It’s World Art Day and SANE – The Mental Health Charity asked me to do a drawing to celebrate and raise awareness of how affective art can be to help with mental illness.
Art saved my life. Not figuratively, but literally. I was at the end of the road in 2010, after suffering my 4th severe break down. I was suicidal and told that there was no support for me. I then stood at a cross road, with a paint brush in one hand and a self distruct button in the other.
Then I just started to paint.
I am able to communicate with art, sort through painful memories and help create change for others by raising awareness regarding mental health and the stigma people like myself deal with due to having mental illness.
I encourage people to find a creative outlet this world art day, you won’t regret it.
Please support SANE and if you need help or resources follow the link to find out more:
Last Friday I woke up in my usual state of anxiety and dissociation, having spent what seemed like a life time of nightmares that night – when I had finally focused my mind on the day ahead my heart felt heavy and my mind was attentive to the fact I am infertile due to many factors and can not receive fertility treatment or adopt. The root of my issue is that I suffer from polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which developed in my early twenties after battling with anorexia and bulimia chronically for 8 years resulting in hospital treatment, ignoring my diagnosis due to embarrassment – as it made me feel a lack of control over my body my condition worsened. Having battled (and still battling) disorder eating and withholding food this news made me feel “fat and lazy” especially upon reading the information available on my illness – the stigma associated with PCOS is shocking, the symptoms of high testosterone in my body made me feel embarrassed as I started to grow unwanted hair – my self esteem was already in tatters so this was the last straw. Due to ignoring this diagnosis I developed type 2 diabetes just before I turned 30 and then my life as a woman trying to conceive changed forever.
Whilst feeling severely depressed and alone at the end of last week, I turned (like many people) to a support group on Facebook called PCOS Tribe UK which having been a member for a while even though I had never posted, seemed a great place to find some support, so whilst shaking with adrenaline and seeing lights flickering over my eyes I wrote a post:
I understand this was a very vague post, but not knowing how or what to say this felt like a way to open the conversation up as I was feeling so unable in myself and struggling with communication. Within seconds I received a reply and was hopeful that it would lead to some support and empathy with people who were also experiencing these difficult things. At first all seemed good I received this:
(For the privacy of these women I have made their identities unknown – as this is a private group and I would not wish their personal medical circumstances to be displayed without their consent.)
Upon receiving this initial comment I felt a sense of relief that a dialogue had opened up with someone on this subject, also very much appreciating the:
“but maybe your circumstances are different than mine”
This felt like my opportunity to explain my situation further. Before I could even contemplate what to write the sound of notifications rang in my ears as my phone received new replies and comments on my post. Quickly my relief turned into more anxiety and my mind started to fog, the lights got brighter and my body and mind were sending me clear signals that I was under attack, so the defences went up.
The first reply here is patronising and assumes they know my circumstances before I have even had a chance to explain and as I am sure you can read, her sweeping of my differing circumstances under the rug is in fact very silencing. Assuming we have been through the same thing is also a very big mistake when discussing these issues – I appreciate what she was possibly trying to do, but it was misjudged, so whilst trying to find a way to eloquently reply, of course the other lady was still being very kind and empathetic, which made me continue:
On another screen on my phone I was desperately trying to write a reply which stated the reasons to which personally conceiving a baby is just not in my future, wanting to explain why fertility treatment has been denied to me on the NHS and why adoption is impossible when you have sever psychiatric disorders and physical disabilities, but the notifications kept coming and my anxiety as well as impulse control was pushing at my temples, making me feel obsessive and compulsive with rapid thoughts misfiring, it was painful physically as well as emotionally overpowering.
As you can see my response is short and frustrated, it may have come across rude, but I have not got the same social abilities as “neurotypical” people, so direct is how I communicate especially when under pressure. The women were of course still trying to be helpful and there is no doubt in my mind that they were offering this advice in kindness. However so much of this is misguided, privileged and ableist as well as factually incorrect. Women kept stating to me that the ONLY way you could be certain you were completely unable to conceive is if all your female reproductive organs had been removed? This of course is not at all correct as there are many reasons why a woman can not conceive from physical illnesses as well as socio-economic reasons. Also as a woman who can’t have children it is never helpful to have other women push their success and fertility down your throat when they have not afforded you the time and courtesy to explain exactly why your inability to have children is a fact.
(the reason that my image and name is blanked out is because these were taken on the group (PCOS Tribe UK) owner’s phone/computer and were put up on her Facebook profile – which I saved as I was removed from the group before I got to screen shot everything, may I add this is the only one she blanked my name and picture from, all the rest disclosed who I was in a public setting disclosing my infertility and medical issues)
This particular screen shot and comment of me hurt and made me feel mocked and dismissed. Apparently it was only acceptable of me to take advice on trying to conceive, NOT acceptable however to seek help in accepting that I shall not get the chance to have children due to my health and circumstances. Is it so wrong to have tried everything in your capabilities to conceive and seek help but still be denied or unsuccessful and then seek help in the acceptance of this? The only reason I came to the group was to seek help from women who for whatever reason could not have children – never thinking that I would be shamed for seeking this. It felt like for this woman, me seeking acceptance and help with this was an attack on her or the “wrong” thing to do as a woman.
My responses were apparently not acceptable and deemed abusive. But it was acceptable to suggest to me that I ask a friend who may wish to have an abortion if she would carry her child fall term for me to adopt?
The bombardment continued:
I was abrupt – yes! But rude – no, you can see I am trying to explain myself and my disabilities but it is going so fast. Still desperately writing my explanation on another screen hoping that when these women understand my position they will know I was not being rude. By now the tears have begun to fall and my mind is experiencing tunnel vision.
Then the lady who replied to me first – who was kind and empathetic posted a comment, unfortunately I wasn’t able to send my reply as the admin had stopped all comments, as you can see from the red alert. I wanted to thank this lady for her kindness. And was still trying to reply to her first comment and explain myself.:
Desperately I said several times on peoples replies “I am neuro-divegent” or “I have neurological damage I can’t process information that quickly”, hoping this would alert admins to my situation, hoping for some assistance but unfortunately I got this final reply from an admin and then was removed from the group:
The decision and action taken by the groups owner and admins, was so upsetting, in disbelief of my removal I started a new explanation and wanted to post it on the groups wall to explain myself in the hope admin would see their error of silencing a woman just seeking support who couldn’t keep up and explain themselves in time due to their neurodiversity and disabilities. The other issue which caused me great distress is the fact the admins saw me pleading in regards to my disabilities and my inability to process this information and communicate at the speed neuro-typical people do. That instead of making this group and support accessible to me they deemed me a trouble maker who had only come to this group to cause arguments? Which may I add is an odd conclusion to make so abruptly and without hearing me out – however as a person who suffers from mental illness I am used to this kind of stigma. So I screen shot the reply I was trying to write which is when Facebook told me I was not able to post in the group anymore (hence why it is faded):
But this was never seen and that was it I was banished. Left crying and feeling even more alone – like a freak, a troublemaker. Seeking some help as I was feeling very vulnerable and out of control and as someone who can not leave the house most of the time – panic set in and the fear of having a psychotic episode which could lead me to hurt myself was terrifying. Whilst trying to focus I reached out to my FB friends, family and followers as they are such wonderful supportive allies and know my situation, I wrote this:
As soon as this status went public I started to receive friend requests and message requests from several different women, naively I thought they were sending me these requests to support me after what had happened. Unfortunately I was mistaken, the owner of the group was the first and as soon as I accepted her friend request she commented on my status:
(As this is a public post and this woman “Jane Mann” wrote this on my public post on my public profile no ones identity has been blanked out.)
