Poetry helps me to express the things I find harder to say. One thing I don’t talk about much is the lodger who lives in my body. I tolerate him simply because he’s been with me for a long time and I’m used to him. This lodger’s name is Anxiety. He also goes by the name Fear, Worry and On Edge.
There were so many days like this. Too many days. It feels like a lifetime of surviving. Often I wonder why I did survive. Sometimes I feel so very old.
This poem reflects a point in my life where I had reached out for help more times than I can remember. I had tried to be stronger, happier – more resilient. I had tried to focus on, and be grateful for the good things – there were many good things – but I was drowning and help wasn’t forthcoming.
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.
Preventing Suicide in Adolescents was the theme for the conference delivered by HSSCP & South Tees Safeguarding Children Partnership. Professionals across various agencies working with children attended the event.
This week I delivered my second workshop as part of this event.
The title of my workshop was CSA, the consequences of trauma: a journey of missed opportunities. This was the first time I’ve used my own story as the sole case study and participants were asked to identify indicators I might have shown and where the missed opportunities occurred. There was a breakout activity for small group discussion on how to open conversations with child survivors.
When there is an increase in child suicide and professionals come together to try and work out why, and what can be done to prevent it, really the only people who can tell us why are the children but they can’t because they’re not here anymore. By rights I shouldn’t be here either.
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
I have always had a thing about groups. I don’t like them, I don’t trust them. I have been wary of groups, ever since the time an eight year old girl with stocky legs and suspicious eyes accused me of laying eggs during a playground game of 4040. This was the worst crime imaginable in Year Four in 1985. Hand on hip, she stood back to watch as thirty indignant little girls and boys formed a menacing circle and she stared unblinkingly at me as I stood in the middle wondering how the world had suddenly turned so dark. Thirty shrill voices began their chant:
Lay-ing EGGS!, lay-ing EGGS!
It was untrue and unjust but I did nothing; I didn’t defend myself, didn’t shout, didn’t cry or tell a teacher, I just braced myself and waited for it to end.
Trauma is misunderstood, misdiagnosed and often treated with unnecessary medication. Labels put people in a box. In my case, they left me in victim mode and unable to move on. I was told by a psychiatrist that I would be unable to live without medication and yet I have lived for years without. I choose to recognise my reactions to certain stimuli as normal trauma responses.
Recently I was pleased to have had the opportunity to take part in a survivor/journalist interaction. We had a behind-the-scenes conversation about child sexual abuse, discussed the way it’s currently covered in the media, suggestions for how this could be improved and how we personally are contributing towards solutions in our own work and activism.
As an ice-breaker exercise we were asked to share something meaningful and the item I shared made me reflect upon the connections survivors make with one another, how precious these connections are, how we just understand each other.
Trigger Warning: This post contains references to suicide that could be distressing.
For some, life reaches a point where it derails you completely. It is the moment where you feel that death is preferable. Some refer to this as ‘Rock Bottom’ and when I reached mine, it may not have felt like it at the time, but it was the day that I began again. I was 30, and as the first third of my life came to an end, so did the walls I’d built around myself. My persona, my mask, and my pretence began to rot and decay, along with my twenties and I was scared. I feared there was nothing underneath, that I’d just disintegrate and dissolve to nothing.
It is common for the survivor of child sexual abuse to struggle with their mental health. Many will find themselves in the psychiatric system. At first it can feel like a huge relief. We are told we feel the way we do because we suffer from X, Y and Z. We are told to take medication and we do, because it comes with the hope of recovery. For some, medication provides relief. They may take the prescribed dose for the recommended time and feel better, able to continue with their lives, untroubled by past trauma. But what do we do when we feel we’re not recovering from child sexual abuse? How do we cope with the bitter realisation that we feel exactly the same about what happened to us when we reach our forties, fifties and beyond? We begin to wonder; is true recovery even really possible? We hear a lot of talk about ‘recovery’ from trauma, but the truth is I didn’t believe recovery was possible – or maybe it was possible for others and there was something wrong with me. The years went by, along with the hope that anything would change for the better.
Processing trauma can feel like an ongoing battle; at times a bloody war. I’ve always known that I must process all of it. If I leave any stone unturned I will trip up and fall, most likely landing flat on my face, with a broken rib or two. It’s best to clear the ground now. To prevent the inevitable.
Trigger warning: The following post contains themes relating to CSA that some may find upsetting.
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.
Some of the most desperate in society have suffered more than you can possibly imagine. I live near an organisation that provides help for the homeless, many of whom have challenging mental health needs. A lot, if not all of these people will have suffered traumain the pastand now facedaily judgement.