I have vivid memories from very young ages of freezing in response to stress.

I remember staying at my Nana’s house while my parents were away.  One time she got sick.  It was just her and I in the house together.  She was in the bathroom upstairs throwing up loudly. I was terrified and I hid under the dinning room table.  I remember just being frozen there and being afraid.  I don’t remember anything before or after.

Pretty much my whole life since then I’ve had a phobia and very strong panic reactions when I hear other people throwing up.  Even watching it on TV bothers me.  I did get over it to a certain extent when my kids were young, but it still makes me irrationally afraid.  Even though I know intellectually that there is nothing to be afraid of, a part of me is still that little child, hiding under the table, not understanding what was happening to her Nana, or if she was okay.

Another time I was visiting extended family.  I was about 5 years old.  My Aunt and Uncle were going through a separation and he was abusive.  I remember standing on the landing of their house.  I remember hearing yelling and standing there frozen and afraid.   As with the first memory, I don’t remember much before or after.  I don’t really remember their house, I only remember the landing of the staircase.

I went to a school in a fairly central part of town for Grade 1-4.  My first experience with sexual abuse happened at that school.  It was either spring of Grade 1 or fall of Grade 2.  I know because the grass was still green and I wasn’t wearing a coat.  My best friend S and I were playing imagination games together as we usually did at recess.  We used to imagine we were characters from books we’d read.  Her favourite was Anne of Green Gables.  At that time mine was Laura Ingells Wilder from the Little House series.   We had vivid imaginations and we became the characters from the books we read.

The school had a massive play yard with different sections.  Part of the yard was a large L shaped field, the furthest away from the school, pavement and climbers.  The yard monitors rarely strayed far from the pavement and climbers.   S and I were right at the edge of the yard, by the fence.  There was a small grassy hill there and on the other side of the fence was a place large enough to park a few cars.  We could see the main road just on the other side of that parking space.

S and I were playing, deep in our imagination that day.  I remember it being warm and sunny and there were dandelions outside.  Suddenly a car pulled up parallel to the chain link fence.  It was a four door sedan, I think it was burgandy or dark brown.  The door of the car opened and a man stepped out.   He was white and had dark curly hair.  I think he was wearing jeans.  The man walked up to the fence, about 4 metres down from where we were sitting on the grassy hill.  There was some weeds and tall grass on his side of the fence, the parking area was unused and mainly abandoned.

I didn’t fully understand what happened next until I was much older.  And I certainly had no idea what it meant.  What I do remember is that I was afraid and I froze.  I think we both froze.

The dark haired man undid his belt, unzipped his pants and started touching himself.   His eyes were fixed on us, staring at us with a strange look on his face.  It wasn’t a look I recognized, or one I liked.   This was a stranger, the type of stranger our parents had warned us about, but we didn’t know what to do other than wait silently.

When the man finished, he zipped up his pants, did up his belt and walked over to his car.  He looked at us the entire time.  The car was parked parallel to where we were playing.  He got into the car and he rolled down the window.  It was the 1980s and he had to crank it open.  The car started, but before he drove away he looked at us one last time.  His hands made the shape of a camera in front of his face, one finger clicking the imaginary button.  It felt like he had captured us.  Captured a part of us for himself, and I knew that it wasn’t right.  I felt dirty and afraid.

As soon as the car pulled away the spell was broken.  S and I ran back to the paved area and to safety.  I don’t remember what happened after.  I don’t remember ever speaking to her about what happened.

What happened next?  S went home and told her mother who called the school.  The school sent home a note saying to be alert for a suspicious person and the description was there.

To be honest I don’t remember talking about it to anyone.  I don’t remember anyone talking to me.  I don’t know if I did talk to someone and I just don’t remember, but I’m almost positive I didn’t tell my parents.

Even at the age of 6 or 7 I felt ashamed and I felt I had done something wrong.  Maybe we shouldn’t have been playing there, so far away from the other kids.  Maybe we would be the ones to get in trouble.

S and I talked about this a few years ago.  It turns out she wrote a story about it at one point in her adult life.  It comforted me to know that she still remembered and that it had impacted her too.

It feels strange to write about this now, something that happened nearly 30 years ago.  What I find interesting is that my tendency to freeze as a way of coping was formed early in my life.  When I was abused as a teenager and an adult I coped in the very same way.  The first time I actually fought back physically I was 33 years old.

I don’t know exactly what makes some people fight, some people flee and some people just freeze.  I don’t know what was different about S and I, that she went home and told her mother and I don’t remember telling anyone.   This was a pattern that continued later in my life as well.  I just didn’t tell.  I froze,  I blamed myself, and I stayed silent.

