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.



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.


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.



Self doubt.


One of the side effects of surviving any type of abuse, including abuse within the psychiatric system, is self doubt.  Emotional abuse and gaslighting are particular triggers for self doubt.

I’ve been struggling with so much self doubt this week.  I felt hopeless at times. I felt I was almost back where I started 3 years ago.  I felt like I wasn’t going to be able to do my job. I felt like a shit mother.  I felt like I was letting everyone down.  I felt exhausted and depressed.  I felt like there was little meaning to my life.

I know I was triggered.  Some of these feelings were related to past trauma.  Some of them were related to life stresses.

Today, I’m feeling a little bit better.  I had a good day at work.  I met some challenges successfully.  I realized that there is no possible way to keep everyone happy all the time and that my best has to be good enough.  It’s all I’ve got!  Not everything in the world is my fault!

I realized that when I was feeling depressed I failed to take, or even consider, the advice that I give to almost all of my service users at work.  I often tell survivors that the journey to recovery and health does not go in a straight forward line.  While we are healing we move forward, backwards, side to side, up and down, but as long as we are moving we are coping and surviving.  In dark times, when all seems lost we have never lost the previous gains we made.  When we feel better we are not starting from zero.  We can never lose the progress we have made, we can only lose sight of it from time to time.  Any progress you make in your healing journey stays with you.  It’s okay to relapse, it’s okay to feel down, it’s okay to feel hopeless…but don’t give up.  Your hard work is paying off.  Recovery from trauma is not a race, and it if WERE a race it would be a marathon and not a sprint.  It’s a marathon with no clear finish line, sometimes we are beaten down with exhaustion but even if we are crawling forward at a snails pace we are heroes.

Sometimes when times are dark the best thing we can do as survivors is to self care.

Sometimes when times are dark the hardest thing to do is self care.

Let us first acknowledge that as survivors, especially as women, we have often learned various messages about self care, from our families, from our abusers and from society.  Many of those messages are negative.  If you take care of yourself you are lazy, you are wasting time, you should be productive, you need to put others first…blah blah blah!

Self care is very simple but it is not easy.  It’s is often challenging for so many reasons.

I’m want to tell you that self care is a radical act.  By caring for ourselves and putting ourselves first we are combating patriarchy and rape culture.  By believing that we deserve to be cared for, that we deserve to listen to our inner voices, that we deserve to rest, to be validated, to have fun, to laugh and to relax, we are fighting against the harmful messages that women are not worthy of self care.

In order to self care, we must first identify and tune in to what we need in any given moment.  It can be helpful to think of your basic needs first.  Have you eaten in the last 4 hours?  Are you hydrated?  Have you slept?  Do you need to  move your body or breathe some fresh air?

Are you having strong feelings?  If you are scared, maybe things that make you feel safe can be self care.  Wrapping up in a cozy blanket, holding a pet or stuffed animal, talking to a supportive friend.  If you are angry, maybe you need to assert yourself, exercise, move your large muscle groups.  If you are sad, maybe you need to cry, get comfort, talk to others.

Yes, I am giving you permission to express your feelings!  Whatever they are they are normal, healthy and important.

Let’s put ourselves first today.  Fight self doubt with self care!

Who is with me?




This is the piece of paper I was given as a “formal” diagnosis back in 2001.  It was the first time I learned about PTSD.  It was also the first time I was misdiagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder.  In reality, my PTSD is severe, my current Dr told me it was one of the worst cases he had ever seen.  But Dr. X, in his wisdom, after knowing me for a only a few months decided the impact of my trauma was “mild” and instead the main factor in my illness was untreated borderline personality disorder.  As far as I can see, this assumtion was made due to my self cutting behaviour.  He failed to take into account that before being abused I had no mental health problems.  He failed to take into account that self harm and anorexia are common coping techniques for sexual abuse, especially in young women.  He failed to notice that my out of control self harming behavior and suicide attempts began only AFTER taking a cocktail of psychiatric meds. He failed to see that I have almost none of the diagnostic criteria for BPD, except the self harm.  I had long term friends, stable relationships in my life.  I was not impulsive or risk seeking, except with regard to the self harm.

Over the next few months Dr X also placed a value judgment on this misdiagnosis of Borderline.  He was the first person I talked to about the sexual abuse, and as such I trusted him and looked to him for support.  This was a mistake.  I didn’t have a choice as to what psychiatrist I saw, he was the one assigned to me.  He gradually saw me less and less in his individual practice.  I would show up for appointment only to find he had left for the day or was on call in the ER.  Then he changed his practice to work solely in the urgent psychiatry clinic.  The only way to get an appointment was through the ER.

