My name is Dana, and I have major depression, dysthymia, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks and generalized anxiety.
My name is Dana, and I have attention deficit disorder, dyslexia, a neurological hearing impairment, speech problems and working memory problems.
My name is Dana, and sometimes my body shuts down. I get devastating rare diseases and conditions that people with my degree of health typically don’t get, spurred by some unknown cause or causes that may never be pinpointed. These diseases have difficult-to-pronounce polysyllabic Latin names. When I share these names — even with most generalist medical providers — few know what I am talking about.
My name is Dana, and I have EEG anomalies that can’t be explained. I have abnormal lab results that point to autoimmune problems. I have kidney disease of unknown etiology. Though I have never smoked, I have asthma and small airway disease.
My name is Dana, and I’ve been misdiagnosed or only partially diagnosed for years. I have been told I am “x” and must live as “x,” only to later be told I am not “x” and never was “x.” Now I am “y” and must live as “y.” I mourn the loss of the life I lived as “x” when I was actually “y.” I wonder what certainty, if any, there is behind the proclamation that I am in fact “y.” Will I settle into my “y” identity, only to be told later that I am not “y,” either, and never was?
My name is Dana, and I have a pain syndrome that flares up when I am ill, when I am stressed, and at certain times of the year. My body is a prison then; my mind the warden that won’t allow me to leave the prison. When the pain finally lifts, I can’t imagine the pain. But I know it will visit me again and I won’t have to imagine it.
My name is Dana, and I know the way the fraternal twins — depression and anxiety — can hold the body and mind hostage — one with its club, the other with its broken bottle. I have learned to live in the shadow of the terror they impose, but that wasn’t always the case. In my early twenties, I tried to commit suicide. After I got out of the hospital, my mother told everyone I just wanted attention; if I had been serious about killing myself, I would have succeeded.
My name is Dana, and both my parents were alcoholics. I lost one when I was young and suffered physical, emotional and psychological abuse at the hands of the other.
My name is Dana, and I was molested by a family friend when he and his wife took me on a road trip to their son’s home in Memphis, Tennessee; I hid in his granddaughter’s closet for hours on end in hopes he wouldn’t find me; he found me. When I told my mother, she decided to keep his secret because, after speaking with another family member, the two determined that I must have been under the wrong impression about what happened — and also because the man was a powerful member of the community. The man continued to visit our home; my mother made me hide in my closet during those visits. It took everything I had to remain quiet as I heard him move through the house calling my name.
My name is Dana, and I went on to be raped and sexually assaulted, once in a creek near my house and once in my family home by a man who is now established in the entertainment industry. He even became friends with my mother after I moved away to college. She told me many times how much she liked him, how sweet he was, how wonderful it was to see his success. She kept his phone number in her address book. She knew what he had done to me but reconciled it by placing the blame on me rather than him. It was my fault he and his friend dared me to drink my mother’s vodka, pouring glass after glass from the half-gallon bottle. It was my fault he took photos of me partially undressed without my consent just before I passed out. My fault I regained consciousness as he straddled me, lifted my upper body toward him by the back of my head, and spat out “I did you, now you do me” while directing his erect penis at my mouth. “What did you do to me,” I wondered in fear and shame as what he was currently doing to me became apparent. He visited me the day of my mother’s funeral. We stood in the same room where he had left me lying naked when he was finished with me. His teeth were very white. He had a fake tan. He lied about his age, subtracting three years. He had anglicanized his last name. I wanted to scream what he had done through the neighborhood’s winding streets but, even eighteen years later, I could not find the courage. Sometimes, I look at images of him on the internet, his arm draped around celebrities such as Dane Cook and Jessica Simpson. I wonder if they know what he did, if they can sense it, if they would even care.
My name is Dana, and my immediate and extended family did nothing, my teachers did nothing, my school counselors did nothing, my fellow students did nothing, my boyfriend of five years and his family did nothing, my community did nothing, social welfare organizations did nothing, local law enforcement did nothing.
My name is Dana, and I have never received assistance or support of any kind. I am the only one paying for this life that I never asked for — its physical and emotional consequences. I pay dearly every day, and my payment extends far beyond the dollar.
My name is Dana, and at one point I thought writing about my life, coming out about my experiences, would help others understand me and in turn help me feel the warmth of understanding. I was wrong. I’ve come to learn that being myself and telling my story are the two most isolating things I could possibly do, which is why I’ve learned to cloak my past and my identity. Once, I confided in a co-worker that I had been abused by my mother. She pursed her lips and said, “I hate it when girls mistake discipline for abuse.” That type of reaction has been my experience, more often than not, when I try to break the silence around any of the various aspects of my abuse so that I might reclaim myself as a subject rather than living as an object. Without meaning to, others re-victimize me, which makes healing even more difficult.
My name is Dana, and if you met me, you would make a number of assumptions. The most common I’ve encountered are that I get everything I want, that I have led a privileged life, that things come easily for me, that I don’t understand what it means to overcome obstacles. I have also been called spoiled, immature, cold, snobbish, difficult, disingenuous, a brat, a bitch, stupid, needy, overly sensitive, weird and crazy. I’ve been told I need to smile more, that I don’t look happy enough, that I am too serious.
My name is Dana, and I am a poet, an essayist, an editor, a volunteer, a student, a teacher, a mentor, a colleague, a daughter, a sister, a wife, a friend, a neighbor.
My name is Dana, and I have many secrets. I doubt myself often. I wake up crying many nights. I have flashbacks and night terrors and sleep paralysis. If I am with you, I am most likely afraid of you on some level or on many levels, even if you are someone I know well. I am not exaggerating when I say that I often see myself as a monster. I also see myself as a waste, a mistake, an atrocity. I have body dysmorphia that makes it hard to look myself in the mirror. Sometimes, just leaving the house makes me feel nauseated and dizzy. I have panic attacks in the aisles of retail stores if there’s too much surrounding noise or if a stranger gets too close to me. I have had more than one panic attack when my husband and I have gotten separated in a store and I couldn’t find him. When I moved to Kansas City in 1989, I literally had to follow a friend in his car all the way from Oklahoma. I couldn’t imagine being out on a highway by myself. In college, I often dragged my twin-sized mattress down the long hall that connected my studio apartment with a friend’s two-bedroom. I slept at his place so I wouldn’t have to sleep alone.
My name is Dana, and I have learned, for better or worse, to mask most of my symptoms, the way I wore a mask each day when I set foot outside my mother’s home. Those who see me as “weird” and “awkward” have no idea what lies below the surface. And until now, I have not articulated what lies below because the fact that I carry such suffering forward is devastating. Yet there are times, mostly when I am alone or with the earth or with my husband or with my dog, that I touch on the ineffable. In these moments, I know the grand beauty that connects all living beings to each other and to the environment we share — and I know I am part of that beauty. The more time I spend in safety, the more I feel it. I long to bring those feelings to fruition, to share them with a community, but community eludes me for now, just as it eluded me when I was being abused.
My name is Dana, and I am a survivor. This is what surviving looks like.
My name is Dana, and I am not alone. My story is one of many that underscore the need for more than a superficial conversation about “mental health.” Let’s stop cordoning mental health care off from physical health care. We are as misguided as ever if we don’t see the connection between the mind and the body, the importance of creating and preserving health in each area. The two are interconnected and interdependent. Let’s call it all “health care” and address it with a unified approach. Let’s also stop living not just in a rape culture but in an abuse culture that allows atrocities to be committed against fellow human beings as frequently as red lights are run, as often as rain. Addressing mental and physical issues after abuse is no substitution for preventing that abuse in the first place.
My name is Dana, and I am proof that we aren’t there yet. We aren’t even close.