I was startled with her candidness. “I was a sex slave for 14 years.” It had just rolled out like any other sentence. It took me a moment to consider how to respond. I was curious to know what her experience had been. I didn’t want to be intrusive. I wanted to express caring. It wasn’t directly part of what we needed to cover, but it was related.
I think I said, “I am sorry. How was it that you were a sex slave for 14 years?” I was imagining her being captured in another country, held in some sort of criminal facility, being forced into prostitution.
“From the age of 4 to 18, I guess my step-father thought I was a better wife than my mother. He started kind of young.” She was still talking in an emotionally nonchalant manner. She didn’t hesitate.
Again, I was stunned. How can a parent do something so awful?! He had to be a major narcissist. He probably was a loner and relationally disconnected, perhaps since he was a child. It is still so awful…what this woman went through!
She explained further. “To the outside world, I had a great growing up. I got to do things many kids didn’t get to do. But the reality…at home…was very different.”
The issue had been the headaches on her medical history. She had indicated that they were related to PTSD. I was trying to understand the connection.
She had had a significant and persistent increase in the frequency and intensity of migraine headaches for a period of time. She didn’t know why. She would have to go lay down in a dark room for hours most days. Her therapist had her start to keep a symptom and situation diary — where she was, who was around, what she was doing, etc., along with a record of her headache symptoms. It turned out there was a co-worker — who she didn’t even interact with that much — whose mannerisms, look, age, figures-of-speech, and so forth, were very similar to her step-father’s. She would be around him at certain times in her workday…her headache would start. Once she recognized what was going on, she could process things differently, and the headaches stopped.
This wasn’t the classic, “No, not tonight Honey. I have a headache.” But it did have some similarities. I wonder how many times in “normal” relationships the headaches have causes we don’t suspect.
How would this have been diagnosed and treated in the typical medical scenario? Identify the characteristics to determine which label of headache type to apply. Then move to the knee-jerk prescription medications. Next patient. At the next visit…, ”Still having the headaches? Let’s try another medication.” And around the merry-go-‘round whirls.
Her mother, getting elderly now, stopped talking to her a few months ago. She had asked her mother why she never believed her when she told her mother as a child about the abuse? She thinks her mother can’t handle it emotionally. It is too much for her.
I wonder what physical symptoms her mother is having? I wonder what medications she is taking for them?