• Kaatje Gotcha

The Brutal Truth about Isolation & Loneliness

Part One: This may be my most dire blog yet, about the near death from total isolation that I suffered for the last half-decade. It's not just isolation that got to me, it is the loss of a life. Multiple lives, really. Ever since my skydiving accident in 1992 - I had just turned 24 years old and was an aspiring stuntwoman in Los Angeles - I have tried rebuilding my life. I entered community college at age 28, because I didn’t have the confidence for university, despite being one of the brightest students there. This was mostly because I didn't know about the word letters “A” through “F”, and got straight As since that seemed to mean I would keep getting amazing scholarships. (My country rates your studies through number 0 to 10, with a 5.5 as passing grade.

At age 16, failing three grades in a row, I’d dropped out of high school in the Netherlands and moved to Paris for my modeling career. Thus I was extremely motivated to make something of myself, as a disable immigrant in the United States. I've always lacked confidence, was diagnosed at age 10 with such debilitating academic insecurity, the educational psychologist team predicted future doom and failure, and they were right. Post-accident, psychological testing at the spinal cord rehab center showed I had an IQ of 143, which unfortunately did nothing to alleviate my profound insecurities.

It certainly did not help that the psychologist was mad at me for having a higher IQ than him despite being “just a model and a high school dropout.” So, instead of encouraging me and helping me enroll in university, the bastard recommended a career as a mail deliverer. In the Netherlands, noone gets pregnant in high school and no one drops out, and thus, I was an anomaly. And I overcompensated for my lack of confidence with enthusiasm, being obdurate and a big mouth that hasn’t gotten me in trouble since age seven. It wasn't until I started paying attention, at a Detroit community college with amazing professors (retired PhSs) and small classes, that I finally excelled at academics.

Ever the adrenaline junkie, I didn't go for a medical career that would enable me to use my excellent cognitive and deductive skills and instead became a paramedic despite the spinal cord injury. Still, I guess rescuing lives and delivering patients to various ERs including Detroit Receiving and William Beaumont Hospital sure beat delivering mail. After few years in Detroit it became apparent that I needed to leave Oakland Community College and obtain a bachelors, which I’d never thought possible. Here too I overestimated my physical capabilities and was focused on becoming a physician assistant despite worsening pain. Unbeknownst to me, adhesive arachnoiditis had already infiltrated my spine, leading to bone cancer like pain.

Which went untreated for a decade, hampered by a mind still focused on impossible goals. It didn’t help that my physician assistant training provided zero help for students with disabilities. Due to the physically exhausting studies I burned out badly, which ended up contributing greatly to the demise of my eight year marriage culminating in our 2009 divorce. (Although also blame Season 3 of Battlestar Galactica!) Losing the love of my life was so heartbreaking, my mind couldn't deal cope and so, I focused on my next, physically wildly improbable goal. At the time I enjoyed a wonderful first PA job in Gastroenterology in Albuquerque, where I was surrounded by smart physicians and finally had a support system in place that include a lift system for my three wheeled scooter.

As usual, unhappy in the now, I dreamed of a much more fullfilling life, which of course could only be accomplished by working as physician assistant in England. Sure, I wanted to be closer to my family, since my nephews and nieces were growing up without an auntie. But I still had some significance cognitive behavioral and childhood problems, despite having undergone intense psychotherapy since my New Mexico Tech days in the early 2000’s. I ended up disillusioned, in a cold and rainy UK hospital working in spinal cord injuries with inaccessible conditions. Within the year I lost another stint by having severe physical and mental burnout. Between the worsening sacral pain and my personal failures I had enough to keep me up at night, and at that time, Pain Management was no help.

Once again I was lost in my suffering. I lost my UK physician assistant career and arrived in the Southern Netherlands, close to my family in a small wooden cottage. It was quiet and peaceful and would have given me the opportunity for much needed rest and recovery. I quickly realized that the only path forward would be to relocate to the United States at least part-time and work as a locum physician assistant in gastroenterology. I survived that hospital job by hiding in the patient's bathroom over lunch time, locking it for 45 minutes to lie down on paper towels to rest my spine and tailbone, which by now felt as if invaded with metastatic bone cancer (this is not an exaggeration, this is what adhesive arachnoiditis feels like). I lost that job, despite doing a great job and satisfied patients, coworkers and medical colleagues, through an argument with a manager.

I finally landed a friendly primary care job, but within a year and a half, found myself unhappy and dissatisfied and especially, very lonely without friends. I've done a lot of batshit crazy stuff to alleviate loneliness by hanging out with electronic dance music and Burning Man people, instead of learning to be happy with that nice primary Care job. I had a steady job with a nice income, working only one day a week making $400 a day. That was sufficient, having a very low mortgage for a wonderful town home. But I longed for connection, for making friends, for doing a more demanding job so I switched to an Urgent Care setting at a defense lab. Sure, for the next two years I made more friends and temporarily found more satisfaction but I hadn't dealt with the loss of my careers with the loss of my marriage and with the loss of my health.

By 2015 I found myself at odds with the clinic manager and nurses, who refused to implement a couple of very minor disability accommodations: I’d requested for the staff to the exam room for a UTI or a throat swab. Instead I was forced to keep limping to the nurses station which greatly aggravated my already significant and overwhelming pain. I would come home from one daily shift, go to bed, putting ice packs on my swollen left ankle and my always painful sacrum. I was forced to resign and once again lost a job, partly because of disability issues. I switched to Geriatric Psychiatry, finally using my wheelchair full-time to go from room to room, diagnosing, treating and monitoring Nursing Home patients. The pressure of getting around with a wheelchair however, worsened my sacral pain.

I wasnt kidding, when I told you this was going to be a post on loss after loss, decade after decade. Despite working so very hard to rise above my disability circumstances, it may not surprise you that in July 2015, I had to resign from Geriatric Psychiatry. Smart move: I continued cognitive behavioral therapy, with a great therapist. I was no quitter, kept working on myself.

By August 2015 I had such overwhelming pain I could no longer provide ADL's like cooking, cleaning or even showering to keep myself clean and dressed. I couldn't cope and by December that year found myself at a spinal cord rehabilitation center again for a 12 day stay. Upon discharge I was prescribed an electrical hospital for home use, a power wheelchair and home health care, which ultimately led to the greatest loss: That of losing independence. Being a creative and intelligent human being, perhaps longing for survival, I started writing comedy and performed at open mics at least two to three times a week. I dragged my painful body to various bars and venues, most not accessible, so I would bring my mat to rest my spine before shining on stage for 5 minutes at a time.

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