Left vs Right

Trigger warning (CSA, suicide)

I wrote this shortly before being admitted to a psychiatric hospital. I think back and wonder if I knew why I was so unwell. Did I equate this depressive state with child sexual abuse? The answer is yes, but I don’t allude to it here. When I wrote this, The Black Door was locked and bolted, but it was a deliberate choice to keep it that way. These memories were always clear to me but I didn’t allow myself to let them out. At this stage, they were beginning to find a way through the gaps, but I wasn’t ready to write about that. I was silent about the abuse, even inside my own head.

My references to the different sides of my brain feeling a certain way and controlling my state of mind probably make little sense from a medical perspective, but that was how I perceived it at the time.

I include my diary entries from the beginning of my journey to recovery from child sexual abuse because I think it could can be insightful for the mental health professional to understand the silent world in which a survivor lives. I would have presented as extremely clinically depressed but was unable to give any context to my state of mind. I couldn’t speak about my experiences, hence leading to misdiagnosis and medication ill-suited for the treatment of trauma.

It was many years until I found the right help – specialist therapy and survivor groups.

I feel like a bit of my brain is dying. The left-hand side. This is why I sometimes muddle my words. It is making me forgetful. I forget, all the time. Arrangements with friends, my daughter’s cake sale at school. It leaves me with a feeling of being detached from my own body, and from the world.
From afar, I watch myself stumble through life and everyday, trip and fail. My voice is distant and seems to belong to someone else who is me, but not me. Who am I?
It strips me of my ability to concentrate. Since I learned to read, to be without a book is akin to life without water, yet this illness has taken that away now.
It feels physical. My body temperature is chaotic. Sometimes, I am unable to get warm as the coldness settles in my bones, yet the heating is on high, and I’m buried under a multitude of blankets.
It is the reason my hand shakes. My left hand.
It makes me too tired to do the tasks that were once simple; paying the milkman is too difficult and the bills pile up. Fastening my son’s coat can fill me with panic.
This is depression. It equally affects my body and my mind yet it is called a mental illness.
The right side of my brain is normal. It is alert and aware, and it is forced to watch the painful demise of the left. Left intends to drag Right down with it, but Right won’t go without a fight. Right is writing this. Left is trying to stop it. It makes me pause. Stare into space. It hides the appropriate words. Right, finds them again. It is a game of hide and seek, a competitive match. The score has been 8/0 today. A bad day, but now, Right is gaining strength. Writing gives Right power. It has earned it’s first point. I am rooting for Right.

I think about going into hospital. Right shows me an image of myself, sitting in a room and the room is full of light. There is a view that I look at and it gives me the strength to write. I begin to heal. I see myself drawing again – another thing that Left has destroyed. But now, Left shows me an image of the same room, but it is dark and there is no view. I lie in bed and time is running out. It shows me my children’s pain as they say goodbye. It tells me that going into hospital will damage my daughter irreparably. To be irreparable is a grave thing indeed. The very definition is to be ‘incapable of being rectified, remedied, or made good.’
Going into hospital could be an irreparable mistake.
When I encourage my daughter to talk, I tell her that ‘a worry shared is a worry halved.’ This is a saying that she likes but she says she can only talk to me. Left makes me believe that if I am not there, her worries will remain inside her, multiplying and festering and infecting her with the same insidious illness.

I think about suicide and of the different ways to go. At the moment, I see myself jumping. How would I feel on the way down? Relief? Regret? It’s one hell of a gamble.
I could swallow enough pills. But I don’t want to die because I can’t leave my children. I think of their little faces. Why am I not getting better? I want the medication to work and to repair the sick and rotting bit of my mind that makes me think like this. I don’t want to feel like this. I want to get better. I will get better because my consultant believes I can and I think I trust him, but Left tells me over and over that there are no guarantees. What is the best thing for the children? Do I go into hospital or stay at home?

If I could replace myself with a replica so convincing that my children wouldn’t know the difference, would I do it? This would give me my respite, and my children would be ok. But could I miss the things that make me happy? The smell of their washed hair, seeing them on Christmas morning, buying their clothes, warm cuddles in bed. My babies.

(Written in 2009)

NB: I have read this back now in 2021 with a sense of sadness and frustration. I was unable to voice the underlying cause therefore how could they have ever known? I can see, with the benefit of hindsight, that there are ways of managing ‘patients’ in this particular environment, that would allow them to feel able to speak out.

What if it was assumed from the beginning that all patients presenting at a psychiatric hospital might well have underlying trauma? Certainly the statistics support that idea. What if trauma/abuse specialists were involved at the point of assessment, just in case? Immediately after my first meeting with my consultant psychiatrist I was assessed by an addiction therapist. I wonder how different my life would have been had I met Pat instead – the specialist therapist I met years later, after being referred to a female survivor group by a rape charity? In 2009, the groups, sessions and even inpatient wards were all mixed gender. This was not an environment conducive to promoting the disclosure of sexual violence.

Obviously, if you are not ready to speak or haven’t found a way to disclose then nothing is going to make that dramatically easier, but I can see conversely that there are situations that are going to almost guarantee you maintain your silence. Surely an environment that is receptive to the possibility, even likelihood that trauma is present, would make it that little bit easier for a survivor to unearth that strength that is there, however deeply buried. Perhaps recovery wouldn’t be delayed as it was for me, for ten years.

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