I Just Want a Little Peace

My last post was full of a bunch of rambling about just how hard healing from trauma is and how it’s a prolonged, time-consuming process.  The whole point of my writing that post was in order to write this one, because some of the things happening in my life recently have left me panicking about just how much time I’m allowed to heal for.

More than anything, right now, I just want to be left in peace, I just want to be given the time and the safety and the security to be able to heal, to be able to process my trauma and get myself to that ‘better’ place.  As I said about 1000 times over in my last post, it takes time to do that, time that I desperately need.

And time that I am facing threats to now.

For the past five years, I have been claiming and living on disability benefits as a result of my mental and physical health conditions that are a direct result of the trauma I experienced and that are made so much worse when actively engaging with and dealing with said trauma.

One of the disability benefits I am claiming, Disability Living Allowance, expires at the end of this May and as a result, I have to put in a claim for the new disability benefits, Personal Independence Payment (which encourages anything but Personal Independence).  This might not seem like a big deal, but with the Tories and the DWP, it actually really is.  The chances of being able to successfully claim PIP for mental health conditions is incredibly low and if you are somehow successful, you have to go through hell to get there.

I have a face to face assessment on Wednesday, actually at the exact moment that I’ve set this post to go up.  This is where a vaguely qualified medical professional gets to decide if you’re a lying scrounger or legitimately disabled – with a catch, nobody is legitimately disabled and it is actually their job to get as many people off of benefits as possible.  These assessments are cruel, malicious, calculated.  Every single aspect is designed to catch you out, trip you up, trap you, prove you’re a liar.  Even just going to the assessment means that you’re clearly capable of coping with change and that you are able to go outside and travel – another catch, if you don’t go you lose your benefits anyway and qualifying for a home assessment is again nearly impossible; my agoraphobia definitely doesn’t count as a legitimate excuse for not being able to go outside despite it literally being in the name.

I know, I know, you think I’m paranoid and being dramatic and just crazy (not crazy enough for benefits, though) except that I’m just not.  It’s been well documented, despite the Tories best efforts to hide it, just how fucked up this system is.  People in comas being declared fit for work.  People with serious and well-evidenced medical conditions being called liars.  Hell, just look at the fact that something like 60% of decisions are overturned at Tribunal.  I’ve been advised, a few times, by well meaning and caring people, to just tick their boxes and be honest, but that isn’t enough.  It’s impossible to tick boxes when the assessors outright lie, misinterpret information and who’s aim it is to not tick the boxes under any circumstances.  This isn’t a system where you can actually win, no matter how well you know how to play the game, it’s just not possible to win.

I’m shit scared.  I really truly fucking am.

You see, the thing is, this system works under two assumptions.  You’re either the most fucked up and broken you’ve ever been, legitimately disabled and completely unable to work (by their standards even if not realistic standards) or you’re 100% well and completely capable of working 40+ hours a week.  There’s no mid-point.  The thing is, my therapy is starting to work, I’m slowly starting to get better, even if the good days are still incredibly outnumbered by the bad days.  But there is improvement.  I’ve been able to trust enough to start a relationship.  I’ve been able to drag myself outside more often, even alone.  I’ve been able to more consistently attend therapy, though I have still missed a lot of sessions.  I’ve been able to work seriously hard on my eating disorder, eat more often and allow myself to gain weight without completely losing my shit.  I’ve not been self-harming as frequently.  I’ve not been considering just topping myself as frequently.  I’m getting better at being able to communicate and make eye contact and I’m actually starting to value myself more than I ever have.

But all of that’s a big fucking no-no to the DWP.  You see, you’re not allowed to get better.  You’re allowed to be ill, you’re allowed to be well, but you’re not actually allowed to move from one point to the other.  Because if you do, you’re instantly not disabled any more.  Because if you do, then you’re clearly well enough to go back to work right now.  It doesn’t matter that you’re only marginally better from the absolute worst point in your life, the fact is you’re better and therefore undeserving.