As you can read “Jane Mann” still misses the point entirely and still thinks it is acceptable to treat me this way and wishes to silence me further, and does not accept any criticism of her group. As this is on my profile my friends, family and followers become very protective of me and help tell Jane to back off. I then block Jane.
More women sent me (and anyone who commented on my status) abuse and friend requests, after this one of my friends sends Jane a message telling her in no uncertain terms to leave me alone – I did not ask for this to be done (although very grateful) however I do not know what Jane Mann expected when she made herself public on my profile.
Then the messages begun – I did not accept most of the requests however I did with this lady:
As you can read she is very angry with me and my situation. This woman thinks I should be able to disclose my disabilities up front with no issue and if not – then that is my fault, which is of course a very able privileged view point. Also stating that because I had not posted before that this meant I was suspicious? She also questions if this (wanting to conceive and raise children of my own) is actually something I truly want, because I didn’t just shut up and accept advice which was actually not relevant to me as I CAN NOT CONCEIVE, but was never given enough time to explain exactly why this is so! Also she suggests I am a liar because I said these women “attacked” me, but doesn’t understand that feeling attacked by a large number of women overwhelming me with information at an unrealistic speed for me to keep up with is also a valid description of being “attacked” they of course did not pounce on me literally they attacked me figuratively through their ableism and dismissing my disabilities. I felt attacked! This very angry woman also says “if you had posted correctly” then apparently I would have been helped, I was unaware that there was a correct way to post – if I had known I certainly would have not joined the group or posted as this is too restrictive for me and confusing. As stated before – that morning there was no way in which I was able to write a long post explaining every detail of my infertility, physical and mental illnesses, disabilities, neuro-diversity and circumstances, not only because I was unwell but also due to the unwanted stigma that my circumstances can cause. Also her focus is on the number of women, I said “about 15” – for me this included all responses however I may have counted some people twice due to certain people posting more than once, in the confusion this is very possible – a valid argument against me – no!
This got nastier and nastier as this woman messaged everyone who had commented on my status or liked it – harassing people all because of this situation. Then this woman took it upon herself to go to my non-profit /charity organisation FB page Art Saves Lives International (ASLI) and do this:
(since this attack either the woman or Facebook have removed this review)
Not only was this a step too far and nothing to do with ASLI as I was never in the group PCOS Tribe UK representing ASLI – I was there as Charlotte Farhan. This went on and on and she disclosed my infertility and medical issues here on this page. Not my public profile which anyone can access – not my public art page on Facebook which is just me. No this woman attacked this page and gave a fake review of an organisation which she had never heard of, all because I was unable to explain my disabilities and circumstances in the PCOS Tribe UK group in a satisfactory and speedily manner in order to receive advice I did not ask for or need by ableist privileged women.
My friend and a member of the ASLI team received a threat of physical harm and her art page on Facebook was attacked by these women:
I received more the next day:
Then my husband was alerted to Jane Mann (the owner of PCOS Tribe UK) sharing my information on her private profile as well as allowing people to discriminate against me and a friend after my mental illnesses and disabilities had been confirmed, this was in an album on her profile named “Evidence” along with screen shots of me in the private group disclosing all my issues:
Calling us mentally unstable – which myself and my friend who sent Jane Mann a message (no one else did) are, as we have sever mental illness, which we stated – ridiculing us is ableism.
Calling me a psycho – ableism and stigmatising against my very real and debilitating psychiatric illness.
Yes we do! We don’t get it due to the state of the mental health care in the UK on the NHS. This is an ableist slur and stating how it is sad we need help is stigmatising and discriminatory.
None of this needed to happen, this was avoidable and hopefully these women – especially the owner and admins will learn how they need to check their privilege, especially their able privilege as well as understanding that fertility is not only to do with your reproductive organs, that there are many women like me who are given a small window until they reach 35 (depending on their area) who if they do not fit the correct criteria are denied fertility treatment. For me due to my 5ft 11inch frame and difficulties getting down to an unrealistic BMI in under 2 years when my diabetes was so out of control due to my pancreas shutting down – was just not possible. Then the women would say “well get a second opinion, see a fertility specialist, get fertility treatment”, which my husband and I can not afford as we are a one income household as I can not earn money due to my disabilities and we have very bad credit. As for adoption – well I do not meet the standards as my disabilities and mental illness would mean (by their assessment) that I could not adequately care for a child. I do not dispute this as I am unable to care for myself.
Due to these factors my goal now is acceptance and realising that life without children can be fulfilling and meaningful, at the time I realise grieving for what will never be is essential. My husband and I have already lost a pregnancy when i was 26 years old – just after our first scan.
There is no malice in this article just awareness and my experience being put forward, hoping that this will mean other women like me will not be silenced or shut out because they do not fit into the socially constructed ideal of being a woman and having children. I would like to thank the women who came forward to me from the group PCOS Tribe UK who offered me support and help even though they were scared of the group owner and admin removing them, there were 5 women but two wrote sensitive information which may disclose their identities so I chose not to put them here:
*Revision – I would like to clarify that I do NOT deem all members of this group as ableist, privileged or patronising. I am only referring to the members I had experiences with which were ableist and privileged. I am certain that this group is full of wonderful women from all different perspectives and circumstances, my issue is only with the page owner, admins and the members who attacked me after being removed. I know most women who commented meant well and did not understand my situation due to my vague post. I have not written this article to detract from the “good work” this group does for other vulnerable women, but felt it essential to put my experience across and since doing so have received a lot of feedback from women within the group and out of the group who have experienced similar issues in regards to my experiences and who have also experienced ableism. I wish all these women the best and hope they have happy healthy lives (even the owner, admins and members who harassed me after being removed). I hold no hate in my heart – I only wish to highlight the issues women like me with disabilities and who are neuro-diverse experience – my voice is valid and I shall not be silenced.
For anyone reading this who is still unaware or confused about ableism or able privilege then here are some helpful links:
Thank you and if you have any comments of feedback please fill out this form:
I am fine….
I AM FINE!
I. AM. FINE.
However which way I say these three words they are always a lie. Not a vicious deceitful lie, but a lie which serves me well whilst simultaneously crushing me emotionally; with each utterance. This little sentence has become a habitual response to the question:
How are you?
Which is a very common occurrence, most people do not divulge their entire life story when asked how they are, it is just an extension to how we greet one another, a politeness (especially in England) to reply:
I am fine, thank you. And how are you?
However when you are really asked this question by a close member of your family, your partner, a close friend or even your therapist and you still only ever say:
I am fine.
Well this kind of situation is what I am talking about and is what this art piece represents. This is about how self preservation means losing part of your identity, emotionally but more importantly the denial of your present state. Never allowing your armour to be compromised, focusing on other peoples problems and absorbing them, when asked about yourself you divert conversations as if they were on-coming traffic; as if your life depends on it – because it does.
The majority of the time I do not look “sick”, I have mainly unseen illnesses and my most debilitating of ailments is completely invisible to the eye. As well as this many people do not “believe” in mental illness or recognise certain neurological conditions, saying things such as:
It’s all in your head!
It’s mind over matter.
You don’t look sick.
