during my most vulnerable times. Those patients who are the hardest to treat are the ones who have lost. Lost trust in the world, the people around them, humanity, and themselves as the guilt that comes after is oftentimes unbearable. The thoughts that I should have spoken more loudly, stood my ground, known not to trust you, are deafening. But, the reality of the situation is that I did not need to do anything differently, rather, you just needed to listen to the person who is the expert of their body and their condition. We are not difficult, we are hurting, scared, and traumatized by the medical industry. It is not your fault, but it is your responsibility to ensure that you never cause your patients the trauma that we have suffered, to ensure that your patients see medical professionals as people who will help them rather than someone they need to protect themselves from. You and I can’t change what happened to me. For better or worse, medical trauma has shaped who I am and how I view the world. But, you and I can work together to heal not only myself, but others who have suffered the same ways that I have. So, the next time you have a “difficult patient,” remember the experiences that shaped them. Sincerely,A pain in the ass patient  

Olivia Cyr

I Will No Longer Apologize for My Chronic Illnesses

“You will always be too much of something for someone: too big, too loud, too soft, too edgy. If you round out your edges, you lose your edge. Apologize for mistakes. Apologize for intentionally hurting someone — profusely. But don’t apologize for being who you are.” —Danielle Laporte I apologize way too much. This is a known fact to many who know me. I am the type of person where you could step on my foot, and I would apologize for causing you to do so. If I were to get all deep and dark, I could probably attribute this habit to feeling unworthy and inferior, resulting in my apologizing for daring to even be in a space. But that is not the purpose of this blog post. The purpose of this piece is to address not the why of my tendency to over-apologize, but rather what I apologize for. If I were to take all of the reasons why I say “sorry” and put them into categories, the one that had the most would, by far, be my chronic illnesses. I think many people with chronic health issues carry a level of guilt, knowing we cause others to sometimes have to change the way they do things to accommodate us. It is probably unrealistic to think we, the chronic illness community, can get rid of these feelings entirely. I don’t think I will ever not feel any guilt for the ways my illnesses affect those surrounding me. With that being said, however, the ways in which others may be slightly inconvenienced by my conditions is not my fault, nor is it something I should feel the need to apologize for. I should not feel the obligation to say “sorry” when the school nurse needs to give me an epi-pen. It is not my fault, I did not choose to go into anaphylaxis, and in that situation, I have not done anything wrong. My body decided to go haywire, and I have no control over what the outcome of that may look like. I am very thankful for the nurse at my school and the many times she has helped me by giving me epi-pens, but I should not feel the need to be forgiven because she was required to do her job. At school, I have a 504 plan which outlines accommodations I receive due to my health issues. One that was added this year was permission to leave the room and go to guidance if there was a scent, so I can (hopefully) avoid needing an epi-pen and ambulance ride. Many times this year I have ended up needing to use that right and leave the classroom for the sake of my health. Even though staying in the classroom could possibly endanger my life in those situations, I still apologize to my teachers for needing to leave. If I am being completely honest, I feel my life is not important enough to interrupt the teacher to ask for permission to leave. None of my teachers have ever done anything to encourage this feeling; I have the most wonderful and understanding teachers any student could ever hope to have. Nonetheless, this feeling of being a unworthy burden remains. The feeling of being a burden is not limited to my time at school, however. Lately, I have been reacting to fragrances, making it so no one can be allowed into my house if there is even a hint of a smell on them. It is dangerous to my health, requires epi-pens to be given, an ambulance to be called, a four hour ER stint, and possible admission to the hospital if there is a rebound reaction. Even though they are coming to my house, I still feel guilty about asking them not to wear anything with a smell. At times, it feels as if their desire to smell good should override my right to actually be alive. A few days ago, I was cleaning out my inbox and found a picture one of my teachers had sent me. It was a picture of a page that outlined the reasons when an apology is appropriate. I doubt she even remembers sending this, but it arrived on a really bad day after I had a panic attack in her class and apologized profusely for doing so. She was the first person, besides a therapist, to let me know that I didn’t have to apologize for being and for having needs that needed to be met; I didn’t have to apologize for being human. This is the picture: The reality is that having health conditions does not require an apology. I didn’t ask for it, I don’t deserve it, and I am ultimately the one who must live with it. I am not crossing a boundary when I ask for a bigger changing room because of my wheelchair. I am not mistaken about my needs and which rights I have to make sure they are addressed. And it’s not on me if someone is hurt by the fact that they cannot wear perfume around me, because my right to be alive trumps America’s incessant desire to have a fragrance upon themselves. Ultimately, what it comes down to is that I believe God has given me this life and I refuse to apologize for that. It may not be pretty, perfect, and can be messy most of the time, but I refuse to apologize for what God has allowed in my life or for the life He has given me. This doesn’t mean I still won’t apologize for being sick. I’ve done it for so long and old habits die hard. I hope writing this will serve as a reminder to all of us that being human and having needs does not require forgiveness.

