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Strict Standards: Declaration of JParameter::loadSetupFile() should be compatible with JRegistry::loadSetupFile() in /home/billbmn/public_html/wcmi1/libraries/joomla/html/parameter.php on line 512

Warning: Cannot modify header information - headers already sent by (output started at /home/billbmn/public_html/wcmi1/plugins/system/advancedmodules/advancedmodules.php:28) in /home/billbmn/public_html/wcmi1/plugins/system/admintools/admintools/badbehaviour/screener.inc.php on line 9

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Strict Standards: Declaration of JRouterJoomsef::build() should be compatible with JRouter::build($url) in /home/billbmn/public_html/wcmi1/components/com_sef/sef.router.php on line 361

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Julie D’s Story Post Traumatic Growth - WhatCausesMentalIllness.com
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Gifted people are by no means disorder-free. We know there is a strong correlation between creativity and depression; creativity and mania.... Giftedness, per se, has often been described as pathology. I've had a lot of clients who come to me who have been told they are "too sensitive," "too empathic," "too smart," "too verbal." I can't think of one person I've seen who hasn't been pathologized, for being "too"and I put that in quotesall those things: "too high energy," "too quirky," "too introspective," "too intuitive"blah, blah, blah.
Professor Kathleen Noble
   

FAQ  


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Word Cloud  


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Glimpses

Julie D’s Story Post Traumatic Growth

Details

Julie D’s Story

Post Traumatic Growth

I'm now a forty-something Mother, Partner, Counsellor, Community Services Worker, Volunteer, Family Member, Friend and Life Explorer.

Mine has been an interesting and intense kind of life that has smoothed out to a cruisier ride lately (thank goodness), largely due to all the hard work I've done and how I've learned to handle life.

From a mental health perspective I started out shy which developed after an incident of child sexual abuse at the age of 9, into social anxiety disorder, very low self-esteem, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, although only self-diagnosed as counselling/therapy wasn't the accessible or accepted avenue back in the 1970'/80's especially in my family.

My family believed back then that if things weren't talked about, then they might go away and not cause problems. Which left me feeling confused and emotionally abandoned and with no idea how to handle what was going on in my psyche. But perhaps the upside of not being given a diagnosis, is that I wasn't medically labelled, and 'judged' accordingly, so these 'labels' didn't stick, but were states that I passed through.

However the night the abuse happened, I was able to tell my mother, who believed me and we no longer visited the family member who perpetrated it. This, I believe, was paramount in minimising more possible psychological damage, as firstly, I was able to hold onto my truth (so many victims are not believed or even blamed which can lead to them questioning their truth, and can also lead to problems in personality development and sense of self/worth); and secondly I was not exposed to further sexual abuse (so my psyche didn't have to develop any more coping mechanisms like 'splitting' or 'dissociating', etc.)

But that one incident was still hugely impactful and left me disempowered, distrustful, disconnected, ashamed, alienated, suffering triggers, nightmares and daily intrusive memories, and charged with a range of intense unprocessed untamed feelings, that later developed into depression and suicidality.

I'm sure teachers at primary school took pity on me and stopped asking me to talk in front of the class - with my beetroot-red face, watery eyes and mind going blank. I found it hard to keep eye contact with people (which is something I still have to work on) and talk even in small social groups and certainly not to boys. I often hung around with my younger sister and her friends at school, finding it hard to fit in with my peers. I heard at university you had to present talks and so resolved that I wouldn't be going there. Back then I would have called it 'painfully shy'; the new terminology is 'social anxiety'. I particularly found primary school peer connections difficult and felt disconnected from everyone else.

So I struggled in silence with my array of intense emotional states, feeling different, often shamed, desperate and sometimes suicidal. As a teen I started to come out of my shell with some good friendships forming but still battled silent demons. I had a few incidences of bullying in high school from other girls and was quite scared of the boys. I scraped away at my wrists with a pocket knife and tried to smother myself at night but wasn't gutsy enough to go through with a more serious suicide attempt. I prayed for death instead. I had outbursts of emotion at 'triggers' which left my parents dumbfounded and with no idea how to help me. I was just considered 'over-sensitive', which was belittling, frustrating and in no way helped me process the mess that was going on inside.

At 15 I met my future husband, with whom I shared my pain and for the first time felt heard. I was needing a saviour and although our path was rocky, he held me and I grieved. Having very low self-esteem I had previously experienced problematic dealings with the opposite sex. At 20 I was married. In hindsight, with a different background perhaps I would not have made this choice of life partner - we had different values and he had anger management issues which became abusive over the years.