Part of writing this blog is about breaking that silence.  I want other people to know they are not alone.  That they didn’t do anything wrong, even if they didn’t fight back or ask for help.

We all did the best we could to survive.

Robbery and Sexual Assault


If someone robs your house and steals everything you own, you feel unsafe, violated and on high alert for future thefts.

If someone breaks into your house everyday and steals just one CD, you feel unsafe, violated and on high alert for future thefts.

In either case, someone is inside your house without your consent and taking something belonging to you without asking.

Sexual violence is like having your house broken into.

When I was raped, I felt unsafe, violated and on high alert for future violence.

When I was touched sexually without my consent I felt unsafe, violated and on high alert for future violence.

When I was looked at sexually without my consent I felt unsafe, violated and on high alert for future violence.

Whether the perpetrator was forcing sex without my consent or just touching me when I was asleep, the impact was the same.  Something was being taken from me without my consent.  I wasn’t freely participating so it was assault, not sex.

Sexual violence impacts survivors, it doesn’t have to be rape to impact you.

I want to break down the myth that certain types of sexual violence are “more serious” than others.  All sexual violence is happening without consent, and when something happens to your body without consent it can have a major impact.

I’ve experienced the spectrum of violence, from voyeurism, to touching without consent, to forced intercourse.  It’s just not true that the rape was always the worst.  What was the worst was not knowing if my house was going to be broken into that night or not.  Not how much was stolen during the break in.

During my marriage the sexual assault took place when I was drugged and asleep.  There was no ability to provide consent.  In fact, I often said no while I was awake.  Sometimes I said no again when I woke up, sometimes I didn’t.

If you don’t say no, it does not mean you consented.  There are many reasons why someone might not say no.  They might be drugged or intoxicated, they might be too afraid, they might disassociate or freeze as a response to the trauma or they might have learned through repeated experience that saying no is not effective, or provokes further violence.

I was impacted by all the violence I experienced.   And the impact built and multiplied together.  It wasn’t any one incident that caused me to have PTSD, or made me feel unsafe, it was a collection of experiences that took place over a number of years.   Except for in one case, I knew all the perpetrators.   Except for one of those, I had contact with all of them after the abuse.  They were friends, dates, boyfriends and my husband.  The fact that I had contact with them does not mean I consented.  In some cases it takes time to end a relationship with an abuser.  There can be further risks for women in the period when they are leaving, the violence can escalate and the abuser can become more unpredictable.  The abuser senses they are losing control and they tighten and increase their efforts to control the survivor.

I was abused multiple times and I never screamed.  I never really physically fought back except in one instance.   This does not mean I consented.  There were reasons why I didn’t fight back.  I was ashamed, I was scared, I froze…my kids were in the room next door, I was afraid of further violence.

All the assaults that happened to me except one, happened in places I knew, my home, their home, school etc.   If you go with someone to a location it does not mean you are consenting to sex.  Most violence happens in places and with people known to the survivor, it is a  myth that the most dangerous place is walking down a dark street at night.

No matter how your house was broken into and what was stolen, even if nothing was stolen, your experience is valid.  No matter where on the spectrum your assault falls, your experience is valid.  Your coping reactions and what you did to survive are all valid too.

I believe you.  I hope you believe yourself.   I hope that the thefts stop or have stopped.  You deserve to be safe.  Without consent, it is assault.


I don’t care if it hurts, I want to have control…


20160522_220818[1]“I don’t care if it hurts, I want to have control,  I want a perfect body, I want a perfect soul”


One of the worst parts of living with anorexia is also the part that is the most difficult for others to understand.  Body dysphoria or distorted body image.

In the context of an eating disorder, and in my own case, this basically means that I’m never really sure if I’m seeing my body accurately or not.  When I look in the mirror sometimes I see a lot of things I don’t like.  I don’t like the majority of the middle of my body for example.  Lots of people can relate to that.  But for me what I see in the mirror can sometimes change dramatically from one day to the next.  Sometimes I look at myself and I can see the parts of me that are slim, sometimes thin even.  But when I’m stressed, upset or triggered I see myself as big…too big…taking up too much space.  I hate the way certain parts of my body look and feel.  I get upset at the feeling of clothing touching my body and I sometimes have to change my clothes a few times in the morning before I feel okay to go out.

It’s important to know that 90% of this is not about how I look to other people.  It’s not about vanity.  It’s not about wanting to look like a model in a magazine or an actress on TV.  It’s not a life style choice.  It’s not a choice, period.

Distorted body image and body dysphoria are symptoms of many eating disorders.  Eating disorders are medical illnesses.  You don’t have to “look sick” or be extremely thin to be medically at risk from an eating disorder.

Sometimes I want to scream because if I could get rid of Ana and live a “normal life” around food my days would look very different.  I don’t want to waste even one more minute obsessing about my fat stomach, or how much I should or shouldn’t eat.