The thing is, right now, I’m not capable of working.  I still spend most days stuck in flashbacks, completely unable to ground myself.  I still spend most days completely dissociated and completely unable to explain what I was doing for the last few hours.  I still self-harm, though not as frequently.  I’m still unable to find the motivation to cook, clean, bathe, do much of anything.  I’m still a fucking mess, basically.  There’s been improvement, sure, but that improvement hasn’t led to permanent changes, it’s lead to a tiny increase in my abilities on select days.  And I know what you’re going to say, it’s not like I haven’t heard it 1000 times before.  ‘Surely doing something and being distracted will help.’  No, fuck off, it doesn’t.  I’ve tried the whole distraction thing, I’ve tried burying myself so much in work that I can’t think of anything else.  But trauma eats you from the inside out, you try doing that and you’ll end up topping yourself within a year.

I’m not ready, I know I’m not ready.  And for the first time in my life I’m listening to myself and my needs.  I’m aware of myself, I’m aware of where I’m at and I know I’m not ready to work a 40 hour week.  I’m not even ready to get myself out of the house on a daily basis.  I doubt I’m even ready to do, I dunno, 3 hours of volunteering a week.

The thing is, and this is a thing that the DWP have a complete fucking inability to even understand, I’d be able to reach the point where I can work a 40 hour week if they just fucking leave me alone.

Being on benefits is like having an axe constantly looming over your fucking neck.  It’s not just when you reach deadlines they’ll harass you (and trust me, it definitely feels like harassment), at any point they can decide to reassess you, to put you through the hell of that again and again and again and again.  For the last five years, I’ve been terrified that they’ll turn on me at any moment.  I’m scared of the post.  Scared of seeing one of those fucking envelopes.  Every single time the postie comes I’m terrified that today is the day that the DWP have decided to ruin my life, to cut off all my income and leave me with nothing.

The slightest indiscretion, perceived or otherwise, can be used against you.  The entire system is so malicious.  I’m not allowed to get better, only be better.  So all the work I’ve been doing to try and heal from my trauma actually counts against me.  If they were to leave me alone, I’d actually meet their fucking goals of not needing benefits, but they won’t leave me alone.

Each time I get one of those letters, I end up crashing, once again.  Worse than anything else really makes me crash any more.  The constant threat to your income, your security, your freedom is just way too much to take – especially when you’ve never had security or freedom before.  Since I got my letter for the face to face assessment, I haven’t been able to sleep, to eat, to do anything.  I’ve been sleeping, or attempting to sleep more specifically, for more than twelve hours; spending most of that time lying awake, panicking, being filled with suicidal thoughts, feeling vulnerable and exposed which inevitably leads to my brain oh so kindly reminding me of all the other times I’ve felt vulnerable and exposed (read:  flashbacks).  I’ve been so depressed that I’ve become an even more useless piece of shit than I usually am; I can’t remember the last time I cleaned anything, including myself, I can’t remember the last time that I was able to cook or take care of myself or enjoy something or well, anything.  I’m a mess.  And it’s the DWP who pushed me back by 10000000 steps.  Great tactic for an organisation that ultimately wants people off of benefits.

I was doing so well, I was getting better, I was looking towards the future.  I was working so hard in therapy, working so hard to move forwards with my life.  Considering going back to uni, if not this year then at least next year.  Really working towards not being stuck here, not being on benefits for the rest of my life, not constantly drowning in trauma.  And they took it all away.  They’ve pushed me back so far that I can barely see myself getting through the next few hours, never mind having an actual future.

The face-to-face assessment itself is terrifying me too, and not just because of the potential consequences it’ll have on my life and stability.  Last time I had one of these assessments, I was put through hell.  From what I’ve heard from others who’ve been through this process, I had a rogue assessor, but hell, have you seen what my fucking luck looks like?  The chances of me having another rogue assessor are so fucking high that I just outright refuse to let my guard down and believe last time was an anomaly and the same won’t possibly happen again.

