Editor: Do you, or people around you, blame yourself, others, diagnosis, society or do you recognize that “Something happened to me”
It took me a long time to acknowledge that I had been through multiple traumatic experiences. The first time I heard a therapist refer to my emotional reactions as the result of trauma I stopped seeing her. I wasn’t ready to acknowledge that people had done things to me that have left a lasting mark. I wasn’t taught that people could or had hurt me. I was taught that I was hurting myself. The message that I received, loud and clear, as a teen was that everything was the fault of my mental illness and that I was solely responsible for everything that had happened to me. I was on a constant quest to fix myself so people would like me. I believed that people treated me poorly because I was difficult, sad, annoying, and impulsive. It never occurred to me that the poor treatment I received meant there was something wrong with them and how they saw me as a person.
In 2013, I came across a quote by Eleanor Longden who had recently given a TedTalk called, “The voices in my head”. Longden said, “The relevant question in psychiatry shouldn’t be what’s wrong with you, but what happened to you.” It was then I understood that there was nothing wrong with me but something wrong with the messages we are given as people who are emotionally different.
While I completely acknowledge that I am the only person that has total control over my life (how I act and think), I also acknowledge that other people need to be held accountable for their actions and so far in my life that has not happened. With certain experiences of trauma, when we become mentally unwell as a result, there is a high degree of victim blaming. Our blame is not towards the person or people that actively tore you down, our blame is turned on you for letting it affect you. This is not how healing happens. This is not how we empower people. This is not how others learn to be accountable.
After I shifted my focus to “what happened to you” I began to embrace my experiences of emotional abuse. I stopped crying for others and instead cried for myself. I validated myself for having gone through countless hurtful experiences and told myself that what had happened to me was not my fault although I now have to live with the consequences.
This trauma is a huge part of my identity as a Mad person. Accepting my Madness helped me accept my trauma and vice versa. I knew that if my Madness was a part of my experience as a human then so was my trauma. This doesn’t mean I don’t still find myself hearing my abuser’s voice in my head, remembering in great detail the moment a friend left me because I couldn’t stop cutting or that I don’t lash out at my current partner because I feel like I need to protect myself all the time. It means that I treat myself with compassion, acceptance and do what I can to become the person I want to be. There is nothing wrong with me. Something happened to me.