I’ll tell you something about Ana…she is a total bitch.  She is also incredibly boring.  Probably the most boring person I’ve ever met.  Ana is abusive too.

Who is Ana?  She is my eating disorder.  I personify her and I experience or imagine her as a young girl, maybe about 15 years old, with dark hair and pale skin.  She never looks happy and she is never satisfied.  She’s often full of rage and full of anger and she seems to want to destroy the both of us.

Ana talks to me like this:

“Your stomach is fat. You are out of control.  You are so disgusting. You don’t even deserve to be alive.  You probably shouldn’t eat very much because it’s the only way you will feel better.”

Ana lies. Ana is cruel.  I’ve been living with her for almost 20 years now and she rarely gives me much of a break.

Because of Ana I have a hard time remembering what it is like to eat and feel relaxed, just enjoying the flavours.  I have a hard time imagining eating without obsessive thoughts and rituals.  Ana has this idea that by controlling food and controlling the size of our body she will solve all our problems and make us feel in control and safe.

Ana wants to be safe more than anything.  Unfortunately, she is young and she doesn’t know that controlling food makes her MORE at risk, more vulnerable and certainly more unhappy.

If I could live one day without Ana…

  1. I would get SO much done.  I’d have more energy because I’d be eating more regularly and more healthfully.
  2. I’d be able to actually concentrate because my body would have all the energy it needs AND my mind would be de-cluttered and not distracted by obsessive thoughts about food and weight
  3. I’d be able to relax and enjoy social time.  Until you live with Ana you never realize how much of society centers around food
  4. Did I mention how much more energy I would have?  Listening to, or fighting off Ana’s abusive inner monologue takes so many spoons.  It leaves me exhausted and on bad days depressed and hopeless

But even knowing all this intellectually, I have a hard time letting Ana go.  She does sort of keep me company, and she does sometimes give me the illusion that by controlling food, I’m controlling my life and managing overwhelming problems.

At the end of the day the truth is that Ana was born during the time I was being abused as a teenager.  Ana promised me things, and she deceived me into thinking that if I was smaller and took up less space I’d be safer.  But I wasn’t safe, I almost died.  And then when I was in imperfect recovery, I was abused again and again.

Ana doesn’t keep me safe.  Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, especially among young woman.  They aren’t a choice and they do destroy lives.

I hope one day Ana will leave me alone.  I hope I will be able to look in the mirror and like what I see.  I hope  I will be able to eat without fear and guilt.  I hope I will pick my clothing based on what I like and not what will allow me to tolerate the body distortions for that day.

I still have some hope that I will let Ana go, instead of fumbling along in imperfect anorexia recovery forever.

Please Believe me!


One of lasting impacts of experiencing abuse within the psychiatric system and oppression within the legal system, medical system, child protection system and police (mainly due to the combination of being a woman and having a psychiatric history),  is that I’m very sensitive to not being believed or not feeling believed.

Honestly, sometimes I feel like I spend the majority of my life just trying to justify my lived reality to other people.  Trying to convince professionals, friends, neighbours, family members and strangers that I am telling the truth.  It’s exhausting.

And even when people DO believe me, I have trouble trusting.  I get defensive when I even perceive that I might not be being believed, or that someone is challenging me on the facts of my own life.  Not being believed or not feeling believed are major triggers for me.  They bring me back to times in my life, during abuse, when the abusers did not believe that what they were doing was abuse.  It brings me back to times when health care professionals did not believe me about various things.  These triggers cause me to feel unsafe in the present moment.

Survivors of sexual violence spend a lot of time fighting to be believed.  Because “systems of oppression” (aka the medical, legal, police, CAS etc) exist within, and to maintain, rape culture, folks who speak out about experiencing violence are often viewed with suspicion.  There are a lot of myths out there about sexual violence and not a lot of people who see the facts.

The more marginalized a survivor is, the more likely it will be that she will face oppression within these oppressive systems.  Thus, systems which supposedly exist to serve justice are not applied equally to all folks.  Stigma based on mental health status is one form of oppression, perhaps it is a part of abelism, perhaps it is it’s own type of oppression.  But survivors who are women face the patriarchy, People of Colour and Indigenous folks face racism and colonialism, queer survivors face homophobia, trans survivors face transphobia, folks with disabilities face abelism, economically marginalized folks experience discrimation related to poverty, and some people, due to intersecting oppression, experience all of these things.

For me, the fact that there have been important times in my life where I was not believed, has impacted on my ability to feel safe in speaking my truth. I find myself constantly justifying myself and sadly sometimes even second guessing myself.