The guy I saw (and this was after specifically requesting both a home visit because of agoraphobia and a female assessor) was utterly disgusting.  He spent the entire time repeatedly pushing me to say what caused my PTSD, I initially tried pointing to the letter that was on his desk which I knew already said so much more than I was comfortable with, but he continued to push and push and push until I just desperately looked at my friend and old support worker to help me.  She tried to say what was in the letter and he cut her off, insisted I had to speak despite the fact that I was clearly traumatised, distressed, having a panic attack and couldn’t stop crying.  He said that if I didn’t speak to him then the assessment was over there and then because I wasn’t co-operating, I knew if that happened I’d lose everything so I forced myself to do it despite the sheer level of distress I was in.  This then, of course, lost me points because that obviously meant that I was able to ‘communicate clearly’.  He made me say over and over and over what it was that caused my PTSD, kept making me go into more and more detail, each rape, all the details for each and every single rape.  It was like the sick freak was getting off on it, getting off on hearing the details, getting off on making me say it over and over despite how distressed I was – probably because of how distressed I was because men are fucking creeps.  He barely asked me how my disabilities affect my daily life, didn’t ask any of the standard questions, didn’t do the assessment as he was supposed to and I ended up not initially qualifying for benefits because of it.

I was such a mess for so long afterwards; I was so dissociated, I basically don’t even remember the weeks following.  I just know that he pushed me so far that I ended up in one of the lowest points in my life and was very seriously considering suicide as a result.

I don’t know what this assessment is gonna be like.  I might be lucky, for like the first time in my fucking life, and get a kind, understanding assessor but even that won’t help me if the ultimate aim is to declare me fit for work and not disabled.  I know that even without a rogue assessor these things are not designed to be sensitive and gentle; so many people are torn apart by this process day after day and today it’s my turn, again.

It’s not even like I’m just expecting or wanting to be handed this stuff, I just want to be left in peace.  If they could just accept my life is my life, especially because they’ve put me through this hell so many times before, especially because each time they’ve ultimately decided that I cannot cope or look after myself or work or function on a day to day basis, then I’d be fine.

Each time they put me through a re-assessment, each time I get one of those letters, each time they threaten my income and my security and my freedom I end up so much worse.  I end up taking so many steps backwards.  I end up moving further and further and further away from the point where I won’t need to do this any more.  I just want some peace, some time; healing takes time and that’s really all I ask.  I just want them to leave me alone for long enough to actually get ‘better’, to actually finally reach the point where I can be the one that turns around and tell them to ‘fuck off’.

RS.

This Shit is Hard

Healing from trauma, regardless as to what that trauma is, is hard.  It’s not even easy to put into words just how hard this work is.  It requires so much strength and energy and time.  I’ve been trying to ‘heal’ on and off for years; all my earlier attempts were completely unsuccessful, trying to heal from trauma while that trauma is still ongoing is nearly impossible, especially if your mind has successfully dissociated to the point where you can’t even remember all aspects of your trauma, even trauma that is still happening or the fact that it’s still happening.  This time around, I’ve been working on this whole healing thing for about five years, since I exited/escaped.  And as a result, these last five years have been complete and utter crap.

Trauma itself has such a massive effect on the mind and mental health; the brain works in such a way where it will do anything and everything to keep you alive, the thing it values almost the most is your own survival.  Our brains, however, aren’t especially good at their job.  They can and will fuck you up in the name of your own survival.  And well, it worked, for me, but it doesn’t mean that I wasn’t incredibly fucked up and still am.

Basically, that’s what flashbacks and trauma related memories and pain and suffering is.  Your brain is trying to give you a wake up call, trying to tell you that something is and was wrong and that ultimately you need to deal with it or everything is gonna be fucking terrible forever.  A lot of people try and silence this, distance themselves from it, either through dissociation, drugs, alcohol, convincing themselves they love it and it’s a choice, self-harm, eating disorders etc. etc. etc. they try and funnel this pain into something else or just try and numb it out altogether.

I’m no professional, this is just my best understanding after everything my therapist has taught me over the years.  Basically, the brain gives you flashbacks so you can process the trauma because unprocessed trauma will try and eat you alive.  The brain gives you flashbacks and other symptoms of trauma so you can realise, on some level, just how much of a mess your life is and how unsafe people in your life are and how you need to try and get away from those people.

