Shame has a crushing feel to it. I think to those that have felt or continue to feel shame, it’s suddenly having a spot light aimed on you. It’s the turning of your stomach, like a cement truck, endlessly twisting what’s inside. Shame is that instant jerk of my head, so as not to force another person to have to look me in the eyes. It’s the belief that I am damaged goods, and everyone knows it.
Shame is a burden I have carried most of my life. It seems to come with the territory of being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. It wasn’t something I identified as a consequence of the abuse. Growing up, I didn’t know life without it. I felt like I walked around with a neon, flashing light on my forehead that said, “Don’t look, I’m gross.”
Shame is still present in my life. It doesn’t consume me, but becomes an occasional reckoning force. Nothing turns that spotlight on as bright as talking about being a mother suffering with depression and suicidal ideations.
When people talk about suicide, it often lacks an empathetic tone. I don’t fault people for this. It’s not my wish that anyone should feel a pit so deep in their soul, that they crave to feel nothing at all instead.
I’ve been in many conversations where the word “selfish” has been used to describe someone’s decision to attempt and/or succeed at suicide. People say things like, “He has a good life – why can’t he just see that?” Believe me, he can. That’s what makes the coat of shame so thick. In spite of everything he may have – family, money, love – his brain will win every time.
I used to immediately slouch my shoulders and look away from others when the topic of mental illness or sexual abuse would come up. I would feel as if I was burdening others to know they were talking about me. The secret that I am that tainted person, may upset them, so best to just sink in to the pavement.
Shame makes you feel like it is not your choice whether or not you can openly talk about what was done to you, or what was etched in to your DNA. I never felt like I was allowed to let anyone know that I genuinely have felt like suicide was an option. I didn’t know how to not put someone else’s comfort level above my own.
I’ve learned though, that drawing attention to the fact that I can empathetically talk about the subject of depression and abuse actually heals me. Discussing it, has become one of the most effective tools I own. I can help control the conversation when I use the unfortunate knowledge I have, and steer it in a productive way.
It doesn’t come without a strong pull on my chin to look at the ground when I actually do join a conversation. I try my best to fight it. Ridding myself of shame has been like strengthening a muscle inside me. Every time I refuse to look at the ground, instead keeping eye contact, as I confidently discuss a first hand knowledge of something our society sees as taboo, that muscle strengthens.
People talk about fighting stigma but go about combatting it in a processed, packaged way. The stigma exists because of the shame. Lets start accepting that to be worrisome or embarrassed over what you can control, is to be ashamed. Feeling shamed, is what happens when something is done to you. One is always without choice. Understanding the difference is critical and can in fact save lives.
I’ve spoke about being a one in three statistic before. Being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse isn’t something that you file away somewhere and dispose of the negative affects. In time, I’ve learned how to manage the unwanted flash photos and broken record moments that plague my mind but it still, and probably always will, influence how I think about things. I can’t help but feel I’m being disingenuous if I didn’t admit the origin of some of my thoughts that occur because of that experience.
I’m sitting here, trying to write about a topic that I sort-of, kind-of know what I want to say about and an ASPCA commercial, high on drama and Sarah McLaughlin, comes on the tv. I rolled my eyes. Not because I don’t feel for stray, hungry, abused little pups but because it’s odd to me to see a campaign so heavily supported regarding our pets but nothing of that level or even close is done about the one in threes that are right in front of us. The younger me’s that are disregarded.
Could you imagine, and why aren’t there, commercials that show children who are hit, neglected, raped? Ugh … it’s hard to even type those words let alone consider the need to watch something like that. In comparison though, it just seems odd that we can stomach one televised version of neglect and abuse but not another. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m too close to the issue or just because I’m simply human.