These statements are very unhelpful and also redundant in this context. Saying it is all in ones head is a correct statement, mental illness is in our encasement’s which we call heads, in our brains – our minds. It is not in our legs, nor our arms, it is very much a head thing. However saying it to someone as a dismissive statement is not a logical statement as it suggests that your mental illness or neurological condition should not be “in your head”. Suggesting that it maybe make believe or a lie to gain sympathy (which if you are a person who suffers from mental illness you will know this is an insult as there is no sympathy granted to the mentally ill, instead it is stigmatised). As for “you don’t look sick” this one is nothing more than an ignorant judgement, looking at someone with just ones eyes and not a full body CT scanner (which also can not see everything) there is no way to determine someones health or disability status.
Due to all this added conjecture to this particular scenario , it is not hard to understand why the “I am fine” mantra is a fail safe for so many. You get tired of explaining yourself, defending your diagnosis and dealing with people saying things like:
I don’t really believe in mental illness.
Mental illness is a conspiracy to control and label us.
Mental illness is just mental weakness.
So the simple solution is to pretend that you are fine, that you do not need help, that you are not “weak” or “dangerous”, for every mental illness denier there is another person who believes we should all be locked up and not trusted due to the stigmatisation and misinformation on both the mentally ill and those with criminal intent.
This may be the simplest of solutions but it comes at a cost to most. You see there is only a finite amount of space in ones emotional storage unit and the continuous throwing anything and everything that you wish to hide in there can mean that you reach a time you can’t shut the door anymore, let alone lock it. This can lead to you bursting and spilling out onto everything around you or it can mean you just implode – self detonate.
Truthfully for me it is a constant battle inside my head, of not wanting to alienate people or scare people with my overwhelming emotional instability and behavioural abnormalities – having to remain stoic by being the person who people come to, the provider, the rescuer. Against letting it all out, a completely “no shits given” attitude, a liberating freedom of being able to just be me, all parts of me at all levels of intensity. This of course is very black and white and a thought process due to my borderline personality disorder, the middle ground does not tend to exist in my world, it sometimes appears but rarely when experiencing high emotions. To pass off the “strong” persona I have to use the “I am fine” line a lot, which is a kind of middle ground, at least it is when one is trying to manage social boundaries and interpersonal relationships – which to me are like alien concepts that cause feelings of being an outsider.
There have been times in my past when “I am fine” was a defence mechanism as I was in denial about my illnesses and wished to hide the entire idea from myself, blaming my emotions and behaviours on alcohol, drugs and being a “bitch”, that crazy girl thing was easy to flip and present myself to the world as a “bad” person in my twenties – so I stuck to it. People even liked this persona, some celebrated it by telling me they loved my “fuck you attitude” and loved to see me being abusive to others or violent. If the other side, the vulnerable side – was presented (which was me during my teens, from 11 yrs to 20 yrs old) people looked at me as an emotional drain, a liability, dangerous, scary, I became an undesirable human. At these times of no control self harm, suicide attempts, eating disorders, psychosis, machiavellianism, disinhibition and an emotional sensitivity that was never-ending was my way of life. I learnt valuable lessons on survival and how to mimic other humans as a visiting entity from the planet “strange”, using manipulation to gain friends and taking on other identities which were visible to me as ideals, I could be the most popular person in the room or the most disliked, this was not up to my audience or friends, this was up to me and my chameleon like personality. The important thing is I have forgiven myself for being this way, knowing now this was and still is a neurological condition and a perfectly OK way to survive when you have only ever known trauma.
Now that I am in my thirties things have got to a point that my life is more introspective and having the perspective of an “adult” allows me to look at my teens and twenties more objectively and see how and why I had to survive this way when there were no adults parenting me and keeping me safe. Being an adult in this way means that when I look back I ask different questions than I did before, such as:
Where were your parents?
How long were you left on your own?
How was it looking after yourself at such a young age?
Did you have to grow up quickly?
There is a draw back to being older however, my emotions get buried deeper, I detach more and say “I am fine” even more than ever. Wanting to be liked for me, not wanting to buy friends or manipulate them to like me, not wanting to be the extreme me who needs someone to safeguard them at all times, not wanting to be the rescuer and the “strong” one all the time. Wanting people to understand my pain more, I want and need actual medical support for my disabilities but am not at a vulnerable age anymore, so am taken less seriously. Hiding in medication and being likeable and not too intense feels like a life sentence:
But still all I can say is:
I am fine!
If you have any questions or comments on my work please fill in this form below:
Now I lay me down to sleep
Art and Poetry
by Charlotte Farhan
Now I lay me down to sleep,
eyes wide open and thoughts a plenty,
to numb to even weep,
my mind full but my soul empty.
If I should die before I wake,
please know I tried with all my might,
but could not survive the heartbreak,
I have been waiting too long for daylight.
This art and poetry portrays the ordeal of intrusive thoughts which are brought on due to mental illness, specifically complex trauma, anxiety disorders, personality disorders and psychosis.
My intrusive thoughts have been dominating my life since I can remember. As young as 5 I recall laying in my bed and reasoning with myself, internally bargaining:
“If I die in my sleep, I wont know, I will just die and then it will be over”.
Scary things had always happened at night in my world, the dark couldn’t be trusted and nor could most adults.
As I got older my intrusive thoughts took on an internal shaming ritual, whereby ripping myself to shreds about how I looked, how I had acted or how no one loved me and I would be alone forever – hence why these thoughts turned suicidal. Repeating to myself again and again:
“you are fat, you are ugly”,
as if I were counting maniacal sheep – one named fat the other ugly.
Sometimes the thoughts can turn external and onto others, fearing you may hurt someone or even kill someone – not because you want to but because you fear you will lose your mind. I used to fear that one day whilst travelling to school or college that I would push someone onto the railway tracks. Visualising it was horrifying, playing it out scene for scene , watching others scream in horror and watching myself be carted away by the “men in white coats”.
With psychosis the intrusive thoughts are there but take on a hallucinogenic dimension. In the dark seeing evil angels looming over me or small fairy like creatures guiding me to safety, another world would open up – but what if I got trapped there? What if I wanted to stay? Reflections in mirrors can cause dysmorphic appearances, my eyes would disappear into my sockets, skin looked to be hanging off my face and seeing other people as myself.
Traumatic experiences cause flash backs which take you back to your trauma and hold you there in order to relive the ordeal again and again. Or you try and recreate the trauma and imagine a new ending – all the while punishing yourself internally, blaming yourself for what has happened to you or for what others have done to you.
Medication can help but it can be so much worse if you miss a dose or have to come off your meds for whatever reason, as well as very unpleasant side effects. There are so many drugs I have tried over the years and the ones that worked best were always the ones which left me like a zombie during the day, which is fine if you wish to be a zombie and there have been times this has suited me, to barely exist. However when you want to survive and possibly even live you can’t compromise on the “being awake” part.
The important thing to remember when dealing with intrusive thoughts or if a loved one is experiencing them, is to take this seriously – it is like any other health concern, such as finding a lump or a cough that just wont go away. Intrusive thoughts are an anxiety driven issue due to:
“THE AMYGDALA CONSTANTLY SENDING US FALSE SIGNALS THAT WE ARE IN DANGER”
Fight or flight is triggered with the obsession (the intrusive thoughts) and then the compulsion (is the bargaining – the fear) and the cycle repeats like groundhog day. Many people suffer in silence with these feelings and become trapped in their own isolation created due to living this way. So if you feel this is you or someone you know – please know first and foremost:
YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
There is support out there for you and your loved ones.
