Cuffed, battered, and bruised.

As with the other times I have been forcibly restrained, being handcuffed and held down by four (five? six?) police officers against my will was not a pleasant experience.

My hair is (still) full of leaves. My mind is full of trauma. Not only is my body a patchwork of pink and silver scars, but now purple and green and brown patches mar its surface too. There are rings on my wrists from fighting against handcuffs, before they were replaced with softer restraints in the ambulance. My eye is black from punching myself repeatedly in the face before the police held my arms by my sides. My elbows, sides and thighs all ache from attempts to wriggle free. My throat is hoarse from screaming at them to stop, to let go, to just let me die.

They didn’t let up, not until I was “more compliant” after being sedated.

On a somewhat lighter note, the police thought I was very strong, which apparently I was supposed to take as a compliment even while their palms pushed at my body and hands held down my head. I could hear them joking about it. It didn’t feel good to be laughed at, laughed about, while my rights were violated at the same time.

The next thing I remember is waking up on Monday morning, hungover, and drowsy from the remnants of sedative coursing through my circulation. I remember ambulance officers, but I don’t remember getting in the ambulance. I remember being restrained, but I don’t remember those restraints being taken off. I remember talking to the mental health team, but not what I said.

What I do remember, very clearly, is the anguish of being restrained once again.

Just another traumatic chapter added to my life story.

Declined

M, yeah, not much I can do with this, sorry.

Aren’t discriminatory doctors the absolute worst?

They see me as three letters, as my abbreviation; they see me as the negative adjectives in my notes, in the words “aggressive” and “sedated” and “self-inflicted”.

They don’t see me for what I am: hurting, and in need of help.

This is not true of all doctors, but sadly, it is very true to some. I had a rough night yesterday (Thursday). I contemplated whether or not I needed to go to hospital for my cuts, because I didn’t want to wait and wait and wait only to be turned away and told there was nothing the doctor could do about them. I spoke to a friend who is studying medicine. I spoke to a friend’s mum who is a doctor. I used my own very limited knowledge of wound care and The Internet to figure out that yeah, it was pretty deep, and yeah, it probably wouldn’t heal nicely without stitches.

That’ll heal on it’s own.

Look, I get that I put these wounds on my body, I get that I did this to myself, but do you think I like the scars? Do you honestly believe that in one, two, five or ten years, that ragged wound that you left hanging open will have healed nicely?

I don’t think so.

I think that you’ve been caught in stigma without even realising. I think I’ve been unlucky this night. I think you, the doctor delegated to me, doesn’t understand my condition very well – if at all – and I think your punishing me for punishing myself. You just poked and prodded me, turned my wrist over, checked both arms just in case, then dropped it back at my side. You didn’t even clean it. You didn’t even dress it. You just sent me away again.

This is one of the reasons, the strongest reason, why I wanted to study medicine. Because what happened to me in the emergency department is not okay. It is not okay to treat me as a diagnosis, and not as a patient. It is not okay to fail to offer me adequate care just because my wounds are self-inflicted.

I don’t care what you say; what you did was not okay.

And every time a doctor like you succumbs to the stigma, it makes going to the hospital that much harder. It makes seeking help that much harder. It makes the lives of people like me, of us borderlines, but also of everybody else suffering from a mental illness who needs medical attention, that much harder.

We don’t need that. We don’t need to be rejected more than we have been by our friends, family and colleagues. We don’t need our traumas regurgitated by your invalidation and stigmatisation. We don’t need to be afraid of going to hospital, when the hospital is supposed to be there to care for us, no matter what condition has brought us there. We don’t need any more difficulties piled on top of all the other ones we face, every single fucking day. We don’t need you.

We need your compassion. Your care. Your empathy.

We need to be treated like people, not like letters. We need to be treated like any other patient. And maybe if you got talking to me, like other doctors and nurses sometimes have, then maybe, just maybe, you’ll see we aren’t the Big Bad Borderlines you’ve let yourself believe we are.

Scribing Life

I wrote a thing; a Virginia Woolf inspired thing. It’s for uni, but I’m super happy with how it’s turned out and wanted to share it with some other lovely people. If it’s italicised, then it’s quoted from VW. And it’s semi-autobiographical, but not entirely. 

Here’s my attempt at scribing life:

Several violent moments of being, always including a circle of the scene which they cut: and all surrounded by a vast space – that is a rough visual description of childhood – VW.

There is not much I remember, but I remember the violence. The violence itself, and the moments accompanied by violence, and other moments which only solidify in the presence of violence, as if that is the plaster withdrawing the splinter. I remember the sparks of pain, and the curled fists. I remember the blossoms of purple and grey bruises which adorned my arms and thighs, later to be joined by slivers of silver and red, like traces of a map leading nowhere. Surrounding the violence there is only vast space; a sort of visceral blackness, nihilistically disguising any and all other moments of being.

