A Disorder For Everyone!

By Sophie Olson @TheFlyingChild

Yesterday I delivered my first workshop for A Disorder For Everyone AD4E. The workshop was aimed at those working in therapeutic and support settings and we explored how to best support CSA survivors without pathologising and retraumatising them.

I discussed how the ‘help’ I received in the mental health system was medicalised from the start. I was told the ‘issue’ was in my head, that I was ill and there was ‘a chemical imbalance’ in the brain. This scientific validity of psychiatric diagnosis is now widely disputed, but I had no ability to challenge it at that time. I knew deep down that abuse was the crux of the issue but thought it had caused my brain to ‘go wrong’. I trusted my consultant.

I fully embraced psychiatric diagnosis at first because with ‘illness’ comes hope of cure, and I didn’t want to feel as bad as I did. I was drowning in darkness and it was easier to say ‘I can’t cope with life because I have XYZ disorder” then it was for me to say, “I can’t cope because I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and nobody knows and I have absolutely no idea how to live with that trauma.”

By the time I found strength to disclose what had happened to me it seemed irrelevant. It was too late. When I tried to look back in group therapy I was told “you’re not a child anymore, you’re an adult. You need to take responsibility.”

I was entrenched in the system that saw me as ‘disordered’.

Planning the workshop has been a bit of a personal journey. Looking back has been challenging and I discovered things that have shocked me. Medication I can’t recall being given. Misguided opinions stated by staff with no understanding of trauma. My diaries in particular show a shocking deterioration over my first 28 day stay. How hope of a cure from the ‘illness’ they claimed I had was taken away by the psychiatrist who said,

“You have a severe and enduring mental illness. You will never recover or live without community support or medication.”

Psychiatrist ~ 2010

The workshop was challenging but hopeful, because I was able to walk people through an alternative approach. I was lucky to find the right help and support from a counsellor who looked past the labels and told me over and over again:

“You are normal. This is normal. You are reacting totally normally to an abnormal situation you were forced into as a child. I’d be more concerned if you weren’t reacting this way.”

Patricia Walsh

Over time I stopped believing the ‘severe and enduring curse’ and I began to view myself differently. If I was normal, then maybe I’d be ok.

The event went very well. I’ve had some fantastic feedback and encouraging private messages (I’m slowly working my way through them all!) – and best of all have been asked back to repeat the workshop on 13th December where we will be running an evening event.

If you have concerns about the pathologising of emotional distress then please check out AD4E. They have a huge following on Facebook, run varied events with well known speakers and lived experience experts from around the world, and have created a powerful movement for change.

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