When I was twenty-eight I left my house, my husband and my three little children and put myself into psychiatric care. I told the doctors that I wasn’t going back home until somebody did something about me. I didn’t know what the ‘something’ was; I just knew that I was a danger to those around me. I used to have rages. I would lash out and try and physically hurt those I loved when I felt I had lost some sort of control over a situation. I couldn’t articulate this at the time because I didn’t have words for how I felt. No-one seemed to be able to help me and I had no idea how to help myself. The person that I tried to hurt most was my husband but I had also hit my eldest son, only a few times but that was unbearable to me, and it was when I found him hiding under his bed one Sunday morning I left. I was sectioned and given ECT because I continued to rage and throw things. I would scream and wail and cry while I was in hospital but all that happened was I was sedated. I tried many times to tell the psychiatrists and nurses that I thought it had something to do with what my father had done to me – but no-one wanted to listen or talk to me about it. This was a time when sexual abuse was not really discussed. It was called incest or being ‘interfered with’ and these descriptions did not in any way describe what had happened to me. I was so angry inside and I would feel it in my chest and my head. I had seen a psychiatrist when I was nineteen about this anger and the guilt I felt when I hit and tried to bite my first husband, but the psychiatrist said I felt guilty because I’d had a ‘sexual relationship with my father’. And no-one did anything and I didn’t know what to do or how to make myself better.
I knew my anger and the way I behaved was wrong, really wrong. I was ashamed, and still am, that I had hit my son. I’m not sure I will ever get over the guilt and I’m equally not sure I want to. It is my guilt and my punishment for hurting one of my children, my beloved and precious little boy. I know I did the right thing by removing myself from the house to try and protect everyone from me, and after I was discharged from hospital with more pills and still no real practical help, I gradually began to realize what the rage was about and why I was so angry. I did this myself with love and support from my mother and friends. This is not to excuse my behavior, nor to blame it on my damaged mental health. Even though I now know I was, and still am, damaged by depression, I have learned far healthier ways to live with it. I no longer wash painkillers and antidepressants down with alcohol to try and block memories and images. This behavior only resulted in rages, tears and violence. I have had some excellent therapy and have learned a lot about how the brain is affected by early and severe trauma.
My old brain was on permanent alert for danger, the old brain that needs to watch out and be ready to fight or run. My old brain ‘made’ me fight. My new brain, the rational thinking part of me was under-developed. I didn’t pause to assess a situation, I reacted. I am still learning how to develop my rational thinking because having understood why I was so angry all the time and no longer experiencing that anger, I now feel fear! This is also my old brain working away to try and protect me from some perceived danger by running. Some days when I feel strong I give myself time to ask myself, ‘Am I in real and actual danger?’ and of course I’m not, I am feeling old fears which no longer exist in my adult life. This ‘time to ask myself’ is my rational new brain which is far better at assessing here and now situations than the part of my brain that thinks I am about to die any second. Of course I would be grateful to my old brain for making me jump out of the way of an approaching car! This is all in laywoman’s terms, I am no psychologist or brain specialist but ‘old brain/new brain’ information can be obtained online.
What prompted me to write this was the Orr piece in the Guardian about mental health, violence and it not being a gender issue! I was violent as a younger woman because of the violence that had been done to me by my father, but I am in the minority compared to the violence that is inflicted on women and children every day, by men. What was done to my mother, my brothers and me was done by a man. I tried to do something about it because I knew that my violence and the way I was dealing with situations was wrong. I have spent the last forty years trying to be ‘better’, to understand myself and my behaviours. I do have a mental health problem but it wasn’t that that made me violent it was what was done to me and the difference is I knew that, and learned how to stop my violence in spite of my severe depression. Even with depression I was able to change my behavior. Unfortunately, the only person I want to hurt now is me! But I am still learning.
I wrote this poem many years ago during the time I was realizing what was causing my violent behaviour. It is not a great poem because it was written one night in a ‘light bulb’ moment and I haven’t edited it.
At the Age of Eleven
At the age of eleven I started my periods
and tried to move away from myself.
I did this to protect me from my experiences.
I thought if I wasn’t in they couldn’t get me.
I was wrong.
My years passed me by while I ached and
hurt and raged inside.
When I knew that I was still inside me
That I had never moved away
I felt the ache and the hurt and the rage
From the inside to the outside and back again.
Aching, hurting and raging against myself
And those who loved me.
I had to hurt the outside
Because that was what had first hurt me,
And taught me how to do it.