As I navigate my way through mental health issues which have plagued me almost my entire life, one question I often get asked by those who are brave enough to ignore the stigma related to mental illness is "Why? Why do you have anxiety, depression, and an eating disorder?" For many years, I suspected the reason for which my heart clenched in pain and my breath would suddenly trap in the back of my throat; but I had never shared it. With anyone. Ever. Until May, 2013.
That was the day I sat down with a friend who was finding my recent behaviour erratic and my morale so low that for the first time in 35 years I, myself, was finally able to recognize that my constant sadness and my unshakable worthlessness were more than from a few bad days. As we sat in her sunroom, the heat warming my skin while my heart sunk with dread, I finally told another person about the man who had sexually abused me before I even knew how to write my ABCs.
Once my family physician started me on antidepressants and antianxiety meds, and an entire team of health professionals began deciding upon the 'hows' and the 'whens' of my recovery; my weekly visits with registered psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and counsellors had me sitting in their respective offices, my feet pulled up under me, a box of tissue perched on my knees, as I recited to each person what had been done to me 40 years ago.
Even though I kept the details vague and the account of the abuse brief, each professional gave me a synopsis of why I was suddenly experiencing flashbacks, but each of them also expressed their belief that the sexual abuse was best left tucked away in the recesses of my psyche. It was unanimously decided that no good could come of rehashing and reliving the trauma since the overwhelming pain would only serve to fuel my mental disorders by clouding good decisions with the vivid imagery of a good girl lost.
Sadly, the flagrant discussion by those of us who have lost our innocence at the hands of vile, venomous perpetrators only seems to occur among survivors of childhood sexual abuse. The rest of the world prefers the "See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil" method of coping, while those of us who have endured years of shame, and countless physiological and psychological repercussions due to our ordeal must pretend nothing happened, and/or not talk about it lest we make others feel uneasy and uncomfortable about a topic that is very real in our society, and unfortunately, one of the main causes of most mental illnesses.
This is not to say that all mental health professionals brush the topic of sexual abuse aside in lieu of painting a pretty picture. In Winnipeg, such organizations as The Laurel Centre specifically provides counselling for women recovering from childhood sexual abuse. But for me, these past seven months have been spent with professionals who not only displayed their discomfort at the mention of sexual abuse, but even verbalized the necessity to move forward without dragging the past into the future.
Blame cannot be placed on any one person or profession since society as a whole makes childhood sexual abuse a dirty little secret; a taboo not to be spoken of by victims or experts, and as such it remains a secret which, after all my years of living with this burden, still only serves to protect the offenders and the sensibilities of those who prefer to ignore the ugliness which permeates a large percentage of those suffering from mental illnesses.
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