Tales from the Infusion Clinic, Special Edition: The Sound of Fury, Part 2 of 4

CONTENT NOTE: Essentially, all the warnings and alerts for readers, especially those who feel they are in a precarious emotional and/or mental state. Bookmark this for later. Or never. Whenever is best for you. In this multi-part post I address various forms of domestic violence and reference other forms of violence. I get personal. I do not write about any abuses in graphic detail, but oftentimes the muted, even mundane details can be the most triggering. And I write about some lasting effects, including mental health/illness crises and self-harm. Take care of yourselves and thank you for reading.

Part II. Dis Closure … a MyGoodWolf exclusive

This time it’s personal! As in, truly personal history. Note cautions above. (Was not easy to post this.)* Continuation of Part I. Did you hear what I Heard?

I am a survivor several times over. Meaning I’ve endured multiple traumas and lived to generally not tell the tale, except in therapy. (And even then …) I have hinted at my trauma history here and there in this erratic blog and some people know bits and pieces of my history, but very few know the whole picture. Those who do are my husband and a couple psychotherapists. So yeah, I can keep a secret! Almost as well as those who took certain information to their graves. My PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) has surged to crisis levels more than once these past few/several years, most recently over the roughly 6-month period this last November-April.

This is not a digression.

Here’s a listing for the first time all in one place. You’ve been cautioned. Not all on this list are traumas in and of themselves, but contribute to an overall environment of instability. Some stuff listed below may be the result of trauma. Some … just needed to be on the list.

◦ I’m the child of parents and a guardian with largely untreated mental illnesses. (My mother was also a victim of malpractice in this regard.)

◦ I’m the child of parents with likewise untreated eating disorders.

◦ I’m the child of a parent and a guardian with debilitating and on a few occasions life-threatening alcoholism. (Also untreated/under-treated)

◦ I’m the child of domestic and sexual violence. I was witness to and subject of these abuses, perpetrated both in person and from afar. Our abuser had a diverse portfolio of tactics. Abuse enabled in part through legal and medical systems.

◦ I was the victim of a sexually and emotionally abusive teenage relationship.

◦ I grew up in an economically depressed area with an undertow of racism, ableism, anti-Semitism, and stark classism. Sometimes, I was the target of prejudice. More often I was witness to bigotry directed at people I liked and folks I loved.

◦ I was a victim of sexual harassment before I knew what to call it. Colored my education, from junior high through college, with the worst offenders being teachers and professors. During my dance career, I also experienced harassment from strangers disguised as fans.

◦ I’m a survivor of suicide loss several times over. Most notably, my mother died by suicide. And a couple mentors. A colleague. The list goes on … surpassing numbers of loved ones who died due to AIDS.

◦ I am mentally ill. Clini D,** bad nerves, and shell shock; i.e., Clinical Depression, Generalized Anxiety, and PTSD. I’ve “entertained” suicidal thoughts more than a few times throughout my 59 years. In therapy/treatment for last 40 years and counting.

◦ I’m a recovered bulimarectic. (Yes, autocorrect, that’s the proper term for a person with bulimarexia, so stop already!) I do still suffer from body dysmorphia. In between is my self-harm … thang. Manifested in different ways. (Mostly past tense. Working on it.)

◦ I’ve lied more often than I care to admit. Usually to keep “secrets” related to the above, at the behest of others, stated or implied, and out of a terror I often could not name. I tend to get caught in other kinds of lies. Except, of course, lies to myself.

◦ I’ve worked with and for victims/survivors of sexual and domestic violence in various settings for half my life now. Somewhat diverse group of adults and teenagers, though majority were female and white. I am an advocate/ally/activist for survivors, doing what I can, when I can, now from my altered reality of early retirement due to disability.

◦ I have no children. I have had no children. I have had 3 miscarriages, an oophorectomy, and a complete hysterectomy (entire uterus, cervix and all). One-ovary menopause was awful! I don’t recommend it.

◦ I’ve literally survived a few near-fatal asthma attacks and one burst appendix yearning to be free! Thank you, AMA medicine! I’ve also been a victim of medical gaslighting and malpractice. Dammit, AMA!

◦ 28 years ago, a man, seemingly under the influence of a psychoactive substance, crashed onto our front porch, shattered a glass lamp, and sliced open my husband’s forehead. While I was on the phone with 911, our dog Joplin chased the man away, saving the hubster! Assailant never caught by authorities. Hubs stitched up nicely. Thanks, AMA doc!