Between the space and the sensation of violence, there are of course images which threaten to throttle me. These images are not clear; more of a reflection, a mirror; as if another being occupied the space of my body and I was the observer looking down upon the scene, ashamed that I had too little courage to intervene at the opportune moment. That looking-glass shame has lasted all my life. It renders me a bystander, even when I am in the prime position to intervene. Much like children at the zoo, I can do nothing but helplessly watch on as events unfold around me, surrounded by a blanket of shame that smothers details into blurred irrelevance.

Apart from the bruises and the blood, I remember very little of my own life. There is mostly only an impenetrable void of subconscious, and the walls I’ve built to prevent memories escaping. This void mostly blurs from existence my childhood, my adolescence, and the beginnings of adulthood. Only particular pieces of the past remain, and for what reason my mind chose to retain them, I cannot say.

I’ve been encouraged to write what I remember, to bind it in a tome and send it out into the world into the open arms and eager eyes of others wanting to pity another human being. I understand the need to make oneself feel better by comparison with another lesser, weaker body; it’s at the core of humanity to seek refuge in another’s undeniable despair. Realistically, one can write anything at all and label it ‘memoir’. Because who would dare question that these events did not happen at all, or if they did, then to someone else? Does it matter if I write another’s story and claim it as my own? Are some of these not implanted memories, embedded into my own mind only after glancing at a photograph of the event? Perhaps these questions are ones of pure irrelevance. This I know: whether my life happened or not, I make it real by putting it into words.

I have never been able to label emotions, or thoughts either for that matter. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that all emotion was left scattered across the linoleum along with my childhood, and the shattering of feelings accompanied the shattering of my soul. I don’t know what happiness feels like. I don’t know what it is to experience. The closest I have ever gotten to such a thing is a sort of sad, lonely contentment. In this, I do not know how far I differ from other people; just that I do.

The night that my feet bled, my brother didn’t come home, and somebody was being attacked in the alley behind my house. I leaned out over the back fence, and cocked my head like the dog that I am (I hope you can appreciate my frail sense of self-deprecating humour in this wordplay – we’re in this together now, you and I). I leaned a little too far, and tumbled into the street – not, rather fortunately, the same street where the fighting was occurring. I don’t know who was winning. Punches were being thrown from all directions by the sound of things and there were several distinct flavours of groaning which leads me to believe it was a tie. Regardless, I did tumble into the street, and I started to run, because a caged animal will always run at the scent of freedom, and I kept on running until I reached the beach, and only then did I realise I was barefoot.

My feet bled into the sand, staining it red, and I watched it bloom, and after I walked home, I found the family sewing kit and a bucket and some ice, and suspended my foot in the cold until I couldn’t feel it anymore. Then, just as I had done on countless jeans and shirts, I carefully threaded a needle, and pretended the skin of my heel was just another item of clothing, except clothes don’t bleed as you patch them up. The line of black cotton turns into a crooked branch as it crosses towards my toes, because my hands shook as I stitched the edges close.

When I think of my brother, I trace that scar. Not because we found him, but because we didn’t. I said I don’t know feelings, but this was one even I could name: it was a feeling of hopeless sadness.

I next felt hopeless-sadness after one of these voids of indeterminable length. I know I was thirteen or so at the time of the first memory, but I cannot begin to guess the age I was when this second memory took place. Fifteen, sixteen, twenty-two? I certainly know which age I was not, but that’s all the indication I have of how this event is located in my life’s temporality.

If the first memory is defined by blood, then this second memory is defined by breath.

Not my breath, as you may have first suspected; but our breaths – the combined mechanics of our breathing. Hers were long and calming, mine were short and gasping; and as we pressed our lips together, I was struck by the music of life in all of its sensuous symphonies. Sound and sight seem to make equal parts of these first impressions: the colour of her minted shirt is as sharp to me as the luscious scrapings of tongues against teeth, and the cackle of cicadas outside the window serenading our virginity from our bodies. Our intertwined forms are foregrounded in this memory, and we roll over one another like playful children, but with deeply adult thoughts suspended between each other. Her face is blurred in this memory, but her taste, her sound; these retain the clarity of the curves a ripple takes across the glossy surface of a lake.

And suddenly, she becomes still. The motion of two lovers ceases, and the ebb and flow of movement is replaced by the haphazard lust of a lone individual – of me. She says, I might be dying, before rolling out from beneath me. She says, my heart wants to stay on earth here with you, but my head can only see the infinite blackness of the background, and refuses to see the stars that light the sky.

She rolls away from me completely then, and a sense of horror held me powerless as she stepped towards the window, threw the curtains back, and gracefully stepped from the house to the ground, where her crumpled body lay until morning, because she looked so beautiful lying there at the intersection of grass and brick path, and I couldn’t bear the burden of moving her.