I had no family Dr and nobody to renew, monitor or change my medications.  He told all the psychiatrists at South Street that I was borderline and so they would not take me on as a patient.  He refused to give me a referral to a community psychiatrist and I had no family doctor.  I felt betrayed.  I felt rejected.  I felt worthless.

I started to use the ER on a regular basis, mainly after cutting myself.  I would ask for a psych consult about 50% of the times I cut myself.  I would ask the doctor on call to please assign me a regular psychiatrist to follow me.  I begged.  I pleaded.  I was rejected.  I was sometimes given an appointment at the urgent psychiatry clinic, where I knew I would see Dr. X again.  No way to break free, systemic barriers and misdiagnosis kept me trapped.  The more I protested, the more I harmed myself, the worse the situation got for me.

The treatment that I received at South Street was appalling. I know I am not the only one and I know this hospital is not the only one with issues.  Women survivors of childhood sexual, emotional and physical abuse are often misdiagnosed with borderline, a diagnosis I see as basically a wastepaper basket label.

I remember during my second last year at South Street, 2003, I attempted suicide again.  This time I cut myself extremely deeply, diagonally across my arm.  I remember lying on the floor in the hallway of the apartment I shared with my boyfriend.  I was dizzy, almost blacking out.  I felt the quiet empty feeling in my head and I tried to decide whether or not to keep pressure on the cut or let it bleed and let myself give in to the pull of unconsciousness.  I lay there for a while, I’m not sure how long.  I finally decided to go to the hospital.  I think I took a cab, but I’m not sure.

At the hospital, the medical doctor that first assessed me actually put me on a Form.  He got a security guard to sit in my curtained area to watch over me.  I remember I was studying for my 4th year Health Sciences exams.  Somehow the irony of this was lost on me at the time.  I had just tried to kill myself, I had a security guard watching me and I was studying for a university exam in the ER.  The medical doctors fixed up my cut with stitches.  By this time the routine of receiving stitches was, just that, routine.  I had received hundreds, sometimes as many as 50 at a time.  After I was fixed up I was transferred to the psych section of the ER.  I don’t remember too much about what happened but I do remember I was told that there were no beds, that I could not be admitted.  I told them that the cut had been a suicide attempt, not “just” self harming like I usually did.  I begged to be admitted. But the psychiatry doctor was firm, there were no beds for me.  I couldn’t understand it, the medical doctor had thought I was a risk to myself, so much so he had security watch over me, but psychiatry released me.  I learned over the years at South Street that as soon as a doctor had access to my past charts I was treated very differently.  I was generally taken seriously when a health care provider spoke to me and listened to me.  When that same health care provider saw my chart, I was turned away, disrespected, ignored and mistreated.  This is what misdiagnosis with BPD means to me.

I remember being discharged from the ER that day.  I was desperate.  I still wanted to die.  I remember standing in between the double doors of the ER crying.  I didn’t know where to go or what to do.  I felt hopeless.  It was late evening, it was spring or summer and it was still light outside.  As I stood there crying a door opened, it led out to the ambulance bay right beside the place I was standing.  Our of the door came a gurney, with a black body bag on it.  The door led to the morgue which was also in the basement of South Street.  The body was loaded into a funeral home vehicle and drove away.  The image impacted me and haunted me.  I wondered if my friend Darlene was wheeled out that very same door a year before. I was preoccupied with death.  I felt scared and I felt lost.  I just wanted someone to help me.  I’m not even sure I really wanted to die at that point, I just wanted the pain and confusion to stop.

Eventually I left.  I took the bus home, back to the apartment where I’d tried to end my life a few hours earlier.

I think that people often conclude that because an injury is self inflicted, that the person chose it.  That they are not traumatized by it or impacted by it.  But I believe that self inflicted trauma also needs to be recognized as a contributor to PTSD.  I think that my experiences within the psychiatric system alone could have caused PTSD in a healthy person.  In a person who was already traumatized they were that much more severe.  Sometimes comfort and sympathy are not provided to self injuring people.  We are treated as though we “knew better” and are essentially “wasting time and health care resources” or taking away care from those who “really need it.”  I believe that every person who self harms would have chosen a different option if they felt they truly had a choice.  Self harm isn’t cool, it’s not fun, it’s not something to envy or idolize.  It’s dangerous, it’s terrifying, it is not glamorous in any way.   It leaves lasting scars.  Scars I will live with for the rest of my life, and scars that trigger memories of times in my life I would much rather forget.  I get flashbacks around my self inflicted trauma in the same ways I do to the abuse inflicted on me by others.  And because I was abused in the health care system the two are not distinct.