Ornate box turtle spotlighted by sunlight and shadows of wheel spokes
Studs Turtle in a contemplative mood

While there’s much more to me than this list, I have been undeniably shaped by trauma since infancy. (Adverse childhood experiences correlate with later development of autoimmune diseases; I intend to write about that.) I’ve also been molded by directives to keep secret “personal issues” like alcoholism and depression and to deny abuse outright. Not only do I view the world through the lens of one who has survived domestic and sexual violence, but also as one who has endured and witnessed other forms of violence that are pervasive and still largely tolerated, although they’ve become progressively less acceptable over these last 6 decades, at least according to public policy.

As with the George Floyd murder, I began paying much closer attention to the Depp/Heard trial after the small group, come-and-go drug-lounge that is how I like to think of the infusion clinic. Full disclosure: I did not go back and watch any significant portions of courtroom testimony. I read and watched as much as I felt I could safely consume. Then one night, my husband and I saw a clip of Heard’s exclusive interview with Savannah Guthrie on the evening news.

“She’s just so … odd.” [Hubster, aka my life partner]

And there it was. First comment from the love of my life, who to that point had seen but a fraction of the trial coverage and commentary I had. Celebrity scandal is even less his thing than mine. And he’s been concentrating his energies on recovering from hip replacement, as he should. (He’s progressing quite nicely!)

Hub’s comment caught me by surprise. Since when have we been fans of normal? Is watching the evening news a sign of our descent into normalcy? Do we need an intervention?

Up to now we’ve been casual fans of Johnny Depp. We like his weird movies, but not the Disney pirate franchise. Despite eschewing tabloids, celebrity gossip shows, et cetera, we’ve heard tales over the years of Depp behaving in ways ranging from inappropriate to clearly abusive. Tales often spun later to portray Depp as a harmless eccentric, framing his hurtful actions as aberrations, made possible only by consumption of impressive amounts of alcohol and/or drugs. No lasting damage!

Because that’s how a male celebrity off the rails and in the throes of chemical addiction is presented. Especially, a proven cash cow like Depp. (Major misnomer there, eh? Shouldn’t that be cash bull?!) Instead of being painted as a drunken, drug-addled freak lashing out, or an alcoholic/addict in need of anger management and intervention, he’s pictured as a lovable eccentric, hailed for both his macho ability to remain standing after consuming inordinate amounts of alcohol/drugs and his manly stamina through multiple rehab stints. Such heroic personal work! Yet, little to nothing about how any of this affects the people in his life. (We’ll come back to this later.)

Celebrities of lesser stature are painted with an entirely different brush. Women and girls on a separate canvas altogether.

Yes, Amber Heard is a little odd. Plus, some say, she is not a perfect victim — whatever that is. Johnny Depp, who looks great at 59, is extremely odd. His talent, good looks, gender, connections, and well-channeled weirdness have made him a wealthy man, adored by millions around the world. He may also be a very accomplished (spousal) abuser. Not perfect, mind you, just really, really good.

Do I believe Amber Heard? I don’t want to sift through the testimony from the UK trial and/or this US one and risk a major PTSD episode so that I may play pretend juror. I have enough on my plate with my memories. I have reservations, mostly, I think, because I (kinda) hate that the Washington Post op-ed at the center of the US trial was written by folks at the ACLU. Even so … yes, I am leaning in her direction.

Do I believe Johnny Depp?

No.

I mean, are you kidding me? No!

Fuck no!

From my perspective, shaped by surviving and witnessing intimate violence, the image of Johnny Depp presented at trial fits that of a domestic violence offender to a nearly comical degree. He was calm and charming. Personable. Confident and relaxed. Unwavering. Absolute! He never hit her! Never assaulted her! He never started anything; he only defended himself. He never hit her; she started everything. He was always the victim. Excellent use of the DARVO tactic: Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim/Offender!

Johnny Depp easily “justified” abusive and violent language about/or directed to Amber Heard by simply dismissing each as irrelevant, out of context, mere fantasy, a joke between friends, etc. So comfortable were so many with him, that when he admitted to assaulting cabinets and joked about excessive alcohol consumption, many in the courtroom laughed, smiled, and/or nodded. Yes, they were entertained!

And the jury was won over. Somehow the jury felt they “abused each other” and that canceled out the harm, just like double technical fouls in basketball. He was more believable, stable throughout, as you’d expect from a victim. (Say what?!) Amber Heard would sob one minute and turn ice cold the next. The deliberating jury of 5 men and 2 women didn’t know what to make of her. She made them really uncomfortable.

