TRIGGER WARNING: For those of you who work with, or suffer from mental health issues, this post may be triggering for a variety of reasons. In this post I discuss torture, rape, and trauma, please practice self care while reading and after reading this post. If you are triggered by this post please contact your mental health professional or reach out to one of the hundreds of mental health support phone lines listed here.
For those of us who seek help from mental health “professionals,” it can be incredibly difficult to deal with our own emotions, and then have to explain those emotions to those who call themselves professionals, AND THEEEEN, make our mental health professionals feel comfortable around our emotional spectrums and waves.
When we go to seek help from mental health professionals, it’s often so that we can seek answers to questions we have about mental health, but more often than not lately it seems that we’re the ones giving our doctors, therapists, and counsellors, answers to make YOU feel more comfortable around us.
More often than not when people – even professionals – hear the phrase “mental health,” they assume that this ALWAYS means “unstable,” and unfortunately for many of us that is not the truth.
This is precisely because of how mental health is perceived in the media.
How many times have you heard about a mass killer, or a serial killer, or an abuser of women and children in the news? And how many times have those headlines been followed with the sentence “the accused may have or did deal with, mental health issues” ?
Just because someone is depressed, doesn’t mean that they are going to go and kill a bunch of people as a means to deal with their depression, and the same goes for anxiety, PTSD, and a host of other mental health issues.
Yes, there are a lot of people who deal with mental health issues who have caused harm to a lot of people in this world, but “I” for one am not one of those people, and as far as I am aware, neither are my readers.
The people that come to this website want to know that there is hope, and they, like myself, are finding that in order to deal with the issues they have with the world, they are having to go out of the offices of the professionals to find information from other survivors of trauma and abuse.
I am hoping one day that all kinds of people from soldiers to doctors, who have dealt with trauma will start writing blogs, books, and articles about what it’s like to survive when you feel like you’re alone, because your mental health “professionals,” genuinely don’t understand what it is that you are going through.
I don’t mean to be dismissive of the work you’ve done to get the credentials that you have, but at the end of the day if you have no idea what it is like to be tortured and raped because of the color of your skin, or because of what is or is not between your legs, then we are not the same.
If you have no idea what it’s like to see a child’s body blown to pieces by an IED, in the middle of a war zone, hundreds of thousands of miles from anything resembling comfort and safety, then you are not the same as some of your patients and clients.
Just because you’ve read the books and you’ve heard the stories, doesn’t mean that you have the actual lived experience that the rest of us do, and you need to take that into consideration with your diagnoses.
I am not psychotic, I had a psychotic episode because of years of trauma and abuse and finally my brain and my heart decided that we couldn’t take anymore, and I made a conscious decision to start screaming, because I couldn’t hold back the years of trauma and abuse any longer.
I distinctly remember right before getting arrested, deciding that I was tired, and done, and I wanted everyone to know how fucking miserable I was, and I let my brain lose control, and once I made that choice, I couldn’t reign back my emotions any longer.
The initial choice took 2.3 seconds, and as soon as I decided “nope, I can no longer remain quiet,” I gave up control over my neural inhibitors, I no longer had full control over myself because my brain went “WOOHOO, TIME TO LET LOOSE.”
Once I calmed down and came back to reality – so to speak – it took me almost four years to realize how much damage had been caused by my desire to no longer hold onto the secrets of my past. Secrets that affected a lot of people, stories that caused a lot of harm to lives of people that I both cared about, and hated (read hate) in equal measure.
When I finally was able to sit down with a doctor and tell him why it was that I decided to let all the darkness out, his response was “I think you’re psychotic,” and that broke my heart. Here I was finally after more than thirty years of silence reaching out for help, and instead of having someone tell me that they believe me, I was called crazy and dismissed.
“Take these drugs, they will help with your thoughts,” was a phrase I heard repeated a lot while I was in Surrey Memorial Hospitals mental health wing, in the span of an hour I heard the same nurse repeat that phrase no less than seventeen times.
To seventeen different people.
Here’s what I know.
The drugs they gave me did help for a little while, but they also made me feel foggy, powerless, out of sorts, out of control, and dismissed. “Well she’s taking pills everything is okay now.”
Except that’s not the reality. Regardless of the kind of trauma that you have experienced, the one thing that each of us have in common is that when a trigger explodes in our minds, we don’t always have control over how we react.
When I was arrested I let lose because it was either do that or stuff it down and come home and kill myself, and I knew that I didn’t want to do that, I needed someone to know that I was in pain, and that things in my life were not okay. I had the opportunity to explain this to the Sargent in charge when he called to check on me after more than thirty calls complaining about how I was treated while in the middle of medical distress.
I was tired, I was bone tired, and feeling completely alone and powerless, and in a very real way I honestly think that I was trying to prevent myself from having to come home because I didn’t want to have to acknowledge the pain and trauma that I’d been ignoring for so god damned long.