At 25 after giving birth I developed what could have been called post-natal depression (also not diagnosed), which was probably more to do with my unchecked abuse issues and deteriorating marriage. Soon after, I reached out for professional help for the first time by calling Lifeline. However I received no joy from the coutured response which seemed scripted and impersonal and devoid of any hope for the retribution I was seeking over the abuse, since it had 'happened so long ago'. I struggled on into the next year in depression until Christmas time (which was a particularly difficult time of year due to family get-togethers and consequent exposure to my perpetrator). While driving home from work one day, with a tear-stained face I had the strong urge to just smash into a tree and end it all.

My young child was a good reason to choose another option. Instead I drove to my local GP and asked for a referral to a psychiatrist. My doctor was used to seeing me for regular conjunctivitis and throat infections, and enquired as to the nature and source of my depression. Upon hearing I was still upset over the abuse that had occurred so long ago, she off-handedly (and ignorantly) dismissed my pain and suffering by stating that Christmas was 'a time for forgiving'. I had tried for many years to forgive and forget but to no avail. The doctor obviously had no understanding of the deep impact of abuse and her approach I found most frustrating and unhelpful (and affected the trust and relationship I had with her after that). I pressed for the referral and started treatment.

A side comment about the persistent conjunctivitis and throat infections - I later came across the work of Louise Hay, a metaphysical counsellor and author who cured herself from diagnosed terminal cancer. In her book 'You Can Heal Your Life' she looks at the mind-body connection - belief systems that can be at the root of physical disease. She says that 'anger and frustration at what you are looking at in life' is behind conjunctivitis. Also that the throat represents our ability to 'speak up' for ourselves and problems with the throat can mean we feel inadequate to stand up for ourselves. Sore throats mean anger and if a cold is also involved there is mental confusion too. These meanings certainly had a lot of relevance for me at that time. Later as I resolved my childhood issues, the years of conjunctivitis and throat infections ended. I never get either of these physical ailments now...

I chose a bulk billing psychiatrist so that the fee could be covered by Medicare; one because I had low income; and two because I don't think victims of child/sexual abuse should pay for their therapy. The perpetrators should, or at least the society who refuses to appropriately acknowledge and provide adequate justice (rarely charging or extracting compensation from perpetrating criminals - only 1% of paedophiles are ever convicted).

The psychiatrist offered counselling for both my husband and myself and it was a great relief to find that I wasn't the only one with problems; my husband had some issues too. It was helpful to reduce the scapegoating that can so easily happen when one person in a family system gets lumbered with the responsibility for all the problems. I was offered anti-depressants but wasn't keen on going down the medication road so the psychiatrist used hypnosis to talk through some issues, which I found helpful. However he always avoided my abuse issues. Which I'm grateful for in retrospect, as if he didn't know how to properly work with these issues I preferred him to avoid them, rather than possibly do more damage. However it would have been helpful for him to refer me to someone who did deal with trauma. After a few months I felt I had progressed as far as I could go with the psychiatrist and ended our sessions.

A year or so down the track, and I was feeling desperate again. I sought counselling through Anglicare and was blessed to find a fantastic counsellor this time who worked with both my husband and I but had experience in trauma, and perceptively asked in the first session if anything had happened when I was young. This was such a huge relief to finally be asked, to be 'seen', and for someone to be interested. I was able to unload my complex pain finally. Together we went through the process of me confronting my abuser, (by letter - which was still terrifying), and this was a major milestone in my healing journey, and in reclaiming some of my power.

After this, interestingly, my nightmares changed - instead of being chased and disempowered in my dreams, I challenged and fought back which I feel was a huge shift in my psyche. Eventually my nightmares dwindled away. I still have the occasional nightmare, with abuse themes, but usually after some kind of trigger the day before and they are not so impactful or intrusive in my life.

However, due to consequent family fallout with mixed loyalties and inability of family members to deal with these difficult issues (families so rarely get appropriate assistance at this time), this confrontation was another traumatic time in my life. My parents suddenly withdrew all support and became hostile and judgmental. I felt a stabbing betrayal, shock and loneliness. I was resentful at how they had dealt (or rather not dealt) with the abuse, and felt they had never handled the issue appropriately. Now in my hour of need, they could not even offer me a morsel of understanding which was all that I was asking of them. It took more therapy after this to work through the fractured relationships with my parents and thankfully I had the support of one sister.

