Have you noticed that the ideal in our culture is “perfect mental health”? Anything less is cause for shame. Imperfections are to be hidden at all costs. If we fail to keep them hidden, well, then we are branded as “mentally unhealthy” and may as well have a neon sign of shame on our forehead.
But is it realistic to expect everyone to have perfect mental health 100% of the time? Absolutely not. No more than we can expect people to have perfect physical health 100% of the time. Just as there is a full spectrum of physical well-being, there’s also a full spectrum of mental well-being.
When I broke my arm not that long ago, people went out of their way to be kind to me, opening doors, carrying packages, cooking and cleaning for me.
I don’t even have the expectation of receiving the same level of care and concern when there’s a break in my mental health.
When my arm was broken, I was not afraid of letting people know.
Should I be ashamed to admit when a part of my mind feels broken?
Me, right now, should I be ashamed to admit that I expect to have another flashback?
The last couple months I’ve been working with award-winning photojournalist and filmmaker Ross Taylor on a short film of my story of being sexually abused as a child. It’s been an emotional process, and something I’ve really wanted to do.
Until now I’ve only shared broad statements about my history, and the occasional bit of information. On the other hand, people, readers, maybe even you, write to me, sharing your personal stories, which I always feel honored to receive and to be trusted with.
Now, I want to reciprocate, and make my story available to you, but only for those who wish to hear it. I’m offering my story to you, with humility.
And, I’m also offering my story to the world, with anger. I’m angry that children are sexually abused. I’m equally angry that adults healing from this childhood trauma often don’t get the care, support, and understanding we need and deserve.
This film, my story, contains details of my childhood abuse. But guess what? The scariest bit for me to share is not about my past, but about my present.
It’s this: I expect another flashback.
Who me? The Shame Lady? Someone who has done years of work? Who teaches skills to other survivors and clinicians alike? Won’t sharing this jeopardize my credibility? Here’s why I’m choosing to share:
- I know that processing trauma does not mean I’m crazy. It means I’m human. It does not make me incompetent. It does not negate all my accomplishments.
- I know my mind has an incredible ability to adapt. Not just because modern neuroscience says so, but also because I’ve had the lived experience of my mind implementing intelligent survival strategies. Flashbacks happen to be an after-effect of this.
- I have supreme confidence in my own strength. The kind that comes from surviving not only a difficult childhood, but years of sometimes daily flashbacks.
For me, sharing this is a sign of bravery, not weakness.