Olivia Cyr

Learning to Say 'No' in My Life With Chronic Illness

The Oxford English Dictionary contains over 600,000 words. That’s more than 600,000 opportunities to take or give, uplift or tear down, build or destroy. 600,000 chances to either take control of your life, or give power over you to someone else. As a Christian, I used five of those words to surrender my life to Christ. I chose to give up control and power over my life to my Lord and Savior, acknowledging my belief that His will for my life will far surpass any dream or desire I could ever hope to have become reality. I believe there is power is choosing to humble myself to the Lord and entrusting myself to His care. Control over my life was not seized by God, but rather, in His grace, He allowed me the gift of choosing to place my life in His hands. While there are instances in my life, such as in my walk with Christ, where I have willingly given up control and power over some aspect of my life, I rarely give up control by choice. Rather, chronic illness, those who treat it, and society in general have seized much power over my body and my life. Most days, a sense of helplessness consumes me as I am reminded over and over again how little power and say I have over most things that happen to me. As a minor, I have no legal say in whether or not I want something or whether or not I am OK with it being done to my body. As a patient, I have even fewer rights as most doctors and nurses see my body as public property to be poked and prodded freely and without my consent. When I am in a hospital bed, I am not asked if they can put an IV in. I am told to hold out my arm because they will be inserting an IV into my vein. When I do speak my opinion, I am often bulldozed out of the way, despite it being my body that is directly affected. I have no control over what my body will do or feel like on any given day, and so to be treated as if I have no right to determine what I deem acceptable to be done to my body often switches between infuriating and depressing depending on that given moment in time. My anger and outrage have led to a marvelous discovery, however. This finding is a simple thing, really. A two-letter word most learn at the age of 2. This magical revelation was the word “no.” Two simple letters that take the power over my life from someone else and place it back in my hands. The word “no” is my key to taking back control over my body and reclaiming my rights not only as a patient, but as a human being. As a person, I have a right to tell someone to not do something to my body. I have the right and power to stop a nurse from using a certain vein for an IV, a doctor from examining me a certain way, and anything else that feels wrong, painful, or disrespectful to my body. My status as a minor and/or patient does not discount the fact that my body is my own, and I should have the right to tell someone they cannot do something to it or treat it in a certain way. I might not be of age to consent to medical treatment, but I am old enough to speak up for myself and to tell someone “no” when they want to do something to me that I deem unacceptable. Chronic illness has taken a lot from me, but I refuse to allow it to take control over my voice and my expectations to be treated with respect for no other reason than I am a person and deserve to be treated as such. It has taken me almost 18 years to learn the powerful word most learn at the age of 2, but now that I know of it and its power, I refuse to be silent any longer and will continue to advocate for myself, my body, and my rights for so long as I am on this earth. ”This is my life…my story…my book. I will no longer let anyone else write it; nor will I apologize for the edits I make.” –Steve Maraboli