Here are some helpful links:
END THE STIGMA!
Leave me a comment or ask me a question:
AM I REAL?
The nature of reality perplexes most,
nothing can “be . . . ” and “not be . . . “,
so when I tell you I feel like a ghost,
please believe me.
Anything outside your mind can be unsure,
but how does something exist?
Does one have to have thunk it – to be sure,
of flesh and bone is all I consist.
Am I mentally constructed,
are my thoughts my own?
or possibly I came to this earth abducted,
or maybe I arose from my tombstone.
Is my conscious mental state related to my body?
for I see myself below,
separating self as I disembody,
left behind is but a puppet show.
The earth is like water inside a fishbowl,
diminished in size and dimensions,
all unreachable as it slips into a black hole,
staring at my own reflection.
This piece of art and poetry addresses how it feels to be in a state of depersonalisation or derealisation. I experience both as symptoms of my anxiety disorders (OCD, GAD, CPTSD and AGORAPHOBIA) as well as my borderline personality disorder.
Find out more HERE
These sensations and feelings of being unreal or not being able to know what is real or not – have been causing me issues since I was a very young child. The worst times were when my voice used to speed up and I would hear myself speaking a million miles per hour, but others around me heard me speaking at a normal speed, or when I felt objects were to large or too small causing me to question all perspective, but by far the most disturbing is when you feel like an illusion, like a left over imprint.
As someone who has a degree in philosophy and who has studied philosophy for over 10 years now, “the theory of mind” was and still is one of my favourite subjects within philosophy. It has simultaneously helped me to accept that none of us truly know what reality is, as well as further perplex me and leave me questioning everything even more.
There is not a lot of understanding when it comes to these disorders, often when people do not understand something or have not felt the things being described – it is easy for them to dismiss. However – why would anyone assume their reality is the same as another? There is evidence that we all experience the world differently without having any kind of mental illness or neurological damage.
How am I to know what you see… and how are you to know what I see…?
When I am touched does it feel the same as when you are touched?
When I eat do I taste the same flavours and interpret the textures the same as you?
Do I see the world as a “glass half empty kind of place or half full”?
Do I think the same thoughts?
The list goes on and on…
It is never as simple as “reality is reality”.
So question these ideas more, never judge another persons reality to be wrong or fake and remember that 1 in 5 people will have a mental illness at some point in their lives and some of us will have it for life.
End the stigma and learn how to better understand others and their reality.
IF YOU HAVE ANY COMMENTS OR QUESTIONS PLEASE FEEL FREE TO USE THE CONTACT FORM PROVIDED:
Piers Morgan who is a rent a gob for the Daily Fail newspaper has taken to twitter over the weekend to comment on Lady Gaga’s rape and her suffering of PTSD. In his comments he suggests that as Lady Gaga is a celebrity that her claim of rape and mental illness is a ploy to gain fans and further her brand. Further more Piers has said that he believes it is an illness which only military veterans can experience.
You would be forgiven for thinking (if unaware of this man) that this maybe someone who suffers from PTSD or who has been raped or possibly that they have a medical degree specialising in neurology or psychiatry. However your assumption would be wrong, this man has NO authority on these matters, he is just a hypocrite who ironically has done the very thing he criticises others of doing. He uses his platform to be controversial and his articles are click bate for anyone who wishes to be angry at “the other” in society.
As you may already be aware (if you follow my blog or art) that I suffer from C-PTSD and have done so most of my life, due to sexual abuse in childhood and then being raped at 15 and then a further 2 times being sexually assaulted in a psychiatric hospital by two male patients. I was first diagnosed with PTSD when I was 15 and later with C-PTSD, with this condition you are affected to a degree that life is no longer functional. We have flash backs which rob us of the opportunity to “move on”, night terrors, hallucinations, dissociation. I have sever pain in my genitalia due to the injuries I suffered and the operations I had due to the violent rape, I developed other mental illnesses like anxiety disorders and depersonalization, as well as having sensory disorders and neurological processing problems.
Read my survivor story here: Confronting my own blood – the aftermath of sexual violence
Here are the tweets that Piers Morgan tweeted:
As you can read for yourself these tweets are rife with misogyny, male privilege, and able privilege as well as perpetuating rape culture, victim blaming and creating more stigma for those who speak out about rape, sexual abuse and violence – as well as those with mental illness and/or neurological disorders.
When people such as this man use their platform to spew opinion as fact and relish in controversy it is as usual the most vulnerable who suffer. These people think that “we” the “victims” are getting some kind of glory from our suffering and illnesses, that we wish to be treated as special little “snowflakes” when in fact all we are faced with is shame, blame and being disbelieved. Piers and others like him, sit in their ivory towers, with no real understanding of what marginalised /minority groups have to deal with and just vomit their privilege upon us from great heights.
As someone who is classed as disabled due to my conditions which all stem from my C-PTSD including my neurological damage, I know what it is to have less rights, visibility, opportunity, earning ability, access to healthcare, being thought of as a danger to others etc.
I have learnt that these kinds of people are just as dangerous as the rapists, the abusers, the paedophiles, the gas-lighters, this is because they open you up again, they re-rape you, abuse you, hit you, torture you, with their ignorance, the erasure they cause and the perpetuation of archaic rhetoric which stigmatises and marginalises people. They are the little helpers to these criminals, with their spreading of misinformation and opinion dressed as fact.
Here were my tweets to Piers Morgan:
Upon waking this morning after a disturbed nights sleep from anxiety and intrusive thoughts, these tweets which flashed up in my twitter feed, re-tweeted by other survivors I know, it felt like another day I had to fight through, another day I felt shamed and judged – my C-PTSD was triggered and the adrenaline started to mount in my body, gulping down the tears and anger. Then I remembered my only role now is that of my activism, in speaking out against people and ideas like this. To survive everyday is a battle, personally I am very grateful to people like Lady Gaga for speaking out, for making people like me feel heard or at least a little more visible and not the shameful secret which society would like us to remain. As a victim who has survived I know that Piers Morgans comments will have hurt Lady Gaga as they did for me, and “hurt” is an understatement – there is no word to describe how these comments contribute to the silencing of survivors and how they normalise rape culture.
So if like Piers you are confused about what PTSD and C-PTSD is, please read this information below.
In our everyday lives, any of us can have an experience that is overwhelming, frightening, and beyond our control. We could find ourselves in a car crash, be the victim of an assault, or see an accident. Police, fire brigade or ambulance workers are more likely to have such experiences – they often have to deal with horrifying scenes. Soldiers may be shot or blown up, and see friends killed or injured.
Most people, in time, get over experiences like this without needing help. In some people, though, traumatic experiences set off a reaction that can last for many months or years. This is called Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD for short.
People who have repeatedly experienced:
severe neglect or abuse as an adult or as a child
severe repeated violence or abuse as an adult, such as torture or abusive imprisonment
can have a similar set of reactions. This is called ‘complex PTSD’ and is described later on in this leaflet.
How does PTSD start?
PTSD can start after any traumatic event. A traumatic event is one where you see that you are in danger, your life is threatened, or where you see other people dying or being injured. Typical traumatic events would be:
violent personal assault (sexual assault, physical attack, abuse, robbery, mugging)
being taken hostage
being a prisoner-of-war
natural or man-made disasters
being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.
Even hearing about the unexpected injury or violent death of a family member or close friend can start PTSD.
When does PTSD start?
