It's difficult to choose which 'mental illness' story to tell. Does one go for the past perspective, 'why I'm f***ed up?' The present, 'why I'm not as f***ed up as I used to be'. Or the future, 'How I'm going to be less f***ed up tomorrow, than I am today'.
Dealing with the impact of childhood trauma has been my life's work. I've battled and fought depression, anxiety, OCD and suicidal tendencies. I've struggled with relationships, employment and supporting Queens Park Rangers, who have exasperated my depression. All of these depressive and anxious states of 'being', have been with me for as long as I can recall, including QPR. Having said that, my memory is not as efficient as a 'non abused adult.' A more accurate statement might be, 'these states have been with me for longer than I can recall.' This is because repetitive childhood trauma, is likely to have caused physical damage to my hippocampus. That's not Latin for 'the grounds upon which a Hippo university is located.' it's the part of my brain that deals with memory and learning.
Whilst at university, aged twenty seven and three quarters, I volunteered myself for a dyslexia test. On the grounds that if I could prove I was dyslexic, I could acquire fifteen hundred pounds for a new G4 Mac. I knew I wasn't dyslexic before I took the test. But I knew something was wrong, plus I wanted a Mac. So what exactly was my learning difficulty?
At middle school I struggled. The teacher would write paragraphs for us to copy from the blackboard, something like, 'I'm a beardy faced Geordie twat, who thinks that playing bass guitar in class and bullying frightened kids makes me cool'. I'd read the first six words, 'I'm a beardy faced Geordie twat', then look at my paper and begin to write. I'd get as far as 'I'm a'. then my memory would fail me. So I'd return my gaze to the blackboard, re-read the words I'd forgotten, 'beardy faced Geordie twat', dwell on the accuracy of the statement then write 'beardy faced' on my paper. Again I'd forget the last two words, 'Geordie twat', and have to start the whole process again. Whilst I could not remember the words, 'Geordie twat', in my head, I knew them in my heart. By now you'll be 'across' my feelings towards my teacher. Of course the rest of the class would finish the task before me. My teacher, Mr. 'R', would ask if everyone was ready to move on? The rest of the class nodded, while I sat in silence. Too scared to admit I wasn't.
My dyslexia test results were negative. But the report showed I had significant processing problems with my short term visual memory. Of course that came as no surprise to me. Nor did the decision to not give me the fifteen hundred pounds.
It is not unheard of for abused children, to have little or no memory of their abuse. That's not the case for me, but it's important because the thing we have to deal with is what's occurring for us now. The physical damage to my brain means I am continually reliving the trauma. It lives in my body. The wiring in my brain is compromised. At times I can still feel the full force of fear and self loathing. I struggle to regulate these painful sensations, emotions and thought process.
Recent advances in brain diagnostics have confirmed what I've always known. The odds are stacked against the traumatised Trauma, particularly repeated trauma during crucial early childhood development, can affect the amygdala, pre frontal cortex, hippocampus and autonomic nervous system to name a few. Such damage has wide and varied implications. Like my short term visual memory. Neurobiological changes in my amygdala could be responsible for my extended periods of negative emotional states. But don't take my word for it, take a look at any number of studies. I'd recommend looking at Dr. Bessel van der Kolk's work.
One of my greatest struggles has been finding value, not only in myself, but in my wider community. This is less of a concern to me now than it used to be. Partly because this new scientific knowledge has helped shift my perspective. Once I blamed myself for my poor behaviours, self loathing, lack of achievement, depression and anxiety. I believed I was a 'bad' person, experiencing a devastating life because it was inherent in me. A permanent, inseparable part of my personality, the essence of who I was. I now know that without the trauma I'd be a different person. I was not born with a broken mind, that is my fathers legacy. This realisation has given me added incentive to work harder, make my life less devastating, more enjoyable.
And here I am aged forty seven. Just beginning to feel 'safe'. Through a very new conscious self value, self love and self respect. It's been, and at times still is, excruciatingly painful to live a life with strong trauma. I'm glad I survived. I cannot imagine how it would be to die without having felt good about myself.
I've learnt much about myself through my relationship with my daughter and my partner. Without the love, dedication and care of my partner, it would have taken me longer to feel self love. She is able to love me for who I am, good and traumatised. She achieves this because she knows I can't stop myself feeling unsafe. She knows about the triggers that lead to painful sensations, anxiety, self loathing and depression. She knows because she's a survivor and fighter of her own traumatic childhood. I'm proud of myself, my partner and everyone else who experiences mental illness.
I'm writing this, in an attempt to advocate for those that have been abused, neglected, abandoned, traumatised. We face challenges that are incomprehensible to some. For those who think depression is an inherent individual flaw, I ask you to open your eyes, minds and ears. Try to understand, support and empathise with people facing mental health challenges. A good first step would be to leave your judgment behind. Never assume you know how life feels for someone, or what they should do. If you're not an abused child you've no idea what it's like to be one. If you've never been homeless, had to flee a war torn homeland, lost a child, brother, sister or parent then you don't have a lived experience of those traumas. Thus any insights, opinions and judgments will be, at best ill informed and patronising. And at worst they will perpetuate our cultures punitive attitude towards mental health.