Olivia Cyr

What Chronic Illness Has Taught Me About Surrender and Control

“ God helps those who help themselves.” If I had a penny for every time I heard this… Self-sufficiency has become a fundamental part of our culture. After all, the American dream was based off of working hard to make your dreams come true, and overcoming all the odds to succeed. But what happens when you cannot help yourself? When the things that you need, were promised and are deemed medically necessary to treat your condition are taken out of your hands, or were never in them to begin with? What happens when the treatment you need to stop your disease from progressing, or at least to slow it down, is in the hands of political bureaucrats who care more about their money than about the fact that their delay could cause your body irreparable damage? What choice do you have when your treatment is under the control of doctors who are so over-worked and burned out they cannot set aside the time to line up your treatment, whose busy lives and hectic schedules go against their oath to “do no harm” as you continue to deteriorate from delay after delay? What happens when you cannot do anything to remedy your situation, and are forced to sit with your helplessness, knowing there is nothing humanly possible you can do to make things move faster, smoother, cheaper, when you are at the mercy of others? Chronic illness has a way of teaching you helplessness. Not in the sense that you sit by and expect others to do everything for you, but in the way there is nothing you can do to save yourself. You can take all of your prescribed medications, see all the experts, or — let’s be real — put your name on their waitlist and hope they call before you’re too far gone for their help, submit yourself to all kinds of treatments, eat all the right food, and still be sick and keep getting sicker. You can do every single thing right and have every single thing go wrong. There is something so raw, real and terrifying about having your life out of your hands. Sure, I mean you can decide what you want to eat, what clothes to wear and how to treat others, but the of life where you control yourself and your body, the part of you that everyone assumes makes you human, does not belong to you. Our society likes to think we can do anything we set our minds to, and that our fate, destiny, future or anything else you believe in rests solely in our hands; that working hard, studying constantly and pure determination can get you anywhere you want to go. We want to believe that all you need to advance in life is a good attitude and work ethic. Perhaps those of us with chronic illness are often considered outcasts because we shatter the perfect illusion that our world is so fond of. We show that life can hit you out of nowhere and leave you on the ground, unable to get up, reliant on others, with no way to fix your situation. Society likes nice neat bows that wrap up all the messy threads of life. Either get better and win, or die and lose. The middle ground of a war of battles lost as often as won show the ugly truth, that we do not have complete and total control over our lives, that pure determination is not always enough to win. You can have all the determination in the world, but if your body is failing you, you cannot will it to function. You can call an insurance company everyday, beg, plead, curse and cry, but you cannot make them approve the treatment you need. You can scream at the top of your lungs until you are blue in the face, but you cannot force a doctor to hear what you are saying, see your desperation, or soften their heart enough to care. I would argue that the helplessness, judgment and shame that come with chronic illness are some of the worst parts of being sick. The loneliness and isolation that accompany can be as painful as the illness itself. The messy threads wind tight around your neck, and you must wait for someone to help you untangle yourself. You are stripped bare, your humanity on display for all to see. While most wear capes and put on the show that they are superhuman, you are left exposed with all of your weaknesses on display, all of your scars apparent. But that is where the beauty comes in. When you are raw, real, human, exposed… when your humanity is on display and you are who you are made to be. When you are purely you, walker, rollator, wheelchair, cane and all. Asking for and accepting help, crying for relief, on your knees sobbing, surrounded by onlookers… beautifully broken. Sometimes when we are stripped bare and exposed we have the most dignity.

People With Disabilities Are Allowed to Be Angry

As a person with a disability, have you ever been told to look on the brighter side of things? That someone else has it worse than you? You’re not alone, and your feelings are valid. I’ve been feeling very angry lately about the world. I’m sick of people’s ignorant comments, I’m tired of the stares, and I wish people would just understand what it’s like living with a disability, what it’s like having mental illness. In March, I had an article I wrote published about a police officer harassing me about my disability placard. I had so many comments, some good and a lot of hate. A couple particularly got to me. They said things like, “you need to write about the good,” and “you are so full of spite and anger, you need to spread positivity.” Here’s the thing, I think it’s great to be positive, but spreading positivity doesn’t start change. Being your inspiration porn is not my goal. My mother gave me some interesting advice not that long ago. She told me to stop caring what others think. I responded that it’s an easy thing to say, but isolating when you put it into practice. But then she told me, “Stop being silent, piss people off the way they piss you off. When someone says something ignorant, correct them. Be the activist you want to be even if it means they don’t like it. At least you will have said your piece and maybe they will have learned something.” Here’s what changes things, in my experience: advocacy, getting angry when unjust things happen and talking about them. Being upset about a police officer who treats you rudely, doesn’t apologize when he is in the wrong and writing about it can change things. Getting angry and starting a movement changes things, like @rkamen and @im_still_here_sgb did when people were and are still unnecessarily leaving their homes and putting high risk and vulnerable people’s lives in danger from COVID-19. Or when fashion labels like Kimhekim think it’s OK to exploit those with illnesses for gain and people speak out. Don’t get me wrong, this world needs positivity, especially during hard times. But I’m not going to sugarcoat the tough shit. I’m so sick of disabled people only being shown in the media if it’s some kind of uplifting story to warm all the feelings you have in your heart. But here’s the thing, to so many people, we are a forgotten minority. We are allowed to be angry and pissed off. Don’t let anyone quiet your voice or tell you to be positive about injustice. Get pissed off.