There is no easy solution to these problems.  People who self harm need and deserve compassion.  PTSD should be taken seriously and not dismissed as a disordered personality.  PTSD is treatable.  Believing survivors is the first step.  Yes, this means as a society we all have to step up and acknowledge that violence and abuse is much more prevalent than we ever imagined.  We need to collectively work to end victim blaming and shaming and fight rape culture.  Because powerful white male doctors, with all their privileges, labeling my personality as disordered is rape culture.  I became sick and disabled because of abuse; I’m not disordered, I am a survivor.


Dental Floss. When the truth is I miss you so…


I met my dear friend MJ during the summer months of 2002.  We were both patients in the Post-traumatic Stress Recovery Program at Homewood Health Centre in Guelph.  We became friends very quickly, even though we were both struggling.  In so many ways she was struggling, coping with the impact of years, a lifetime really, of abuse.  We were close in age, we were both looking for hope and for something to hold on to.

I won’t write too much about MJ’s story, because it is not my own.  I will say that she was also a survivor and spent a good portion of our friendship hospitalized in various places.

MJ and I would write letters to each other, cards mostly.  Words of encouragement.  We would speak by phone, sometimes almost daily and sometimes months would go in between.  The amount of contact varied along with our health statuses at any given moment.

MJ was the person who I felt completely understood my experience of living with PTSD.  She never judged me.  She was always so grateful for our friendship.  I could tell her my strangest thoughts and she knew exactly what I was going through.  She was one of the bravest people I’ve even known.

MJ and I had an inside joke.  I don’t remember anymore who started it, but I think it was her.  We both struggled with near constant thoughts of suicide and self harm.  But we would talk about holding on and about being there for each other.  She used to say “hold on to hope, even if what you are holding onto is as thin as dental floss.”  We often talked about holding onto the dental floss, each of us holding one end and clinging to life.

I supported MJ through many hospitalizations and numerous suicide attempts.  I always knew in my heart that MJ would not be with me forever.  I almost lost her too many times to count.  We had a special connection, one that I’ve only had with a few other people in my life. I would dream about her, nightmares about things happening to her. Waking with a terrible, panicked pit in my stomach, I would know the dream was true. We were so connected I often knew something was wrong or something had happened before she told me.  I would call and find that she was in hospital.

MJ died one year ago.  She died from complications from chronic, terminal PTSD.  I was not there, I did not get to say goodbye.  For some reason I was not invited to the funeral.  I found out over a week later when her Mom answered her cell phone.  I was sitting in my car and I instantly knew.  I cried as her Mom described what happened.

MJ did not die alone.  Her family was with her and she was peaceful.  I take great comfort in this.  I said thank you hundreds of times.

But my heart aches and aches.  I can’t believe she is gone.  I feel devastated that some people don’t survive violence. There are days when I think if I pick up the phone to call her she will answer.  If I get on a plane and fly to her city, she will be there waiting for me.  I dream about her still and wake up crying when I realize she is dead.  She will always be a true survivor to me, even though she didn’t make it out alive.

I still have all the cards she ever sent to me.  I have about 25.  I keep them, along with photos of us together, under my bed.  I’ve read and re-read them, my eyes filled with tears of gratitude that these small pieces of her, her words of encouragement to me, will always be with me.

If I could have one wish, to speak to anyone, living or dead, it would be her.  Just one more time.  I wonder if anyone else will ever understand me so well.  I know I won’t ever have a friend just like her.  The bonds that are formed through shared experiences of trauma are difficult to break.  And I don’t want to break them.  As much as this hurts, I don’t regret being her friend.

I miss you MJ.  I miss you so much.  I’m still here, I’m still holding my end of the dental floss.  I’m still trying to be the Wonder Woman I know you believed I was.  Thank you for being my friend.

Cowboy take me away
Fly this girl as high as you can
Into the wild blue
Set me free oh I pray
Closer to heaven above and
Closer to you closer to you”   -Dixie Chicks


Don’t judge me. I’m coping.


