No Space

This was one of two poems I performed at 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.

I wrote it recently, on a day where I felt overwhelmed and exhausted by the consequences of CSA. In the past, I would have equated this with poor mental health and considered making an appointment to see my psychiatrist. I don’t do this anymore because the psychiatric system was unable to support me with trauma. I never experienced relief with meds, there was never enough time, my trauma history was not acknowledged as the root cause and I didn’t receive the empathy or gentle care I needed to heal. On the contrary, treatment felt punitive and came with undertones of threat and a distinct loss of autonomy.

On days like these I reach out instead to the survivor community or my therapist. I ride the wave and wait for tomorrow to be better. I take steps to control my environment and reduce the likelihood of being triggered as I fear my trauma responses being misunderstood and judged by the mental health system. Because of my history I know I am more likely to be admitted, told I’m ill, perhaps even forcibly medicated. This is anxiety-inducing.

It has been a few years since I last had contact with the mental health system but the fear remains. What would I do and where would I turn if I needed more support? If tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that were no better? Where is the space to rest, reset, process and be held by professionals who understand trauma? What is the alternative to the mental health system? Retreats exist but they cost money and exclude the majority.

There is no space for survivors of Child Sexual Abuse, looking for alternative support in the system as it currently stands.

No Space

Where is the space for me to be?

For me to discuss?

For me to grieve for a childhood lost? 

I want to tell you that I sat on the grass

knees to chin, tucked under purple blooms and watched the birds 

dominos on the telegraph wire.  

I want to say I heard their busy feet dancing in the eaves by my head when he did what he did. 

How can I tell you there was only one way out? That I went deep within and shot high above?

If I say I flew with the birds in the sky

Psychosis you’ll say. Delusions. Disorder

or you’ll suggest my personality sits on the border.

The border of what?

Madness and sane? 

Survival and death? 

Acceptance or shame? 

If I grieve too loudly for my childhood lost

you’ll call me depressed. I’m not ill. My head is a mess and it’s tangled inside

if I tell you how I cope with the pain

you’ll give me a label. You’ll give it a name

bipolar, psychosis. ADHD

you think you know myself better than me

but you don’t want to know about the weight on the bed

you don’t care to see shadows that creep into my head.

Where is the space when exhaustion hits?

It’s tiring to fight wars forever.

Where is the space for me to rage, to scream to shout at the world

that turned a blind eye

that went far away

that chose not to look

that chose not to say

what happened to you

and… are you ok?

Where is the space for me to rest? I am mad, you say. 

Yes. I am.

I’m fucking enraged.

©Sophie Olson

3 thoughts on “No Space”

  1. This poem and the writing with it fills me with total longing and such a huge ache. Everything in it describes me, my experience, my life and how I have been treated in mental health services going back many decades. Until I met the doctor who became my therapist – for 19 years – followed by his colleague up to today – at a fraction of the cost by both therapists – making a total of 34 years, working with dreams and the unconscious. -As a professional artist who had previously earned my living from my art I was supported financially by an artists’ charity for 13 years. I worked at depth with dreams and the unconscious, documenting endless flashbacks and memories of abuse since early childhood up to my mid-twenties – mostly by my father but also when a toddler, uncles and his business partner – all of which I had had no memory of at all prior to a car-crash shocking it into my awareness at the age of 38. At that point I said I didn’t care if I died to get to the bottom of what had caused my depression (medicated) since age 15 – followed by six psychotic hospitalized breakdowns and treated with every drug under the sun – and the barbaric, horrific ECT which even today I still feel the physical and mental effects of and which I am in no doubt destroyed both short-term and long-term memory. Once I got hold of the information that the bottom of all this was not, as I had been told, an incurable, inherited genetic disease – a chemical imbalance in the brain for which I would have to be treated with drugs for the rest of my life – I was able to get through a further 3 hospitalised breakdowns without going over the edge into psychosis. Instead I drew and drew, and drew – and talked and talked – and was deeply, kindly, listened to – by the doctor I had met who became my therapist and was given the sort of help, kindness and treatment which Sophie describes the need for in her poem and writing. I came off all medication. I had nothing to do with mental health services/mainstream psychiatry since 1998 – until I had to interact with them in 2018 in order to get a formal psychiatric assessment (diagnosis) which was needed to support an appeal for disability benefits. The re-connecting with mainstream psychiatry even just for an hour’s interview triggered extreme stress and distress and many retrograde and adverse reactions in the years since.

    Ever since I began to remember I had been sexually abused, raped and tortured since a very young child I have longed for the space you describe. For all those decades there has been nowhere to go. I have dedicated my life to finding a way to achieve it. I see it in my ideal as a large hexagonal building with a library and cafe and a large area for relaxing with big comfy sofas and chairs and tables – and round the periphery many small enclosed rooms for small dialogue-groups for survivors at varying stages of their recovery – with therapists available but also peer-supported activities and a larger conference and exhibition space. I have a name for it but I will keep that secret for now…I have many times given up, let go of it as I have plunged back into deeper horrors as I became more and more conscious of how society at large keeps the knowledge of abuse hidden and suppressed. But it won’t let me go. It keep returning with a vengeance ad I read and engage with ever-more people who are saying the same things. I have challenged all psychiatric theories and recently achieved an MA in which I brought together years of artwork and the thesis that there was nothing wrong with me in the first place. Driven by the unceasing search for meaning, truth and love – and fired by complete and utter outrage.

    Thank you for all you are doing with the Flying Child and to all the rest of the contributors – so far I have read just a few of the poems and writings by survivors and I have been moved to tears.

    1. Thank you for sharing. I’m blown away by your drive, determination and the recognition that it was not you who was sick after all. The sickness is embedded in society, blind to the abuse of children. I often wonder when trauma is finally recognised by the psychiatric system and no one stays silent about their experiences, how many will find a way to live the lives they were meant to. It is possible but we need support. I too dream of a centre for survivors. If I won the lottery tomorrow I know exactly what I’d build and where I’d build it. I think we need hundreds of these spaces and I smiled when I read your description as we think along the same lines. Maybe one day…
      Sophie x

  2. I feel exactly the same as you , especially about the forced medications, diagnoses and ECT …..

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