Community Voices
Olivia Cyr

Assault by School Nurse During Trauma Crisis Shows Need for Training

This is a story written by both my friend Cass Gray (also a contributor to The Mighty) and myself. It is no secret that schools have come under heavy criticism for the impact they have on their students’ mental health . The people on the educational front are often the first line of defense when it comes to student suffering. For the most part, those at our school have demonstrated compassion, empathy and wisdom in guiding us through many challenges. We have been blessed beyond belief with a circle of amazing teachers who support us in whatever ways we need, and this is in no way meant to cast a negative shadow on them and all their hard work to make a difference in the lives of their stude nts. Our hope in writing this is that awareness is spread for the betterment of school faculty on the correct response to student mental health crises. It is our wish that no other student or parent will have to endure what we have. November 1, 2019, started as a normal day with a normal schedule. We went to our classes, turned in our homework and laughed with each other, as usual. We had no idea of the drastic turn the day would take. During Spanish class, I (Olivia) experienced a freeze response due to my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A freeze response is a trauma response that can leave the individual unable to move and speak — essentially “frozen” in time, but aware of their surroundings. After class ended, my friend Cass noticed what was happening and, unsure of what to do, attracted the attention of our teacher for help. She filled her in on the response and the decision was made to send for the substitute nurse; the nurse who was familiar with my history was out that day. Having knowledge of what was happening and how to help, Cass was given permission by our teacher to remain by my side. While waiting for the nurse, Cass and our teacher began to comfort me. After a few minutes of their reassurances, I had improved to the point of menial communication, voicing my request for an ice pack which can be used to shock the senses and reverse the freeze response. Unable to find an ice pack, our teacher left the room to retrieve one. A few minutes after our teacher’s departure, the nurse arrived. She stood in the doorway, and she barked at me, “Get up!” Cass calmly explained the response, and that I was unable to follow through with her command. The nurse then glared at Cass and retorted with, “She can.” The nurse continued to berate me as Cass knelt by my side, in shock. The nurse repeatedly told me I need to “get up” and “go downstairs,” ignoring Cass’ insistence that I was unable to do so. During this time, I was completely aware of what was happening and terrified of the nurse who showed no ounce of compassion or humanity in her. I was frozen with my head propped up on my arm, the latter of which the nurse began to forcibly pull in an attempt to bring it to my side. All the while, she continued to critique me and demand that I move. Due to the rigidness of my arm, and my inability to move freely, the pull caused pain, which I did not have the ability to express. Cass blocked the nurse by placing her hand on my arm and was then ordered by the nurse to leave. She calmly explained that she had been given express permission by our teacher to remain by my side, but the argument made no difference and she was forced to leave. The nurse told her that she didn’t care and that she was to leave so that she could “remove” me from the classroom. Cass left the room, and unbeknownst to me at the time, went to guidance to inform them of the abuse . She descended into a panic attack as she left, terrified at having to leave me with the nurse. With Cass gone, the nurse began to pull on my arm more aggressively, so much so that, after the incident, I had fingernail marks on my arm. She told me to “get up” and that I was “not leaving here in an ambulance again.” She was referring to the previous day when I had been transferred to the hospital after receiving an EpiPen for an allergic reaction. She then continued to cause me pain by pushing the desk out of the way and pulling my legs. What happens next is not as clear as I would like, as I was panicking, but the nurse left to go to guidance and our teacher returned and placed the ice pack on my hand. I was visibly upset at this point and had tears streaming down my face. After a few minutes, I was able to speak