The most important thing to remember about survivors of sexual, emotional and physical abuse is that if we are alive chances are we are coping and that’s a good thing.

One way the psychiatric system as a whole fails survivors, especially women, is by labeling our normal coping reactions as “symptoms” of various psychiatric illnesses.  Please consider this: it was the situations I survived that were not normal, the ways I coped were normal healthy reactions.  I did what I had to do to survive and that’s okay.

Yes, you are normal!  No, this is not your fault!  I believe you.

If you turned to “disordered eating” as a way of coping with your trauma, you are normal.

If you engage in self harming behaviours as a way of coping, you are normal.

If you take drugs and alcohol as a way of coping, you are normal.

If you zone out or disassociate as a way of coping (either voluntarily or involuntarily), you are normal.

These are all examples of common coping reactions that women utilize to survive the abnormal and terrifying situation of experiencing abuse.

You did the best you could at the time to survive and that was enough.  If I had known better or had other options, I might not have used anorexia, self harm and suicide attempts to cope.  Those tools worked for me for a time, until they didn’t.  When they stopped being useful to me and started causing more harm to me than good, I became motivated to learn new methods of coping.    I don’t have borderline personality disorder, I don’t harm myself to manipulate others or to seek attention.  I do it because I am a survivor of trauma, doing what survivors do best: surviving.

If you are working towards recovery be proud of yourself.  We aren’t aiming for perfection here, because it doesn’t exist.  Your best is enough.  You are enough.

I identify with the label PTSD and my experience with it is that it is chronic and more of a disability than an illness.   Living with PTSD takes an incredible amount of energy.  If you regularly hear me say “I’m tired, I’m so tired” I’m not whining.  I am fatigued and tired almost all time, some days worse than others.  And no, taking a nap won’t help but thanks for thinking of me.

Let me explain why living with PTSD is so exhausting.  It’s an invisible illness, for the most part you can’t see my struggles, but that doesn’t mean they are not real or valid.

Facts about PTSD and why it sucks away a massive amount of my energy each and every day:

  1. Even though I might be in bed for 8 hours in a given night I’m often experiencing nightmares.  Sometimes these nightmares cause me to wake in a panic attack, unsure what is real and what was just a dream.  I sometimes wake up covered in sweat, making sounds and fighting off imaginary threats.  When I wake up I often do not feel rested and I sometimes avoid going to bed at night when the dreams have been particularly troublesome.
  2. One word:  hypervigilance.  This means my danger sensors are on high alert 24/7, 365 days a year.  I can’t “just relax.”
  3. Hyperarousal and exaggerated startle response.  Every time there is an unexpected noise, or sometimes even an unexpected movement I jump about 10 feet in the air.  This is a symptom that people around me tend to notice and comment on.  Again, I cannot control it. Reassuring me that there is no danger does not stop the response.
  4.  Depression and anxiety.  Obsessive compulsive worries.  Yes, PTSD impacts my mood.  No, I can’t just “cheer up” or “think positive.”
  5. Flashbacks and body memories.  Yes, intellectually I know it happened “a long time ago” and that I’m “safe right now” but my body and my physiology haven’t caught up. I can go from feeling perfectly fine to crying, terrified and in physical pain within seconds and the trigger can be sometimes as inconsequential as a touch, a word, a memory crossing my mind.  Intense flashbacks are accompanied by panic attacks, rapid breathing, hot and cold sweats, disorientation, confusion between past and present.  After a particularly bad one it can take up to 7 days for the residual effects to pass.  And though technically, in the present moment, nothing bad has happened to me, I often feel as though the abuse has occurred all over again.  I feel exhausted, scared and sometimes hopeless about how little control I have over the memories.
  6. Flashbacks, body memories, hypervigilance etc are not the same as day to day worries.  They are not something I spend time thinking about or worrying about, it’s easier to understand them as physiological reactions, rather than connected to specific thoughts or behaviours.   This is not an intellectual problem, so no, I can’t just “look on the bright side”
  7. PTSD is often accompanied by deep shame and sense of self as being damaged, broken or somehow faulty.  Even though you might not see me this way, and struggle to understand why my self concept is so “distorted” please hear me and believe me.  I really do feel that internalized shame as a result of being abused.  Be patient with me, I can’t just “love myself.”  It’s more complicated than that.
  8. PTSD causes actual changes in your brain.  In the military it is referred to as an operational stress INJURY or post-traumatic stress INJURY and this makes perfect sense to me.  My brain was injured by the trauma I survived.  The eating issues and self harm behaviours are symptoms of PTSD, they were the ways I reacted and coped with the initial injuries.