Yup, that’s what we victims/survivors do. Our existence makes you all uneasy. And when we break our silence and speak about our violations and our abusers, we make you all very un-fucking-comfortable. Female types, especially. Trans and other gender nonconforming folks take that discomfort to levels off the charts! Thus, the current hateful legislation around the country.

(I will suppress political rant/digression #4 for now.)

Artistic drawing of woman's lower half of face and chest, tinted blue. Bright light with green tint emanates from mouth, erasing all facial features.
Unspeakable by DÅL|é

*I’ve experienced an array of internal backlash — ridiculous thoughts, awful rashes, hellacious migraines, etc. —between writing and editing this post. And then again, from editing to posting it. Yes, the extreme heat is a factor. As is this — this thing right here I feel the need to do.

**Thanks, John Moe! John Moe is the creator of the brilliant podcast The Hilarious World of Depression and author of a memoir with the same title. After a pandemic-related hiatus, Moe’s podcast resumed in 2021 on a new platform as Depresh Mode. I recommend all! Even if you don’t have Clini D — you poor bastard!😁

Coming up … Part III. When Barry Met Sally

Tales From the Infusion Clinic, Special Edition: The Sound of Fury, Part 1 of 4

CONTENT NOTE: Essentially, all the warnings and alerts for readers, especially those who feel they are in a precarious emotional and/or mental state. Bookmark this for later. Or never. Whenever is best for you. In this multi-part post I address various forms of domestic violence and reference other forms of violence. I get personal. I do not write about any abuses in graphic detail, but oftentimes the muted, even mundane details can be the most triggering. And I write about some lasting effects, including mental health/illness crises and self-harm. Take care of yourselves and thank you for reading.

Part I. Did you hear what I Heard?

The infusion clinic is often my touchstone on how those outside my immediate circle feel about current events. I just happened to go in and sit there, soaking up the hard-to-fully-comprehend juices for a couple hours, the day after George Floyd was murdered, when all of us with assorted chronic maladies brought together by varied infusion needs were still in denial. Most, myself included, couldn’t yet watch the whole 90-second clip being shown then and had no idea the fatal assault lasted over 9 minutes. We could barely say Mr. Floyd had been killed, much less murdered. White and Latina women in the clinic that day, including nursing staff, as most days.

Occasionally, there will be a Black or Asian or Indigenous person in the chairs. That’s primarily based on appearance and my assumptions. Mostly women, the occasional man. Again, just assuming. Could be trans. Non-binary. Intersex. Infusion clinic relationships are like those “single-serving” ones referenced in Fight Club. Except for the nursing staff. Although there’s been some turnover there. There are a couple nurses I quite miss. Ah, the comings and goings of medical personnel.

[Digression #1: One major oversight in Breaking Bad casting: no Native American medical personnel or support staff. In Albuquerque, New Mexico?! Really strains credulity.]

June First I went in for infusion, just hours after the decisions and awards were announced in the Johnny Depp defamation suit against ex-wife Amber Heard and her counter-suit. We all confessed to not watching the daily trial proceedings, available for live streaming.

“Not a fan of drunken pirates!”

“Yeah, no, but the first 2 movies were good!”

“Who’s got the time?”

“Who’s got the spoons?!”

“He’s so weird! But … I don’t know …”

“I do like the Scissorhands movie! Winona Ryder was so young!”

“Not a good idea for my mental health.” [That was from me]

Some had caught snippets here and there, but over the six weeks of the trial — 6 weeks, FFS! — even those of us who vowed to stay away could not avoid the barrage of sensationalistic press coverage and social media frenzy surrounding it.

Yes, truth be told, the others actually said “total circus” as in media circus instead of “barrage of … media frenzy.”

[Digression #2: As a lover of circus and a disabled/retired aerialist and teacher of circus arts, I object, as modern circuses are well-organized multi-level entertainments that have an overall astounding safety record, considering their activities. Especially if you look at the ones that don’t involve wild animals, which admittedly is the real stain on the modern circus reputation. That and exploitation of artists, the latter being a problem throughout the performing arts world. The elephant in the tent, as it were.]

[Digression #3: I miss # being primarily known as pound or number sign — or for extra geeky credit, octothorp — instead of nowadays first assuming it’s denoting a hashtag, something of fleeting significance on the World Wide Web. I’ll get over it.]

Back to Johnny v. Amber …

“So, Johnny won, right?”

“Pretty much. He gets 10 mil. And another 5 mil. Except he won’t get the 5 mil. Amber gets 2 mil.”

“They didn’t believe her.”

“Did you?”

