Why ‘What People Think’ Matters

Permanent Limited Duty is an option that a service member has to being fully medically discharged.  It allows the member to stay active duty on a strict schedule and with very strict limitations of duty.  It allows them to fulfill their contract obligation as opposed to being released from it early.  There are specific criteria that must be fulfilled, including proving a need to be allowed to placed on PERMLIMDU Status.  For me, things like having a minor child who needed insurance and being unmarried and without another source of income would have been sufficient for me to prove a need for PERMLIMDU.  There are other factors involved, including approval from your CO and CoC.

In the year leading up to my Medical Board and subsequent discharge I was in so much pain and so tired all the damn time and overall not coping well with what was going on with my lack of medical care.  On top of all of my work and training and single motherhood was Physical Training (PT), which was increasing because as my body was struggling my readiness standards were falling due to my inability to push through the pain.  As I was forced to ease up I gained a little weight which meant I had to increase my PT.  Increased PT increased my pain, which increased my problems overall, and somewhere along the line something broke completely inside me.  It was a vicious circle of some of the most cruel means of my life.  I needed more PT, but increasing PT caused  more injury that meant I had to decrease the type, intensity and amount of PT my doctors would let me do.  That decrease caused weight gain…you can see where this is going…

Long story short, I had to be put on a day shift and have my hours reduced to half days because I was not doing so well.  While the rest of my friends and peers were moving on to the things that we had now spent over three years training for, things that were going to expand their careers, the actual finish line of all we had worked for, and I was riding a desk.  To be fair, it was a job I really grew to love and something I could see myself doing again.  My direct supervisor was awesome, and our division boss was incredible.  To date he is the most wonderful Senior Enlisted person I have ever had the honor of working for who also happened to be very supportive of my medical process.  But it wasn’t what I had trained for, and the sudden disappearance of all of my friends made that even more heavy for me.  I was devastated that I was missing that.  I felt, once again, like a failure, like my body was a failure.  The career I had worked for was crashing down around me and it seemed I had no one to support me through it.

When you are going through a serious medical Thing (for lack of a better…whatever) you start to notice that people tend to disappear.  I don’t know if it is too hard for them to handle or if they don’t give a fuck or what…but you run out of people who you can call to take you to a doctor’s appointment because whatever medication you are on makes you so dizzy you really shouldn’t drive, or people who you can call to watch your children while you go to physio.  You can’t get someone to hold your hand during an X-ray, let alone get them out for coffee.  While I adamantly maintain that my medical problems and disability were not brought on by depression as some would have you believe, being utterly alone during this time cause me an at the time crushing depression.  Sometimes I still feel it. I literally did not hear from my former friends.  Sometimes if you run into people you used to have energy to club or shop with they bring it up as a polite thing to say, kind of like when people say “How ya doin’?” and never really expect you to answer.  So when they would say “How’s…all your…stuff?” I would tell them, “Oh, it’s a big boring mess, how’re you doing?”.  If I actually did talk about it I would notice that they tended to not really want to talk to me again (even though most of them had to eventually because of my new job).

I still had to take my yearly training.  During my yearly training our annual Evaluations came out.  I was pleasantly surprised to receive a relatively high mark on mine.  My boss apparently thought that I was doing a lot in the hours I was allowed to be there during the day.  I worked as hard as I could with what I had to give, and someone noticed.  I was beginning to feel as though maybe I could still do something productive in the Navy, as if the thoughts of PERMLIMDU Status wouldn’t be the end of the World as I knew it.  I began to seriously consider it.  I was in my annual training with the sister of a friend whom I still had occasional contact with, and who was unhappy with her own eval.  As much as I sympathized with her situation, I understood that due to my circumstances our peer groups were different, and my evaluation was not competitive with hers.  I made it a point to not discuss my eval with her or even bring it up.  But when she asked me point blank about mine, my refusal to answer made her assume that mine was better, and this caused a riff between us that I had hoped to avoid. I felt awful, because she was a really great person whom I had actually though I had made friends with. It is such a tricky thing to make new friends when you are going through so much…

It was very difficult.  Nothing I could say was good enough.  It wasn’t fair, she said.  It was wrong, she said.  I was on the same fitness enhancement, she said, and I didn’t even work shift work, she said.  I only got that mark because I sucked up to my boss, she said, and because I “lucked” into a job above my pay grade, she said.  All she could see were the positive outcomes of what was, for me, a really shitty situation.  The one good thing I had going for me was that someone had need of a body to fill a position when my world fell apart, and that it could have been a semi-permanent thing.

