Drop The Disorder Poetry Night

I consider myself a survivor of CSA and the psychiatric system, and was pleased to take part in an event by Drop The Disorder: an evening of spoken word performances to challenge the culture of psychiatric diagnosis and the pathologising of emotional distress.

One of the most significant moments of my journey was the time I reached out to a GP as I was leaving an appointment. She was kind, but as there was no screening for trauma, I was set on a path that delayed recovery for an entire decade. She didn’t intend to cause me further harm, she probably had little idea of what else to do with me. Trauma-informed pathways are long overdue and it is time for change. It is hard to have conversations like these without being accused of stigmatising mental illness but those who are harmed by the system must feel able to speak. When I do, I’m not denying the experiences of those who benefit from treatment, I’m validating my own experiences as someone who was failed by that system.

I regret hesitating at the door. This poem is called Door Handle Moment

Door Handle Moment: (advice to my 29 year old self)

If you say ‘I’m struggling’, as you reach for the door

don’t say you can’t recognise yourself in the mirror

that you don’t feel quite real

like you’re swimming through mud

and you study knots after tucking your children in bed

Don’t tell them what you do to survive

Don’t expect them to ask you why

Don’t describe how it feels to go so far inside your own head

you fear you will disappear, forever.

Don’t mention the wallpaper 

how you lifted an edge

crawled in the gap

hung in the bubble

safe inside the flowers.

Don’t describe how it felt

when you couldn’t escape

a soul shattered 

into one million little pieces.

how there was more than one of you 

that it was bearable that way.

Don’t say you split from your body

that you lost hours of time.

Never, ever say you know you can fly

with the birds

in the sky.

When they sign your script with a flourish

say thank you

and yes please

don’t ask for a list of side effects

or to look at the DSM -5.

When the meds don’t work

don’t tell them you wanted to die and that you were disappointed

to see the sunrise. 

When they admit you 

don’t be vexatious. Don’t argue. Never contradict, question or say you don’t agree.

If you feel the need to laugh at the absurdity, never follow with a sob

when you try to explain 

with words

stuck for thirty years

don’t say them too fast

don’t stutter or stall

don’t say I’m a survivor

don’t say it aloud

their faces will shutter 

they won’t know what to do

they’ll say the fault lies firmly with you.

It is a sure sign of instability

to seek human connection.

Never ask for a hug.

Stroke your own hand. Hold yourself

but not too hard.

don’t rock

or grip your arms.

Don’t ask for the names of their children

or if they like dogs.

Queue quietly. Swallow the tablets. Open wide. Show them your empty mouth

be good. 

Don’t tell them about the blades in the spine of your book

escape routes planned

pills stashed just in case.

Hide your scars

don’t ask for first aid.

Don’t shout. Don’t curse.

Don’t scream when you think you’ll never get out.

Never tell them to fuck you. Or fuck off.

Don’t barricade yourself in your room when panic sets in

it is against the rules.

Submit to sedation. You won’t win. You crossed a line.

Let them shine a torch in your face every ten minutes

and watch you naked in the shower 

it is for your own good.

Sit quietly on your bed.

Don’t rage.

Don’t pace.

Don’t speak about the chaos in your head.

Don’t jumble your words.

Be coherent 


don’t fight


don’t be too bright

don’t howl

or grieve for yourself.

When you’re drowning in darkness

don’t tell them what you saw in the woods

how you were forced on your bed

what he did in the car

how imprisoned you were.

Don’t tell them what happened in the basement that day

or the way he looked at you when he turned out the lights

how you thought you’d be next.

Lie quietly. Be silent 

it’s your only way out. 

Hide. All of it. Hide all of you. 

When they let you go. 


Never look back.

©Sophie Olson

6 thoughts on “Drop The Disorder Poetry Night”

  1. My house is empty so I have felt able to listen to the Last Taboo on the BBC …… even saying that I feel ashamed that I cannot listen if someone might overhear is so telling isn’t it?
    You have told my story too , right down to the pregnancy trauma and fear , feeling like I am living in a parallel world , being in a mental health ‘treatment cloud’ where no-one really listens. The drinking etc; wanting to self destruct because my life was destroyed before it really began, even the flinching in school that was noticed but ignored.
    Then an unpaid volunteer at an abuse charity helps me to begin to talk and tells me that how I have reacted in life is ‘normal’ after CSA…that was a breakthrough and I am healing slowly but still have told few others.
    Still have ‘disorder’ labels, medication ; don’t sleep etc, but now I understand why.
    I am in my late 60’s now , the abusers are dead , I really wish I could have had a childhood before I die.

    1. I really wish that for you too. Thank you for sharing, for listening and for recognising that your reactions to what happened to you are normal. As far as labels and medication go, whilst I personally was not helped by the treatment, I recognise others may have different experiences. I think it’s about finding a path to healing that works for us.

  2. Oh my goodness!! How you describe the overwhelming pressure to be compliant in the face on going retraumatization is so accurate. The awfulness of hospital detention!
    Thank you for this poem. I am going to share it with my therapist (with full credits to you) if that’s OK? I think then maybe she might understand me a little better.
    Sending you my most gentle and caring thoughts. I can not imagine what that was like to write.
    Thank you again.

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