I wanted to just ignore it, but after that panic attack I wasn’t able to anymore, and even though I tried to keep my voice even, and even though I tried to use the big psychological words, I was still dismissed as someone who was crazy, because it’s easier to admit that a woman is nuts then to believe that she might be telling the truth.
This is why so many of us lose our shit, we get put on these pills that doctors get kick backs to offer us, and they don’t actually work because we aren’t dealing with the root of the problem. More often than not the pills just hide the symptoms until we can’t hold back any further, until we lose our shit, and then often times either ourselves or those around us end up paying the price.
I am not saying that those who hurt others are not responsible for their behavior, or their choices, obviously, but what I am saying is that there are usually signs that go missed because “well they’re taking their pills,” so what? Just because you’re taking your pills doesn’t mean that you’re in full control of your emotions or your actions, and that’s the part that I want to talk to you about today.
You have to go deeper than just offering someone medication, you have to actually be willing to sit there and listen to their stories, hear their pain, understand that they are deeply traumatized, and it’s the kind of trauma that isn’t going to go away because you put a band-aid on it, or because you add a cast.
It is the kind of pain that can’t always be seen because it’s not obvious, it’s not a scratch on the cheek, or a bruise on the eye. It’s deeply woven into the center of our brains, hearts, and souls, and it takes a lot of work to pull it out, analyze it, process it, and then deal with it so that we can put it away and move on.
Are you prepared to do that?
Are you prepared to listen to the horrors that we’ve seen? Are you prepared to hear the stories of the unmitigated evil that one human is willing and has been willing to do to another? Because those of us who are truly traumatized, who are so broken that we can’t function by having jobs, families, and relationships, often have been affected by true, undiluted evil.
In my case, it was so bad that I am still digging myself out of the hole my abusers put me into and I probably will be for the rest of my life. Understanding what happened to me and why is a huge key to my healing, and I’ve been doing a lot of the therapeutic work on my own, because there really isn’t anyone who has the kind of experience I have, which means that there’s just no one who can understand what I’ve been through. Which means they can’t help me.
Let me ask you something ladies: Would you let someone whose never ever cut real hair before, touch yours? Then why would you expect that if you have never experienced a client or patient whose been tortured or branded, that I, whose been through both, would believe that you can help me? Is your hair more important than my mental health?
Again, I’m not saying that your book learning isn’t important, but if it’s not real life lived in experience, then you really have no actual skills that you can offer me that are going to help, and you need to accept that fact.
Once you do, we can move forward.
If I have to spend our time together teaching you how to deal with extreme cases of trauma and abuse, then by the time we’re done I am even more tired than when we started. First because I haven’t dealt with the shit that I need to let go of, and secondly because instead of learning from you, the professional, I am spending time teaching you what it is like to live in my skin.
And you know the worst part? I’m not even getting paid for the emotional education that I am giving you, if I am not on disability, then I am paying you upwards of hundreds of dollars an hour, to take a class in how to deal with someone like me, so that your other patients can pay you hundreds of dollars an hour, so that you can teach them what “I” have taught you, and that’s a seriously fucked up system.
So here’s what you could do to make things better.
Start reading the mental health blogs out there, and if you are a professor of mental health, start contacting people – like myself, or some of the ones that I’ve listed at the bottom of this website, and asking them if they will speak to your students about our experience.
If you really want to be a mental health professional, then you need to hear uncomfortable stories from a variety of people who have a variety of experience when it comes to trauma and abuse.
You need to know that the pills are not the answer for everyone, and that the idea of being on medication for the rest of someone’s life, can really make them feel like they are never going to get better, which means that often times they self sabotage, creating a self fulfilling prophesy, that only stands to create obstacles to success.
Every single person on this planet who deals with mental health issues wants to get better, but if they think that they are never going to get better, than they are going to continue a repetitive cycle of retraumatizing themselves just so that we can say “we told you so,” and then you can collect more money for not really helping us.
Learning to be patient is one of the hardest things for people who suffer from mental health issues to learn how to do, and that’s largely because doctors say shit like, “you’ll probably deal with this for the rest of your life.”
We already KNOW that, but having YOU say it, means that we feel defeated before we’ve even begun trying to get better. It’s exhausting trying to believe in ourselves when that means trying to be better than we feel we have the strength to be, just to try and convince others that we are strong.
Understand that when we have a break down, when we don’t shower, or wash our clothes, or clean our homes, or take the time to pick up the phone and call a friend for help, it’s not that we don’t want to do these things, it’s that it’s just too much fucking work.
Meditation, reading, yoga, working out, art therapy, change in environment sometimes help, but sometimes we don’t have the strength to do these things, especially these things in particular.
Calling us lazy, telling us that we’re selfish, telling us that we’re not trying, this shit isn’t helping, because we’re already feeling that way and you saying it out loud only stands to confirm all the fears that we have about ourselves.
We already think all the negative horrible things that we can possibly think about ourselves, what we need is positive reinforcement, patience, kindness, respect, and genuine consideration for the fact that life after trauma is very much like trying to walk without legs.