Despite all this I don't regret taking this healing step of speaking out and confronting. The perpetrator was finally in some small way, held accountable for what he had done and all the pain he had caused and I had reclaimed an important part of myself and my empowerment. This helped both with my post-traumatic stress and with my social anxiety. I learned to stand up for myself, and to not always put everyone else's needs first. I learned to let go of my need to be liked and accepted by others, in favour of speaking my truth and standing in my authenticity. I learned to sit with my feelings rather than run from them. I learned that I could make it on my own. I cut the apron strings and started a new adult relationship with my family that involved honesty - honesty of words and feelings, expectations and limitations. I learned to let go of expectations of what I could never have from my family and learned about their and my own limitations. This letting go of them was excruciating, but then surprisingly relieving. The charge or sting dissolved over time.

Unfortunately my counsellor moved on to another role and despite his offer to refer me on, since I felt I needed time to regroup after all this, my sessions ended.

However all the issues were not resolved and some were still bubbling away. A major indicator of this came to my notice when I was in the city on a rainy day and felt a strong urge to bash every male in the street with my umbrella. I was feeling hateful at all the perpetrators that were getting away with their crimes of sexual abuse and domestic violence and all the other men who stood by and did nothing. So I went on another search and a few months later I found a wonderful self-help book "The Courage To Heal" - By Laura Davis & Ellen Bass, and it was a revelation to me. It was helpful to read others' similar stories of child abuse and engage in some more self-awareness and self-help processes. There was a workbook which helped me to outwardly process my feelings and beliefs. I went to libraries and second hand book shops and read all I could find on healing from child/sexual abuse. These books I found enormously helpful.

I also re-entered counselling with the Centre Against Sexual Assault. I rang them one day after feeling desperate again but the centre in my area was fully booked for a year! (They are grossly underfunded!) I told them I might be dead in a year so they referred me to a centre in another area, who were kind enough to squeeze me in although I was out of their area. There was still a 3 month wait, however in the meantime I could go along to their art and dance therapy groups for survivors of child sexual abuse. These were amazing - it was so validating to meet others with a similar experience and share and feel witnessed and be truly understood and normalised. I also found art and movement therapy helpful for self-connecting and expressing/processing the trauma. I heard about support groups and after a fruitless search I decided to start one up myself with the ongoing support of my counsellor.

A year later I found ASCA, (Adults Surviving Child Abuse - formerly Advocates for Survivors of Child Abuse), and attended their support and action groups. Turning my anger into action for positive change was a good outlet. I attended their facilitator training and opened up a self-help support group which I co-facilitated for nearly a decade.

After unpacking, focussing on, acknowledging and honouring my trauma, funnily enough, I could start to let it go. It no longer was tapping at my shoulder for attention. I had more energy and brain space for the other aspects of my being and my life.

Meanwhile my working experiences helped me to address my social anxiety issues as I engaged in what was like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy addressing unhelpful thought patterns and 'exposure therapy' exposing myself to my intense anxiety states and pushing through them in order to speak in public and face my fears, with the assistance of a wonderfully supportive (but rather tough) business coach. I also achieved success at work which built my confidence and self-worth. I was encouraged to attend personal development seminars and workshops and read self-help books.

Peers in the support groups suggested different therapies I had never heard of before like reiki, shiatsu and kinesiology and these I found helpful. As abuse seems to affect people on many different levels I now believe that healing usually will need to occur at different levels too - including not only the mind and thinking, but also bodywork, emotional processing, energetic/spiritual work and sense of meaning. I attended a wonderful healing week at a place called Mayumarri (in NSW) for 'survivors', (aptly named as many who are abused unfortunately do commit suicide). This introduced me to inner child work which I found to be wonderful for resolving the inner 'hurt child' and for re-parenting after feeling emotionally abandoned by my own parents. A number of 'Insight Seminars', which are heart-based group retreats were probably the most impactful of all the therapies I'd experienced... intense cathartic programs incorporating many different modalities and philosophies, which included the cognitive, emotional and spiritual aspects. All this was tremendously helpful for my recovery.

In my thirties I sought to solidify my learning and passion in this area and completed Diplomas in Youth Work and Holistic Counselling.

After 18 years my relationship eventually ended. Single-parenting has been extremely challenging (and heartbreaking) and I believe has also affected the emotional well-being of our son (and myself). Losing the say in 50% of his parenting has affected his psychological and emotional safety and I would not agree to equal share-care arrangements if given my time over. Although we never went to court, I think the current family court system is very disempowering to mothers who have more intuition when it comes to raising their own children, and this is to the detriment of children's safety and wellbeing. The lack of a male parent model for my son in my house since our divorce has also been detrimental. He pushes boundaries and behaves far worse than when his father and I were together. Then there are the adjustment times when he comes back after being with his father and then again as he 'toughens up' before going again.

