Updated: Jan 26
A deeply personal account, in their own words.
Throughout my life I have always had nightmares, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts and bodily sensations. They always occurred during stressful periods, but for a long time I had very little idea why I was experiencing these. It was the fact that I barely remembered everything then, denied it, that led to my mental health problem. I thought at times that due to the fragmentation of my memory that I was actually losing my mind. The depression and sometimes psychotic feelings would come on after a build up of pressure, then disappear as quick as they came. These feelings are debilitating , but they only appeared now and then, all the other stuff that comes with denial and repression I experienced almost daily. It was exhausting and I think this is partly the reason I couldn’t handle much stress. Because my mind was always battling some symptoms, not just of the abuse but the aftermath of denial, my energy wasn’t able to cope with the stress. This can become a double edged sword. Normal daily work and general living has its own stressors but you are secretly battling constant intrusive images, peculiar thoughts and crazy sleep patterns due to nightmares. When the symptoms are at their worst this is a living hell. It can cause your body and mind to crash into a depression like a ton of bricks. Always after a long internal battle. Then, to add insult to injury family members would talk and call me odd, or expect me to just snap out of it. I used to think, 'you just try living in my head for a few months when its at it’s worst' - besides, one of those members is to blame for the denial.
The thing is, the symptoms got out of hand because the cause of the problem were hidden. A great big dirty secret never to be spoke about again. Just so you can get a feel of what it’s like, on a daily basis you never relax, or very rarely. I suppose that is one reason so many trauma and abuse victims soothe themselves with drugs and alcohol. Certain types of people and social situations would get me really uptight and nervous, to the point there was a period in my life where I avoided social situations. If I couldn’t avoid them I would do one of a few things, either get totally smashed, get stoned before I got there or stand around hardly talking with a false smile on my face. Sometimes muted by my anxiety, stomach churning all the time, my conscious mind talking to me telling me to chill out and get involved, but my body wouldn’t have it. I couldn’t connect with people.
Some days, particularly after a nightmare, I would just go numb, frozen to any emotions and not in the real world. This can take days to snap out of sometimes, and during this numbing out phase my anxiety would be screaming at me to be soothed in some way or other. This is where addictive behavioural patterns I notice in myself stem from. Quite often in this stage I would get blind drunk. Obsessive negative malevolent thoughts are another byproduct of denial and repression. I would spiral down on a thought and quite often ,especially when I was younger it would come out in a terrifying rage and anger. This can last for weeks sometimes until it shatters your energy and then you fall into the quivering wreck stage, a submissive weak character then emerges for a while. Your thought process comes across in your demeanour and people pick up on it labelling or judging you as weird and unsociable. Not right in the head was the phrase I often heard about me, when I was younger this was like a badge of honour. Don’t mess with him he’s not right in the head. All the time these behaviours were smoke screens to protect my vulnerability and massive secret. During the weak submissive stage you begin to live your life avoiding any argument or difficult situation, just trying to please everyone . At least at this stage people are more comfortable with you, probably because you are no threat and very agreeable. Inside I would cringe sometimes because I would agree to something that I knew would bring me extra stress or I wasn’t comfortable doing. The concepts of confidence, maturity and assertiveness completely eluded me during these stages. Then out of the blue I would snap out of this stage , sometimes starting the cycle all over other times experiencing parts of these behaviours together. What the hell was happening to me?
Due to my various mood swings I have had to spend most of my life self employed. Every time I tried working in groups eventually I would crack at some point. It was always someone else's fault of course. Certain looks, facial expressions, body language would trigger me off in to a downwards spiral. My way of coping would be the usual aggression, avoidance, numbness, submissive cycle. Denying the traumatic experience certainly ruined any chance I had of a career within a group. Its sad really because deep down I would love to have been able to work with a group of people.
All the time the intrusive images and nightmares etc were still going on and gradually got worse. I couldn’t keep ignoring them , I had to get help. Otherwise drinking my self into an early grave was likely or suicide. Yes suicide, that's how bad it had become. Its such a strange experience to try and explain, why would hiding a shameful, traumatic experience come back and haunt me all my life. I didn’t really know but it did. Because initially my memory wasn't clear, there were huge parts of my life I had no memory of. This made things worse because I didn’t know if what I was experiencing was due to some kind of disease or they were true images and feelings of what happened. I searched for answers by asking my mum if she could remember me reporting it. She couldn’t remember anything and there were huge gaps in her memory around this time. Deep down I think she is too scared to uncover the memories knowing what it has done to my mental health. After all I nearly took my life. When I first started to remember it was sketchy and I wanted validation of some key points. By having someone validate my memory I could have at least thought, OK I’m not going mad, this did happen now lets get some therapy to help.
My memory gradually came back, I did report it, it was swept under the carpet by 4 adults. Denial and repression had a huge impact on my mental health, its akin to being a prisoner in your own head. All aspects of life are affected, family , work , community only ever experienced partially. Don’t get me wrong there have been good time but even in the good times the hyper-vigilance has been there in the background ready to crash your system at any time. In order to recover, it is my opinion that memories of abuse and traumatic events need to be worked through with a professional that you can connect with. If you are like how I was and can’t connect to anyone fully, then try a therapy session with mdma, it helped me connect and still does. Part of Judith Herman’s stages of recovery are that you remember what happened, mourn and grieve then reconnect with yourself and others.
Good luck and God bless.