The symptoms of PTSD can start immediately or after a delay of weeks or months, but usually within 6 months of the traumatic event.
What does PTSD feel like?
Many people feel grief-stricken, depressed, anxious, guilty and angry after a traumatic experience. As well as these understandable emotional reactions, there are three main types of symptoms:
1. Flashbacks & nightmares
You find yourself re-living the event, again and again. This can happen both as a ‘flashback’ in the day and as nightmares when you are asleep. These can be so realistic that it feels as though you are living through the experience all over again. You see it in your mind, but may also feel the emotions and physical sensations of what happened – fear, sweating, smells, sounds, pain.
Ordinary things can trigger off flashbacks. For instance, if you had a car crash in the rain, a rainy day might start a flashback.
2. Avoidance & numbing
It can be just too upsetting to re-live your experience over and over again. So you distract yourself. You keep your mind busy by losing yourself in a hobby, working very hard, or spending your time absorbed in crosswords or jigsaw puzzles. You avoid places and people that remind you of the trauma, and try not to talk about it.
You may deal with the pain of your feelings by trying to feel nothing at all – by becoming emotionally numb. You communicate less with other people who then find it hard to live or work with you.
3. Being ‘on guard’
You find that you stay alert all the time, as if you are looking out for danger. You can’t relax. This is called ‘hypervigilance’. You feel anxious and find it hard to sleep. Other people will notice that you are jumpy and irritable.
muscle aches and pains
feelings of panic and fear
drinking too much alcohol
using drugs (including painkillers).
Why are traumatic events so shocking?
They undermine our sense that life is fair, that it is reasonably safe and that we are secure. A traumatic experience makes it very clear that we can die at any time. The symptoms of PTSD are part of a normal reaction to narrowly-avoided death.
Does everyone get PTSD after a traumatic experience?
No. But nearly everyone will have the symptoms of post-traumatic stress for the first month or so. This is because they can help to keep you going, and help you to understand the experience you have been through. This is an ‘acute stress reaction’. Over a few weeks, most people slowly come to terms with what has happened, and their stress symptoms start to disappear.
Not everyone is so lucky. About 1 in 3 people will find that their symptoms just carry on and that they can’t come to terms with what has happened. It is as though the process has got stuck. The symptoms of post-traumatic stress, although normal in themselves, become a problem – or Post-traumatic Stress Disorder – when they go on for too long.
What makes PTSD worse?
The more disturbing the experience, the more likely you are to develop PTSD. The most traumatic events:
are sudden and unexpected
go on for a long time
are when you are trapped and can’t get away
cause many deaths
cause mutilation and loss of arms or legs
If you continue to be exposed to stress and uncertainty, this will make it difficult or impossible for your PTSD symptoms to improve.
What about ordinary ‘stress’?
Everybody feels stressed from time to time. Unfortunately, the word ‘stress’ is used to mean two rather different things:
our inner sense of worry, feeling tense or feeling burdened
the problems in our life that are giving us these feelings. This could be work, relationships, maybe just trying to get by without much money.
Unlike PTSD, these things are with us, day in and day out. They are part of normal, everyday life, but can produce anxiety, depression, tiredness, and headaches. They can also make some physical problems worse, such as stomach ulcers and skin problems. These are certainly troublesome, but they are not the same as PTSD.
Why does PTSD happen?
We don’t know for certain. There are a several possible explanations for why PTSD occurs.
When we are frightened, we remember things very clearly. Although it can be distressing to remember these things, it can help us to understand what happened and, in the long run, help us to survive.
The flashbacks can be seen as replays of what happened. They force us to think about what has happened so we might be better prepared if it were to happen again.
It is tiring and distressing to remember a trauma. Avoidance and numbing keep the number of replays down to a manageable level.
Being ‘on guard’ means that we can react quickly if another crisis happens. We sometimes see this happening with survivors of an earthquake, when there may be second or third shocks. It can also give us the energy for the work that’s needed after an accident or crisis.
But we don’t want to spend the rest of our life going over it. We only want to think about it when we have to – if we find ourselves in a similar situation.
Adrenaline is a hormone our bodies produce when we are under stress. It ‘pumps up’ the body to prepare it for action. When the stress disappears, the level of adrenaline should go back to normal. In PTSD, it may be that the vivid memories of the trauma keep the levels of adrenaline high. This will make a person tense, irritable, and unable to relax or sleep well.
The hippocampus is a part of the brain that processes memories. High levels of stress hormones, like adrenaline, can stop it from working properly – like ‘blowing a fuse’. This means that flashbacks and nightmares continue because the memories of the trauma can’t be processed. If the stress goes away, and the adrenaline levels get back to normal, the brain is able to repair the damage itself, like other natural healing processes in the body. The disturbing memories can then be processed and the flashbacks and nightmares will slowly disappear.
How do I know when I’ve got over a traumatic experience?
When you can:
think about it without becoming distressed
not feel constantly under threat
not think about it at inappropriate times.
Why is PTSD often not recognised?
None of us like to talk about upsetting events and feelings.
We may not want to admit to having symptoms because we don’t want to be thought of as weak or mentally unstable.
Doctors and other professionals are human. They may feel uncomfortable if we try to talk about gruesome or horrifying events.
People with PTSD often find it easier to talk about the other problems that go along with it – headache, sleep problems, irritability, depression, tension, substance abuse, family or work-related problems.
How can I tell if I have PTSD?
Have you experienced a traumatic event of the sort described at the start of this leaflet? If you have, do you:
have vivid memories, flashbacks or nightmares?
avoid things that remind you of the event?
feel emotionally numb at times?
feel irritable and constantly on edge, but can’t see why?
eat more than usual, or use more drink or drugs than usual?
feel out of control of your mood?
find it more difficult to get on with other people?
have to keep very busy to cope?
feel depressed or exhausted?
If it is less than 6 weeks since the traumatic event and these experiences are slowly improving, they may be part of the normal process of adjustment.
If it is more than 6 weeks since the event, and these experiences don’t seem to be getting better, it is worth talking it over with your doctor.
Children and PTSD
PTSD can develop at any age. Younger children may have upsetting dreams of the actual trauma, which then change into nightmares of monsters. They often re-live the trauma in their play. For example, a child involved in a serious road traffic accident might re-enact the crash with toy cars, over and over again.
They may lose interest in things they used to enjoy. They may find it hard to believe that they will live long enough to grow up.
They often complain of stomach aches and headaches.
How can PTSD be helped?
keep life as normal as possible
get back to your usual routine
talk about what happened to someone you trust
try relaxation exercises
go back to work
eat and exercise regularly
go back to where the traumatic event happened
take time to be with family and friends
be careful when driving – your concentration may be poor
be more careful generally – accidents are more likely at this time
speak to a doctor
expect to get better.
beat yourself up about it – PTSD symptoms are not a sign of weakness. They are a normal reaction of a normal person to terrifying experiences.
bottle up your feelings. If you have developed PTSD symptoms, don’t keep it to yourself because treatment is usually very successful.
avoid talking about it
expect the memories to go away immediately; they may be with you for quite some time
expect too much of yourself. Cut yourself a bit of slack while you adjust to what has happened.
stay away from other people
drink lots of alcohol or coffee or smoke more
take holidays on your own.
What can interfere with getting better?
You may find that other people may:
not let you talk about it
be angry with you
think of you as weak
These are all ways in which other people protect themselves from thinking about gruesome or horrifying events. It won’t help you because it doesn’t give you the chance to talk over what has happened to you. And it is hard to talk about such things.
