The following does not contain any accounts of emotional, mental or physical abuse.
I’ve never experienced any kind of trauma.
Or at least I thought I hadn’t. My first session with the hearing voices psychologist has changed my perspective somewhat. We discussed what might have caused the voices, and the long and short of it is, that while I have never been subject to any mental or physical abuse, the mood swings in themselves were traumatic.
I’m in two minds about this. On the one had I feel like it belittles the experiences of those who have experienced true trauma. What are a few (albeit extreme) mood swings compared to the kinds of trauma others have experienced? On the other hand, this is the only explanation I’ve ever had for the voices and delusions that isn’t “oh it’s just psychosis.” Because surely psychosis must have triggers outside of chemical and structural brain changes. It’s refreshing to have someone look at my childhood and teens rather than just my history of mental illness.
No one has asked me about my childhood very much, although this could be partially my fault as I’ve always described it as “idyllic”. Because it was! There was no abuse, there wasn’t even neglect. Both my parents gave us, somehow, the amount of attention we needed and no more – we weren’t helicopter parented. They both worked full time but when they were home we played games with them, or were allowed to play on our own, depending on how we felt. By “we” I mean me and my sister. I remember bad things happening, like getting in trouble at school, or arguing with friends. It was by no means absolutely perfect, but it was normal, and that, I think, is the important part.
Those early mood swings were traumatic in their own way. I didn’t understand what was happening, I didn’t realise what was happening until it was too late and I was already batshit. I was around 15 when they started. I remember not wanting to be around people, having a low mood, being anxious about people reading my thoughts – I remember yelling at my best friend for commiting this latter offence. I was depressed basically, but completely unaware of the name for what was happening to me, and that this was something that happened to a lot of people. I just thought I was breaking. Then I remember those highs, short to begin with, perhaps only a few days, before they gradually extended to what they are now – months without medical intervention. I remember trying to mumify my tongue (without embalming fluid), and writing musicals about geckos in science lessons. Maybe not too extreme, but given my personality at the time was very introverted and quiet, this was very unlike me. My friends used to say I would get high on air. So I didn’t understand what was happening. There was no one to talk to because no one else seemed to be going through quite the same thing as me. I mean, sure we were all teenagers, but the one or two times I did talk to a friend, they didn’t understand. Of course I’d never wish this on any of them, so in a way I’m glad they didn’t understand. After the mood swing left I had to mop up the pieces.
I think this is something I’d like to look at more with the psychologist – why do I hear voices that are not, say, an abuser? That would be more understandable. These are voices who don’t seem to exist in the world other people experience, these are voices who have no basis in my past. They seem so external – it’s hard to understand that something in my brain created them. I could posit ideas, perhaps one is me giving me my own advice but has got warped with the chemical imbalance, perhaps the second is the part of me with low confidence that constantly argues, perhaps the last is the part of me that tries to push me harder. I feel like they’re there to help me, and sometimes they do. But when they’re not there, when I’m well, I realise they weren’t helping. Beachy Head wasn’t a good idea in the summer, it nearly got me sectioned but it seemed like the exact right thing to do at the time. I suppose again, this is traumatic in itself. Maybe it’s a never ending cycle.
Right now the voices are telling me to kill myself. I’ve told them it’s my decision and right now I’m too scared to kill myself. Too scared of failing, too scared for those I’ll leave behind. I told the psychologist that the voices were telling me to get out of the building, that I needed to leave and hide somewhere safe. I told her it wasn’t her they were having a problem with but the building itself (the CMHT HQ) and who might be in there (MI:5 and the police). She said it was very kind of me to reassure her that it wasn’t her, and that I was a very kind person. This is very important to me. Being kind is quite an integral part of who I am – I like my friends and family to be happy and a big part of that is being kind to them. I appreciated her saying this – a boost to the ego just when my mood is down and could do with a shot of self-confidence.
So maybe this is all something to explore next week. I have to say, it was a bit of a shock – I’d really never thought of trauma like this. It’s made me reevaluate my perspective. I’m still hung up on “it’s not really trauma”, because it’s nothing like others have experienced in that it’s not verbal, physical, or emotional. There was no abuser. I really am concious of undervaluing the experience of others. That’s not the right word, but you know what I mean.
Can mental illness itself be traumatic?