“She pooped in his bed!” [Delivered as a stage whisper followed by restrained giggles]

“Um … did she, though?” [Me]

“I thought she said she did it as a prank.”

“I don’t … I don’t know … I think she said she didn’t do it. But …” [Not me, for the record, though such were my thoughts]*

*Confirmation: Amber Heard indeed denied having defecated in said bed.

Coming up … Part II. Dis Closure

Sandhill cranes in a field with speech bubbles denoting bits of conversation. "Move it flocks! Rez for 40 downfield! Damn! Where’s Craig?” “Who’s Craig?” “I’m so hungry I could eat Craig!” “Hold up, Celeste! Charlotte is way behind — again.” “Charlotte! Come over here by me!” “Uh, no thanks, Chad.”
I don’t know if all sandhill cranes have names beginning with C; this is just what I overheard that day! Obviously, Chad is a jerk.

Am I Not a Woman?

I think I am a woman. Therefore, I am not a man?

Are those the only possibilities?

It’s International Women’s Day, people! How shall we celebrate?

Remember that nursery rhyme about girls being made of sugar and spice and everything nice and boys of snips and snails and puppy dog tails? (What is a “snip” in this context? Sounds like a cute but annoying magical critter from Harry Potter’s world.)

I resented the bejeezus out of that poem as a kid. I did not want to be defined as everything nice! I kinda identified as a tomboy, but that term didn’t make sense to my precocious self. Shouldn’t it be tomgirl? Either way, it didn’t really capture how I felt. I liked being a girl. I just didn’t like trying to fit into other people’s idea of what a girl should be.

(Also, what’s up with nursery rhymes and disembodied animal tails? Three blind mice lose theirs to a knife-wielding madwoman and puppy dogs have to sacrifice their tails to the formula for human boys? Mother Goose is a freak!*)

I am a cisgender, straight/hetero woman who firmly believes in and advocates for equal rights for all. I believe transgender and non-binary folks are the ones to dictate how they identify and wish to be known. (Goes for everyone, really.) I have no trouble respecting their wishes. Which is not to say I haven’t messed up a few times. I have. And, yes, I do still stumble occasionally over they/them/their in reference to an individual. Nowadays, mostly when reading. Progress — one awkward step after another. Awkwardness is a small price to pay in order to convey respect, to honor people for who they are, just as they are.

There is a new app designed to help “people who menstruate” track their periods. Some folks are incensed over this wording. Supposedly, not because women are people, but because, in the objectors’ opinions, only women menstruate. And get pregnant and give birth. (And endure endometriosis and undergo hysterectomies. Relish the joys of menopause…) These people feel threatened by non-cis folks, particularly by trans women.* Somehow, if society recognizes them for who they are and stops discriminating against them, they will not only no longer be marginalized, they will rise up, abuse cis-women, and roll back women’s rights to the early 20th Century. Or worse. (And worse?)

This kind of backlash against recognition of non-cisgender identities is not new. Last year JK Rowling* went public with her anti-trans thoughts that, among other things, only women menstruate; if allowed access, transgender women would threaten the safety (and sanctity?) of same-sex spaces such as women’s restrooms and changing rooms; and that all transgender persons should undergo extensive psychiatric testing and analysis before being permitted to transition — as in days of yore. Ah, 2020!

Sadly, none of her reactionary thinking is new. The only thing new here is that transgender people are gaining acceptance and progress is being made in ensuring their rights. Over 20 years ago(!) I listened to a group of women trot out fear-based, anti-trans ideas like Rowling’s to justify their policy of limiting participants for their women-only retreat to “women born as women.” Among the organizers were a couple self-described radical lesbians who were —how shall I put it — not fans of men. (I was a hired entertainer and had no say in the matter.) Their belief was that a person born (biologically) male, even one fully transitioned to female, could never shake the male privilege bestowed upon him by society. He/she* had the lived experience of a man for most of life so far, which colored his/her future as a so-called woman. Women at the retreat would not feel safe — maybe not be safe — with such people around.

Many of the women attending the retreat had been victimized by men in various ways. Some had been victimized by women. Some of us lucky born female types, by both sexes. I have yet to meet a person who has been physically or sexually assaulted by a transgender person. I do, however, know one person who was emotionally abused by a trans person. Which to me is a weird kind of progress. One’s gender identity or sexual orientation or race or religion or lack thereof (the list goes on) does not erase the possibility of being an abusive jerk. Or worse. Or better. Even much better.