That night I received a phone call from my friend, inviting me to meet her for coffee…something that we hadn’t done in I don’t know how long.  She certainly hadn’t had time for socializing in a long time, it seemed, and I was pleasantly surprised.  We met at the Starbucks near my house, another nicety, so I didn’t have to go far.  She treated and we split a big chocolate brownie, because we shared that superhuman tolerance I brag about.  We had polite chit chat and I really felt great getting to talk to her.

Until she brought up my eval.

She brought me there to defend her sister’s side of the whole thing — to tell me that she didn’t think it was fair that I would try to stay on in an office where I could get unfair evals when the rest of my peers were doing real jobs in the Navy.  I was so ashamed that I didn’t even think to argue on my own behalf.  To tell her that it would have been the best thing for me to do so.  That it would mean that I could still give my Kid insurance and have an income and finish my obligation.  That I would still have some connection to all the work I had put in.  But again, all anyone could see was how my situation was unfair to them (even though, in reality, it wasn’t, since my evaluations had no effect whatsoever, on theirs, in case I haven’t made that clear). No one else could see beyond how they felt, to what it meant for me and my family, to me and all the work I had done. Instead of a legacy of nothing finished, I could give something back. So, I lied. I said that I didn’t have that intention — I said I intended to quit and just go away.

But now I was just ashamed.

I was so embarrassed.  I put on my Brave Face and finished up the visit as well as I could.  I cried the whole way home.  I remember deciding that night that if I chose PERMLIMDU that people would all think that I was some big lazy slacker.  A Bad Cripple, even though some people would never see me as disabled at all, and why should they? I hadn’t even considered that label for myself yet. They would all see me as someone who was there to milk some system and gain some unearned privilege.  I had let someone who was supposed to be my friend shame me into giving up things that I needed for my life. So, when the choice came up with the Medical Board Liason and my Division Officer, I turned it down. Again, I lied. I said that it wasn’t something I thought I could do. It wasn’t what I joined the Navy to do, I said.

It is easy to say “who cares what people think” because we all want to assume that we don’t make decisions based on the feelings of others. But the guilt and shame we feel at the stares and hands of other people is hard to take, so much so that we will often expend our spoons to make the feelings go away — even if it is not to our own benefit.

One thing I should add: Through it all, I learned the value of the friends who come out of seemingly nowhere to support you, just when you least expect it, and the value of friends in Bloglandia. Never let anyone tell you that your blog world friends aren’t as good as Meat World friends. They are all appreciated, especially as the wounds of the lost friends heal. The Meat World friends who held on might be few and far between, but they have been a much needed comfort through the many tears.

About Ouyang Dan

is an extremely proggy-liberal, formerly single mommy, Native American, invisibly disabled, U.S. Navy Veteran, social justice activist and aspiring freelance writer currently living in South Korea on Uncle Sam's dime. She has a super human tolerance for caffeine and chocolate and believes she should use those powers for good. She said should. She is not a concise person, and sometimes comes on a little aggressively in comments. Sometimes her right arm still twitches when military brass walks past her, but she would rather be reading YA Lit or pwning n00bs. She can be found being cliche about music, overthinking pop culture, and grumbling about whatever else suits her fancy at her personal website, random babble.... She also writes about military issues for Change.org's Women's Rights blog. If you have something interesting to say email her at ouyangdan [at] disabledfeminists [dot] com. Lawyers in Italy looking to hold lottery winnings in her bank account may wait longer for reply.

11 thoughts on “Why ‘What People Think’ Matters

  1. I feel for you. I’m a federal officer who went through the same crap. I had a chronic thing I didn’t even know was a disability until I was put in a position when it became painfully apparent to all. They took my badge and returned me to my unit where I could do nothing. Eventually they made me a paper shredder.

    At first everybody wanted to know how I was. Not how I was of course, but what I did, why I was coming to work in civilian clothing, and why I spent my days shredding paper instead of being in the field like they were. Eventually they separated me. My entire chain of command told me how sorry they were. Even the ones who were in positions to choose a different course of action and didn’t. Everyone wanted a hug and my phone number and e-mail address that day. Nine months I was off duty and nobody ever called or wrote.

    My personal relationships were severed as well. My boyfriend left me. My friends didn’t know how to handle my depression, though they were all quick to offer advice to, “just get over it.” The civilian ones thought it was great I wasn’t putting myself in danger anymore. People I protected through my work were happy I wasn’t able to do so anymore and they wondered why I was depressed. The military/LEO friends also suggested getting over it, because things could be worse. Like being dead. With no job, no friends, no insurance, etc., being dead seemed alright to me.

    After exhausting my savings, I had no choice but to move in with my parents. Who would be proud of living with their parents when they’re in their 30s? But that just made me ungrateful. My disability was something I just needed to get over according to them. I’d have nightmares about the event that “outed” me. That too was something to just get over. Eventually they came around, but not when I didn’t have a friend in the “real world”. Like you, Bloglandia was my only source of support for a very long time.

