I went to see an old friend a few days ago and we discussed this topic - How many nurses do we know who have histories of abuse from their families-of-origin. Answer: Many.
First I will discuss Ms. B.. Her mother abused her from her childhood, probably infancy. I found out, during this visit, that she started contemplating suicide from the second grade!!! Can you imagine the kind of pain that an 8 y.o. must be in to plan suicide as a child?? She became a nurse and joined the Navy in the '60s and took care of boys blown to bits in Viet Nam. The horror of caring for maimed young men, who usually died (the best outcome) or left in pieces to live lives gross debilitation and suffering left her with PTSD. After the Navy, she did not think of suicide daily, she thought about it hourly. She went to veterinary school and always has lots of meds and IV supplies around the house with which she could kill herself. Then one day, she realized that she might be impaired and be unable to give herself an injection, so she bought a .357 Magnum.
I find it amazing that she never took her own life and I take some credit for this. As we corresponded, (at the time, I was in Boston and she lives in the Northwest) I began to discover the depth of her situation. I started calling the VA in Boston. Eventually I found a social worker at the VA in Seattle, who was a former Navy nurse (this is so cool) during Viet Nam. Ms. B walked into her office and started crying, and continued crying for weeks. Eventually she started on some meds for her mild depression, but they have never been able to treat her suicidal ideation, which still is off the charts. A few years ago, Ms. B was Dx with a low grade Ca. You would think she won the lottery. Finally, she knows she is going to die and she has a ticket out of this life of suffering. As a nurse, I find it challenging to try to respect her wishes, and help her achieve her goals, and at the same time, see the true nature of her despair.
I started therapy about 15 years ago. Last year, I took my journal from the Peace Corps (70-72) to my social worker for her to read. She said that if she did not know better, she would think I had Asperger's syndrome. I was unable to read other peoples' affect or have any understanding of my own feelings. Before I moved to Seattle, I worked with a really great LICSW in Boston. She had impressive credentials and worked for a Harvard hospital. The SW I see here in Seattle also has impressive credentials. Both of these women have, at times, looked at me with obvious frustration because I am not willing to admit that I was abused from childhood. Usually I am contemptuous of credentials, but in this case, they cause me to consider their suggestions more carefully than I would otherwise. You would think that at 88, my mother would have mellowed more, but just three months ago she said "You're still cute, in spite of your personality." It is a gift to see her abuse in action as an adult. I try to imagine what she said 55 years ago.
My two stepsisters dealt with their childhood in their own ways, which included seven marriages and a suicide. I decided that since I was such a ****-head as a boy, it would better if I become a different person and started cross-dressing. Girls were happy, had friends and understood social situations. If I could become a girl, then I would have those traits too. This has continued since he age of 10. Now it gets interesting.
I will be 61 in a couple of weeks, I have always had tremendous affection for nurses, and in the past few years, several reasons for this have emerged. It was during hospitalizations in my early years that I finally felt some caring and tenderness - dare I say it - love. I had eye surgery at 8 and had both eyes bandaged for what seemed like months. I can remember being held against a starched white bodice. For the rest of my life, whenever I see a white nurses' dress, my knees go weak.
About ten years ago, I looked in the mirror and saw myself wearing a white blouse, white skirt, white pinafore, white stockings, white shoes and a nurse's cap. "Very nice." I thought. A little voice said to me "Why don't you become a nurse?" I remember that moment clearly, as if I just had been hit with a brick. I could not sleep that night, and the following day started looking for nursing programs in Boston. During the first year, we watched an old movie on how to make a bed. The woman was wearing a white dress and tears were streaming down my cheeks.
Nursing has been fabulous for me. I have had the chance to experience, as a caregiver, things I never experiences as a child. Part of this comes the abuse and part from being male. In present society, people can be suspicious of a large man (6'2") who is trying to help them, particularly if it involves a child, but if I am a nurse, then it is fine. There is no distrust. (See "Men and Nursing" elsewhere on this site.) I also love working with nurses, particularly the old birds.
Therapy continues, but it is very difficult to get a clear picture of my abuse. I feel like I am being asked to separate single molecules of my personality. "This one is there from the abuse, and this one is really you." How can I tell the difference?