A traumatic event can put you into a trance-like state which makes the situation seem unreal or bewildering. It is harder to deal with if you can’t remember what happened, can’t put it into words, or can’t make sense of it.
Just as there are both psychological and physical aspects to PTSD, so there are both psychological and physical treatments for it.
All the effective psychotherapies for PTSD focus on the traumatic experience – or experiences – rather than your past life. You cannot change or forget what has happened. You can learn to think differently about it, about the world, and about your life.
You need to be able to remember what happened, as fully as possible, without being overwhelmed by fear and distress. These therapies help you to put your experiences into words. By remembering the event, going over it and making sense of it, your mind can do its normal job of storing the memories away, and moving on to other things.
When you start to feel safer, and more in control of your feelings, you won’t need to avoid the memories as much. You will be able to only think about them when you want to, rather than having them burst into your mind out of the blue.
All these treatments should all be given by PTSD specialists. The sessions should be at least weekly, with the same therapist, for 8-12 weeks. Although sessions will usually last around an hour, they can sometimes last up to 90 minutes.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a talking treatment which can help us to understand how ‘habits of thinking’ can make the PTSD worse – or even cause it. CBT can help you change these ‘extreme’ ways of thinking, which can also help you to feel better and to behave differently.
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation & Reprocessing):
This is a technique which uses eye movements to help the brain to process flashbacks and to make sense of the traumatic experience. It may sound odd, but it has been shown to work.
This involves meeting with a group of other people who have been through the same, or a similar traumatic event. It can be easier to talk about what happened if you are with other people who have been through a similar experience.
SSRI antidepressant tablets may help to reduce the strength of PTSD symptoms and relieve any depression that is also present. They will need to be prescribed by a doctor.
This type of medication should not make you sleepy, although they all have some side-effects in some people. They may also produce unpleasant symptoms if stopped too quickly, so the dose should usually be reduced gradually. If they are helpful, you should carry on taking them for around 12 months. Soon after starting an antidepressant, some people may find that they feel more:
These feeling usually pass in a few days, but you should see a doctor regularly.
If these don’t work for you, tricyclic and MAOI antidepressants may still be helpful. For further information, see our leaflet on antidepressants.
Occasionally, if someone is so distressed that they cannot sleep or think clearly, anxiety-reducing medication may be necessary. These tablets should usually not be prescribed for more than 10 days or so.
These don’t help PTSD directly, but can help to control your distress and hyperarousal, the feeling of being ‘on guard’ all the time. These include physiotherapy and osteopathy, but also complementary therapies such as massage, acupuncture, reflexology, yoga, meditation and tai chi. They can help you to develop ways of relaxing and managing stress.
What works best?
At present, there is evidence that EMDR, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, behaviour therapy and antidepressants are all effective. There is not enough information for us to show that one of these treatments is better than another. There is not yet any evidence that other forms of psychotherapy or counselling are helpful for PTSD.
Which treatment first?
Guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) suggest that trauma-focussed psychological therapies (CBT or EMDR) should be offered before medication, wherever possible.
For friends, relatives & colleagues
watch out for any changes in behaviour – poor performance at work, lateness, taking sick leave, minor accidents
watch for anger, irritability, depression, lack of interest, lack of concentration
take time to allow a trauma survivor to tell their story
ask general questions
let them talk, don’t interrupt the flow or come back with your own experiences.
tell a survivor you know how they feel – you don’t
tell a survivor they’re lucky to be alive – it doesn’t feel like that to them
minimise their experience – “it’s not that bad, surely …”
suggest that they just need to “pull themselves together”.
This can start weeks or months after the traumatic event, but may take years to be recognised.
Trauma affects a child’s development – the earlier the trauma, the more harm it does. Some children cope by being defensive or aggressive. Others cut themselves off from what is going on around them, and grow up with a sense of shame and guilt rather than feeling confident and good about themselves.
Adults who have been abused or tortured over a period of time develop a similar sense of separation from others, and a lack of trust in the world and other people.
As well as many of the symptoms of PTSD described above, you may find that you:
feel shame and guilt
have a sense of numbness, a lack of feelings in your body
can’t enjoy anything
control your emotions by using street drugs, alcohol, or by harming yourself
cut yourself off from what is going on around you (dissociation)
have physical symptoms caused by your distress
find that you can’t put your emotions into words
want to kill yourself
take risks and do things on the ‘spur of the moment’.
It is worse if:
it happens at an early age – the earlier the age, the worse the trauma
it is caused by a parent or other care giver
the trauma is severe
the trauma goes on for a long time
you are isolated
you are still in touch with the abuser and/or threats to your safety.
Try to start doing the normal things of life that have nothing to do with your past experiences of trauma. This could include finding friends, getting a job, doing regular exercise, learning relaxation techniques, developing a hobby or having pets. This helps you slowly to trust the world around you.
Lack of trust in other people – and the world in general – is central to complex PTSD. Treatment often needs to be longer to allow you to develop a secure relationship with a therapist – to experience that it is possible to trust someone in this world without being hurt or abused. The work will often happen in 3 stages:
learn how to understand and control your distress and emotional cutting-off, or ‘dissociation’. This can involve ‘grounding’ techniques to help you to stay in the present – concentrating on ordinary physical feelings to remind you that you are living in the present, not the abusive and traumatic past.
start to ‘disconnect’ your physical symptoms of fear and anxiety from the memories and emotions that produce them, making them less frightening.
start to be able to tolerate day-to-day life without experiencing anxiety or flashbacks.
This may sometimes be the only help that is needed.
EMDR or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can help you to remember your traumatic experiences with less distress and more control. Other psychotherapies, including psychodynamic psychotherapy, can also be helpful. Care needs to be taken in complex PTSD because these treatments can make the situation worse if not used properly.
You begin to develop a new life for yourself. You become able to use your skills or learn new ones, and to make satisfying relationships in the real world.
Medication can be used if you feel too distressed or unsafe, or if psychotherapy is not possible. It can include both antidepressants and antipsychotic medication – but not usually tranquillisers or sleeping tablets.
UK Psychological Trauma Society (formerly UK Trauma Group): clinical network of UK Traumatic Stress Services.
PILOTS database of the National Center for PTSD (USA): published international literature on PTSD.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder – The Invisible Injury ( 2002). David Kinchin. Successunlimited.
Effective Treatments for PTSD: Practice Guidelines from the International Society of Traumatic Stress Studies (2nd edition) (2010). Eds. Foa E, Keane T, Friedman M & Cohen JA.
Treating Trauma: Survivors with PTSD (2002). Ed. Yehuda, R. Washington DC. American Publishing.
Adshead G and Ferris S. Treatment of victims of trauma. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment (September 2007) 13:358-368.
Bisson JI, Pharmacological treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment (March 2007) 13:119-126.
Coetzee RH and Regel S, Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing: an update. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment (March 2005) 11:347-354.
Hull, A.M., Alexander, D.A. & Klein, S. Survivors of the Piper Alpha oil platform disaster: long-term follow-up study (2002). Br. J. Psychiatry, 181: 433 – 438
NICE guidelines (update 2012): Post-traumatic stress disorder: the management of PTSD in adults and children in primary and secondary care.
Lab, D., Santos, I. & de Zulueta, F.Treating post-traumatic stress disorder in the ‘real world’: evaluation of a specialist trauma service and adaptations to standard treatment approaches (2008). Psychiatric Bulletin, 32: 8-12.