The night my lover died, my breaths changed, and were never quite the same again. Before, they billowed out of my lungs through my oesophagus and reached freedom at the open orifice of my mouth, tickling the enamel of my teeth before rushing into the world. But now, my breaths remained stuck. They refused to exit my body and blossom out into the universe. They remained short, sharp, and shallow, the same kind of breaths that marked our night together, and they refused to dissipate, just like this memory, and my feelings towards her.

After that, the void recedes, and is slowly replaced by events in my life, but my individual memories remain blurred like smudges across a polaroid, with exceptional moments such as the pair I have written about here at length embedded in a kind of nondescript cotton wool. The moments gain vividness only as I scribe them into existence. I don’t know if these memories are true or false; if they happened, or are a fantasy I constructed for myself for comfort. But this I know, even if this is the only truth in my life, then this can be the truth I live by: I make it real by putting it into words.

Emergency Department Trauma

I’m not unfamiliar with trauma. I suffered emotional abuse as I was growing up, and was physically and verbally bullied for many years. I was diagnosed with PTSD as a result, when the intrusive flashbacks and nightmares were at their worst. There’s the scale trauma I experience every time I am asked to be weighed, and the defensive mechanisms that spring from an inability to be touched by strangers, no matter how innocently.

On the eve of christmas eve, I attempted suicide. It doesn’t matter why. (And I’m still trying to work that out anyway).

But I was so intent on death that I refused treatment. I tore out the drip that was infusing me with medicine that would save my life, and prevent organ failure. I curled into a ball as they tried to replace it, and I remained silent when the psychiatrist spoke to me.

All I can feel is the hands.

The hands of a disproportionately high number of nurses restraining me. The hands that held me still as I was sedated. The hands that gripped tighter the more I squirmed, and the hands that didn’t loosen until I began to fall asleep. I can feel them on every part of me. Three on each leg, two on each arm, and one on each foot to stop me kicking. I can feel the strength of their grip, and the repulsion that bubbles out of my chest.

I have never felt so powerless.

And I can’t stop the feeling from flowing. I can’t stop feeling their hands.

I needed them; I did. I needed to be restrained in order to be saved. This isn’t a post about the misuse or overuse of restraint. This is a post about how to cope with being held down against your will.

How do I forget this feeling, when all I can feel and see is hands? How am I supposed to return to drawing, when the body is the focus of my art, and my body has become tainted? How am I supposed to return to the emergency department in the future, knowing that there’s every possibility that I will need restrained again?

How do I forget their hands?

New Year, Old Me

Every year, I tell myself things will get better.

They never do. The pain is endless, and I am mostly left feeling distraught.

As 2011 ended, depression had a firm grasp over me, and anorexia was beginning to infest my soul. By 2012, all the behaviours of my eating disorder had appeared; excessive exercise, calorie counting, restriction, binging and fasting. In 2013, the bullying I was experiencing was severe, and so was anorexia. I hit my lowest weight. I tried to reach out so that going to school wasn’t such a fucking nightmare, but those words didn’t hit hard enough, and my grades weren’t bad enough, for it to have any real impact.

2014, the bullying continued, and I saw a psychologist for a first time, as doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with me (have you heard of anorexia? they asked. Yes, but no, I don’t have it – liar).

2015, and my weight had marginally improved, but the depression hadn’t and I was still barely existing under a cloud of darkness that weighed me down. Somebody pointed out I also suffered from anxiety, because I was constantly worried about everything, even when there was nothing to worry about.

2016 was the year I finally reached a weight that meant I was considered physically recovered from anorexia – just. But I self-harmed for the first time, panic attacks began to emerge, I was diagnosed with PTSD and borderline personality disorder, my brother was diagnosed with cancer, and I grew more suicidal with each passing day. In the midst of all that, I graduated high school.

2017 was chaperoned in by moving to the other side of the country, alone, to study at a university that was apparently one of the more prestigious ones in existence. That wasn’t the reason I had chosen it; I picked it for its distance away from everything that triggered my broken soul. The self-harm worsened and my thighs became peppered with silvery tracks. I finally started to see a therapist consistently. The binging got out of control, and my highest weight was double my lowest. I was hospitalised four times, and spent many hours on many other nights waiting to be patched up. I was humpty dumpty, and medicos were struggling to put me back together again.

Then, in 2018, the depression lifted for the first time since it began, but the emotional rollercoaster of BPD plagued me daily. I was addicted to self-harm, laxatives, and the delicious binge-purge cycle that left me feeling empty and punished, yet didn’t satisfy me like it once had. I desperately tried to avoid hospital. I attempted suicide, twice. My perfectionism disapproved of my sore attempts to finish the second year of my double degree in physiology and English. I spent Christmas alone, avoiding a place I loved to prevent being triggered by memories I hated. I welcomed the new year in sober, then drank the next night away.

