Disease

Disease. I’ve been using this word frequently. Not out loud, but in my head. And always pertaining to myself. Disease: not meaning ill, tainted or disordered. But literally the opposite—the reverse of—ease. Pronounce it dis-ease.

[Dis: a Latin prefix meaning “apart,” “asunder,” “away” or having a negative, or reversing force—used freely, especially with these latter senses, as an English formative: disability; disaffirm; disbar; disbelief; discontent; dishearten; dislike; disown; disease.]

“Unease is a word” you might say. “Maybe you should just use that instead… less confusing.”

It’s not the same. Unease is weak, middle-ground. Not-at-ease. Unease breeds caution. I’m uneasy walking on that bridge.

Disease is powerful. It bears anxiety… or fear. Disease settles in like a cold, dense fog. Tightens your chest, sinks your stomach, clouds your brain. Disease is felt when things clearly aren’t right.

For the past five weeks, I’ve been immersed in a world of domestic violence and sexual assault. Battery and rape. Education: thirteen hours per week. Stories and theory, on-the-job-training. We’re a survivors’ nonprofit. I’m learning what to say to a woman who was just assaulted. Or was assaulted years ago and still suffers. I’m learning to treat these women with respect and compassion. To not blame the victim. To not doubt her story.

This is rough stuff—not what I signed up for. I’m an accountant, not a counselor, or an advocate as we call them around work. When I got my job, this part never occurred to me. I’d fix the finances. Someone else would fix our clients.

Most days I do OK. I’m appalled by how easily I can endure stories of child abuse and spousal abuse and rape and prostitution and stalking and human trafficking. In our training classes, we’re cautioned to watch for triggers. Reminders that bring up disturbing feelings of our own. The possibility of spiraling into disease. I’ve sailed through my training sessions without any problems. No obvious triggers.

Except I’m unwell. I have been for a few weeks. In me, disease is easy to spot. I scrape my teeth together. Not my molars, my front teeth. Bottom against the top. I do it all day. At times I think I can taste the dentin leaking out. What’s dentin? The dense, bony tissue beneath the tooth enamel.

I blink my eyes—hard. I squeeze my eyelids together and roll my eyeballs around. It seems to release built-up pressure behind my eyes. Pressure I feel when I’m stressed.

And I grunt. Low and sustained. But not all the time. I only do this when I’m alone.

These are all outward symptoms of Tourette Syndrome. They call them tics. Uncontrollable movement and sound. It’s been a while since I’ve displayed obvious tics. Sure, I’m twitchy. And I periodically scrape my teeth together, but the grunting and the eye-thing: those have been gone for years. Until now.

Susan thinks it could be the schedule. Five days of work and then all-day training on Saturday. My workload hasn’t diminished, but I have an extra six hours of online training to squeeze into my workweek–in addition to the Saturday class. Of course I’m feeling stressed.

Yesterday was my worst day. Lips closed, teeth scraping, my chin moving back and forth. Sometimes I wonder if anyone can hear it. Do they question what I’m doing with my mouth? In my moments alone, in the car, in the restroom, I’m grunting. A release of disease building up inside me—a purge. In a work meeting, my eyes scrunched together, grimacing. In my new workplace, I haven’t told anyone about the Tourettes. I don’t know the people well enough yet.

My training topic yesterday was working with older victims of abuse. Older? They gave several examples. The median age where older starts is apparently fifty-five. I’m fifty-five. This hits home. Last weekend, Eli told me that “old” starts at seventy-five. I took comfort in that. Now I’m told I’m already there.

I learned that older adults are more susceptible to abuse due to social isolation. Older adults are less likely to have close relationships. And just like that, I found my trigger. Here’s the thing that bothers me. I’m not distraught about the rape and violence and abuse. I’m afraid to be alone.

As a person living with anxiety, I feel disease frequently. I worry about my past. I worry about my children’s futures. And I worry that I isolate myself from others. This has been a concern of mine for decades. In the past, I’d often take stock of my relationships and periodically make adjustments. I’d put in some additional effort. Make some short and mid-range plans with friends, and I’d immediately feel better.