    I fought for my job and won, eventually. It came with heavy financial and personal losses. Word had gotten around about my condition and I’m forever viewed as a freak first and an officer second. And all those officers who never called or wrote? They all sought me out to say how happy they were to see me back and ask how I was doing. But again, not how I’m doing but what gossip they could confirm as fact. A year later I was finally able to obtain a PCS and start over. That’s what it took for me to “get over it” and finally obtain closure.

  2. Alysa~ *offers big gentle hugs*

    That is really all I can say. I so understand that situation. Not word for word, of course, because it is your experience, and only you can understand it, but yes.

    You are not alone.

  3. Pardon me for switching my handle for this comment please. I do come here under another name and comment, but I’m former Navy as well. In 2004 I was yanked off my ship for being about to commit suicide, spent 3 years at a shore command not being treated (and in fact got counseled more than once for displaying an absolute checklist of signs for suicide risk), and finally got out even though I still loved going to sea.

    I still can’t get help, because I carry a clearance and to lose it would mean losing my job.

    In some ways the worst part of it all was the way none of my shipmates, some of whom I was close with, wanted to deal or even try to. The sense of isolation. In a close-knit military unit, that’s such a large thing.

    I feel you, Ouyang Dan. I’m still struggling, though have managed to get myself to a better place these days with help from friends, most of whom are out there in Bloglandia. Thank you for writing this, it brought back memories and moved me deeply.

  4. FormerSquid~ If that is what you need to feel comfortable commenting here, that is OK with me, and I believe no one else here has a problem with that either. Having to take great care with your personal info due to a security clearance is a thing I have crossed paths with. 😉

    FYI, you can get help, but there is a lot of paperwork involved and you have to get the right people to sign off approving you for the proper care, and those caring for you have to be cleared to care for you (note: they don’t have to hold clearances, just be approved as not a risk). Sadly that is a chore, and more Second Shift work that you shouldn’t have to do to get care. I hope that doesn’t sound know-it-all-y, I hope it is just a little word of encouragement from experience. It is scary, but it can be done in some cases. Depending on the nature of your job it is better to seek help in order to maintain that clearance. I am not an expert, but that has been my personal observation. Best of luck to you. And of course, you are the only person who knows your experience, so my thoughts might not apply to your situation at all.

    And, if I come off out of line here, FormerSquid, please let me know.

    *offers hugs and encouragement*

  5. I can really empathize here, although for completely unrelated reasons. It’s hard to ‘just ignore’ what others think, because there’s a difference between knowing what is true in your mind, and feeling it in your heart. If what you know is true doesn’t jibe with how others see you (or even how you think they see you) you start to feel like a fake, like you’re wrong about yourself. You can’t be proud of who you are, because others don’t see it, and showing it to them makes you appear conceited.

    It’s actually a bit of a pet peeve of mine, the idea that ‘confidence comes from within’ and ‘it doesn’t matter what others think’. Bull shit. The people around us act somewhat like mirrors, and if we can’t see ourselves reflected in how they think of us, we might as well be spinning our tires. (Sorry for the mixed metaphor, it’s early…) It’s impossible for us to see ourselves clearly, so we have to rely on those mirrors to see ourselves as we really are. It doesn’t matter if those mirrors are broken or tinted, because they’re the closest thing to objective reality we have for measuring ourselves.

    *hugs all around*

  6. Ouyang Dan, I never take advice kindly meant as patronizing or what have you. At this point I suspect it’s easier to cope with where I’ve gotten myself to than to try to find a shrink that I could talk to about, say, my OIF experience. I get by with a little help from my friends & am no longer a danger to myself, so that’s all right then.

    Your post really reminded me of being in the Navy and sucking it up. Because that’s what you do, isn’t it? You suck it up, you pull your weight no matter what it costs you, you don’t *talk* about it or hint that something might be wrong unless of course you’re joking. You can joke about what a wuss you are, how weak, a crip, sick lame and lazy, but only as long as you keep sucking it up.

    There were times when I thought if I sucked it up any harder, I’d freakin implode and collapse into a very small black hole.

  7. Ouyang dan – my sympathies and virtual hugs. (I like virtual hugs!)

    My mom had a thyroid problem diagnosed a few years before she had me, while she was still in the navy and not my dad’s dependent. Anyways, she couldn’t go overseas (to Japan!!!) if she was on the meds, so she stopped taking them. And was fine.

    I wish I was surprised by your (mis)adventures, but I’m not. I’m just… not. I’m sad that this seems to be the way it is, but surprised? No.