For those of you who do not live with PTSD, I hope this explanation of my experience makes sense.

Last night I had a new flashback, to the original abuse with X, 20 years ago.  It wasn’t a lot of fun.  It led me to think about how PTSD uses up a massive amount of spoons (google spoon theory of chronic illness for more information).

I’m trying to be compassionate with myself tonight.  My hope levels are staggeringly low.  I’m tired of life, but I won’t give up.

Tonight I’m coping.  I hope you are coping too. 

Love letter to my body


April 22, 2004

To My Body,

I resent that you make me so uncomfortable.  I hate it when you trigger me. I hate it when you feel unsafe. I’m tired of feeling unsafe.  I wish you would just disappear or leave me alone. I don’t like it when you feel fat and dirty. I resent that you have power over how I feel. I’m fed up with you. You’ve caused me so much pain and suffering. I’m angry at you for making me feel ugly and unattractive.

I hate it when you feel too big and out of control.  I hate it when you feel too small and out of control. I hate it when you feel average. I want you to feel average. I want you to be a safe place to live. I resent that I can’t leave you behind.

I’m angry that you attracted abusers to me. I’m angry that you allowed yourself to be abused. I’m angry that you didn’t run away or fight back.  I’m tired of blaming you. I’m tired of not being able to forgive you.  I hate it when you cause me painful memories. I resent that you remember everything. I resent that I can’t replace you. I hate it that you feel dirty and broken. I want to be able to wash that feeling away.

I hate that you’ve had so much control over my life. I’m tired of you getting in the way of my happiness. I’m angry at your scars. I’m angry that you’ll never look normal. I’m angry because you make me hate myself.

I feel sad that you have been so badly hurt. I’m sad that you were violated. I feel awful because your boundaries were disrespected. I feel disappointed because you are permanently damaged. I feel hurt because you have not been respected. I feel sad because I have caused you so much pain and suffering. I feel awful because I blame you for everything. I feel awful because it wasn’t your fault.

I want to be able to forgive you. I feel afraid that I will never forgive you. I feel afraid that you will never heal. I feel afraid because you are vulnerable. I’m afraid I will abuse you again. I’m afraid someone else will abuse you again.  I wish I could protect you. I wish I could keep punishing you. I’m afraid that you will never feel whole again. I’m afraid of your suffering.  I feel awful because I know you are suffering.  I feel awful because I have never given you the chance to heal.  I feel awful because I don’t know if you can heal.

I’m scared of you.  I’m scared of the way you look.  I’m scared of the way you feel. I’m terrified because of how powerless you are. I’m terrified of how powerful you are.

I’m sorry that you have been abused. I’m sorry that I couldn’t protect you.  Please forgive me for the years I’ve spent abusing you.  Please forgive me for torturing you, scarring you, poisoning you and starving you.  I didn’t mean to destroy you.  I’m sorry that I still want to destroy you.  I’m sorry for all you’ve been through.  I’m sorry that the past cannot be erased or forgotten.

Please forgive me for not protecting you. I’m sorry that I don’t respect you. I’m sorry that others have not respected you.  Please forgive me for blaming you.

I’m ashamed of you, I hate you and I’m sorry.  I wish I could make you disappear so you wouldn’t be hurting anymore.  I wish I could take away your pain.  I wish I could learn to respect you.  I’m angry and sad that I feel so resentful.  I’m tired of being ashamed.  I’m so sorry for all these years of abuse.

I love you because you remind me that I have survived.  Thank you for the pain, thank you for reminding me that I’m alive. I understand that you are hurting. I want to let you grieve.  I forgive you for being sensitive and still in pain.  I understand that you need time to heal.

Thank you for not giving up on me. Thank you for giving me a second chance and a third chance and for not abandoning me.

I understand your pain. I hope that one day I will begin to forgive you.  I’m angry because I don’t trust you and because you don’t feel safe.  I wish I could learn to trust you. I hope one day you will feel safe. I feel sad because you don’t feel like you truly belong to me.  I’m sorry I haven’t forgiven you.

I’m angry that you are still alive.  Thank you for still being alive. I love you for that.  I hope one day you can find peace and safety.