That’s what happened to me, slowly, in stages, but it’s what happened.  When I was fourteen, I started getting flashbacks.  I was still in a really fucked up point of my life, still being raped and abused on a regular basis by both my mum and my step-dad (despite them being separated at that point, though that’s definitely another post) and I was still being trafficked.  Dissociation is a wonderful and weird thing, though.  At this point in my life, I only really knew a few things consciously, clearly and consistently.  I knew I was depressed, I knew I was having regular panic attacks, I knew I was self-harming, I knew I wasn’t eating, I knew I was drinking (and probably too much), I knew that I was always high and always needed to be high, I knew I was engaging in a lot of dangerous things (again, that’s another post), but what I didn’t know was why.  I had no memory of the things that had happened to me and my dissociative disorder was so severe that I equally had no recollection of what was still happening to me.  It was like, the me at school, the me during the day, was a completely different me than the one who went home and got sold to several men.  One me couldn’t really, properly remember the other me and her experiences.

As I said, I got my first flashback when I was 14, a memory of what I now know to be the first time that my step-dad raped me, when I was 8.  From there, I started to get more and more flashbacks about him and also about my maternal grandfather/my father.  I still had no conscious recollection of the fact that my mum was also raping and abusing me and selling me.  However, I did have flashbacks and memories that made it clear that my mum knew what my step-dad was doing to me and by the age of 16, after a few suicide attempts, some serious self-harm, numerous interventions by mental health services which were sooooo useful (if anyone has any experience of CAMHS you’ll know what I mean) and some seriously bad mental health, full on crisis days, I decided I couldn’t deal with any of it any more.  I couldn’t deal with knowing that my mum would let someone do that to me.  I couldn’t deal with the increased numbers of arguments with my mum, all the yelling, all the times she hit me, burnt me.  I couldn’t deal with being treated like a slave all the time (if only I knew back then the extent of that), doing all the housework, doing everything in that house.  I’d had enough and on my 16th birthday, dead on at midnight, I packed a few things into my school bag (mostly school books because I apparently still valued my education?!), called my dad to pick me up and went to my grandma’s house.

I got there and after long argued conversations over the phone with my mum, which included her telling them about my step-dad, with a typical my mum spin, namely that I’m a giant whore and I fucked her boyfriend, I finally got told that my grandma would think about me staying and both her and my dad kicked me out, past midnight, on to the streets and told to come back after school the next day.

The flashbacks built up to the point where I was able to realise enough and process enough of my trauma to try and make myself safe.  It didn’t work, not completely.  I had limited contact with my mum in the following years, but I was still being trafficked and hurt by her and her boyfriend, especially as he lived just round the corner from my grandma.  While my brain put me through hell with the flashbacks, it was also trying to ensure my own survival.

It did the same five years ago.  In the months prior to my eventually escaping and exiting, my mental health went to shit.  I was getting constant flashbacks and this time not just limited to Paul and the things he did to me (memories of which eventually included some aspects of trafficking).  I basically got the full play-by-play of my entire life.  I eventually reached the point where my mum had been and still was trafficking me, I could remember client after client after client, I could remember my mum raping me and abusing me and hurting me, I started to make connections between the way my family and clients treated me and what my now ex was doing to me at that time.  Despite putting me through absolute hell and crashing my mental health to a point where it had never been before, I was learning the lessons my brain was trying to teach me.  I wasn’t safe.  I wasn’t safe with my now ex.  I wasn’t safe with my family.  My life was in danger and it always had been.

This massive crash eventually made me make a decision.  I had to leave, I had to escape.  I had to cut off almost everyone and everything I’d ever known to keep myself safe.  I had to not only make myself safe but I had to process the trauma and the memories and the pain or it’d kill me just as surely as they would.

I did leave, five years ago next week.  And it was because of the flashbacks, it was because of what my own brain was doing to me that I did.