Frueh BC, Grubaugh AL, Yeager DE and Magruder KM. Delayed-onset post-traumatic stress disorder among war veterans in primary care clinics (2009). The British Journal of Psychiatry, 194, 515–520.
It is that time of year again – All Hallows’ Eve.
Halloween is upon us and has been all weekend, it is a celebration, a ritual and a chance to party with friends, adorning costumes and different personas for one night. With the nights drawing in and winter fast approaching it reminds us of the dark and in turn the dead.
However Halloween has become a mass capitalised practice, with shops and establishments enticing you with their decorations and latest gimmicks from the beginning of October. Making plans for this one night affair becomes about popularity and with the addition of social media – a costume contest is held with hashtags and a one-upmanship mentality.
Although this is not the scariest thing about Halloween, in fact the most frighting of attitudes and beliefs come out to play during this festivity and that is the representation of mental illness and the mentally ill. With depictions in horror films, on TV and in literature – as well as costumes depicting “psychiatric patients” or the idea of insanity being cool or glamorised.
As some one who has sever psychiatric conditions and who has had these since being a child, my thoughts on this subject are something I wish to be heard on, hoping that listening to someone who is actually mentally ill, who has been hospitalised in genuine Victorian asylum buildings in the UK, as an inpatient on a psychiatric ward, that in hearing me you will understand that my suffering, trauma, illnesses and identity is not something you get to “have fun with”. You don’t get to put it on for the night and then take it off without hearing me tell you that this is causing me and people like me to be demonised, you continue our persecution and discrimination. Whimsically you step into a piece of clothing which represents people who have been killed for their disabilities, locked away and forgotten about due to their illnesses, and tortured or experimented on because they behave and think differently to the perceived average person.
Having been stigmatised and labelled as dangerous to others, as a person who is violent or unstable – a person to be feared, a monster. I myself, have believed these things to be true, having allowed myself to be shamed into submission, thinking that in fact I am a scary, crazy villain. So I hid from it, allowed myself to be silenced, accepted family and friends stigmatising me with their fancy dress and in their language when watching horror films. Listening to people discuss my situation as frightening, something which scares them so much they can’t watch.
In the depictions of mental illness within horror films and on TV sometimes I catch a glimpse of myself, in a girl who is screaming manically and bashing her head against walls, or rocking herself in a corner or strapped down sedated in a hospital bead. I have lived these experiences, I still do sometimes. The rocking myself is a self soothing, allowing me to keep myself safe.
Yes I have done this in the dark, on a psychiatric ward – yes it was scary.
But not for you! For me!
When experiencing psychotic episodes I have smashed my head repeatedly against walls, on tables anywhere I could. As I rarely remember my psychosis or at least only fragments of it, I can not tell you exactly what I was thinking – but I can guess with almost complete certainty that it was to stop the intrusive images, the voices, the flashbacks, the pain… It was not because I was possessed or dangerous to others it was because of my neurological damage due to early childhood trauma. Which again is not scary in the spooky horror sense when explained, it is in fact a medical condition and symptoms.
Being in a psychiatric hospital is not a horror fest or a sensationalised attraction to experience. It is like any other medical facility, it is there to treat people with illnesses in a focused in-patient manner. Yes the Victorian buildings were scary and yes me and my in-patient friends would tell ghost stories and scare ourselves whilst walking through the abandoned buildings and grounds – but we didn’t think we were the monsters, we knew we were thought of this way by the outside world.
(West Park Hospital in Epsom is where I was an in-patient for 6 months in 1999)
However we had seen real horror, most of us having survived childhood molestation, violence, and emotional abuse. We knew we were only really a danger to ourselves, hacking away at our own flesh daily, burning ourselves with lighters, putting ourselves in danger as vulnerable people, not eating, taking substances to excess and attempting to kill ourselves often. We were the scariest thing around – to ourselves, but are we really people to be feared? No – we are people who have been vilified in order to hide the realities of true horror, which happens everyday in plain sight, by people you know, people you forgive and people who you look up to. Our ideas disturb the status quo and our sadness gets in the way of the idealistic idea of living a happy life. We make you uncomfortable – because deep down you know we are not different, that you could become ill or have a breakdown. Your neurology is not bullet-proof. We are not made of weaker stuff.
So I ask you to think about the depiction of mentally ill people at Halloween, I ask you to challenge your thoughts on what we look like, act like, or are capable of. Think of the backstory of a character and realise just how un-scary someones emotional distress, neurological condition or neuro-divergent ideas are in context. Think how you may make someone you know feel – who has mental illness, when you dress up as a deranged “psychopath”. Don’t contribute to this stereotype and the discrimination it allows to continue.
(These images are of graffiti myself and other in patients did in abandoned rooms during our stay at Woodside adolescent unit at West Park Hospital in Epsom, England in the summer of 1999 – during art therapy sessions. These photographs have been taken by people who site these as disturbing images of “crazy”impatient scribbling. I see them and remember letting out our pain, me and my best friend Jenny (who took her own life years later), of us together – expressing ourselves through art, this is NOT a horror movie scene or anything sinister.)
Living in this world as a victim who survived sexual violence, assault and child molestation I have had to learn from an early age that the systems of power and society are against me due to my gender and mental illness. People speak of you with either a perception of doubt and contempt, a whispered shamefulness – or deem you as a broken shell of a human, with no use; it makes people uncomfortable. These people are the ones that if they read or see a depiction on film/TV similar to your situation, will dissect and find a way to blame the victim, even when it is a child, they do this in front of you – holding on tightly to the idea of the “Rape Myth“.
Perceptions of rape and any form of sexual assault or abuse are somewhat still judged by our prehistoric natures, along with murder – this need to defile and desecrate another human is sadly a behaviour which seems to be harder to evolve past. However even though there are sociobiological theories of rape which have been heavily criticised for assuming that only young attractive women are raped or that rape is motivated by desires and sexual needs only; is why this research needs to be considered but not seen as a completed study. We can not argue that rape has been used as a tool by our species. With high status and powerful males enslaving women as their playthings throughout history, with rape being used as a weapon of war to ethnically cleanse or to humiliate the opposing combatants. However the question which seems too complex to answer is whether this is something our species has innately, or is a behavioural component, which due to our long history of patriarchal power has never been challenged – until very recently, as more and more women are emancipated from their male family members.
So why is the “rape myth” still so prevalent today?
This month has been very triggering for most survivors, with Donald Trump admitting he has sexually assaulted women, with Brock Turner being released from his pitifully short sentence and with Ched Evans being acquitted after his family paid £50,000 for information from past lovers of the victim and then brought forward two ex partners and using the victims previous sexual behaviour against her in the case. These three high profile examples of how our world is determined to reinforce rape culture, show that power, privilege and using a woman’s sexuality to discredit her, are all achievable ways that men and boys who have never challenged these archaic ideas can “get away with it”. That they can be given the impression, it is their right, that their future is more important than a girl or woman’s or that women can’t be trusted especially if sexually active.
When I was raped at 15 by a boy in my school, many things were used against me – this was back in 1999 in England and even though I had a lot of evidence against him, still it was much more “prove she is not credible” rather than “prove he is guilty”. The fact I had fancied the boy was a big thing used against me, which as a child myself became confusing – when people repeated this to me again and again;
“but you fancied him, you wanted him to fancy you”?