enough to tell my teacher to “not let that bitch [the nurse] near me again.” Regaining my ability to speak, and hysterical from the events that occurred, my teacher called guidance to request help, saying I was in distress and in need of assistance. Our counselor, however, was unable to come. I decided to go to guidance on my own. Our teacher walked me down the hallway where we crossed paths with the counselor and nurse. Filled with righteous indignation at the treatment I had been subjected to, I yelled at the nurse, “Who the hell do you think you are?!” The nurse scolded me for yelling at her, and I was ushered into the guidance department where I met up with a visibly distressed Cass. She had been waiting to see our guidance counselor to inform her of the situation, but who had been too busy with the nurse to speak to her. I was taken into our counselor’s office where I recounted the incident and the nurse’s abominable behavior. After I finished, my counselor conceded that the nurse’s behavior was not appropriate, but continued to make excuses. She claimed that, as the nurse was unfamiliar with my history, it was a perfectly understandable situation, despite Cass’ repeated attempts to inform her of such. I was then lectured for my behavior and told how there are expectations that school personnel not be yelled at in the hallway. Never mind that my expectation of not being physically assaulted by staff had been violated. Cass was then called in, crying, and corroborated my story. She requested that the nurse be removed from the school and not be allowed to return. We were given numerous excuses for the inexcusable behavior we had been subjected to, and given the option of speaking to the vice principal. Having had good experiences with him before, we agreed to see him and make our concerns and requests for the nurse’s removal known. Upon telling him our story, he asked if we had any witnesses. I explained that while Cass had seen the beginning of the nurse’s attempt to move me, she had — conveniently — been sent out of the room for most of the assault. He then explained that the nurse worked in an ER, and therefore did not know how to treat children. (The perfect lady to then have work in a school.) He concluded the meeting by referencing a Japanese sitcom he frequently watches, laughing and walking out. The traumatic day ended with our calls to our parents to dismiss us from school as we were far too upset to continue the day. While our experience is unfortunate and inexcusable, it does not stand alone in the sea of students with additional needs being subjected to inappropriate — not to m ention cruel and abusive — treatment from school personnel who are not properly trained to identify those in distress due to a mental health crisis. While some may claim that what happened was a misunderstanding, I choose to call it what it is — an assault on a student in a mental health crisis due to p rejudice against those with mental illness . Had the nurse seen me frozen, identified that it was a mental health issue and therefore beyond her scope of expertise, and gone to guidance, the whole situation would have played out very differently. However, her arrogance and bias led her to the conclusion that I was attention-seeking and just needed to be snapped out of it , leading to the chaos and trauma that then ensued because of her behavior. The need for accurate training and overall compassion and awareness in school personnel toward those with mental illness is overwhelming. While my teachers are compassionate and kind individuals, their understanding was not able to save me from the abuse I experienced at the hands of the substitute nurse. Training teachers is not enough in this regard. All school staff should be aware of how to respond to those in a mental health crisis, or at least how to identify those who are experiencing one, and they may one day be the one called on to respond to the situation. After many arguments, we (and our parents) have been reassured that the nurse in question will not be at our school again, but that does not erase the trauma of what happened or the fear it could happen to someone else. Until action is taken, and proper training dispersed among school faculty, instances such as that which we experienced will continue to occur. Prejudice against those with mental illness is real , and it causes damage. It is our hope that this article sparks change, and that our experience and suffering from what occurred will not be in vain.

