Drop The Disorder Poetry Night

I consider myself a survivor of CSA and the psychiatric system so was pleased to take part in tonight’s 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

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Why didn’t you say anything before?

Why didn’t you say anything before? Were the words said when I disclosed. I didn’t know how to respond to that. The things I wanted to say spun inside my head and stuck in my throat but I couldn’t say them. I swallowed my words and looked at the floor instead.

Why didn’t you…?… you could have… you should have…

The events of that disclosure day unfolded violently, like a bomb exploding and glass embedding itself in our hearts. It was one of the hardest and worst things I’ve ever had to do. I tried to say why I hadn’t, I really did but I was mute with shame, regret and fear.

My fault was how I interpreted these responses. It’s my fault.

I was probably in shock too. Disclosure might be shocking for the recipient but it’s far worse for the one saying the terrible words we hoped we might never have to actually say – no more hoping that someone would just notice, ‘get it’ instead. It felt like peeling the skin from my bones, exposing the essence of me to the world. It hurt. I wanted to run away and hide. I wished I’d never said anything at all.

It was impossible to explain why I hadn’t because where would I begin? How could I describe my inability to retrieve the correct words and to speak them aloud? I didn’t say much after I disclosed. I couldn’t answer their questions and some of them made me feel so unsafe I wanted to die. I stayed silent and scrutinised their faces and body language. I was looking for any nuance of behaviour for a sign they didn’t believe me.

I waited to be cast out of the family and shunned for saying these terrible words.

Why didn’t you say anything before?

Now I have my words and if I could go back in time and do it all over again I would say,

I did.

I had been non-verbally disclosing since childhood but nobody was listening. They didn’t understand what I was trying to say.

Dentists Need To Know

Over the last few weeks I have been using my own lived experience as a survivor activist, working with The University of Bristol, Bristol Dental School and activists Viv Gordon, Patricia Debney and Hazel Larkin to coproduce research ‘Improving Access to Oral Health Services for Adult Survivors of Child Sex Abuse.’ It has been a wonderful and empowering project to be part of, beautifully and safely held by all, and I’m excited by the change already on the horizon. Many survivors (including myself) find accessing dentistry almost impossible and I look forward to the day in which survivors’ needs are recognised. We can be perceived as ‘nervous’ patients but this is not the case. We are traumatised by our experiences of abuse and going to the dentist can be triggering and re-traumatising, leaving many of us avoidant. The fault does not lie with us for not being able to ‘overcome our fear’, it lies with a system that doesn’t (yet) understand and accommodate our needs. Many thanks to Brigstow Institute and Bristol and Weston Hospital Charity for funding such valuable and vital research, and to Viv for setting this ball in motion.

This is my response to one of the creative writing tasks from the workshops. We were asked what we thought ‘Dentists need to know.’

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Catching the Feather:

A short story of CSA

There was a brown flower on the cups we drank our tea from.

I once filled the brown flower cup with water and around thirty soluble aspirins. I then used that vile mixture to wash down around twenty paracetamol tablets, I was 11 years old and I never, ever, told a soul… The hospital staff looked for reasons for my illness, from kidney stones (which I was ultimately plagued with) to appendicitis (had appendix out on another attempt, and never told a soul), but they could not find anything. Just that my liver wasn’t working and I was a very poorly girl. I was allowed home with no diagnosis.

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On the Crest of a Wave

Content: Child sexual abuse. Suicide.

This week I have been considering why it’s so hard for survivors to reach out even when our support network is strong. I feel that I’m an old hand at this and it should be easy to say when I’m triggered but it’s not. Some triggers grind me to a halt and I need to take a few days to reflect on what it was, process the memory and wait for the wave to pass.

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