Maybe I am crazy.  Maybe I really did make things up.  Maybe I am really the abusive one.  Maybe I’m not a good parent.  Maybe I am seriously mentally ill…

The worst part of having survived emotional abuse and systemic abuse through the mental health care system is that I don’t even believe myself half the time.

I’m tired today.  I’m doing my best, but I don’t feel capable.  I’m working as hard as I can, but I feel like a failure.  But I feel vulnerable.  I feel very vulnerable.  I feel more alone than I technically am.  I had to justify myself too much this week and I let it get to me.

My advice to survivors is this:

You are the expert in your own life.  Be your own hero.  Believe yourself, you have no reason to lie. You can trust your memories.  You can trust your instincts and gut feelings, even if you have no memories.  You can trust your body. 

You don’t have to justify yourself to anyone.  No is a complete sentence.

I believe you.  I believe that this isn’t your fault.  I know that if you could do better you would do better.  Your best is enough.

You’ve washed your hands clean of this



I graduated from my undergraduate degree in June of 2003.  While I was completing my degree I took a number of classes taught by the same professor.  Let’s call him Professor L.  Towards the end of my degree and certainly over the summer that followed Professor L and I became friends.  I didn’t think much about it, I was engaged, clearly unavailable, he was my teacher.  We used to talk about ethics and academic topics.  I visited his house once or twice and he came for dinner with my finance and me at our house.  Over the summer I helped him with some research projects.   In the Fall he was out of town for a few months for work.  We would email back and forth.  He’d send me poetry.

I was 23 years old and he was 45, almost twice my age.  I was fairly naive and I overlooked some obvious red flags.

About a week before Christmas, December 2003, we had plans to meet and go shopping for Christmas gifts together.  He was back from his trip and we hadn’t seen each other in a while.  He came by my apartment to pick me up and when he arrived he said he was tired. He asked if he could come inside to rest for a few minutes.  I hesitated, I felt uncomfortable, I wasn’t sure…but I trusted this man I’d known for almost 4 years and I let him in.

Looking back on that day, I wish I had listened to my body’s signals and said no.

Professor L came inside and we sat on the couch in the living room.  He sat down very close beside me.  I felt nervous, anxious to go out and go shopping as we had planned.  It was the first time we’d been alone in my apartment together.

To be honest I don’t remember exactly what happened next.  I know he began stroking my arm.  He asked if he could see my scars, he asked me if I wanted him to touch the scars.  I still have flashbacks 13 years later if someone touches the scars on my arms or asks to touch them.

I was wearing a black long sleeved shirt, it was one of my favourites that I’d purchased on a trip to New York in 2002.  It was soft and beautiful.  After that day I shoved it in a drawer and I never wore it again.  I couldn’t bring myself to put it back on and eventually I donated it to charity, even though I still loved it I didn’t love the memories of him touching me while I wore it.

He was wearing a black scarf with gold flecks in it.  The gold made a design or pattern on the black scarf.  I remember staring at that scarf until the gold spots blurred together.  That scarf became the focus for my disassociation.

I didn’t say no. I didn’t say stop. I froze and I disassociated.  And I’m lucky because it could have been a lot worse, I could have been raped and I wouldn’t have resisted because I checked out.

I remember him stroking my arm and then touching my breasts.  I think he kissed me, but I mostly remember the touching.

I don’t know how much time went by, but at some point he realized that I was gone, that I wasn’t participating or responding, even when he spoke to me directly.  He got up and went to the bathroom.

I remember crying softly.  I don’t remember how much time went by, it seemed like hours but it probably was less than 20 minutes.  I sat curled up on the couch crying and unable to speak.  He spoke to me and tried to make things better and I didn’t respond.

Eventually I came back to reality and I asked him to leave.  He left.  I was so relieved.  I knew I’d been incredibly lucky to escape.  I was terrified knowing that I couldn’t have defended myself.  I felt like my body had betrayed me by disassociating rather than fighting back.

I couldn’t understand what had just happened? Why did he do this?  He knew I was in a serious relationship, I was 20 years younger than him, I never asked him to touch me, I didn’t invite him into the house…

I spoke to him by email.  I was crushed, I thought he was my friend, but I realized that I might have to end the friendship.  I asked him to take responsibility for what he had done.  I knew it was premeditated because he invited himself in.  But he wouldn’t admit it was planned.  A few months later I cut off contact with him because he was never accountable for assaulting me.

I remember going home for Christmas that year.  I was so triggered by what happened.  I remember crying.  I remember moving the bed in my room up against the wall so I would feel safer at night.

The worst part about what happened was that Professor L was the person I planned to use for reference letters to get jobs or to get into graduate school.  I hated the idea that I would have to ask him for a reference letter.  I felt like he would write a good letter only because he thought of me sexually.   It made me feel used and sick in ways I can’t even describe.