These things were true but did not cancel out the fact he violently raped me. It was 1999 and it was as if people had not ever challenged the idea that:
1) rape has nothing to do with being attracted to someone
2) you can’t be raped by someone you fancy, which as an adult, now – I have no problem understanding. I blamed myself for years, thinking
“it was my fault, I fancied him, so he had the right”.
However the most disturbing of “victim blaming” I experienced was that of my mental illness and disability being used against me – to discredit me by suggesting my ability to understand what happened to me was impaired or that I had done this to myself. Having been severally sexually traumatised vaginally and anally which meant I had to have internal and external surgery on my genital areas, it was clear to the physicians and police examiners that this was from forced aggressive penetration. However this was not what my rapists Mother said – who spread the false information that I had in fact self harmed my genitals to frame and blame him. This spread like wild fire amongst the students at my school, teachers and parents and due to my unstable mental health displayed in school previously – many just assumed this must be true about “that crazy girl”.
There are still people from my school year who are addiment I lied and that I did it out of some sort of “crazy” spite or something to that effect. But one thing has always bothered me about these people, they seem to accept that he was convicted for grievous bodily harm – that he beat me and cut me open with his force and violence, however this to them is not rape or sexual assault, this is fine, because I was asking for it.
My rapist was not convicted of rape, the police told me that this was due to his age – as he was also 15 and the fact that they could not determine and prove a lack of consent (like with so many cases). So he was convicted of GBH and Unlawful Sex – he was put on the sex offenders register and was on a tag for 12 months, but this was still not enough regardless of the outcome for some. It did not matter that I was bruised, bleeding and emotionally broken ready to take my own life, to them I was a whore and an opportunist.
It took so long for me to accept my rape as rape – this was due to our culture, my upbringing and my age. Once able to detach the 15 year old girl from being the primary source of all my information on what happened to me, I was able to look at it with adult eyes, eyes which have now survived and lived.
It was only 2 years ago – having turned 30 and reaching the point that I had lived 15 years on from my assault, whilst doing intense reliving therapy for my CPTSD, that revisiting my memories voluntarily was possible – apposed to flash backs and intrusive thoughts. Through this new lens of awareness I saw 15 year old me held down (face down) crying into the sheets as the boy raped me or of myself choking from forced oral penetration, it was then and only then that all the other details fell away – what I was wearing, that I fancied him, that I had gone into the room voluntarily and that straight after it had happened I had told my friends we had just had sex, to fit in, as I did not understand what had happened to me. These details were not what happened to me, these details were from society’s ideas of girls and women – from a rhetoric that found me (the victim) more guilty than the perpetrator.
The facts are – I did not give consent and could not stop what happened to me due to fear and force. That until you are in a situation like this, a rape – that did not happen in a dark alley by a scary man, but one that happened by someone you knew, liked or loved, it is then you realise how we do ourselves as a species an injustice. We do not prepare girls and boys for the real dangers – we are not taught about consent and of how important this is. Instead as a girl you are taught you must prevent yourself from being raped or targeted by men, that you are the only one in control of this. Or that you must defend yourself by carrying a weapon or whistle, your told “scream out”, or you are told “cover up” don’t give men ideas or an invitation. Boys are then treated as if they are less responsible when it comes to sexual behaviour, that promiscuity is acceptable and even encouraged in an environment of toxic masculinity, with the idea a girl or woman needs to be “ruined” or “broken in”, a sense of entitlement is continued and facilitated. All the while placing all people who identify as male in one patriarchal predatory box , a box – which if male and you are the victim of rape, then this is not taken seriously, and is ridiculed or deemed to be a weakness, clamming “real men can’t be raped”.
Despite considerable research and publications in professional and popular journals concerning rape, such myths continue to persist in the minds of the masses.
We need to stop:
- assuming that women and girls are more likely to lie about being raped than being raped. Of course false rape allegations exist, I have even witnessed one myself – however our culture reflects a problematic discourse when addressing this issue. Whichever stance is taken the girl or woman is either a liar, a slut or crazy. Here is a great article on this: He Said, She Said: The Mythical History of the False Rape Allegation
- thinking women are “ASKING FOR IT”! This idea is ridiculously flawed and contradictory. If in fact “we” are asking for it, then this would mean we were asking for consensual sex or we invited a person to comment on how we look or behave. There is no clothing, age, background, ethnicity, disability or behaviour which lends to the idea “we” are “ASKING FOR IT”.
- allowing predators to suggest that by having none consensual sex with an individual is doing them a favour as they are deemed not aesthetically conventional in their appearance or are disabled. Beauty and rape have no ties and cause this false idea that you can be too ugly to be raped. I was told this once by a horrible misogynist, who suggested I was too fat and ugly for rape victim. Disabled people are more likely to be taken advantage of as again I know too well. The same can be said about claiming that “you brought them into adulthood”, which is often used as a defence when women rape minors, especially if adolescent. Reinforced by a culture that will pat the boy on the back, for being taken advantage of by an older woman – but one that would react very differently to a girl who is under age, with an older man.
- Thinking rape is about sex and sex alone. Rape is taking control of someone’s body and autonomy by force. It is not simply a person gets so overwhelmed by desire and can’t control themselves, it is so much more complicated and is never simply explained.
- Promoting the “scorned woman” narrative, that women and girls get so enraged about being rejected by a man that their little minds overheat and conjure up allegations of rape and abuse for shits and giggles. This is a stereotype of women which has been depicted through history in all manner of literature and now film and TV. The fact that it is so widely believed is proof when you hear women accusing one another of such things. When research shows men are more likely to commit a violent crime after rejection in an intimate relationship. Please read this article: These 14 Women Were Brutally Attacked for Rejecting Men — Why Aren’t We Talking About It?
We need to look at rape as… well just that – RAPE!
People need to understand the fundamental differences between rape and sex and the need for children to be taught about consent couldn’t be more evident, along with the rest of sex education needing to be taught younger and more liberally. But how can you make a difference, simple check your attitudes and beliefs about what you have read and ask yourself:
Have you ever reinforced the rape myth?
If you are a victim who survived sexual violence, rape assault or abuse and wish to get more advice or support here are some helpful links:
RAINN : https://www.rainn.org/
Rape Crisis : http://rapecrisis.org.uk/
Pixel Project : http://www.thepixelproject.net/
Sane : http://www.sane.org.uk/
If you would like to give feedback, share your views or for any further information on my art, writing or Art Saves Lives International please fill in the contact form below:
With this unseen malady,
the world is set to a different frequency,
faces move past with only apathy,
when they can’t fit you into a box,
intelligent, irrational, focused, erratic…
you seem a paradox.
Knowing people question me,
life feels scrutinised,
under the microscope,
wishing to be disguised,
not made to walk this tightrope.
Being able to be free,
not continuously analysed,
a participant, not an absentee,
hearing my voice,
without having to be patronised,
without having to prove my disabilities,
they love to give you the third degree,
have I not proved my invincibility?
We the stigmatised,
are not your problem to fix,
not here to be tamed and civilised,
neither will I be cured by your crucifix ,
“God only gives us what we can handle”
is this a joke – a chance to poke,
superstition and dogma we must dismantle,
instead with these ideas they provoke.
Everyone is watching me,
no longer left alone to recover,
my life is not something you can disagree,
they want to rip it away – uncover,
these things you can’t see,
no one would want this,
so with this plea,
stop watching me.
If you would like any information or would like to give feedback, please use this contact form: