Change

Teenage girls have a reputation for being hysterical. Think Salem, The Beatles, Justin Bieber.

It can be hard, as a teenage girl, to get adults to take you seriously, even when the context is incredibly serious.

It was hard for me as a teenage girl to get doctors to take me seriously. I had fallen on my knee playing sports. I was brushed off at an A&E, despite serious swelling because nothing was showing on the Xray. In fact, I had ruptured my anterior cruciate ligament, tissue too soft to show up on X-ray. It was operated on, and a graft put in to replace it. I began to recover, and then my recovery stalled. I was in constant pain. Some of this was caused by nerve damage from the operation. The other pain, an explosive feeling of pressure in my joint, could not be explained. It was, in some doctors opinion, unbelievable. They had done their job. Now it was up to me to do mine, to rehabilitate myself. Two and a half years after the initial operation a surgeon finally agreed to open up my knee again. They found a soft tissue growth in my knee, caused by an incorrect graft placement. It was, by this stage, quite large.

That explosive pain was the feeling of my knee joint literally being pushed apart from the inside.

As I said, I was a teenager, trying to complete my high school years. Teenagers are meant to be discovering who they are, and where they belong in the world. I was discovering that, in the eyes of authority – doctors, teachers, ACC – my words were not to be believed. I had to account for myself again and again.

I remember an ACC assessment, an “independent” doctor, weighing my words. Trying to figure out where I fitted in their book. What I would be entitled to. Pain, in and of itself, was not enough. At this stage I did not know a recovery would be in my future. I would be 18 soon. How would I navigate my life through this world, as I navigated my growing disability? It felt very uncertain. It was clear I couldn’t expect much help.

I was extremely fortunate. My parents were emotionally and financially able to support me through this time. It was, I have no doubt, a strain on them. They were able to pay for crutches while ACC dithered about whether I really needed them. I was treated in the private medical system, through work-related health insurance. I wonder how much longer I would have waited for that last operation in the public system, and at what emotional, and physical cost?

To this day when I visit a doctor, and they frown, or question what I am trying to explain, I feel the slow burning fear of not being believed. The visible scars have all but faded, but underneath my skin it is all still there. Burnt right into me. Is my perception accurate? Am I being hysterical? Am I imagining it? Do I just want attention?

If you have never experienced it, it is hard to explain the devastation of not being believed. Of being measured, and found wanting. Of feeling that the slightest misstep as you explain yourself can be used against you. It is hard to explain the exhaustion of having to constantly account for yourself. To the adults who want your seat on the train. To the teacher who thought I should go get my own library books for research, while I was dependent on crutches to walk. To the doctors and case workers whose job it is to slide the abacus, watching them flick the beads as they say “Not that. Not that. Not that.”

When people constantly doubt your word, you begin to doubt yourself. When I read the stories of the inhumane treatment people are receiving it breaks my heart. I know how easily those actions can slide under your skin and become part of you.

Sometimes it feels like a different life. One where my experiences were less valid than they are now.

My life was every bit as valid then as it is now.

Being a teenager, being dependent, being disabled, did not make me less a person. It did not make me less deserving.

I haven’t had to deal with authorities in New Zealand for some time. I am a married mother of two. I don’t know what it is like to be on the DPB. I have, nerve damage aside, made a full recovery. I can’t tell you what it feels like to walk into a WINZ office now to fight for what I need to survive, to thrive.

I can tell you that when people say it is time to change, I believe them. I can say that when people say the emotional cost is too high, I believe them. The stress of constantly having to prove yourself is immense. I don’t know how I could do that now, and simultaneously parent successfully.

No one can thrive when they cannot support their most basic needs. No one can thrive when they are constantly questioned, doubted, refused.

Listen to what people are trying to say. They are not being hysterical. They are being honest. They are telling you something important.

It is time for change.

2 thoughts on “Change”

  1. This is beautifully and compellingly written Francesca. I remember you going through that awful struggle in high school – being disbelieved by doctors and teachers and strangers on the train. I wonder how much money WINZ spends on second guessing people, and whether it’s really worth the longer-term social cost of doing so. I suspect it’s not.

    1. Thanks. Good point about the cost of the staff time spent on all that! What a waste. I don’t think it is worth it either.

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