I went to the University and I told the academic counselor that I would need reference letters but I wasn’t comfortable contacting Professor L myself.  They were understanding but said that likely nothing could be done about his behaviour because I was no longer a student, so we were essentially just two adults.  That wasn’t entirely true because he still had power over me in terms of being my academic reference.

In 2008, I applied to go back to school for my Masters degree.  Professor L mailed the reference letter to me and I didn’t have to speak to him.  When I received the letter, I got immediately upset.  I remember leaving the house after the kids were asleep and walking to meet my friend.  I was holding the letter, crying and shaking, having flashbacks to the assault, just because I was touching a letter that he had also touched.  It was awful.  My friend helped me calm down and I was able to send the reference letter in.

I got into Grad school.  No thanks to Professor L.

Silence means no.



This will be a short post because I’ll be heading back to bed shortly.

Migraines and other chronic pain issues seem to overlap frequently with PTSD.

My migraines are genetic and heavily hormone related. I also have certain food triggers and stress is a factor, especially in the severity and duration of the migraine.

Basically for 10-14 days of the month my migraine threshold is lowered due to hormonal changes.  If during that time I also have a high amount of stress, I will be more likely to get severe migraines that last for multiple days without relief.  If I also eat certain things like caffeine, chocolate, red food dyes and artificial flavours or colours during that time…well…you get the idea.  It’s not a pretty picture.

If you have never experienced a migraine consider yourself lucky.  If you do live with migraines, you have my sympathy.

For me, migraines are much more than “just a headache.”  I get visual distortions and blurry vision in my right eye.  This makes it difficult to drive and difficult to focus.  I get a fog in my brain which makes it hard to think clearly (probably due to the severe pain).  I often get nausea and occasionally in the past even vomiting.  I become extremely sensitive to smells and the smells make me more nauseous and make the pain worse.  The worst smells are perfumes, peeling oranges, and coconut scented lotions or air freshners.  A random collection of scents, but things I can’t tolerate during a migraine.  Bright lights hurt my eyes and cause me to squint.  Loud noises and even vibrations will cause increased pain and sensory reactions.  During some migraines I also experience a lot of dizziness and sometimes shaking or general feelings of weakness.

But I don’t look sick and this happens on a regular basis so I can’t just put my life on hold, take day off or stop caring for my kids.  Sometimes I have to leave work early or ask for help with the kids, but the majority of the time I just keep on going.

I have had trouble getting treatment for my migraines for various reasons.  One of them is that because of my scars and my mental health history doctors don’t believe me.  They won’t prescribe me narcotics, even though pure codeine does help me with a severe migraine.  I’m always afraid to go to Emerg for pain relief because sometimes I will be believed and treated and other times ignored as a “drug seeker.”

The intersection between chronic pain and mental health stigma is real.  I also have a less common form of arthritis which took years to be properly diagnosed and treated because doctors blamed the pain on my depression and eating disorder.  They didn’t seem to understand that it is possible to have a physical and mental health problem simultaneously.

When my migraines are bad I know that I need to get a referral to a neurologist and explore other treatment options.  But when they are bad I have no energy to get this done.  When I’m feeling better I go into avoidance mode due to my fears of facing discrimination when seeking health care.  It’s a vicious cycle resulting in more pain because I don’t have a doctor following this.

Today I’ve spent quite a few hours lying in bed with ice on the back of my neck, the room spinning whenever I open my eyes.  It’s discouraging.  I have things I want to do, I have plans, I have work…but my body is saying NO! and I am forced to listen.

People with chronic pain aren’t lazy.  They don’t want to be sick or to need to slow down.  People with chronic pain are doing the best they can and even if their limitations are invisible they are valid.

Please don’t say “you don’t look sick” to anyone ever again.  You never know what battles people are facing (physically or mentally).  As with surviving trauma, sometimes the most helpful thing to hear about my chronic pain is “I believe you. How can I help?



What is it like parenting two children when you are a psychiatric survivor?

Pretty damn scary.

I remember when I first got pregnant and for the first 2 years of parenting my kids, my biggest fear was that someone would call Children’s Aid and report me as an unfit parent.  I worried that my first baby would be taken from me at birth.  You might ask why would someone whose baby isn’t even born worry so much about being an unfit parent?

My body is covered with scars from self inflicted wounds.  I was terrified someone would see this, make assumptions about me, and consider me a danger to a child, especially my child.

I’ve been parenting for almost 10 years now and so far this fear has never materialized.  I still worry about being considered “crazy” and thus “dangerous” and thus “unfit.”  In fact, this is the weapon my ex-husband has used against me since the time I began leaving him.  Just accusing someone of being crazy tends to impact the way others view that person.  My ex-husband took moves out of Dr. X’s playbook and began telling everyone, including the children’s health professionals, our neighbours, the kids’ school AND Children’s Aid that I had borderline personality disorder.