    What others think ties into “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” which is also bull hockey.

    Of course, for the most part, the average person doesn’t care about you (not in a bad way, I mean they’re not looking to see you mess up) but the people you work with? Especially in the “small town” feel of the base? Ick.

  8. My experience was in the civillian world, but in a place that in a way is just as tight-knit – law school.

    Your first year, you’re in a section of about 60 people. You have every single class with those people for a year. You get a feel for their political opinions, for their manner of legal interpretation, and…for who they are.

    I came down with the secondary condition that actually made me disabled about a week before my first year started, as I was moving cross-country for law school. I knew no one in the area where my school is, had no friends or family within 200 miles.

    The 1L year is spoken of afterwards with a kind of pride for the hell you go through. How much worse the hell gets when you hurt everywhere, all the time, and you’re fatigued, and your body just seems to be breaking down around you.

    The thing that killed me, though, was finding out how other people around me felt.

    The other students in my section? Most of them thought of me as an excuse, not a person. And then there was the professor who, when I showed up late after a break because I was desparate for food and I could barely put one foot in front of the other, told me to ‘take my time’…and stopped the class while I hobbled one baby-step at a time to my seat. When I tried to explain that I was having a bad time walking that day, she just said ‘no no, take your time’.

    I spent most of the next week so suicidal that I couldn’t be left by myself. My psychologist recommended commitment, but 2 of my oh-so-few friends and my then brand-new boyfriend rallied around me and traded me from one person to the next.

    I know it’s different. Through the encouragement of my dean of students, I did accept a move to part-time instead of full-time. It was…shatteringly hard, to admit that I could no longer even go to school like everyone else.

    But it has its similarities – the tight-knit group all around you, but of which you are no longer part. The polite shunning. The way they talk about you when you’re not there.

    I still am something of a social pariah. One of the hardest things about law school is that you make your social circles your first year, out of the people in your section, and I…didn’t. So I have a few friends here and there, but no one close and…well, it’s been hard. Really hard. If it wasn’t for my boyfriend – the same guy who helped keep a suicide watch over me when we’d been dating for just a few weeks – I would have never made it past that first year.


  9. Thanks, Kaitlyn. I wish all problems were as manageable as your mothers were. Sometimes we can be fine, and sometimes we cannot. IIRC, Japan is one of the places that will rule you out for having a major medical concern (I suppose I should do a post some times on how medical conditions and disabilities limit where you can go in the military).

    Kali~ *offers huge hugs*

    When I was a music major in college it was similar (not in the same ways of difficulty, but being a music student has it’s own ways of making you want to run away to a desert island), in that you had that community of people who were in your year and in ALL of your classes. That is my way of saying I am glad that you and I are here to share these experiences in this space.

  10. My experience did not involve close knit circles, but mimics a bit of Kaitlyn’s law school experience. The first incident ended with me wandering around during a snow storm on campus in a kind of passive suicidal state.

    The second, I only found out later that people were whispering about what I ate and which classes I managed to attend etc. I was far too out of it. Although the hardest crush came when I discovered that despite my pain and confusion and depression my roommate had reported me as a potential violence problem – against HER.

    She wouldn’t tell anyone about my struggles not to kill myself, but she would tell them that my struggles endangered her life because just suppose I used instruments against her. It could happen.

    Aka, depressed people can apparently turn violent and slash up bystanders on a whim.

    It’s taken many years for me to recognize that being treated as a pariah had more to do with stereotypes about mental illness and depression and those peoples’ own fears about themselves.

    I can’t help reading about the coffee store incident that happened with Ouyang Dan and recognizing the whole ‘You’re a disgrace and a failure and are skating by while the rest of us do real work’ as it applied to some people being incensed that I didn’t show up to class but got good marks on papers.

    The fact that it was grace to even get a professor to allow me to balance things that way and that I had to do more work to make up for not being in class – that didn’t hit their consciousness.

    It’s like the ‘Depression = Sweatpants Syndrome’. Being in trouble academically or in a similar program is supposed to look a certain way. If you fight against it, or find ways to manage and don’t meet the expectations of what trouble looks like? Then you’re faking and getting away with something.

    It’s taken a very long time to separate who I am from what I am able to do, from what people think I should be.

    I’m lucky to have had a wonderful therapist in these later years who pointed out that children look for mirrors of themselves in their parents. And that looking for mirroring extends into society as we get older and doesn’t just disappear. It’s a human thing to care what other people think and feel it as part of oneself.

    Some of us, however, learn harshly when what we see reflects society’s prejudices and ignorance, that such reflections are better left as very small aspects of ourselves, looked at with a discerning eye.

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