A study conducted in 1986 found that 63% of women who had suffered sexual abuse by a family member also reported a rape or attempted rape after the age of 14. Recent studies in 2000, 2002, and 2005 have all concluded similar results. This is reflective of a breech of trust. A misrepresentation of value. How is a child, a being that is in the midst of learning the value of trust and love, suppose to value any part of her mind or body when a person that is recognizably a part in teaching her those values, violates and negates the ethics being “taught”. Like respect. If a girl or boy is taught to disrespect his or her body by it being disrespected against, they will certainly fall victim to those that are inflicted with the need to perpetrate them. It’s a toxic cycle that I can’t understand how has fallen so far off the radar.
The affects of the epidemic that is sexual abuse are basically ignored. People shake their heads and say things like, “Pedophiles should be hung by their balls” and “How could anyone do that to a child” but the truth of the matter is the people that violate children get a minimal punishment and very little, if any, psychotherapy to address why this perpetration happened in the first place. No one wakes up one day and decides to be the kind of person to violate a child. That kind of dysfunction is bred from somewhere. I’m not making excuses for an abuser or placing direction of blame by any means. I’m just saying that the identifiable parts we have come to know as a convicted sex offender are ignored almost as much as the invisible scars that they leave behind. And that is part of the problem.
I previously worked in a community that is plagued with sexual offenders, most of which are level 3s. When you look this particular city up on the convicted sex offender registry, it is hard to differentiate how many actually exist in one single area because there are so many red dots. I’m not exaggerating…click here. But lets not talk about that because it makes our skin crawl.
Why don’t wesee the sort of magnitude of awareness around the issue of childhood sexual abuse that we see regarding neglective/abusive pet ownership? Is it a cultural lack of value for the well being of children? Is it a higher empathetic nature for animals over children? I can’t believe that. It feels ridiculous even suggesting it. Is it because it is just simply too hard to recognize that perpetrators are both the skeevy alcoholic, dirtbag you see within your own circle of friends and/or acquaintances and the “upstanding” members of our communities that go to church on Sunday and hold higher education degrees? I really don’t know.
We will sit through and absorb commercials that list things like “loose stool” and “oily gas” or “nipple leakage” as a side effect to something that is suppose to make us feel better but we wouldn’t be able to sit through a 30 second block of time that gives us the warning signs of a child that is being sexually abused. They are far less disgusting. A list would probably read like this:
low self esteem
possibly engages in self harm
prone to depressive symptoms such as crying spells, abnormal mood swings, thoughts or attempts of suicide
experiences violent outbursts
That’s not a list I pulled off of Wikipedia (I resisted the urge), just my own educated guesses.
We are bombarded with visually stimulating charity requests for children with cancer and rightfully so. I’m not disregarding the epic need to find a cure for a life depriving disease such as cancer. I’m just wondering why the epic failure to recognize the lasting affects of sexual abuse with such compassion and vigor. PTSD is a cancer on the mind if you ask me. I don’t know why that is so hard to understand. I just don’t get why there is such a lack of response and outrage to something that could be prevented if we would just admit it exists.
If anyone needs big pockets and/or grass root efforts to help fill a need, it is the local mental health clinics and those that work in the communities to support mental health services. The additional social workers these places need to address the “side effects” of abuse is astounding. It is an epidemic in this country that is evaded mostly due to the population that is predominately conflicted. This population contributes less financially to the economy and votes less.
We are visual people and I understand marketing enough to know the visual effect trumps all. It’s pretty hard to profit off of damage you can’t see. That’s the thing with sexual abuse. There are usually no visual effects. No heart wrenching physical scars. No observable damage. The damage lives and wrecks havoc inside of you. And the small amount of people that devote their lives to verbally bandaging those wounds are not supported enough.
I have worked with wounded adults. By the time I, as a mental health Intensive Case Manager, entered their lives’, the damage had been done and it was my job to assist them in adapting to it. There are far too few people to accommodate the need to prevent the children from getting to the point that I helped manage as adults. It’s senseless really. The enemy and the environment that breeds them could become so easily recognizable. But the opportunity to expose it just isn’t. Because it makes people uncomfortable. How disgusting is that?