Despite the fact that my own doctor and many other doctors have testified that I do not have borderline personality disorder, this label is still haunting me 15 years after it was first, incorrectly, applied by Dr. X.

Let’s just break this down for a minute.

In the days of insane asylums, a man could have his wife committed against her will since she was essentially his property.  I’m sure asylums were full of women who were wrongly diagnosed as “hysterical” or something, just because they spoke out against the men in their lives.  Maybe they were being abused and dared to say something, maybe they didn’t conform completely to patriarchal societal standards, but one way or another they were put away.

The days of asylums are gone, but the stigma of diagnoses like borderline personality disorder remains.

It’s a very convenient excuse to deflect responsibility for perpetrating abuse.  “Oh, she’s crazy don’t you know.  You can’t believe her story because she’s mentally ill!”

Sound familiar to anyone?  Yes, accusing survivors of being “crazy” is an aspect of rape culture.  Survivors are not crazy.  They are speaking a truth that many in society do not want to hear and thus they are labelled, marginalized and stigmatized.

Every spring when the weather gets warm and t-shirts start to appear, my fear returns.  In the winter I can usually “pass” as “normal.”  My scars are safely hidden under layers of winter clothing.  In the summer, I stand awkwardly with my hands behind my back when I meet new people and when I pick the kids up from school.  I keep a cardigan at work to throw on before meeting with service users.  I see the scars myself, day after day, and sometimes it triggers me and makes me think about a time in my life I’d rather forget.

I still worry that people will view me as an unfit parent because of the coping choices I made.  But I wear t-shirts, because it’s hot outside in the summer.  I won’t hide under clothing everyday for the rest of my life.

If you have used self harm to cope, don’t be ashamed.  You survived and that is the most important thing.  Your scars tell the story of your survival.  If I could tell you a hundred times that you aren’t crazy I would.  But honestly, I’m spending a whole lot of energy reassuring myself that very same thing these days.

My scars tell my story.  Sometimes I wish my story was different, or that I had the privilege of having an invisible mental illness, but that isn’t my reality.

And believe it or not, some people think my scars look pretty damn cool.


PES (Psychiatric Emergency Services)


I’d been in the psychiatric emergency rooms at South Street hospital more times than I could count.  But that was an old hospital. The rooms were basically just regular rooms, except the chairs were bolted to the ground.  One of them had an ugly green tiled floor.  One of them had a stretcher in it.  There were chairs just outside for the security guards to sit.

In July 2011, I was in a different hospital emergency room.  This hospital was newer and had an updated PES (Psychiatric Emergency Services) department.  The door to the department was locked at all times.  There were 4 small rooms, similar to the one in the picture above except the chairs were bolted down, and one washroom.  In the washroom the toilet was metal and had no seat.  The sink was metal and attached to the wall.  In the central area between the 4 rooms there was a water fountain and two telephones attached to the wall.  In the central area there was also a stretcher with restraints on it. Separated by another locked door was the nursing station.  Each of the rooms had cameras in them (except the washroom).  The nursing station had a window which looked into the department.  The washroom reminded me of what I imagine a jail looks like.  In fact the whole experience was like being in jail.

My family was out of town visiting my ex-husband’s extended family.  I was in my last weeks of the practical placement that would complete my Masters degree.  Ironically my placement was in a psychiatric hospital.  The depression that had crept back into my life in the Fall of 2009 had worsened.  There were many reasons for this.  I felt desperate and I had tried all the medications that were available.  I began to seriously consider ECT (electroconvulsive therapy aka shock treatments).  This had been suggested to me in the past around 2004, fairly early on in my psychiatric survivorship story.  At that time I felt it was too soon, I hadn’t tried a whole class of medications.

In 2011 I felt like my options were suicide or ECT and I preferred the ECT.

I wasn’t coerced, I wasn’t pressured into it.  I sought out the treatment myself with the support of my outpatient psychiatrist.  Since he has no privileges at the local hospitals my best bet was to go to the ER and ask for a consult.

My plan was to do this as an outpatient.  But things went awry.   When I told the psychiatric resident how much I was struggling and how suicidal I was she wouldn’t let me leave.  The doctor on call told me I had to be admitted to the hospital and that if I didn’t agree to stay she would admit me on a Form, involuntarily.  At this point, locked in PES, I decided my best option was to cooperate.   I hadn’t brought anything with me, and there were no beds open on the Mental Health Unit, so I was forced to spend 24 hours locked in PES.