And what of 2019? I pray that this year will be different, and I try to cling to hope, but it’s like grasping at a bubble on the surface of the sea. The year beckons me closer, as if inspecting it will help me survive it. In reality, I am an unknown quantity, and survival is impossible to predict.

That thing I never talk about

When I was in high school, I went through several severe stressors all at roughly the same time.

First, I was already suffering from anorexia nervosa, which isn’t exactly a great way to kick things off. Then I was bullied incessantly. And by incessantly, well fuck. I was physically and verbally abused every single day, from 8 until 3, and sometimes for even longer because of these magical little objects called mobile phones, and I withdrew further and further into myself the more she hit me and called me names. I felt helpless, and by helpless, I mean that no one helped me. I was hopeless, and by that I mean death seemed the only solution. And don’t let me forget to mention the fact that I was blamed for bullying her, after hitting her once on the thigh of all damn places, after she had been taunting me for months already. Don’t sit here, she would scream. Bitches can’t sit here. Don’t look at me you fucking bitch, bitch bitch bitch bitch. And that’s how I lost all my friends. ‘Cause you know, I had so many to begin with. Oh, and after that, my brother got cancer, and I started cutting, and the words “guardian invalidation” became my biggest trigger, and I got diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and a whole plethora of problems I knew I had but didn’t want to face including comorbid major depression, generalised anxiety, anorexia and bulimia. But because of the bullying, and this basis of self-abuse I had already sparked in myself via starvation, I developed this fun little thing called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

What a scary set of syllables.

I knew what I was experiencing. I absolutely, 100% knew that experiencing nightmares and flashbacks by hearing a word or visiting a space was called “recollection”. I knew that isolating myself, and deadening myself to all emotion, was something called “avoidance”. I knew that I was hypervigilant, and terrified. But to hear my doctor say those eight syllables aloud – to me, a fourteen year old – was a shock. Like I had been electrified. Like, fuck, not only am I dealing with all this other bullshit in my life, but now my trauma can be equated to experiencing war and torture?

And the stupid, most fucked-up thing of all is that once this special diagnosis was dumped on me, after which my life continued to spiral out of control, not a single thing changed. I didn’t start therapy. I wasn’t medicated. The fucking school I went to didn’t change a single fucking thing.

I’m coming to realise how fucked up this all is. Today, of all days, when I’m studying stress and PTSD and the management of anxiety disorders for a neuroscience exam at university. Because where else would I learn more about a condition that intruded into my life and then was just wiped away, like a coffee stain on a countertop, never to be mentioned again, because apparently I wasn’t traumatised enough or some bullshit. It appeared in my medical record, and then it didn’t. That’s some fucked up shit. Surprise yes, just because I’ve gained weight now, my eating disorder hasn’t disappeared, and surprise, yes, just because the source of my trauma is no longer around doesn’t mean that the post traumatic stress part goes along with her. 

I’m ranting.

I’m sorry.

I’m honestly enjoying myself. It feels good. It feels good to relive hurt, when you’re being constantly reminded you’re not supposed to be hurting yourself anymore. There’s more than one way to self harm. There’s more than one way.

This is that thing I never talk about, and it feels good to get it out.

 

Things Change + A Poem

I made a fairly big call recently. I decided to return to my home town in regional coastal Western Australia. It is a place seething with bad memories, and as I have made very clear on this blog before, the source of much trauma.

As I was flying in, I realised something.

This isn’t a bad place. It’s a place where bad memories were made. And this week, I have had an opportunity to make new memories, and this place doesn’t seem so bad anymore. It’s uncomfortable to walk the streets, I have more anxious sweat then I ever realised was possible for a human to produce, and it’s triggering some very unstable mood shifts. But it’s been… okay. It’s been good. I saw my drama family (AKA my youth theatre of twelve years), and it has made me happier than I have been in a long time.

I suppose things change, and I’m glad that for once, they’ve changed in a good way.


Bad memories lurk beneath green rolling hills,

simmering with seasons toiled by decay,

a land marked for its absence and its lack,

even by those who choose to stay.

This place festers with bygones and

the wayward lost, to vices disguised

as adolescent adventures.

This place hides hurt beneath

roiling waves that crumble against the collapsing coast.

Salted waters sting against scars

leaving breathless gasps to mark their paths.

This place is one of hatred and despair,

with privileged joys mistaken for burdens,

with experience lost through ash coloured glasses,

that which cannot be returned nor replaced.

This place is underestimated, with its

stifling heat, and broods of gossips gathering;

the single skyscraper, barely reaching the clouds

that graze the sky rarely and tenderly

to drop an ocean desperately sought

by those governed meticulously by time.

This place is powerfully loaded, and painful,

and desecrated – not unlike myself –

But this place is mine;

this place is home.