But when I quit drinking two years ago, it seems I gave up. Without alcohol, the thought of socializing is uncomfortable. I can do it, but it isn’t fun. It’s a chore to endure, something to complete. My conversations are awkward and unsteady. And rarely satisfying. So instead of making plans, I sit at home and read. Or I sit at home and write. It’s more comfortable. And it’s isolating.

The cumulative effect of my training is clearly overtaking me. The schedule, the subject matter, the introspection. It’s leaving me stressed and anxious. I’m over-reacting to concerns I’ve had for years.

In each training class, we talk about self-care. Those things we need to do for ourselves to make us feel better. Rewards for addressing the hard stuff. We go around the room and take turns describing what we plan to do for ourselves. My go-to is always exercise: “Sweat out the yucky stuff.” This weekend, I’ll say “Think about disease.”

12 thoughts on “Disease

  1. I found this post enlightening. I too think of the words we use in their “typical” manner like disease and wonder about the roots. Dis-ease is how the topics of abuse should make us feel. Being comfortable with these topics means we’ve died inside. I heard about a terrible story of a father abusing his children and I wondered why it was shared on the news. It’s horrific, its terrible. I hate that father. I feel for the children. But I wonder if these horrors on the news do more harm than good. Does the frequency and coverage of terrible acts make them seem more normal? Or blow out of proportion the threats? I can’t help but wonder.
    I am though, grateful for my sense of dis-ease. Like working out where I’m exerting myself just above my comfort zone, being aware of this lack of ease teaches me what I’m capable of. Perhaps you are learning new bounds of empathy. It sounds heartbreaking. But I do think self-care–like stepping off the treadmill and letting your heart rate come down–is essential.
    You’ve given me much to think about.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for such a thoughtful comment. I, too, am torn. The more we hear about it, the more this sort of violence is normalized. But at the same time too many people think it doesn’t exist. And I’m learning that it’s way more pervasive than I would ever have thought.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You comments about the awkwardness of socializing fit me perfectly. So do your responses to it. I do understand I’m likely to end up old(er) and alone and that worries me a lot. On the other hand, I do better on my own than most people, I suspect.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thoughtful article, Jeff. Your dis-ease manifestation reminds me of an important point. Very often triggers come from the body’s response. The intellectual, cognitive or emotional responses tend to follow.
    As I understand, and am delighted that the trauma treatment community is coming to understand, safety and recovery starts with the body. Until the body has a felt sense experience of safety, all the reassurance in the world does very little. Its still importance for the words and actions to be there, but it also matters that one be able to literally feel safe.
    Body stuff is the truth-teller. And your rescuing, self care of exercise is likely very useful. Sometimes also breathing into the part of the body where one experiences the sense of dis-ease or dis-stress helps as well. When the body knows it is being acknowledged and respected, it can scream less loudly, like any child.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Something that I’m beginning to understand is that my lack of writing through this period has been detrimental to my health. Because I’ve been focused on learning, I’ve dropped a huge part of my self-care: writing. As soon as I wrote and posted disease, I felt better than I had in weeks. Because I’m new at work, I’m still feeling my way around what topics are appropriate to blog about from my employer’s perspective. Not only am I too busy to write, but I’m a bit fearful as well.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Also an important thing to recognize. And it sounds as though it may be a tricky balance with work, both regarding subject matter as well as the time issue–full time plus training sounds exhausting to me. Of course, there’s a temporary option of writing without publishing all of it. A different feel, but it may help. Of doing work related posts under an odd pseudonym. Lucy the Cat will lend a paw if need be. Hope it eases out, I imagine it will with time.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I definitely understand the feeling of struggle when socialising without alcohol but I honestly think that it just requires practice. Lots of practice. Fake it until you make it and all that. I go through fits and bursts but it’s honestly the only thing that’s worked for me to any extent.

    Hoping you’re good to yourself this week and your tics ease.

    Like

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