I can’t remember exactly when I cracked, but I phoned a friend.  I told him where I was and that I wasn’t allowed to leave.  I cried to him on the phone. He was a friend from school and I was so embarrassed to be calling him from the hospital.  I felt like it was my one call to the outside world after being arrested.   I didn’t want to tell my parents, but the next day I finally did, so they could bring me some clothes and items.

Staying overnight in PES was not a pleasant experience.  The lights were always partially dimmed in the center hallway.  There were no windows to the outside world.  This place was literally a prison.

The white sheet on the bed left lint and little pills all over my lululemon yoga jacket.  They are still there to this day!  Also to this day the smell of the soaps and sheets in hospitals triggers me.  Hospitals have this very specific smell, a mix of bleach and antibacterial soap (the cheapest kind).

Meals arrived on a tray, but there was nothing I wanted to eat.  Somehow in the morning, after almost no sleep and nothing to eat, I convinced the nurse to let me go to the cafeteria to buy a snack.  I argued that since I was a voluntary patient I should be allowed and for whatever reason they reluctantly agreed.  I ate a muffin and drank some hot coffee.

The doctors came back the next day, and eventually I was moved up to the 4th floor.  I stayed for one night on the unit.  I told the doctors what I wanted: outpatient ECT.  We called my ex-husband and discussed this with him.   Everything was agreed upon and I was given an appointment to meet the doctor the next week.  I convinced them that I would be safe at home and they discharged me.  They wanted me to stay but I wanted to leave.

The hospital always seems like a good idea from the desperation of home.  But once you are there you realize that it isn’t a very safe place either.  A good part of this is because you are at the mercy of others and have very little control over your own life.  That and the doctors have the power to hold you against your will at any time.

I wonder…why do they make PES look like a prison?

Why are psychiatric patients treated like criminals?

Surely someone could design a safe and secure section of the hospital that actually looked and felt healing.  I’m willing to bet the person that designed PES had previous experience designing prisons.

I’m not a criminal.  I would heal and relax more quickly if I was in a hospital environment that felt welcoming and relaxing.  The very environment of PES conveys a lack of respect and a perspective on the status of the patients/prisoners.  PES brings up a deep sense of shame in me.  I begin to feel crazy because I am trapped and forced to comply with the orders of the staff.  In PES, you feel you have hit rock bottom.

“You are crazy.  You can’t be trusted.  We think you are going to hurt us.  You need to be locked up for our safety and for your own.  Behave or you will be locked up here indefinitely. We couldn’t be bothered to make this place welcoming or comfortable.  Because you are crazy your comfort is not our priority.  Get used to it”

This is what mental health stigma looks like.


Post-it notes


Possibly one of the saddest moments in my entire story revolves around a post-it note.

During a particularly dark time in my life, sometime in early 2011, I wrote a series of 3 suicide post-it notes.  This is something I haven’t really shared with anyone.

I was completing my Master in Social Work, I was about to start my final placement.  I was working as a Teaching Assistant, attending classes and taking care of my kids.  On the outside I was functioning, but on the inside I was consumed with depression.  Looking back, I know a good part of the darkness was being caused by my increasing unhappiness within a sexually abusive marriage.  I began to feel like I had exhausted every option for recovery, every medication, every type of therapy, every treatment program and as a parent of two young kids I felt I had even fewer options.  I felt trapped and disconnected from myself and the ones I loved.

I don’t remember why I was upset or what happened that day, I do remember I wanted the pain to stop.  I was home alone, the kids were at school or daycare.  I saw a pad of yellow post-it notes one of the kids had left in my bedroom.  On it I scrawled three separate notes, one for my husband and one for each of my kids.  The notes basically said “I love you ___” and had a heart drawn under the words.   They looked like innocent little notes, the kind family members leave for each other to wish them a happy day.

But to me those were the most tragic post-it notes in existence.  In that moment where nothing was really making sense, I was saying goodbye.

I did hurt myself that day, but I went to the hospital to get it taken care of.  I didn’t tell the hospital staff about the post-it notes or about my despondent thoughts.  I let them fix me up and I went home.  I rarely discussed my suicidal thoughts in the Emergency Room unless I wanted to be admitted to the hospital.

When I got home my family was there and so were the post-it notes, unassuming and cheerful yellow papers.  But seeing them reminded me of my dark plans.  I hated those post-it notes with great passion.  They made me angry every time I saw them, but luckily anger was at least a feeling and not just numb emptiness.

The post-it notes stuck around the house for months before I finally threw them away.  I won’t ever forget them though.  They are a symbol of just how little anything ACTUALLY makes sense when you are severely depressed.  Things that seem logical in the moment are completely ridiculous and nonsensical when you are feeling brighter.  Choices that seem like the only option are revealed as unhelpful and fatalistic when you are recovered.