My brain screwed me over, though.  It might have saved my life, but it’s now left me in a place where I cannot deny my own trauma.  Where I can only dissociate myself from those memories to a certain extent.  Where I know that I have to deal with or die from it.

I still get flashbacks, I still have dissociation, I still get severe anxiety and depression, I still can’t go outside without getting so panicky, feeling that everyone around me is either going to hurt me or has already hurt me.

This post has gone so off course.  How do I always end up rambling so much?

I’ve been working on healing and processing trauma for the last five years, very seriously during very intense therapy.  And it’s not easy.  I’ve spent the past five years feeling like I’m fighting for my life, even if I’m not actually physically fighting for my life any more.  Trauma work is so draining and so painful.  One of the only real ways to process trauma is to relive it, fully, to be able to process what it was we experienced and what we were actually feeling at the time.  Not relying on dissociation or numbing techniques.  Really feeling it and then really processing it and then really healing from it.  And that takes time, especially if you have a complex and extensive history of trauma.  It takes time and it’s painful and you will hurt almost as much as you did when you were going through it.

I’ve been working so hard for the last five years and I’ve actually made so many significant steps, but I’m not done yet, I’m nowhere near done.  Most of those five years were focused on just staying alive, building trust and safety, surviving the flashbacks and the suicidal ideation and the sheer mental hell that trauma leaves you in.  I’ve only really been working seriously and consistently on traumatic memories for the last year or so, now doing EMDR to be able to really process them.

I need more time, I just need more time to be able to carry on working.  For the first time in my life, I can see a future, I can see something other than what I’ve always known.  I can see that ‘better’ that so many people keep promising me.  But I need time, I need time to work on the trauma, to process it and heal from it.  Bit by bit, I am working and even just working on the smallest aspect starts to make a real and noticeable difference to my life, but there’s still time to go before I am a real, functioning human being again (well for the first time, let’s face it).

I know that with a few more months of EMDR (if there’s anything even vaguely close to being a ‘miracle cure’ for trauma, this is it, seriously) I can be in such a different place than that I’m in now.  Already I’m starting to see so many changes; I’m more confident, more assertive, I’m starting to be able to make eye contact, I’m starting to be able to communicate more clearly, I’m starting to value myself, see myself as worthy, I’m starting to think of the future in a way I just never have before, I’m starting to be able to go outside more often without breaking down with fear and terror of getting hurt again, I’m starting to be able to eat more consistently again – even in front of other people.  But I’m not there yet, these progressions are time-sensitive, it doesn’t take a lot to knock me back again, especially because, in the short-term, the work I’m doing to reach these milestones is the exact thing that will knock me back again.

I actually really believe that I can do this.  I can see the me in a few months time being so incredibly different from the me I am now.  I’m working so incredibly hard.  There aren’t even words to fully explain just how hard this work is.  It’s like you have to completely break yourself down, destroy yourself over and over and over and over and over again in order to really closely examine those broken pieces before you can even attempt to put yourself back together.

It hurts, it hurts so badly.  Each time I do trauma work I’m left suffering.  I’m left with incredibly strong, vivid flashbacks; the kind where it’s almost impossible to ground yourself, the kind where it’s so hard to hold on to the here and now and convince yourself it’s not really happening, that it’s over and you’re safe.  I’m left with such severe dissociation that I just lose track of everything around me; I can’t keep track of time or conversations or TV plot lines or just about anything.  I have little to no focus and I basically become utterly useless.  I’m left so depressed and anxious; I can’t sleep, I can’t make myself go outside, I can’t eat properly, I can’t find the motivation or energy to do much of anything.  My suicidal ideation and my thoughts of self-harm increase massively.  You can’t stare into hell without it looking back at you.  You can’t focus on your own memories of extreme trauma and pain without feeling at least some of that pain and hurt in the here and now.  In the long-term, this therapy is making such a massive difference to my life, but in the short-term, immediately after sessions and for some time afterwards there’s nothing but pain.  That’s the price you have to pay to heal from trauma.  You have to heal or it’ll kill you, but the pain of doing it can be so severe that it feels like it’s gonna kill you, regardless as to how good your therapist is.  And I have a damn good therapist, who makes sure I take it at the right pace and I’m as grounded as possible afterwards, but that doesn’t change the fact that just doing this work is so beyond painful.  The long-term effects though, it does work, I really am working towards getting better.