I didn’t tell my story for nothing. It is a part of my being. It needs to be acknowledged to understand other perspectives I share. I will from time to time talk about this topic. It’s not easy and it’s next to impossible to put a humorous twist on. But for me, putting it out there initially has shed the shame in talking about it openly. I feel like if I have a thought that derives solely because of that major and unfortunate experience in my life, than I need to speak up.
My truth about struggling with depression and being a mom is not pretty. It’s not a feel good story. It’s a story that continues to evolve.
My depression started at a young age. As a child, I was exposed to a type of environment where my predisposed genes didn’t have a fighting chance to stay hidden. I was never put in treatment and I don’t believe it was even recognized by the adults around me. It wasn’t until I was in my late teens/early 20’s that even I recognized it.
My depression was masked a lot in my 20’s by numbing myself with alcohol. A shitty day just meant I really needed to get drunk. If I look back at my 20’s, I was a damn good functioning alcoholic that balanced school, work and partying quite well. Until I didn’t.
Around my mid to late 20’s, the effects of the depression became harder and harder to bury or ignore. It was like anything in life, you can only bury your demons for so long and then boom. I started to have bad weeks instead of days. I wanted nothing to do with anyone, including myself. I finally gave in and began taking an anti-depressant in conjunction with psychotherapy. It worked for the time being.
I began working in the field of mental health after graduating college. Do what you know right? Being the one who evaluated countless people in the ER, I knew the lingo and the symptoms that usually led to an admission on the mental health unit, a place where I also worked. This created so much internal conflict for me. I loved what I did and was good at it because I could truly empathize. But it also created a lot of fear in regards to dealing with my own struggles. I couldn’t even be completely honest with my therapist because I was scared that if I admitted to certain things such as having suicidal thoughts and any sort of plan, I would be seen as a safety risk. I couldn’t let myself fall in to the broken mental health system, even as broken as I was. So I continued to work harder at dancing around my symptoms instead of trudging through the heartache of admitting to myself or even a professional what was really going on in my own head.
I was so angry. I lashed out at complete strangers. I fell apart over spilled milk. My work became impossible because everything triggered me. The individual’s stories became too difficult to hear and I was no longer helping anyone, especially myself. I literally fell to pieces. I thankfully had a primary care doctor at the time that was more than just a normal doctor. I trusted her so I went to her office in the middle of the day during work. I could not pull myself together and I didn’t really have an explanation as to why. She took me out of work for the next few days. I called my husband, scared to death what he would think and say. He, being the man that he is, told me not to worry about anything and to just take care of myself. I went home and went to bed. I didn’t get up for three days. When I did I felt better but knew I was right back where I had been before. It was time to start taking medication again and get back in to therapy.
Shortly after that, at the age of 27, I got pregnant. Although I wasn’t a lover of being pregnant, I have to say I was never happier. The boost of hormones were fabulous and I felt great. And then the third trimester happened. I plummeted. I hated myself because how could I be so awfully sad about and ungrateful for the life inside me. I hated that I hated myself. I felt bad for feeling bad.
After my daughter was born, I had the normal baby blues but thankfully it passed and within a few weeks I had fallen in love with my little girl. But then something flipped that switch. The switch that I have learned I have no control over. I became numb, her needs became overwhelming. I became an auto pilot mom. I did what I needed to do but that was about it. This wasn’t the normal, over tired, overwhelmed, new mom effect. This was joyless motions. It was feeling like a failure with every action. This was irrational. I can remember thinking what a piece of shit I was that I wasn’t happy about my beautiful life. To me, at that time, nothing was beautiful.
I reached a point where suicide seemed like a valid solution. I was just existing anyway. I wasn’t bringing anything good to the world around me, including the people in it, so what was the fucking point. I cried so hard when no one was looking. I couldn’t look in mirrors because I hated what I saw. It is a scary and very lonely place to be. I felt like I was different than every person/woman/mom around me. I didn’t dare admit to having suicidal thoughts to anyone, even my husband. What kind of mother or wife am I if I admit to feeling like I need to leave him and my children.