Olivia Cyr

Assault by School Nurse During Trauma Crisis Shows Need for Training

This is a story written by both my friend Cass Gray (also a contributor to The Mighty) and myself. It is no secret that schools have come under heavy criticism for the impact they have on their students’ mental health . The people on the educational front are often the first line of defense when it comes to student suffering. For the most part, those at our school have demonstrated compassion, empathy and wisdom in guiding us through many challenges. We have been blessed beyond belief with a circle of amazing teachers who support us in whatever ways we need, and this is in no way meant to cast a negative shadow on them and all their hard work to make a difference in the lives of their stude nts. Our hope in writing this is that awareness is spread for the betterment of school faculty on the correct response to student mental health crises. It is our wish that no other student or parent will have to endure what we have. November 1, 2019, started as a normal day with a normal schedule. We went to our classes, turned in our homework and laughed with each other, as usual. We had no idea of the drastic turn the day would take. During Spanish class, I (Olivia) experienced a freeze response due to my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A freeze response is a trauma response that can leave the individual unable to move and speak — essentially “frozen” in time, but aware of their surroundings. After class ended, my friend Cass noticed what was happening and, unsure of what to do, attracted the attention of our teacher for help. She filled her in on the response and the decision was made to send for the substitute nurse; the nurse who was familiar with my history was out that day. Having knowledge of what was happening and how to help, Cass was given permission by our teacher to remain by my side. While waiting for the nurse, Cass and our teacher began to comfort me. After a few minutes of their reassurances, I had improved to the point of menial communication, voicing my request for an ice pack which can be used to shock the senses and reverse the freeze response. Unable to find an ice pack, our teacher left the room to retrieve one. A few minutes after our teacher’s departure, the nurse arrived. She stood in the doorway, and she barked at me, “Get up!” Cass calmly explained the response, and that I was unable to follow through with her command. The nurse then glared at Cass and retorted with, “She can.” The nurse continued to berate me as Cass knelt by my side, in shock. The nurse repeatedly told me I need to “get up” and “go downstairs,” ignoring Cass’ insistence that I was unable to do so. During this time, I was completely aware of what was happening and terrified of the nurse who showed no ounce of compassion or humanity in her. I was frozen with my head propped up on my arm, the latter of which the nurse began to forcibly pull in an attempt to bring it to my side. All the while, she continued to critique me and demand that I move. Due to the rigidness of my arm, and my inability to move freely, the pull caused pain, which I did not have the ability to express. Cass blocked the nurse by placing her hand on my arm and was then ordered by the nurse to leave. She calmly explained that she had been given express permission by our teacher to remain by my side, but the argument made no difference and she was forced to leave. The nurse told her that she didn’t care and that she was to leave so that she could “remove” me from the classroom. Cass left the room, and unbeknownst to me at the time, went to guidance to inform them of the abuse . She descended into a panic attack as she left, terrified at having to leave me with the nurse. With Cass gone, the nurse began to pull on my arm more aggressively, so much so that, after the incident, I had fingernail marks on my arm. She told me to “get up” and that I was “not leaving here in an ambulance again.” She was referring to the previous day when I had been transferred to the hospital after receiving an EpiPen for an allergic reaction. She then continued to cause me pain by pushing the desk out of the way and pulling my legs. What happens next is not as clear as I would like, as I was panicking, but the nurse left to go to guidance and our teacher returned and placed the ice pack on my hand. I was visibly upset at this point and had tears streaming down my face. After a few minutes, I was able to speak enough to tell my teacher to “not let that bitch [the nurse] near me again.” Regaining my ability to speak, and hysterical from the events that occurred, my teacher called guidance to request help, saying I was in distress and in need of assistance. Our counselor, however, was unable to come. I decided to go to guidance on my own. Our teacher walked me down the hallway where we crossed paths with the counselor and nurse. Filled with righteous indignation at the treatment I had been subjected to, I yelled at the nurse, “Who the hell do you think you are?!” The nurse scolded me for yelling at her, and I was ushered into the guidance department where I met up with a visibly distressed Cass. She had been waiting to see our guidance counselor to inform her of the situation, but who had been too busy with the nurse to speak to her. I was taken into our counselor’s office where I recounted the incident and the nurse’s abominable behavior. After I finished, my counselor conceded that the nurse’s behavior was not appropriate, but continued to make excuses. She claimed that, as the nurse was unfamiliar with my history, it was a perfectly understandable situation, despite Cass’ repeated attempts to inform her of such. I was then lectured for my behavior and told how there are expectations that school personnel not be yelled at in the hallway. Never mind that my expectation of not being physically assaulted by staff had been violated. Cass was then called in, crying, and corroborated my story. She requested that the nurse be removed from the school and not be allowed to return. We were given numerous excuses for the inexcusable behavior we had been subjected to, and given the option of speaking to the vice principal. Having had good experiences with him before, we agreed to see him and make our concerns and requests for the nurse’s removal known. Upon telling him our story, he asked if we had any witnesses. I explained that while Cass had seen the beginning of the nurse’s attempt to move me, she had — conveniently — been sent out of the room for most of the assault. He then explained that the nurse worked in an ER, and therefore did not know how to treat children. (The perfect lady to then have work in a school.) He concluded the meeting by referencing a Japanese sitcom he frequently watches, laughing and walking out. The traumatic day ended with our calls to our parents to dismiss us from school as we were far too upset to continue the day. While our experience is unfortunate and inexcusable, it does not stand alone in the sea of students with additional needs being subjected to inappropriate — not to m ention cruel and abusive — treatment from school personnel who are not properly trained to identify those in distress due to a mental health crisis. While some may claim that what happened was a misunderstanding, I choose to call it what it is — an assault on a student in a mental health crisis due to p rejudice against those with mental illness . Had the nurse seen me frozen, identified that it was a mental health issue and therefore beyond her scope of expertise, and gone to guidance, the whole situation would have played out very differently. However, her arrogance and bias led her to the conclusion that I was attention-seeking and just needed to be snapped out of it , leading to the chaos and trauma that then ensued because of her behavior. The need for accurate training and overall compassion and awareness in school personnel toward those with mental illness is overwhelming. While my teachers are compassionate and kind individuals, their understanding was not able to save me from the abuse I experienced at the hands of the substitute nurse. Training teachers is not enough in this regard. All school staff should be aware of how to respond to those in a mental health crisis, or at least how to identify those who are experiencing one, and they may one day be the one called on to respond to the situation. After many arguments, we (and our parents) have been reassured that the nurse in question will not be at our school again, but that does not erase the trauma of what happened or the fear it could happen to someone else. Until action is taken, and proper training dispersed among school faculty, instances such as that which we experienced will continue to occur. Prejudice against those with mental illness is real , and it causes damage. It is our hope that this article sparks change, and that our experience and suffering from what occurred will not be in vain.