I’m not better, I’m not even all that close to being better, but I’m getting there and I’m working on it and I just really need the time and the freedom and the support to do so.  And that leads me to the post I had every intention of writing with this and is now clearly going to be my next post, which will be posted tomorrow.

RS.

Permanent Reminders

My body is a minefield, a map of memories and hurt and pain.  I can’t look at my own body, I can’t even let myself connect with my body without that pain coming to the surface.  It’s so often assumed that the pain of exited women is all mental and emotional, which a good chunk of it definitely is, but similarly to other survivors, we also have to live with the, often permanent, physical ramifications of trauma.

Living with these permanent reminders is one of the hardest things for me.  Each time my knees give way or suffer a particularly violent shot of pain, I’m reminded of exactly how they were broken, exactly what caused them to be so weak and left me needing regular physio.  Same when I suffer a migraine or a fibro. flare-up or when my shoulders are especially painful.  I was naive to think that the pain would stop upon exiting.

In a lot of ways, I’m lucky.  My body isn’t quite as much of a mess as it should be, considering what it’s been through, but living with those permanent reminders, whether they be physical scars or pain or old injuries flaring up gets harder and harder each day.  And it’s not just the direct results of trauma, it’s the indirect results too – it’s the fibro., the migraines, the UTI’s, the IBS and possibly even the asthma.

Studies show that all the above conditions, as well as many others, have very, very strong links to trauma.  That the body holds just as much trauma as the mind does and it doesn’t respond to it overly well.  Between the physical remains and the chronic conditions, my body is constantly trying to remind me of the trauma I went through and whilst it’s vaguely possible to escape your own body with dissociation, it’s not always.  I can never escape the pain and trauma of prostitution.

It’s hard enough living with the mental effects of trauma, but having to live with the permanent physical reminders just makes life so much harder.  I can’t even walk without being reminded of what they did to me.  I can’t lift up a cup of coffee without risking dropping it from nerve damage.  I can’t lift my shoulder too high because of an old dislocation.

And I’m not the only one.  Whether it’s a direct result of injuries, old scars or the chronic health conditions that we’re left with as a result of trauma, I’m not the only exited woman to live with constant reminders, constant pain.  It’s not just the emotional and mental aftermath we have to deal with, it’s the physical, too.

So often survivors, and especially exited women (because it’s just a ‘choice’ and therefore can’t possibly be traumatic) are told to just ‘get over it’, to just ‘forget it’.  But we’re not just fighting the emotional aftermath, it’s the physical, too.

And that’s not even considering the effect that the physical aftermath has on our emotional states.  Besides the sheer levels of dissociation we have to reach to distance ourselves from our bodies and thus the pain, we also have to deal with the associated depression, memories of trauma, shame and humiliation, deal with the crap people with invisible disabilities deal with and deal with the extreme levels of body hating that exited women are able to reach.  Whether we respond to this body hating with self-harm, starving ourselves, binge eating, purging, over-exercise, body modifications, hiding our bodies with big, baggy clothes, dissociation or any other numerous responses, the root cause is still the same – hatred of our own bodies.  And can you blame us, can you blame us for hating our own bodies so much?  Our bodies were the source of our trauma, the vessel, the ‘thing’ it happened to.  And then it feels the need to remind us of that trauma each and every single day with the pain and the scars and the injuries and the body memories.  Of course we want to dissociate right out of our bodies, of course we want to destroy our bodies, change our bodies, take control over our own bodies.  Just anything, anything to make the pain of trauma finally stop – even if it takes years and years and years after trauma for it to finally stop – and with the ever lingering fear that it never, never will.

(Please note, I’ve been too ill – I’ve ironically had migraines all week whilst writing this post -to actually read the links provided above in full, but they show a relationship between the mentioned conditions and a history of trauma.)

RadSurvivor.