It’s important to hold onto this realization.  When you are severely depressed you are not thinking clearly.  When you are starved from an eating disorder you are not thinking clearly.  When you are triggered and in the middle of flashbacks you are not thinking clearly.

Don’t make decisions that could harm you or someone else when you are not thinking clearly.  Chances are you might regret it when you are calmer.   If possible focus on grounding and self care, or get help from others if you realize you are not thinking clearly.

Suicide wouldn’t have solved the problems in my life, it would have passed them on to my children, my parents and my close friends.  I can say this now, but I know for a fact that in a dark place I just won’t care.  The only thing I will think about is getting the pain to stop.

Luckily, in recovery, I know that depression is temporary and impulses to harm myself are passing thoughts.  Suicidal thinking and gestures are symptoms of depression and PTSD for some people.  Thinking about suicide can be a normal coping reaction to surviving violence.  Just thinking about suicide is not necessarily dangerous.  Sometimes it can be a way of feeling in control of something, which is actually a method of self preservation.  It is necessary to challenge the self destructive behaviours, but I try not to judge myself for the thoughts.

At the end of the day there is no difference between a person who sometimes thinks about suicide and one who does not.  There is not a special “crazy” class of folks who contemplate dying.  Suicide doesn’t discriminate.  Anyone can have the thoughts and it doesn’t make them weird, dangerous or a person to be feared or shunned.

Suicide survivors walk among us.

Sometimes the best thing you can do for a friend who contemplates suicide is to allow her to talk about her thoughts and impulses and listen without panicking and without judgment.  Validate her, let her know that you are sorry she is feeling SO awful that she feels life is hopeless.  Allow her to explore the thoughts with you, or encourage her to talk to a counselor, support worker, crisis line or doctor.  It isn’t your job to save her, it’s your job to be her friend.  Thank her for trusting you.  Let her know you care. By letting someone talk about suicide, you are reducing shame and creating a connection.

Connection is the opposite of depression.

Hold On, Hold Onto Yourself, for this is going to hurt like hell


Summer of 1996.  The Woods.

Picture taken 20 years later.  Spring 2016.

This is one of the places X sexually abused me.  It’s one of the first places I remember actively disassociating.

I remember floating, slightly outside my body while he kissed and bit my neck, breasts and stomach.  Hard enough and long enough to leave marks.  I felt like he was marking his territory and his territory was all across my 15 year old body.  I remember feeling ashamed of those kiss marks, trying to hide them from my friends and parents.  I remember making a lame excuse when my parents noticed a red bruise-like mark on my neck one day that summer.

While he lifted up my shirt and I lay on my back on the large stone, his weight on top of me making it difficult for me to move; I floated.  I floated and I observed the trees around me.  I remember noticing a circle of trees with straight trunks around me and the rock.  I felt like it was a clearing, almost a circular chapel with the rock as an alter in the centre.  The trees around me comforted me, but I remember feeling disgusted and wishing that the kisses would stop.

I remember the feeling of the hard rock below me.  The rock was cool compared to X. I always associate X with the colour red, like fire burning away the blue ice I associated with the numbness of disassociation.

At the time I would never have considered the abuse by X as sexual assault, or even abuse.  But looking back I know I often said no, I set boundaries, I asked him not to ever do certain things and he ignored me.  Eventually I tired of saying no and I began to submit quietly, not really resisting, just trying to get it over with and minimize the impact on me.  It was during this time that I learned to please X as quickly as possible so that he would not spend much time touching my body.  I  learned that a way of exerting some small amount of control over the situation was to try to speed up the process and distract X.  When he was touching me I often just froze.  I didn’t move, I didn’t fight, I didn’t scream and I didn’t resist.  This still impacts my healthy sexuality now, 20 years later.

Fight. Flight. Freeze. Fawn

Disassociating is a normal coping reaction to experiencing violence.  Freezing.

Trying to please the abuser in order to minimize risk to self is a normal reaction.  Fawning.

Doing the best you could to survive is the best you could have done.

It’s easy to look back harshly on our young selves and say “You should have run, you should have left him, you should have told someone, you should have screaming…should…should…should”

But I believe if you could have done better, you would have done better.

If I could have done better I would have done better.  My younger self had reasons for not running, not leaving, not telling and not screaming.  I didn’t run because I disassociated. I didn’t leave because I was worried he would commit suicide.  I didn’t tell because I thought I would be in trouble and I thought people would think I was a slut for being sexual.  I didn’t scream because I was raised not to make a fuss, to be kind to others and because I believed I would be judged.

I’m sure you have valid reasons too and if you are reading this (and I’m still writing it!) you have survived which means your best was enough.  You are enough.