I don’t know how I got through that particular rough patch if I am being honest. But time went on and I survived. My relationship had good days and bad days. On the bad days, I just knew my husband was going to leave me and I didn’t blame him. Who wants to live with someone that can’t seem to get her shit together and falls apart or blows up when the wind blows to the east. I tried so hard. I would take medicine for a while, stabilize and then go off of it because I felt like I had it under control. Which is madness in itself. I was the one encouraging people to take their meds with over used scripts like “if you had diabetes you wouldn’t not take your meds, well depression is no different”. I was actually fighting everyone elses battles, with a vengeance, to help erase their pain and the stigma of living with a mental illness, but yet couldn’t take my own advice.
After my second child was born, I was on a high fueled with love and what felt like a completion of my family. I chose not to take medicine with both of my pregnancies and have yet to go back on them since having my son, who is now 15 mths old. I’m starting to feel the need and see the signs again. I hate it. I hate that I need a pill to be of sound mind but I’ve ridden this roller coaster long enough to know how dangerous it can be with out it.
It seems like my depression has gotten more intense after each of my children have been born. I don’t know why. Maybe it is the added stress or the changes to my body’s chemistry. Even though I am able to recognize that funk that seems to cling to me when I am sliding down hill, I can’t prevent it. I have days where I busy the kids with some sort of something so that I can cry in another room where they don’t see me and ask questions. I feel so unworthy of my children’s forgiving love some days.
It’s not everyday or even every other week but I still have times when I question why I should continue with this misery. It is insanely disabling to be in a place where you believe in your heart that a life without a Mom is better than a life with a Mom like me. I say that with tears in my eyes because I know the damage of both. My Mom was in and out of my life because of her mental illness and when she finally got on a healthier path mentally, she died of a physical illness.
People that say suicide is selfish are right. It is. However, for the person contemplating it or living with pain so great that it is seen as a reasonal option, it feels as if it is more of a gift. A blessing to others. Because now the people surrounding you no longer have to feel the effects of your broken being. This has been my truth for so long.
I would like to say that I have overcome and gotten through the worst of it, but I know better now. I have; however, come to terms with what this debilitating disease is capable of and am much more likely to ask for help when I need it. One of the best things a therapist ever said to me was to question whether or not how I am feeling is rational. If I can’t explain why I am feeling so sad or angry or worthless then it’s time to take better care of myself. And that doesn’t mean a day at the spa. I fucking hate it when people say “well make sure you are taking time for yourself. Go get a massage”. That is a band aid and if you suggest it you need to better educate yourself. Taking better care of myself really means to admit to myself and those closest around me that I need an ear, support, a break, compassion and/or a shoulder.
There are all these stigmas attached to women with children that admit to having depression. A big part of that is because of what is portrayed in the media but also because of the lack of education around mental illness as a whole. So here, let me clear up a few. No, I have never had thoughts to hurt my children (in a psychosis kind of way). Yes, I am fit to raise my children, even on a bad day. Yes, my kids friends are safe at my house, I have depression, I’m not neglectful. Please don’t ask me how I am doing with a sad, overly concerned look on your face. I know what you are really asking and it’s condescending and annoying. No I don’t “check out” on my kids. I may not be the lively, playful mother every day of the week but I’m not hiding in my room while they run loose and mold themselves in to psychopaths either. Yes, I have bad days that are just that – a bad day. And guess what, I am entitled to those. If I flip someone off or cry over a commercial, it’s more than likely due to my hot head or exceptionally thin skin, not my diagnosis. Yes, I have good days and no, I’m not pretending to be happy. I am a genuinely happy person by nature. And here is a big one. Please take note of this one because it is the worst thing you could ever say to someone like me. Don’t ever assume that a person can “snap out of it”. It’s impossible and you’re being naïve and downright hateful if you think ANYONE would choose to feel the way I have attempted to describe.
Depression looks different to everyone that suffers from it. However, I have learned through personal and professional experience that those that live with it have one thing in common – loneliness. I wish people talked candidly about it. I wish women felt more comfortable and less shame about admitting these type of thoughts and feelings. I just hope that by sharing my story, someone will feel less alone and less shameful.