By the time of the women’s retreat mentioned above, I had had the pleasure of meeting several gender non-conforming people, including persons born with indeterminate or otherwise unusual sex organs. All of them had experienced discrimination and most had survived more than one kind of abuse. In the years since, I have met several more such persons and all have had experiences of discrimination and some have endured abuse as well. Some of those experiences have been in women’s and men’s restrooms and locker rooms. That trans women were victimized in women-only spaces did not surprise me. As a woman, I have never felt all that safe in such spaces. Not only because I have seen Carrie and Mean Girls, but because my body and womanhood have been picked over and negatively assessed by other females in such spaces since puberty and I was once physically assaulted by a gang of teenage white girls for not knowing my place. As it is, little more than convention prevents a man, looking and feeling like a man, from entering a women’s restroom. Obviously female as I am, I have mistakenly entered a men’s restroom twice. Both times I found myself inside a urinal-lined facility, I apologized emphatically while making a hasty exit, flabbergasted at how easy it was to blithely go through the wrong door!

In justifying her anti-trans position last year, JK Rowling disclosed that she has been a victim of domestic abuse and sexual assault. In Rowling’s reasoning, this history that she shares with so many women is why she so fervently advocates for “safe” same-sex spaces. And thus, those efforts are to protect women and further the cause of women’s rights, as opposed to seeking to deny transgender persons their rights. (Or to police who is and is not truly a transgender woman.) In my opinion, Rowling’s position does disservice to women, men, and transgender people. Yes, women have a long history of being abused by men. In that history there is no such thing as a truly safe place. (Sorry, but that’s just factual.) It is also true that men are not the only abusers and women not the only victims. Awareness of the problem has grown, women have learned how to protect themselves, ensure their rights, and lead the effort (with many men and gender nonconforming folks working with them) to prevent such abuses, and the societal issues that often factor in to them, from occurring. In other words, I feel Rowling’s position, similar to the anti-trans policy of the retreat organizers, pits women against men, and sacrifices transgender people’s rights in the name of promoting the illusion of a safe and loving sisterhood of the female sex. A sisterhood that embraces menstruation, the “miracle” of birth, and a rather fragile view of femininity.

My celebration of womanhood need not narrowly define woman by bodily functions like menstruation. Nor do I need to blame “others” for what has befallen women over the years. I don’t need to have enemies to get ahead. The ongoing fight for women’s rights, healthcare, pay equity, and against domestic and sexual violence will not be diluted by including others. Quite the contrary, the more the merrier and stronger. In fact there is a lesson here in past women’s movements excluding more marginalized groups (usually fellow women) for fear of weakening the effort, only to regret it later. People’s rights are not a limited resource. A transgender person enjoying their rights does not do so at the expense of any of my rights as a woman.

And just in case it needs to be said, the idea that a transgender woman is nothing more than male privilege in women’s clothing, hormones, and maybe genitalia, is a profound misunderstanding of who transgender women are.

Yes, some people menstruate. Most of those folks are women, born as such. But not all. And some women don’t menstruate — and never did. Born with clear female genitalia but no uterus, for example. Or cancerous ovaries removed before puberty. I rather envy them. I haven’t menstruated since I was 36, when a surgeon liberated me from my uterus. (I almost wrote the uterus, but it was definitely mine.) Recovery was rough. In part because of the interconnectedness of the thing, but also due to a couple life-altering deaths that came on the metaphorical heels of that organ removal. (What kind of heels would my uterus have worn? I’m thinking impossibly tall stilettos that cause bleeding blisters, painful bunions, etc!)

I am a woman. One who has not menstruated for 20 years. I have birthed no babies. I have recently survived menopause. (For me that is very much the appropriate verb and, frankly, I want a badge attesting to same!) I am also a survivor of abuse and assault. You may share my public restroom, if you like. No matter what your gender identity, I respect you as a person. Because denying people their rights based on fear and stereotypes does not ensure anyone’s safety. I will also not let my guard down in such a place. Because I am strong and aware and am not a readymade victim because I am a woman. And because it’s a goddamn public restroom FFS!

*Don’t get me started on that Aesop fella!

*I’m using “trans woman” instead of “transgender female/woman” as the shorter is how my transgender women friends identify themselves. A couple of whom have had menopause-like hot flashes. Sorry, gals! Would have spared you that if I could’ve, but, you know — estrogen!

*Why, yes, that Harry Potter reference earlier was a foreshadowing device. Nice of you to notice!

*We didn’t use “they” back then. Even so, “she” would have been appropriate in this context, but the anti-trans women would not allow themselves to use female pronouns for trans women.