Olivia Cyr

The Mixed Emotions of Living With Chronic Illness

Dear Chronic Illness, I don’t know whether to love you or hate you. To be bitter for all I’ve lost and what you have cost me, or be grateful for the lessons you’ve taught me and the perspective you have brought into my life. To despise the loss of independence I’ve experienced because of you, or to appreciate the grace and humility you have forced me to learn. It never crossed my mind that the innocent childhood pictures of butterflies in my mind’s eye would be replaced with the butterfly needles used by doctors to take my blood. That the gentle tickle of the insect landing on my arm would be replaced by the sharp sting of a needle puncturing my flesh. I wanted to grow up and find the cure for cancer, not the good vein in my arm for the phlebotomist to draw labs from. You barged into my life like an unwanted guest, shattered my hopes and dreams, and poured gasoline into the pieces you had broken, watching the flames engulf it until only ashes were left. And yet, I am learning to be grateful for your cleansing fire. You have opened me up to new experiences and new problems I never knew existed. You taught me what it’s like to use a wheelchair, a very eye-opening experience. I never realized how many disability bathrooms were not truly accessible. I never thought about how someone was supposed to grab hold of the door handle, hold the door open, and wheel themselves through. I never imagined that many of these supposedly accessible stalls were not large enough to accommodate a wheelchair. Through you, I have discovered the people who will cling to me during struggles and the people who will leave me to run to shelter when the storms of my life get difficult to weather. The people who instead of fleeing from my darkness, will stand with me and shine a light so I may have the courage to face the shadows of uncertainty. You have shown me how the most brilliant people can project the most ignorance into the world, and that a medical degree does not equal intelligence. I am learning how God can take the most broken, vulnerable parts of my circumstances and use them in ways I could never have imagined. Some days I can still feel the heat from your fire engulfing me, and I struggle to breathe as panic courses through my body at the thought of you destroying what I have started to rebuild. But on those days, I remember you are not destroying my life, only changing it into something different based on God’s plan. And no matter what shape my life takes, I believe with God’s grace, I will rise from the ashes of your fire.