No disrespect to those who have actually lost their limbs, but imagine if you haven’t, what it might be like when your brain doesn’t work properly.
Imagine what it feels like to suddenly burst out in a yell when you don’t actually mean to, imagine what it might feel like to not be able to open your mouth and scream for help when you genuinely want to slice open your own wrists. Not because you don’t want to, but because you are physically incapable.
A lot of times that’s what dealing with trauma is like. If you think it’s rough for you living with us, then you can’t possibly imagine the divine Hell that it is living in our bodies, minds, and souls.
There are whole days that go by when I can’t physically move off the couch, no matter how much I want to. Or days when I try to clean and as soon as I go to bend down and pick something up, my head feels like it’s going to explode, I can’t breath, I can’t stand up and I am genuinely afraid I am going to fall down.
It’s happened before, in front of people, and the doctors said I was making it up, it’s even scarier when it happens when I am home alone, because then I can be down for hours, and there is noone to help pull me back up out of the darkness.
Physically I look like I’m sleeping, but in my head? I’m being raped again, over and over and over again, feeling every second of the pain, the fear, the trauma, and the knowledge that I am too drugged up by my abusers to fight back. I can’t scream, just like I couldn’t when I was a child, I can’t yell, I can’t call for help, and I am scared and alone, and my brain doesn’t know how to pull myself out.
If it weren’t for the fact that I have a lot of good memories, of good people, I really wouldn’t survive those moments, because those moments are the ones when I am begging for anyone, anything, to take my life and make the pain stop.
It’s scary, and I don’t have a team of people who are telling me that it’s going to be okay. I have me, myself, and I. Reminding myself that I am strong, that I am powerful, and that I can do anything.
So the next time that you consider trying to help a patient, please try to remember that you are literally the thing that might be keeping them alive, and approach us carefully. Stop telling us shit like “hug your feelings,” and tell us what that means.
Explain your advice like you are explaining it to a child, go slowly, and understand you may have to repeat it several times, over and over and over again, because sometimes what you tell us one moment is forgotten in the next.
Trauma changes your brain chemistry. It retards (in the clinical version of the word) your emotional growth, in many ways I am still very much a sixteen year old child, because that’s how old I was when the worse of the abuse started, the really, REALLY, violent and evil, bad stuff.
I go back to those memories a lot, often not by my own choice, but when I explain that to a doctor they say shit like “that sounds psychotic,” I assure you it’s not a choice.
My brain is trying to understand what happened, how it happened, why it happened, who did it, and why they did it, so that it can heal, so that it can process, make sense of it all, and move on, and because I don’t have advanced medical education, my brain is very confused about it all.
I don’t have the medical background to understand everything that I need to understand to help me figure out how to deal with what I have been through, and that’s why I am coming into you. If I wanted medication I’ll pick up a joint. I don’t want to hide the symptoms of my pain, I want to get comfortable with them.
I want to feel them, touch them, taste, smell, and know them as intimately as I know what it is that turns me on sexually, I want to know them as intimately as I know what it feels like to be with someone consensually, do you get it?
I want to know what’s going on in my brain so that I can move forward with my life in a healthy, positive, secure way, and if you can’t help me do that, can you at least get the hell out of my way so that I can move forward with someone else?
I also want to learn life skills, and after trauma, it takes time to relearn those skills, largely because our brains tell us those are unimportant skills to have, because it’s too busy trying to repair the damage of the traumas that we’ve experienced.
The time has come to stop believing that all mental health issues present in the same way. It’s long past time that we start acknowledging that we need to start thinking outside the box.
Rather than telling people to hug their feelings, sit with them as they paint a picture. Rather than sitting in a cold sterile hospital, go for a walk with your patient. Rather than thinking that meditation is new age hokum, start understanding that learning to center your mind is a powerful tool when it comes to dealing with trauma.
For the record “new age medicine,” is over ten thousand years old, many yoga and meditation practitioners have been studying the medicinal lessons of our ancestors, this is not a brand new kind of medicine, it’s thousands of years old and it works, but in order for those of us who deal with mental health professionals to feel comfortable doing things like yoga, or dancing, or whatever, we need to know that our doctors don’t think that we’re crazy for trying anything and everything we can, to save our own lives.
No one who deals with mental health issues wants to hurt someone, but sometimes honestly we can’t help it, we lose our shit because we have nothing to hold onto, because we don’t have the skills to deal with the all consuming pain that we are in, so the next time you look at someone like me who is perfectly calm, respectful and quietly shamelessly telling you their story, don’t tell us that we’re psychotic.
Tell us that you’re ready to listen, and ask us how we can help.
In fact the first question that you should be asking is “what are your mental health goals?” That will give us an open ended question that we can focus our energies on, and when we start making a list of those mental health goals, we can start honestly working towards them in a healthy positive way that will hopefully end in us having successful productive futures.
Sending all my love,
Devon J Hall
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