I was on my own for 5 years before finding my current partner of 6 years, who is much better suited to me and not abusive at all. Through my own healing, empowerment and self-realisation I am now making more conscious and considered decisions in my life. I have learned new ways of thinking, relating, processing and being that are working for me.

Now in my forties I believe that I have transmuted my previous mental states into a newly defined state known as Post Traumatic Growth. Reports of growth experiences from dealing with the aftermath of trauma have been found in people who have experienced bereavement, cancer, heart attacks, house fires, sexual assault, combat, and refugee experiences, etc (Tedeschi and Calhoun, in press). Such positive changes include improved relationships, new possibilities for one's life, a greater appreciation for life, a greater sense of personal strength and spiritual development (Tedeschi and Calhoun, 1996)

People who might meet me for the first time now, would never believe I was once shy and broken.

My journey to recovery never included medication, although I know that for many medication is very helpful as a safety net to assist through intense periods or to take the edge off so that other therapeutic interventions can be engaged more successfully. But I do not believe that medication is a standalone treatment option and I do believe it is far too frequently administered without the appropriate inclusion of other therapeutic interventions.

My sister, who now has schizophrenia has been given this 'medication-only intervention' (which has unfortunately included some stints in psychiatric hospitals) and she is worse than ever - in seven years she has gone from having friends, a job, a share-house, savings towards home ownership, dreams, and a social life, to becoming unemployable, friend-less, substance addicted (self-medicating to deal with medication side-effects), agoraphobic, unable to shop or cook for herself, almost completely dysfunctional, physically sick, penniless, suicidal and homeless. The mental health system is so underfunded that her psychiatric hospital stays are shared with males (one was found in her bed) and more recently becoming homeless she did anything she could to organise shared accommodation with other psychotic men from her ward. Her inpatient psychiatrists never got to know her well enough to truly understand where she was at, and discharged her from hospital while still psychotic. The last time she came out of hospital an ex-boyfriend took her in, who also suffers from schizophrenia.

I truly believe a more holistic approach addressing her core beliefs, emotions, physical health, values, traumas, life issues, spirituality, etc could have led to a more hopeful outcome. There is a more holistic version of psychosis that coins it as spiritual emergency. In my sister's case perhaps this is true. She went into her first psychosis completely atheist and is now extremely spiritual. It has indeed been a spiritual emergence for her. Decades ago in the U.S. there were healing houses set up for people with psychosis, assisting them through the (usually 6 week long) process and apparently these were very successful. I have heard that if a first psychosis can be managed carefully by guiding the client through it without them over-identifying with the delusions and getting lost in it, then often it doesn't develop into schizophrenia. However due to lack of funding these healing centres were closed down. Despite the current medicalised system being disastrous for many (there are high rates of suicide for schizophrenics and many on medication are marginalised in society), there is no funding for alternative options like these healing centres. I can't express enough my deep dismay over our blinkered and narrow medicalised mental health system that is not working for so many and stressful and frustrating for the professionals working within it.

I believe from my experience (and the many experiences I have been blessed to know about through years of connecting with people in support groups), that effective healing needs to incorporate a holistic model of dealing with mind/thinking; body/physical health; feelings/emotions; and spirit/beliefs. It also should address old traumas, emotional pain and physical, social, cultural and familial aspects of the person. My most helpful therapists used a range of tools and were open to complementary therapies.

It is narrow and tragic to think that one single approach will suffice... Like the medication model for schizophrenics or like the current CBT model that is the one-size-fits-all approach of the government supported mental-health-care-plan-scheme. A simple medication treatment looks only at the 'brain chemistry' and denies and ignores the thinking, emotional, physical, spiritual, social and cultural aspects of the person. A simple CBT treatment looks only at the 'wrong thinking' and denies and ignores the emotional, physical, social and spiritual aspects of the person.

For me either would have left me high and dry. I needed a variety of different therapeutic approaches and peer support.

I am eternally grateful for the myriad of therapists, practitioners, coaches, authors and peers who have assisted along my journey and I hope my story brings some insight and hope to others and some inspiration for change within our current medical practices."

A compilation of uncensored real life experiences with Mental Illness.

GLIMPSES © 2007  For permission to use the content of this manuscript please contact Nicci Wall at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or fax +61 3 5222 6847

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Glimpses - Our Experiences with Mental Illness


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