The broken car

Imagine that you were a new car. The owner takes that car home and drives it thousands of miles every month, but doesn’t maintain it. No oil changes, no checking the transmission fluid or the treads on the tires. They wash it regularly though, and keep it nicely waxed and detailed. When the car starts to slow down or act a little finicky, the owner kicks the car in the vicinity of where the noise is coming from until it starts up again. If kicking the car doesn’t get it started, they’ll finally take it to their cousin’s garage, who gerry-rigs the cheapest possible solution, and it’s back on the road.

Eventually one day, the car stops working. The owner kicks it, and kicks it, and kicks it. But the car is just too broken to run anymore. Somehow the owner doesn’t get that and is convinced that if they kick enough it will start back up. So they keep kicking the car.

But because this car isn’t really a car, but you: You decide you’re tired of being kicked. And one day the owner wakes up, and the car is gone.

So now your abusive owner is out of your life, and you’ve decided that you’re going to use your car (analogy for your body) for you. Problem is, car is broken down. So you want to get it running again.

You take the car to a repair shop and tell them, ‘my car won’t run’. Repair person looks at the fluid levels and says, ‘problem is, you need to change the oil and transmission fluid. I’ll take care of that for you’. And you’re thrilled, because your car begins to bumble along a bit, and it’s the first time in your life you’re behind the wheel. There are strange noises and bumps and you’re moving along slowly, but you’re too happy to notice any of these things at first.

But the car keeps breaking down and it’s hard to re-start it everytime, and you notice that other people have working brakes (maybe you should, too?) and can accelerate to the speed limit on the highway, etc, and you realize, maybe this car still isn’t performing the way it should. So you bring it in again.

Repair person looks at the fluid levels and says, ‘nope everything looks fine, you have enough oil, you have enough transmission fluid, whatever you’re noticing must be all in your head, you’re just paranoid, go home and be more optimistic.’ You do, but you find that it’s not all in your head, it can’t be. Your friends are all urging you to see a mechanic and pushing their favorites’ names and numbers on you. So you go see a new repair person.

Repair person says ‘oil and transmission fluid looks fine, treads are low, I’ll replace the tires.’ You say, ‘great, thanks, but I did some research on the internet and I think there’s also something wrong with the transmission and brakes’. Repair person says, ‘Your car is too young to have problems with the transmissions or brakes. It looks like it’s in great condition. I’ll replace the tires, and why don’t you try those out for a while and see if that doesn’t clear things up.’

6 months down the road you’ve finally found someone who will take a look at the brakes. He’s surprised to find that they need to be replaced, they’re replaced, and now any repairman you see about the transmission says ‘you already replaced the brakes. There couldn’t be more than one thing wrong with this car. It’s so young and in such great condition. If you’re still having problems, why don’t you go back to the guy who replaced the brakes and see if he did everything right. And I’ll check the oil for you again.’

I’ve seen some of the research on what long term stress does to a person. And I’ve seen time and time again, in survivors like myself, multiple body systems just aren’t working like they should. But it’s hard to get a doctor to take you seriously because you’re still young and look healthy. They think you’re just trying to get attention or you’re lazy and don’t want to work. On the contrary, as a young person it’s completely devastating to not be able to do the things young people are supposed to do. When other people your age are out there playing sports, raising children, building careers, and you’re stuck in bed in a haze unable to reach the bottle of water by your bed… and no one to restock groceries when you’re unable to leave the house or think clearly enough plan another way to get some…. That’s a life no-one wants to lead, and I have a hard time imagining that anyone is committed enough to ‘getting attention’ to sacrifice that much for it.

When you put a child, then adolescent, under constant high levels of stress, then punish them each time express a need for more rest, sleep, privacy, autonomy, food, or medical treatment than is convenient for you to permit them, things are going to get bad, fast. A few die from your treatment, a few die of suicide, most make it to adulthood with some level of health problems. Finally autonomous, some find that they don’t have a body that can fully live that autonomy. You haven’t just taken from them their childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood; you’ve also taken from them the freedom to live the rest of their adulthood as they choose.

As the number of survivors of the particular form of abuse I survived reaches the millions in America, the consequences of decades-long severe trauma on the health of young people needs to be studied, written about, and treated. We don’t just have PTSD. We have GI disorders, autonomic disorders, endocrine and mitochondrial disorders. Due to our sheer numbers, our disability will have a substantial and long term impact on public health and the strength of our economy, social infrastructure and civic society. Doctors need to take us seriously and our nation at large needs to take a stand against this egregious treatment of our young citizens.